15 But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, 16 To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: 17 Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus. 18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. 19 But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother. 20 Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not. 21 Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia; 22 And was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ: 23 But they had heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed. 24 And they glorified God in me.
- God does things when it pleases Him (vs. 15).
- The phrase, “who separated me from my mother’s womb” (vs. 15) is one of particular interest. Paul could be referring to God’s election of him to salvation which was “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). This would fit with his next phrase about being “called”. Or he could be speaking of God’s providential care for him from the point of his birth to the present time, which resulted in his salvation. Furthermore, it could be both interpretations, because they are not mutually exclusive. (Delving into the important but complicated theological topic of Election is way beyond the scope of one dot-point and goes outside the bounds of my purposes here, so I will leave it at that.)
- All believers are called to salvation through God’s grace (vs. 15). We did not deserve special treatment, but salvation was purchased for us through Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection.
- Paul gives a concise, but eloquent glimpse of what God’s purpose is in the life of a believer. It is “to reveal his Son in me” (vs. 16). The Greek word translated “in” can also be translated “by”, which conveys the likely thrust of the phrase. Christians are the instruments God uses to reveal Christ to others.
- There are different Greek words translated “preach” in the New Testament. The one in verse 16 means “bring good news” or “evangelize”.
- The word “heathen” (vs. 16) is translated from the Greek root “ethnos”, which is where we get our English word “ethnic”. It simply refers to people groups.
- Paul did not seek human approval of his apostleship (vs. 16, “conferred not with flesh and blood”). He did not meet with the other apostles (vs. 17). Rather, he was in Arabia and Damascus for three years, before meeting with Peter and James in Jerusalem (vv. 18-19). This does not mean that Paul endorsed unilateralism in ministry. He is simply emphasizing that his calling was from the Lord. This topic is developed further in 1 Corinthians 9 and in a lengthy portion of 2 Corinthians as he defends his apostleship.
- All of our words and actions are “before God” (vs. 20).
- Paul, as a church-planter, traveled extensively (vs. 21).
- When God drastically changes a life, word spreads (vv. 22-23).
- “Preacheth” (vs. 23) is from the same Greek word translated in verse 16.
- Here are six words that all believers should desire to be said of them (vs. 24). The highest act that a Christian can accomplish is to bring glory to God (cf. Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14).
Ideas for Teaching/Preaching/Personal Study
- Using a Bible dictionary, concordance, or other helps, perform word studies on the words “elect”, “election”, “call”, “calling”, etc. You may want to cross-reference your work with a good theological reference work that covers the doctrine of election (e.g. Basic Theology by Charles Ryrie or The Moody Handbook of Theology by Paul Enns are helpful and can be found in a number of libraries). Election is a complex topic and a good understanding of the doctrine and the issues surrounding it will be very helpful to your study of God and how He works. You may end up having more questions than answers and that’s okay. Many theologians have wrestled with these issues for years, but understanding what they are and being familiar with the related biblical passages will help to keep you from incorrect conclusions.
- Based on the context of this passage, what do you think Paul was doing for the three years in Arabia and Damascus? (see verse 16)
- Paul did not seek human approval of his ministry. There are others who followed similar paths. For example, the great 18th century British preacher, Charles Spurgeon, was never ordained by a church. Find examples in the Bible where ministers (prophets, apostles, deacons, etc.) had a human commissioning/recognition of their service (laying on of hands, etc.). Find examples where there was no apparent human commissioning of a minister. Look for patterns of why sometimes human recognition of a ministry existed and other times not.
- Develop a sermon or lesson on the topic “How God Reveals His Son in Us” (vs. 16). Use biblical examples.
- Develop a sermon or lesson on the topic “Six Words That Every Christian Should Desire To Hear” (here are the six words: “And they glorified God in me.”, vs. 24).
- Use a concordance and/or Bible dictionary to do a word study on the word “preach”. List the different meanings of the Greek words translated “preach”. Note what passages use each while examining the context.