PAUL SEPARATED TO THE GOSPEL FROM HIS MOTHER’S WOMB—(Gal. 1:15)
The text here indicates that there were two definite steps which brought Paul into the grace of apostleship of Christ as a preacher to the Gentiles, in both of which neither Paul nor man had anything to contribute.
The first of these is that Paul was separated to the Gospel-ministry from his mother’s womb. He was preeminently a vessel of God’s sovereign choice. Here, too, it was not of him that runneth, nor of him that willeth, but of God who giveth mercy. From eternity Paul is the preordained man to be the apostle to the Gentiles, to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ. (Eph. 3:1-6) He is separated, he is already set in the service of Christ the King of Israel, when a wee child. God had His forming hand on him as a vessel which He was molding perfectly for the task which he was to perform. He was thus in a class with Moses, the man of God, who, too, was formed for eighty years for the purpose of leading Israel out of Egypt land. Each step of the way is necessary for the forming of the choice vessel, the only man who could perform a certain task. Paul was born a Jew, a Hebrew out of the Hebrews (Phil. 3:5). His father was a Roman citizen living in no mean city, called Tarsus. Early he was sent to school as a child from a good family and learned Greek and the philosophers; then he sat as a youth at the feet of Gamaliel. Here he learned to read the Scriptures in Hebrew and in the Septuagint. And thus he was separated from his mother’s womb, knowing the Scriptures which are able to make us wise unto salvation by faith in Christ Jesus.
But there is another element here. It is that Paul was not only separated but that he was also called. This “called” was wholly a matter of grace. If there is one word which Paul uses much, it is the term grace! All is of grace. Whenever he thinks of the abundance of work which he might perform in the preaching of the Gospel, he always emphasizes that it was not he who did all this work, and suffered all this reproach for the sake of the Gospel, but that it was the grace of God which was with him and which strengthened him. (I Cor. 15:9, 10) The sending church of Antioch in Syria had recommended Paul and Barnabas to this grace of God. However, Paul in a very special sense-refers to the “calling” by Christ to the ministry and to his conversion to the grace of God. Here he received his sight and was baptized and straightway he began to preach Jesus to be the Son of God. He had seen this Son of God in the brilliant light above the glory of the midday sun. This Son of God, Jesus, had called him. And the one thing which made all things clear concerning the Scriptures and the promises was that Jesus is the Son of God. That was also his central and all-pervasive message at all times. He preaches Christ, the Messiah of the Scriptures, to be the Son of God. That is the heart of the preaching. Apart from this Son of God there is no life at all. His calling was a calling from darkness and the power of sin and death into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. (Col. 1:13)
Such are the two great facts in Paul’s life. He isappointed and he is called, in sovereign design and boundless grace. Therefore, it is when it “pleased God” to reveal His Son in me. Paul did not look for and find Christ, but God found him, and that, too, at His own time. It had to be exactly when Paul is at the height of his persecution of the church, and making havoc of the church, even unto the gates of the city of Damascus. Paul must so walk the way of Judaism and attempt his justification by law, that he may see the exceeding riches of Christ. Up to this point Paul knows nothing about the riches of Christ. The “scales” had not yet fallen from his eyes, and the veil of unbelief was still over his heart. (Acts 9:18; II Cor. 3:13) He could not steadfastly look upon that glory of Moses’ face seeing that it led to Christ, the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who, believes. He had no eye for the real meaning of Moses’ glory of the law until he saw the greater glory of the risen Son of God, Who is the effulgence of God’s glory, the expressed image of his Being. (Heb. 1:3) Then all became plain to him. Jesus is the very Son of God. God had spoken of old time through the prophets, but this same God now is speaking through His Son, higher and greater than the angels. (Hebrews 1:1ff.)
That Paul emphasizes that God revealed “his Son in me” refers to both his subjective personal life (Phil. 3:1-13) and to his knowledge of the meaning of the prophets as they are all fulfilled in Christ, the Son of God. Paul has it all by revelation, and he has nothing from men, the brethren, or the apostles, Peter or the others!
The point is well established that Paul, although an apostle as one “born out of due time” (I Cor. 15:8), was nevertheless an apostle extraordinary. He was called in an extraordinary way, for he did not walk with Jesus in the land with the other disciples. (At that time Paul was sitting at the feet of Gamaliel, a Pharisee, thinking that the ignorant people who knew not the law were accursed!) He was not with Jesus on the mount of Olives when He ascended to heaven and angels came to explain and to comfort. (Acts 1:11) Paul was not concerned about his person in the first instance, but rather that as an apostle his work might stand as the work of Christ Himself in the preaching of the Gospel.
The gospel of justification by faith must stand apart from the works of the law!
The manner of Paul’s former life and of his calling by grace establishes the veracity of Paul’s Gospel-preaching beyond a doubt. He did not need to learn from those in Jerusalem, the mother church, nor from those who were apostles before him! It was all of revelation, the divine disclosure to Paul.
PAUL WENT INTO ARABIA AFTER HIS CALLING BY CHRIST (Gal. 1:17)
Paul asserts that after being called in Damascus to the preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles he did not “confer with flesh and blood.” This is the general statement. He could have conferred about this matter to the brethren in Damascus and with Ananias, who baptized him. But all that Ananias knew about the Gospel Paul knew better. He did not seek any advice from them, and receive Gospel from them and instruction. Nor did he, as would seem natural, return to Jerusalem to see Peter. He went to the Lord Himself in Arabia. It is a very brief statement which we have concerning Paul’s going to Arabia and his returning to Damascus. We read, “but I went into Arabia and returned again unto Damascus.” The reason for the brevity is evidently that Paul is simply telling the Galatians that he did not confer with flesh and blood. He does not enlarge upon this at all. Not with a syllable!
There has been much question and debate concerning the place called Arabia. It. would seem most natural and compelling to believe that Arabia is the place where Mt. Sinai is found. (Gal. 4:25) That is the position of Dr. Lightfoot. Writes he on page 88 of his Epistle To The Galatians, “For if we suppose that the apostle at this critical moment betook himself to the Sinaitic peninsula, the scene of the giving of the law, then his visit to Arabia becomes full of meaning. He was attracted thither by a spirit akin to that which had driven Elijah to the same region. (I Kings 19:8-18) Standing on the threshold of the new covenant, he was anxious to look upon the birthplace of the old: that dwelling for a while in seclusion in the presence of ‘the mount that burned with fire’ he might ponder over the transient glories of the ‘ministration of death’ and apprehend its real purpose in relation to the more glorious covenant which was now to supplant it. Here surrounded by the children of the desert, the descendants of Hagar the bondwoman, he read the true meaning and power of the law. In the rugged and barren region, whence it issued, he saw a fit type of that bleak desolation which it created and intended to create in the soul of man. . . .” The arguments of those who would have Damascus itself Arabia, referring to the region immediately near to Damascus, are weak. For these see the quotations in Lange’s Commentary on Galatians. On pages 25 and 26 these can be found.
There is a strong suggestion in the text itself that Paul’s going into Arabia was connected with “revelation” of the Gospel which he was to preach to the Gentiles. Christ was revealed in him that he might preach him as the “Son” to the Gentiles. If we bear in mind that Paul had been instructed at the feet of Gamaliel in the “tradition of the fathers” we may assume that due to this veil of unbelief the Scriptures of the Old Testament had verily remained a closed book to Paul. The brief time that Paul had in Damascus only one point is established: Jesus is the Son of God. He is the Messiah. But there was much that Paul needed to learn yet concerning the wide and far-reaching implications of this all for the Gentiles as fellow-heirs, to be of the same body with the Old Testament saints. And this is a point in which Paul excels far above the other disciples or apostles. Does he not write with great power to the Ephesian Christians how he excels in this knowledge by revelation? He writes, “How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery . . . which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit, that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace given me by the effectual working of his power.” (Eph. 3:3-7) We could go into great detail here, but we feel that the point made by Dr. Lightfoot is very well taken and established. Paul had to go to the mountain of God (Ex. 3:1) where Moses saw the burning bush; he went to the place where Moses spoke to God face to face and where Moses” face was shining because of the glory of that first covenant. Here Elijah went to hear what God would do when the still small voice came to him, and here Paul will see “revelations and visions.” Here he must have seen things which are unutterable. He saw more visions of the glory of heaven than did Moses on the Mount.
Yet, he briefly states, “I went to Arabia and returned to Damascus.”
The writer of Acts of the Apostles says nothing about this. This going to Damascus must somehow be placed between Acts 9:22, 23. Paul returns a stronger preacher than ever. Now he does not merely assert that Christ is the Son of God, but he goes farther. We read, “he confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ.” (Acts 9:22) Paul placed all the Scriptures together (sunbibazon), all the testimony was knitted together in a convincing way. All things pointed to Christ as the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believes. The effect: unbelief cannot see. The more Paul preached (and he kept it up) the more the Jews were confused in their unbelief. They had a veil upon their hearts—until it would be taken away in grace.
But Paul had not yet seen any of the other Apostles up to this point.