Growth Takes Time: Galatians 1:13-24
“13) For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it; 14) and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions. 15) But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased 16) to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, 17) nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus.” ‭‭Galatians‬ ‭1:13-17‬ ‭
Paul now gets into the nuts and bolts of his testimony and call. After referring to his previous manner of life as a zealous Pharisee in Judaism, he points out that at the right time Jesus revealed Himself to him. I am sure his story was well known.
As a young Pharisee, Saul single handedly led the persecution against the Church. Acts 7:58 points out that those who stoned Stephen “laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul.” At this first mention of him in the Bible, he was overseeing the killing of the first Christian Martyr.
Then in Acts 8:1-3, we discover that he began ravaging the early church. He would enter house after house and drag away men and women and commit them to prison.
The story of his old life culminates with his conversion in Acts 9:1-31. Jesus Himself appeared to him on the road to Damascus and converted him. His conversion stayed the intense persecution and brought a time of peace to the early church. (See Acts 9:31)
As we return to the story line in Galatians, we discover that after his conversion, Saul went into Arabia for three years. (Galatians 1:17) Little is known about this time in his life. It was undoubtedly a time of study, prayer and seeking God. Most scholars agree that it was during this time that the Holy Spirit illuminated him to the gospel of grace and the doctrine of justification by faith. His relationship with Jesus Christ became very dear and precious during this phase of his life. (See Philippians 3:4-16)
Let me make a few observations. First, God is sovereign over the timing of our conversion. Some lament for years over their dark and sinful past. I urge you to do as Paul did in the above text. Forget what is behind and press forward with great zeal building your new relationship with Jesus Christ. Get to know Him in all of His fulness and glory. Take time to send your roots deep in the Word and in sweet communion with Jesus Christ through His Spirit.
Second, God wastes nothing good from our past to turn us into new people with a new mission. Saul’s linguistic skills and Old Testament knowledge were very helpful once the Holy Spirit removed the veil from his heart and mind. (See 2 Corinthians 3:1-18) I can only imagine the glory of these early years as the Holy Spirit became his teacher. I believe it was during this time of solitude that his past was resolved and God launched him into a new calling for life.
Third, don’t remain a loner for long. Paul returned from Arabia and sought accountability with Peter and the early church leaders. He came under the authority of the early church. They helped him refine and put the finishing touches on his gospel message. Then they commissioned him into ministry. He became part of the team.
This point is crucial. Find a good church where you can grow, be nurtured and serve. Also ask God to send a mentor your way. Barnabas himself became a mentor to Paul. According to Acts 11:19-26, Barnabas recruited Paul to become his ministry companion in planting the church in Antioch.
This was an important decade of growth and practical ministry experience for Paul. If I have my math right in the book of Galatians, around 17 years elapsed between Paul’s conversion and the Jerusalem council. Be patient, personal growth and development takes time.
Finally, don’t give up on anyone. When the timing is right, the Holy Spirit will convert people. Many planted seeds in Sauls heart. From the message Stephen preached on the day he was killed to the testimony of countless men and women Saul put in prison, the gospel was abundantly planted and taking root in Saul. We cannot force the process. The Holy Spirit converts people on His time table, but we can be faithful to pray and share the gospel story.
Daily Bible Commentary By Terry Baxter: Cofounder of GoServ Global