10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14 And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.
18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. 20 (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.
Paul wrote Galatians in response to a compromise of the gospel that had invaded the churches in that region. So his concern in this first chapter is to defend the gospel that he had originally preached to these churches. He wants to demonstrate that the gospel he preached then is the “official” gospel that God has revealed. So in this passage Paul sets out to demonstrate the divine distinctives of the gospel he preached.
The first thing I want to point out this morning is that the gospel has as its aim the persuading, convincing, and converting of men and not primarily the pleasing of men. This is what Paul says in verse 10. “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
Last week we introduced the Judaizers, the group of people that were troubling the churches of Galatia. They were Jewish converts to Christianity who insisted that an essential to the Christian faith was adopting and practicing the customs of Judaism, like the dietary regulations and circumcision. Paul wrote Galatians to reinforce the gospel he had preached in Galatia, that salvation was entirely of grace and therefore no external work could be added to this gospel.
Apparently, the Judaizers accused Paul of softening his views on the gospel in order to win the non-Jewish Galatians. They accused him of people-pleasing. They must have said that Paul really agreed with them, but did not want to turn the Galatians away from Christianity with such regulations so he compromised his message for their sake.
But Paul’s response here in verse 10 is that if that had been his motivation, why would he speak so forcefully as he had in verses 8-9, where he was willing to consign to hell anyone and everyone who did not preach this gospel of pure grace? If Paul wants to win friends, if he wants people to like him, then he shouldn’t hold such an exclusivist viewpoint. And yet he forcefully states his position in verse 8 and repeats it in verse 9. If anyone preaches any other gospel than what he had originally preached to the Galatians, Paul says, “let him be accursed.”
So here in verse 10, Paul shows us that the goal of the gospel is not to be pleasing to our fellow man. Though the gospel is the epitome of “good news,” it need not alarm us if some hate us for telling them about it. Or, to put it another way, if we prioritize the making of friends over the proclaiming of the gospel then we will ultimately fail in the mission that God has given to us. This is true individually, in your neighborhood and in your workplace, and it is true corporately for us as a church in this city.
What then should be our priority? It is not to seek the approval of man, but the approval of God. And we cannot do that if we are trying ultimately to be pleasing to other people. “If I were still trying to please man,” Paul says, “I would not be a servant of Christ.
Serving Christ involves proclaiming the gospel of Christ to our fellow man. And because this gospel is not always received well, the only hope we have of being faithful to that mission is being fully convinced of the truthfulness of the gospel. We must see that the gospel of Jesus is first of all true whether or not anyone else ever believes it.
Now let me hasten to clarify something at this point. There are those who, in the name of serving Christ, make it their aim to be displeasing to their fellow man. We should not think that pleasing God and pleasing man are mutually exclusive. It was said of Jesus that as he grew into adulthood he increased in wisdom, stature, and favor with both God and man (Luke 2:52).
Paul himself knew the importance of protecting his relationships with those who did not yet believe.
Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. (1 Cor 10:32–11:1)
Paul “tried to please everyone” precisely because he wanted them to be saved. You see the mission that God has left us with is not simply to preach the gospel but to “make disciples.” Our mission is conversion; we want to persuade our fellow man to believe the gospel. Again Paul writes, “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others” (2 Cor 5:11).
So while in Galatians Paul is eager to show that he cares more about being a faithful servant of Christ than being liked by everyone else, we know from what he writes elsewhere that he never wanted to have to choose between the two. In fact, it was because Paul wanted ultimately to be a faithful servant of Christ that he worked hard to limit any offense between himself and those whom he wanted to reach. This took a great deal of wisdom for Paul as it will for us. We need to learn to think like a missionary.
Like any good missionary, we first need to learn the context in which the work will be done. This means learning the “language” of the target group. By language I don’t merely mean vocabulary. We also need to learn the culture and the values and the assumptions and the objects of worship.
When we came to downtown Oklahoma City this is what I wanted to find out first. I needed to know how the people in this area think, so I spent a lot of time meeting people that lived and worked here and listening to them tell their story. This is still the way I interact with people I meet down here.
Most of the time such interactions lead to genuine friendships. I learn to appreciate many of the things I learn from my unbelieving friends. So although we came here with an agenda of planting a church, and therefore we met people as a means to an end, there was nothing inauthentic about the relationships that began to develop.
But this work of contextualization is not the same as evangelism! Paul worked hard to please everyone so that they would be saved, but he never believed the congenial relationship itself would be saving. He never shied away from speaking the truth of the gospel; but he also worked hard to know how to best communicate that message to his target audience.
The result was that some people loved Paul while others hated him. Remember that it was in Galatia that Paul was stoned and left for dead. If we are faithful servants of Christ we will have to face this varied reaction to us as well.
Now when we are rejected we hope that it the message of the gospel rather than ourselves that is offensive. But that is the difficult part. When do we speak and confront with the gospel and when do we listen and choose not to offend?
Here is a place to begin. When Paul worked hard to please others, he was not seeking his own advantage (1 Cor 10:33). He would give up personal comforts and preferences all for the sake of seeing others won to Christ. This is a good sign that our concessions to others are for the gospel’s sake. So perhaps we mow the lawn for our neighbor rather than filing a complaint against them to the city or their landlord. Or perhaps we stay later at work and finish our co-worker’s part of the task rather than pointing out to our employer the next day that it was your co-worker’s fault that the job was not completed on time.
Similarly when Paul confronted others with the gospel, it was never to his own advantage. Often it got him ridiculed, imprisoned, stoned, or shipwrecked. Again, a good sign that he was confronting for the sake of the gospel. So perhaps we should inquire into the adulterous relationship we suspect our friend is having against his spouse. Or maybe we should take a stand on a political issue that the Bible also addresses clearly.
So sometimes we will have to work hard to be pleasing to someone for the sake of the gospel and at other times we will need to be willing to face the rejection that may come by confronting that same person with the truth of the gospel.
But we need not be discouraged by the uncertainty of these situations. Because a person’s response to the gospel does not finally depend upon us getting this right. We do not have to maintain a friendship, nor do we have to apply the gospel perfectly to the problems and sins of our neighbors, co-workers, and friends in order for them to be saved. The power of the gospel does not lie in our creativity or wisdom or friendliness, however much God uses such things in our missionary work.
This is what Paul seems to be eager to point out in the next several verses. He wants his readers to know that the gospel he had preached to them was not a human invention. Therefore, the power of the gospel rested in revelation from God and not in information handed down from men.
In verse 11, Paul begins a lengthy autobiographical section recounting his own conversion experience. He wants to show the Galatians that the gospel he preached to them was the same gospel that had transformed him in an instant from one of the fiercest opponents to Christianity to one of the foremost defenders of the Christian faith.
In retelling his story, Paul’s aim is to demonstrate that only the power of God could account for this dramatic conversion. There was nothing that Paul did not know before his conversion that could explain why he had once rejected Christianity. The only missing factor was the decisive factor.
And that decisive factor was not something he received from man or something that he was taught by another man. The gospel he accepted was one that he received, according to verse 12, “through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” Paul was probably referring to the experience he had as he travelled from Jerusalem to Damascus, and experience recorded for us in Acts 9.
There we find that Paul (his name was originally “Saul”) had gone to the high priest to get authority to arrest and bring to trial in Jerusalem anyone within the synagogues of Damascus that had converted to Christianity. But on the journey “a light from heaven flashed around him” and “he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’” Paul responded, “Who are you, Lord?” And the answer he got was, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” (Acts 9:1-9).
Here in Galatians Paul comments on this experience. Though he was a respected Jew, God had broken through to him by revealing his Son to him. So the revelation that Paul refers to in verse 12 is defined for us here in verse 16. God made Jesus known to Paul.
What is remarkable is that Paul did not learn anything knew about Jesus on that road to Damascus. Because he was a zealous persecutor of the church, he was familiar enough with the Christian faith to know how to detect those who believed it. So Paul knew who Jesus was and he knew what the Christians said about him. But not until he encountered the resurrected Christ on that road to Damascus could Paul believe it himself.
Even after this experience Paul tells us that he “did not immediately consult with anyone” (v. 16). He did not go to Jerusalem to see the other apostles, which is strange indeed. That would be like wanting to be in politics but never going to Washington or wanting to be a musician but never visiting Nashville or wanting to be an actor but refusing to move to Los Angeles or New York. Instead, he “went away into Arabia,” the land that lay just to the south of Damascus. Exactly what he did there he does not tell us, but the point seems to be that he was alone during that time. Presumably he spent a while pondering the transformation that had just happened to him. He was more surprised than anyone about how quickly he had become a Christian.
It would be three years before he first visited Peter and James in Jerusalem. So Paul was not interested in making a name for himself. The gospel he now believed was not about him. Something had happened to him. Something that could only be attributed to God.
Now eventually he did go to Jerusalem and he did meet a couple of the apostles and he did get validation from them. So the “revelation” that transformed him was not some esoteric experience of a new doctrine. The gospel he preached was the same gospel that Peter preached.
When you think about it, all who come to faith in the gospel of Jesus come have a similar story to Paul’s. It is not ultimately an argument that convinces us. We are saved only when God reveals his Son to us, just as he did with Paul. Only when we see that Jesus is who God says he is and only when we can see that Jesus did what God sent him to do, only then will we believe.
So no one can make themselves a Christian. Only God can do that. God converts a person by opening their eyes to finally see Jesus for who he really is.
Notice how Paul gives God all the credit for his conversion. In verses 13-14 he describes his life in Judaism. He persecuted the church violently and tried to destroy it and apparently was becoming quite popular with his generation. He was “advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people.” Paul was not dissatisfied with life. He had a purpose and a mission and he was successful.
Then one day everything changed. “But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me,” suddenly everything changed. No longer was Paul seeking his own fame, otherwise he surely would have immediately gone to meet the other apostles. Even when he did finally go to meet some of them, he stayed only 15 days, not even long enough for the other churches in the region to know who he was. As he tells us in verse 22, as he began to preach the gospel he “was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.”
But this was enough for Paul. Though he was not well-known his life was the basis upon which God was glorified (v. 24). When God saves a person, he does so in order that only he can get the glory. Even the staunchest enemies of the gospel are no match for the irresistible grace of God when he reveals Jesus to them.
God can do that for you today, too. You will not be won by an argument but by a revelation. You may think it was an argument, but it won’t be. You will be won by the irresistible love and grace of God. He will transform you; you don’t transform yourself.
If you can see even a glimpse of the love and grace and mercy of the Son of God in the good news of the gospel, then know that God is at work. If you will submit to him today, he will change your life forever.