Commentary on Galatians, 1:10-16

Galatians 1:10-16

“10 For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still pleasing men, I should not be a servant of Christ.”

Paul was single-minded. He had only one purpose for living, only one motive for serving, and that was to please God. He neither desired nor sought out the favor of man, but of God alone. His whole ministry was about fulfilling the will of God. For him, life and ministry was not about fame and popularity, but about proclaiming the truth and reaching the lost for Christ. When he established churches and sent out letters of instruction, it was for the purpose of teaching the Christian faith and providing clear guidelines for how the local church is to function. He was a true servant of Christ.

We live in a day of compromise. In many churches today, the Word of God is central, but not really. The Bible is taught, but not really. The gospel of Jesus Christ is preached, but not really. Separation from the world is taught, but not really. Personal purity is taught, but not really. The way local assemblies “do church” is based on the Bible, but not really. Compromise; it’s everywhere. 

Everything Paul did and taught was strictly according to truth and the will of God. All he cared about was pleasing God. He didn’t care what others thought. He didn’t seek out the opinion of others on how he should carry out his work. He looked only to God. He was careful to be led of the Spirit in all that he taught and in every area of his ministry.

There are many churches today that are designed according to the opinions of man, according to surveys of what people would like to see in a church. I’m not talking about the opinions of Christians, but of the unregenerate. However, even the viewpoint of Christians is insufficient as a standard for churches to follow. The standard for church ministry is the Word of God. Even more specific, the standard is Christ Himself, who is Head of the Church. The local church belongs to Him, and thus should be conducted with absolute compliance to the will of God as clearly presented in the New Testament.

These “seeker-sensitive” churches that are set up according to the feedback of others, are lacking in doctrinal substance. Doctrine is not a priority in these churches. The priority is “practical messages” that the saved and unsaved alike can relate to. The core teaching is based upon the “felt-needs” of the people, normally as part of a long series of messages. Instead of teaching God’s Word as it is, verse by verse, and book by book, they pick a subject and then look for verses to provide support for it. All for the purpose of being “relevant,” and filling up the church with a lot of people.

This was not Paul’s way. Neither is it the biblical way. If Paul was trying to be “relevant” and trying to please the people, he would have given them what they wanted to hear. But he didn’t care about that. It simply taught the truth and let the chips fall where they may. There was no compromise in his message nor in his ministry.
If Paul was trying to please men in his preaching, he would not have been a true servant of Christ. On the contrary, he would have been a servant of man. Furthermore, teaching for the purpose of pleasing man could have saved him a lot of trouble and hardship. But he wasn’t concerned about that. He gladly endured hardship for the sake of the truth.

Those who follow the “seeker-sensitive” model, actually believe that expository teaching is a thing of the past, that it’s no longer effective in our modern culture. Try telling that to Paul. If this type of teaching and ministry was going on in Paul’s day, I believe he would have written a letter of sharp rebuke in response to it. It’s God’s Word that changes lives, not a philosophy of ministry that minimizes it.  

“11 For I make known to you, brethren, concerning the gospel which was preached by me, that it is not according to man.
12 For neither did I receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came to me through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Paul didn’t get his ideas about ministry from other people. Nor did his message come from what others wanted him to preach. He received his message from a direct revelation from Jesus Christ Himself. We too have that same revelation today in the form of the New Testament. That’s what Paul received, and that is what he taught. To be a sincere servant of Christ, we must be willing to forget about what others want to hear, and follow the pattern that Paul provided for us. We must be faithful in teaching the Word of God as it’s been revealed to us by Him. 

As he did in verse one, Paul is validating himself as a true Apostle of Jesus Christ. If he was going to turn them away from the false teaching they were hearing, they needed to see him as a man sent from God with a message sent from God.

“13 For you have heard of my manner of life in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and made havoc of it.
14 I advanced in the Jews’ religion beyond many of my own age among my countrymen, being more  exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.”

It was the Judaizers that were troubling the Galatian Christians with this false Jewish-Christian type of gospel. Therefore, Paul wanted it to be clear in their minds that he had an understanding of the Jewish religion that surpassed most, and was therefore quite qualified to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ from that perspective. Christianity has it’s roots in the Old Testament, and so Paul wanted to assure them that he was fully able to harmonize the New with the Old.

Paul brings out the fact that it was because of his background in the Jewish religion that he persecuted the church (Acts 26:1-11). He had that reputation, and so this was probably a reminder to the Galatians that it was because of his high position of authority that he was able to do so. He was no ordinary Pharisee, and whatever these Judaizers were, they did not have the same stature and respectability that he had once achieved. Thus they needed to understand that what he taught carried a lot more weight.

“15 But when it was the good pleasure of God, who set me apart, even from my mother’s womb, and called me through His grace,
16 to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not right away confer with flesh and blood,”

Paul continues to share the background of his call by God, thereby, strengthening his authority as an Apostle of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. The more he shared about himself and how God revealed Himself to him, the more confident the Galatians would be regarding the message he preached.

“who set me apart, even from my mother’s womb”

Here’s a phrase that Calvinist’s probably love to jump on to support their theology. They can easily point to this and say, “See, God chose Paul for salvation even before He was born!” However, this in no way conflicts with Arminian theology. On the contrary, it supports it. We acknowledge the fact that God is all-knowing, that He knows every detail of every future person, and every detail of every future event. He would not be God if He didn’t. God knew the life that Paul would have. He knew the zeal he would have for the Jewish religion of the true God. He knew how he would respond to His Son as He revealed Himself to him on the road to Damascus. Thus God had a plan for him even before his birth.

What we have to understand, is that with God’s knowledge of the future, He actually has a plan for every one of us a followers of Christ. We also have to understand that God operates within the framework of our free will. This is God’s ordained plan. This is how He set it up. 

It’s not that He decided beforehand who would believe and who wouldn’t. What He did choose to do, was to save everyone who would come to Him via faith in His Son. Those who do, are “the elect.” The non-elect are those who try to come to God via some other way. God chooses not to save them.  

Lest there be any misunderstanding, it’s God who initiates the call of salvation. Man does not first seek God, but merely responds to God seeking him. The Holy Spirit moves in a person’s heart, brings conviction of sin, reveals the truth, and then frees his will so that he is able to believe. Not forced to believe, but enabled to believe, which means he can also reject the truth that is revealed to him.

“to reveal His Son in me”

Anyone who knew Paul, would be able to see Jesus in him. They saw Him not only in his message, but also in his life. Our walk with Christ should be so intimate, that everyone around us should be able to see Jesus in us. Christ-likeness is not simply a personal goal that we’re to seek, but it’s something we’re called to. You might wonder, wouldn’t that make us prideful? Not if what people see is genuine. Christ-likenes and pride is an oxymoron. You can’t have both. Walking in Christ-likeness means walking in His humility.

The Galatian Christians didn’t have to look far to see the truth of Christ in Paul. They could see Him in the gospel that he preached, and they could see Him in his character. In Gal 6:1, Paul refers to the spiritual among them. Not everyone was deceived by the false gospel of these Judaizers. Thus there were some who could discern and confirm the truth of Paul’s words, and Christ in him. Theology without the character of Christ, makes us ineffective for Christ.

Dr. Brian Abasciano on these two verses:

This is talking about God choosing Paul for service, the service of apostleship to the Gentiles. Knowing that Paul would believe in Christ/be saved, God set him apart from the womb for this service. Presumably this led to God shaping Paul’s experiences to fit him most ideally for his gospel ministry to the Gentiles. This interpretation is confirmed by the language used, that God *revealed* his Son *in* Paul rather than *to* him, and that this is revelation, most naturally revelation to others through Paul. And this is indeed connected to him preaching to the Gentiles. Now this revelation may well be roughly equal to salvation, the indwelling of Christ in Paul by faith. But this is not what is spoken of as him being set apart for. This revelation serves his ministry to the Gentiles. That is Paul’s calling, something he refers to a number of times (i.e., his calling/appointment as an apostle). Finally, this setting apart does not fit the Calvinistic scheme, for Calvinistic election is from before creation. What Paul speaks of here is from the womb.

Also, the interpretation of Paul’s setting apart holds up even if one takes the revelation “in” Paul to mean “to” him (the Greek construction can carry that sense), since that revelation has the intent of enabling him to preach to the Gentiles. That still goes along fine with his election here being unto service/apostleship to the Gentiles/gospel ministry to the Gentiles.

Let me add here that “in” could also be translated “through”.  “Through” goes along and strengthens the main interpretation I gave. Basically, taking it as “in” can go along with either for revelation to others or to Paul. But it lends toward emphasis for others. Taking it in that sense implies “through” as well. And it could be that all 3 sense are in view (in, through, to), with “in” as the basic sense implying the others.  I.e., Jesus taking up residence in Paul, which reveals him to Paul and others through him. But revelation for others seems at least to be the primary sense.

– Dr. Brian Abasciano, President of Society of Evangelical Arminians –