Commentary on Galatians, 1:16 – 2:1

Galatians 1:16 – 2:1
“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,
17 neither did I go up to Jerusalem to them who were apostles before me; but I went away into Arabia, and again I returned to Damascus.
18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days.
19 But I did not see any of the other apostles, except James the Lord’s brother.
20 (Now concerning the things that I write you, behold, before God, I do not lie).
21 Then I came to the regions of Syria and Cilicia.
22 I was still unknown by face to the churches of Judea that were in Christ,
23 but they only heard: ‘He who once persecuted us, now preaches the faith that he once tried to destroy.’
24 And they glorified God in me.
2:1 Then after a period of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas,  taking Titus also with me.”
Paul is still giving a running account of his life and ministry from the time he met Christ to many years that followed. By giving such detail, he’s letting the churches of Galatia know that he’s been called and established as an apostle right along with the other apostles who walked with Christ before him. He further wants them to know that he’s been serving the Lord Jesus for a very long time. Thus what he teaches can be trusted as the truth from God.
Paul’s experience of seeing Jesus that resulted in his conversion, was so real that he didn’t find it necessary to consult with anyone about what happened to him (vs. 16). He didn’t go to Jerusalem right away to confirm what happened to him with the other apostles (vs. 17). Nor did he find it necessary to receive instruction from them about the Christian faith and message. His encounter with Jesus was real, and his understanding of the Christian faith was not taught to him by men, but was by direct revelation from the Lord Himself.
Except for his brief visit to Jerusalem when he visited Peter (Cephas) for fifteen days (also seeing the Apostle James, the Lord’s brother – verses 18,19), he lived and served in relative obscurity for the first fourteen to seventeen years (or so) as a follower of Christ (verses 22; 2:1). That’s a remarkable fact, considering the role and impact Paul had in establishing the Christian faith, which includes his many books of instruction that we have in the New Testament.
Paul easily could have made a name for himself right away as the notorious “Saul the persecutor,” who met the glorified Christ on the road to Damascus, and called by Him personally. He could have gone straight to the Jerusalem church to be counted among the other apostles, to receive their approval and blessing. But that’s not what he did. Even when he did finally go, it was without fanfare, primarily spending time with Peter.
There’s a lesson for us here. Paul could have flaunted his call and authority right from the start, but that’s not who Paul was. He was a sincere and humble follower of Jesus Christ. His one desire was to glorify Him, to do His will, whatever that involved. Serving Jesus should never be about us. It should never be out of a desire for recognition or personal gain. We should be willing to serve God in “obscurity” if that is what God has called us to do. God does not honor the prideful. Those who receive His blessing and grace are those who walk and serve in Christ-like humility (Ja 4:6; 1 Pet 5:5). Christian leaders, especially, need to guard against pride and the lures of fame and popularity.

While Paul didn’t seek personal recognition and status, God honored his humility and raised him up to become the greatest influential leader in the history of the church, next to Jesus Himself. This follows what James said about humility:

“Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall exalt you.”  (Ja 4:10)

This appears to be a direct quote from Jesus, who said:

“Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”  (Matt 23:12)

Those who desire to make a name for themselves, will surely be humbled in one way or another. God may choose to make someone a “pillar” in the Christian community, but it should never be something that we seek to achieve. If someone does reach such a status among God’s people, their one aim in life should be to give honor to the name of Christ, to exalt Him in every area of life and ministry.

Even as Paul is discussing his life and ministry as an apostle of Jesus Christ, it’s not for self-glory, but only for the purpose of establishing his authority in the eyes of the Galatian Christians, to turn them away from the false teaching that has perverted the pure gospel of Jesus Christ among them.

It appears that Paul had a very long learning and training period before he began his missionary journeys, when he and Barnabas was set apart by the Holy Spirit in the church of Antioch (Acts 13:1-3). While Paul had received direct revelation from Christ regarding the Christian faith, I believe he also spent much time searching and studying the Old Testament Scriptures regarding the Christ (the Messiah). His understanding of the Scriptures allowed him to “reason” with the Jews regarding Christ and the prophecies about Him (Acts 17:2,11; Acts 19:8,9)

Here’s another lesson for us. When God calls us to a particular work or ministry, we should never be in a hurry. While we’re not to delay in our obedience, we’re to make sure that we’re taking the necessary steps to get the education and training that we need. It’s essential to be fully prepared to do whatever God has called us to do. Serving God is a high calling, so we should strive for excellence. We should never try to cut corners and hurry up the process. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, God is never in a hurry….and neither should we be. We will be abundantly rewarded for our patience, as Paul was for his.
“I went away into Arabia” (vs. 17)
Paul’s trip into Arabia is not included in the record of Acts. But that should be of no surprise, for if everything about Paul and his ministry was written down for us, it would surely be a very large book. Whatever has been written about Paul, we can be sure that it’s what the Holy Spirit wanted us to know about him. It’s sufficient for His purposes.

“Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days.”  (vs. 18)

One can imagine all that Paul learned from Peter about Jesus and his ministry during the three years that he walked with Him. Peter was not just one of The Twelve, he was also one of the “Big Three.” While reading the Gospels, we often read, “Peter, James, and John.” In pulling these three aside on certain occasions, Jesus was establishing them as leaders among The Twelve. Therefore, Peter was not only close to Jesus, but was also recognized as the primary leader among the rest of the apostles. Paul must have known this, so he went straight to the main source. While the central message of the Christian faith was revealed to Paul by direct revelation, that doesn’t mean that the Holy Spirit didn’t add to his knowledge and understanding in other ways.

We should never get to the point where we can’t be taught. We should always maintain a humility and openness to learning from others. We must remain teachable, no matter how much we grow in our understanding. Pride that keeps us from learning from others will surely lead to deception.

This mention of his time with the Apostle Peter carries a lot of weight. It demonstrates that Peter had recognized him as a true servant of Christ, and had given him special attention during those fifteen days.

“But I did not see any of the other apostles, except James the Lord’s brother.” (vs. 19)

It’s interesting that during Christ’s ministry, His brothers (half-brothers) didn’t believe in Him (John 7:5). However, after His death and resurrection, and probably after a lot of discussions with their mother (and others), they not only believed in Him as Lord and Savior, but also, at least one of them became an apostle. The testimony of Christ’s half-brothers would have been highly regarded, along with the testimony of their mother. Surely this is something the Galatians would have thought about.

“(Now concerning the things that I write to you, behold, before God, I do not lie.” (vs. 20)

It seems amazing that Paul would have to qualify the account of his life with this statement. However, we have to keep in mind that his message and ministry was being undermined by the Judaizers. Therefore, he apparently felt compelled to state his words in the presence of God as his witness.

“And they glorified God in me.”  (vs. 24)

Although Paul was unknown to the churches in Judea, they recognized him as a true servant of Christ. They knew about him as “Saul the persecutor,” and they knew about his conversion to the One he persecuted. Thus, they “glorified God” because of that. The fact that the churches in Judea had recognized and accepted Paul as an apostle (that’s the implication here), should have given the Galatian Christians confidence that what Paul taught was the truth.

“I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas”  (vs. 2:1)

Barnabas was a well respected leader in the early church, and Paul’s association with him would have further validated his apostleship and message.

“Titus”  (vs. 2:1)

This is the same Titus whose New Testament book bears his name. He was a Greek Christian, who was a fellow servant and close friend of Paul’s. Titus 1:4 indicates that he had been led to faith in Christ through Paul’s ministry.

When we consider the extent Paul went to in order to validate his apostleship and message, how can one really believe he wasn’t genuinely concerned for the salvation of these Galatian Christians? They were believing in a false gospel, and Paul was making every effort to lead them back to the truth.