16. to reveal His Son in me, 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. 18. Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, (Peter) and stayed with him fifteen days. 19. But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord's brother. 20. (Now in what I am writing to you, I assure you before God that I am not lying.) 21. Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22. And I was [still] unknown by sight to the churches of Judea which were in Christ; 23. but only, they kept hearing, "He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy." 24. And they were glorifying God because of me.
Let's take a good look at these words in bold print. After Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus he was "sent by God" into the city and waited there for God's instruction. To understand Galatians, we need to also look at the Book of Acts for the "backstory" of Paul. Let's read the following to get a clear view of what happened to "Saul" as he was nearing Damascus, intent on persecuting Christians there.
Acts 9: 3-9
3. And it came about that as he journeyed, he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; 4. and he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" 5. And he said, "Who art Thou, Lord?" And He [said], "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, 6. but rise, and enter the city, and it shall be told you what you must do." 7. And the men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice, but seeing no one. 8. And Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. 9. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
My first thought here is that it was not only "Paul" who experienced this flash of light and hearing of the voice of God. It says that those traveling with him also experienced it and that they also heard God's voice. I imagine that it was necessary for the others in the entourage to hear God so that they would be able to assist him in getting to where God wanted him to go. A big change of plans and Paul would need the help and support of those with him. I wonder if the others experienced the same kind of radical salvation as Paul, or were they just terrified? How could you experience this sort of thing and not be changed?
Let's see what God has to say to Paul. He asks him a question. Paul, why are you persecuting me? So often God has a way of getting our attention, that comes in the form of a question. Is God asking something of you right now? Has your life been "interrupted" by God, with something you didn't foresee? Has He asked you to change your plans? Trading our agenda for God's is not always easy. We may not be "persecuting" the Gospel, but are we doing something for God that is part of His plan, and not our own?
Mighty Paul the persecutor of the church was reduced to a blind man, completely helpless and in need of assistance. God told him what to do and even though I'm sure it was difficult in the fact that he was out to get the Christians there, he obeyed the Lord's voice and did as he was told. Being vulnerable and without our own agenda is often times where God will call us to be. That's a place where He has our attention.
Don't you imagine that Paul was fearful of both sides? Jews because he had turned traitor, and Christians because he was now vulnerable? What would happen when the news got out? And out it would be. I'm sure many were wondering what had happened to this persecutor of the Church, was it for real or a hoax; a plot to lure them in by disclosing themselves to this murderer? I'm sure Paul himself had a million questions to ask God.
As Paul was waiting in Damascus blind and helpless, God was also speaking to a Christian in the same city. God was laying out a plan for him to follow also. Both parties were willing and available to hear God, and to be obedient. And isn't that what God asks of all of us? Availability and willingness, to not only hear God speak, but to then follow through even though it might make us feel vulnerable and require a change in our thinking.
Paul stayed in Damascus and in Syria for three years. It was a time of isolation and complete dependence on God. Three years that Paul listened to the voice of God, alone. No other outside influences, no apostles, no other agenda. By himself...alone with God. Sometimes that's where God calls us to be; alone with just Him. Paul had to be prepared for ministry, and even though it might have been the logical thing for him to go back to Jerusalem and be in the midst of the apostles, comforted and protected; he trusted God, listened to Him, studied under the Holy Spirit, and did things God's way.
This isolation is important to understand because Paul's ministry would come under fire from every direction. Who taught him? Who did he study under? Did the apostles approve and endorse him? Important questions that would be asked once Paul came on the scene. It was critical and of most value for Paul to remain in isolation so that it would be clear that he received his "revelation" not from any man, but from Jesus Himself. Paul was an apostle. The disciples had been with Jesus for three years, and so now Paul would be with Jesus for three years. Interesting.
Is God preparing you for something? Let Him be the leader and director. He may ask you to be with Him more often, you may feel a calling and desire for more prayer and/or Bible Study. Follow the lead of the Lord, don't be afraid to be vulnerable. Trust Him, he will protect you. He may have a big plan in store.
love in Jesus,