This morning, much confusion and miscommunication arises between people, and a sizable percentage of the time the problem stems from people not understanding where the other is coming from. When someone has experienced a life-changing situation that we cannot possibly understand from experience, we may misunderstand some of their interactions with us. Perhaps the emotions that we take personal were not meant personally to us but a product of their new situation in life. Grief, guilt, hurt, resentment, etc. can all be tricky emotions to deal with on the part of the give and the receiver. We all deal with situations and emotions differently, and therefore, human interaction presents a myriad and complex matrix of possibilities.
When reading the Bible, I believe it to be very important for us to try to the best of our ability to put ourselves “there” while reading passages. To put ourselves “there” we need to understand at least three trademarks of a passage: 1. who is speaking, 2. who is being spoken to, and 3. what is the nature or reason for the discussion? When we answer those 3 questions about a passage, we stand better equipped and armed to get closer to personally being there than we would have otherwise. If we answer those questions about our verse, we see that Paul is speaking to the churches of Galatia about his personal experience after the meeting with the Lord on the road to Damascus. The verses immediately prior to ours actually give more detail about Paul’s early church life than anywhere else in the Bible. (Verses 17-23)
With those thoughts in mind let us build to our study verse to see the powerful import that it carries for us today. Paul makes it abundantly clear in the context that there were many in his early church life that did not know all the particulars about what had happened to him. All they knew was that he preached what he once destroyed (Verse 22), but during this personal history, Paul recounts that much of his time is spent with non-Judaea brethren. It is my personal belief that Paul’s “assignment” as the apostle to the Gentiles was a mercy of God so that his primary labours were not among a people that were personally acquainted with his vicious past. However, in the context, the “they” from our study verse is the Jewish brethren, not the Gentiles in other lands.
In my younger days, I would spend time in my Bible reading wondering, “Why is so much space given to this?” Sometimes, I still have those questions, but this used to be one of those places. Why did Paul spend so much time talking – like nowhere else in Scripture – about his early church days? The reason is multi-fold, but the reason we would like to consider from our verse is the profound grace that was manifested and displayed amongst God’s people in his case.
Yet, consider that Paul talks about his past, the brethren, and what they did – or did not – know about him, and the end result is that they glorified God in him. Is this a “WOW!” moment? Let us put ourselves “there” the best way we can. The best way to do that is to transport Saul of Tarsus into our current lives. This man has you thrown in prison for being a church goer and follower of the gospel of Jesus Christ. While you are in prison, you watch your children being tormented, and then have to watch your spouse or closest friend be put to death at the command and behest of this man. Furthermore, when he leaves your presence there in prison, you know that he is seeking your best friends, family, and kindred spirits to launch them to the same place you are.
Then, you do not see him come back. Eventually you are freed from prison, and resume your kingdom service in the church as best you can. Some years later, you hear this interesting story about the man that killed your spouse, imprisoned you and your children and had several beaten and whipped. He is preaching the same gospel that you believe! Miraculous as it would be for him to just believe it; he is actually preaching it in other regions! Wonder if he will ever travel back this way? One day at church, he walks through the door, and preaches that day. After service is over, the church enters into communion, and this man wants to wash your feet!
Now, as frail creatures of dust, how do we react? Honestly, I would likely have a lot to “get over” with this man. If he had killed my wife, beaten my children, and put me in jail for preaching, there might be a grudge or two or ten harbored in me. Mind you, we have never heard his “Road to Damascus” story. All we know is that he believes and preaches what he once destroyed. How hard that would be! Yet, our verse says that they glorified God in him. What power to see and understand a miracle without letting our pride and weak humanity get in the way.
Today, many a grudge would melt in comparison to a scenario like this. Most grudges today do not stem from blood but rather emotional feelings and wounded pride. But, sadly many of those grudges are fiercely gripped for decades. These brethren were willing to forget Saul of Tarsus and embrace Paul the Apostle. Sometimes we need reminding to let go of the past, live in the Lord’s day, and hope for the future. Are there miracles today? Absolutely! Do some of those miracles go unnoticed by us from resentment and anger about the past? Sadly, yes. This short, little verse packs a powerful punch for our present day service.
God’s arm is still delivering today with the same force and success level that it always has. Nothing is too great or big for Him to overcome. We need to glorify God in the miracles we see. Instead of looking at Paul and saying, “There’s that old reprobate that made our lives so miserable. Remember him? He thinks he’s going to preach to us? Good luck fella.” they said, “This is the same guy that was so evil? Wow! What a great God we have to take our biggest enemy and make him one of our most strident allies!” Today, let us look around seeing the power of God in what He has turned around in our lives, do our best to forget things of the past that would hinder us like a ball and chain, but most importantly never forget that our future – one way or another – will be the brightest and best aspect of our existence.