by Tammy Phillips
“Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant.”
Galatians 1:10 (NLT)
A husband and wife told me that they were notorious for ruining family gatherings because they took turns falling out in the floor drunk. But once they had an encounter with Jesus, they slowly but surely stopped drinking. However, some family and friends, for years, expected this couple’s past behavior to continue. The couple had to continuously walk straight and at times, speak up for themselves. They were no longer the people they had been.
Paul would have understood their dilemma. He was a New Testament mass murderer, zealously pursuing Jesus’ disciples. But he met Jesus on the Damascus Road, experienced intense discipleship and moved on in the ministry God had prepared before he was born (vs. 15). He was aware that his reputation was before him. But in verses 23-24, Paul stated, “All they knew was that people were saying, ‘The one who used to persecute us is now preaching the very faith he tried to destroy!’ And they praised God because of me.”
How did this formerly violent Jew deal with questions about his preaching the Gospel?
- Paul was confident in God’s forgiveness and purpose for his life. Before the foundation of the world, God had already planned for Saul to become Paul. This is why God can never be disappointed in us. He knows what we are going to do, what we are going to say before time. Paul’s behavior did not derail God’s plan for him to preach the very Gospel he railed against. Abraham and Sarah’s Plan B involving Hagar and Ishmael did not stop God’s ultimate plan for the rightful heir, Isaac. Jonah’s supposed escape to Tarshish did not stop God’s assignment for Jonah to go to Nineveh.
- Paul did not whitewash his history. In verse 13, he stated that he tried hard to destroy God’s church. After we have confessed our sins and received God’s forgiveness, we are not required to keep talking about our sins. However, when we are called to share the Gospel, pretending we have not sinned is not honest. The most effective testimonies are ones laced with humility and God’s grace.
- Paul was willing to explain, without attitude, how he became proficient in the Gospel. In Galatians 1:11-12 (NLT), Paul stated, “Dear brothers and sisters, I want you to understand that the gospel message I preach is not based on mere human reasoning. I received my message from no human source, and no one taught me. Instead, I received it by direct revelation from Jesus Christ.” Many times in the New Testament Paul had to defend and explain himself. But, for the cause of Christ, he was willing to do so.
Some did not believe that the formerly intoxicated couple could be used by God in ministry. Many vividly detailed their every disrupting incident. But the husband and wife were confident in God’s forgiveness and purpose for their lives. They did not deny that they had a lively past. But they faithfully preached the Gospel in prisons because of the power God had manifested in their lives.
If others challenge our right to work in God’s vineyard because of our past, we should point them to Paul.