Scene from Annie Hall. Woody Allen pulls the film director out from behind a signboard to silence an annoying know-all critic. Allen trumps the critic with the highest authority – the director of the movie himself.
This is in essence like what Paul was doing when he wrote to the Galatian church at the start of his letter to them. Last time we looked at Paul’s opening statement to the Galatians about holding on to the one true gospel.
Now Paul goes on to emphasise that he is a true apostle.
11 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.
13 For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.
15 But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. 17 I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus.
18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother. 20 I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.
21 Then I went to Syria and Cilicia. 22 I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they praised God because of me.
What’s Paul going on about? Why is he filling up pages of scripture with his travel itinerary? What is so important about who he met and when?
Paul is answering critics in the Galatian church who were saying that Paul has no authority over them and that they only recognise the church in Jerusalem as having authority over them.
Paul answers his critics in 3 ways:
i. He assures them that he didn’t just hear about the gospel from some guy, it didn’t start with other people and it wasn’t taught to him by any people. He received the gospel directly from Jesus Himself. This is where Paul does a Woody Allen and silences his critics by pulling Jesus out from behind a signboard and saying, “Oh yeah? Well I just happened to get it directly from Jesus Himself!”
ii. He adds to this testimony by referring to the radical change in his life. Not only his conversion, but his life since his conversion has all been a testimony to the reality of the risen Jesus and the truth of the gospel in his life.
This is key. And we would do well to model our own testimonies on this. He talks about the days before his conversion – the study, the zealousness, the ambition, the anger – and then come the pinnacle words: “But God…” しかし神は
15 But when God… was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me…
We hear these words in Titus 3: “We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us…”
We hear it in Ephesians 2: “Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ…” Ephesians 2:3-5a
We hear it in Philippians 2:27 “Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him.”
1 Thessalonians 2:2, “We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition.”
And we can hear this in our own lives.
– I was lost in my sin habits, but God delivered me.
– I was desperate in my work situation, but God gave me clarity and strength.
– I had given up hope, but God had plans for my life that I could never have imagined.
“But God” is the essence of living out the Christian life.
iii. Although Paul was approved and praised by the Jerusalem church, his authority was actually independent of it. Authority from a church is very important. But Paul was unique, as one “abnormally born” (月足らずに生れた 1 Corinthians 15:8) in the Spirit. His authority came directly from Jesus. And this further served to silence his critics.
But why do we need to hear all this?
It’s tempting just to skip all this section and say, ‘This is really not very important to me. Let’s just get on with the good stuff that comes later about freedom and the fruits of the Spirit and the promises of God. Let’s skip all the church politics!’
We do this, don’t we? We live in a fast-forward society. We live in an era of super high speed internet access. As a result, however much patience we didn’t have before, we have even less of now. The younger generation today are not going to wait for an email to come through and they’re certainly not going to read to if it’s longer than seven lines! It’s text or it’s don’t bother.
The younger generation don’t know the joy of waiting days, sometimes weeks for a letter to come in the mail (snail mail), and opening it and feeling the paper, sometimes smelling it!, and reading it, page after page of news from a loved one. There’s a richness and a depth that a simple Tweet (Twitter) just can’t convey.
In a similar way, in our scripture today, Paul is laying a foundation upon which he is going to build ‘the good stuff’. Without this foundation, we might be left to question whether ‘the good stuff’ is reliable and true. With this foundation we can embrace the promises and grow the fruits in full confidence and know without doubt the freedom that we have in Christ.
We need to learn or re-learn patience in reading/meditating on the Bible. Patience in waiting on God. Patience in serving others. Patience in waiting for the fruits of intercessory prayer.
This leads us on to the current season. Does anyone know what the current season is?
It’s called Lent. Lent is the season leading up to Easter during which we prepare our hearts to receive the fullness of the Easter message. We prepare our hearts to receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit of the risen Christ!
But we don’t want to do this, do we? To spend time preparing for it. We just want to race straight to Easter Sunday, right by Passion Week, right through Good Friday and celebrate the resurrection and receive the fullness of the Spirit and be on our way. No waiting, no laying a foundation, no building knowledge, no examination of our lives or confession of sins or discovery of the beauty of true forgiveness or growing in love for God and one another. It’s just a quick Hallelujah and then we’re done. Off to the shops.
Let’s be more than that. Let’s allow God more than that. Let’s honour Him more than that. Let’s know Him better than that. Let’s love Him more than that. Lent is a time when we patiently lay a foundation in our lives for the Easter message. There are no hard and fast rules about how to do this.
Some people do it by making a sacrifice – going without something valuable or desirous for a period (going without dessert/snacks, the internet, music) to remind them of the supreme sacrifice that God made on the cross.
Others do it by special efforts of prayer and fasting.
Others do it by special acts of service (remembering Jesus’ washing the disciples’ feet)
And so on.
Jesus spent Lent preparing for his death for you. How will you spend Lent?
Take time to think and pray about this.