Seeking What Pleases God
A true slave of Christ strives to please God and not men, Paul argued in verse 10 of the first chapter of his letter to the Galatians. We can safely infer from Paul’s strong language against anyone who preached and will preach another gospel in verses 8-9 that he’s not seeking the approval of people. Paul’s main aim was to please his Lord.
Now, the following passages from Galatians 1:11-24, up until Galatians 2:1-21 were written to support that claim. We will tackle the first three arguments from verses 11-17 first.
Argument from Origin(verses 11-12)
Verse 11 begins with the conjunction “for” in English which means that it is the ground or the explanation for what was said from the preceding verses, but in greek before the postpositive conjunction γαρ, he used the word γνωριζω, translated in English as “know”. This word means that what he’s about to say is of utmost importance. As a slave, Paul can’t have his own gospel message. It must come from someone else. But Paul made it clear that it is not according to man, though he himself, the messenger who preached it, is just a man. Literally in greek he said “the gospel which was gospelized by me.” It is a play on the word euaggelion by the first aorist passive participle of euaggelizo to make a point that he didn’t just make this up. You can’t gospelized what is already a good news. His gospel was not man made. It was not a human thing; it did not originate with man. The gospel is bigger than anyone.
Our fallen nature cries self sufficiency and not dependence on God’s grace.
“If you think about it, you have to admit that we would not make this gospel up. If we were given the power to determine how one earned God’s favor and a place in heaven, we would make up a scoring system, something that emphasized human works. Why? Because the natural default mode of the human heart is works-righteousness. The message of grace—that the work has already been done—is counter-intuitive. Grace offends our natural sensibilities.” – David Platt and Tony Merida, Exalting Christ in Galatians
The phrase “kata anthropon” is an old idiom that was used only by Paul in the New Testament which means “according to human standards or ideals.”(1Co 3:3, 9:8, 15:32; Ro 3:15) Therefore Paul does not try to conform the gospel to men’s ideals because it is incompatible with human sensibilities. Our fallen nature cries self sufficiency and not dependence on God’s grace.
Then in verse 12 he further support it with another ground clause. First a double denial; “I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it”, then the affirmative; “but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”
I neither received it from man nor was I taught it
This is reminiscent of what he said in Galatians 1:1 about his apostleship. He was sent not from men nor through man. In other words, Paul did not receive both his apostolic mandate and message from man, whether Peter or other apostle. There’s no intermediary. He did not learn it from any institution or tradition.
but [I received it] through a revelation
Instead it is through a direct revelation(δι’ αποκαλυψεως). The gospel was revealed to him. He did not muster up enough reasoning powers to learn this. This is God’s sovereign act.
revelation of Jesus Christ
Now how does the genitive phrase “of Jesus Christ” qualifies the prepositional phrase “through revelation”? Is it functioning as an objective genitive or subjective genitive? If it is the former, then the revelation is about Jesus Christ, but if it is the latter then Jesus Christ is the subject and or more precisely the agent of the unveiling or revealing. There’s a third option actually, plenary genitive, meaning both. Paul left it ambiguous. On the one hand he’s arguing that Christ himself revealed the gospel of justification by grace through faith but on the other hand God the Father revealed the person of Christ to him. I lean towards the plenary genitive for the following reasons:
1) He’s contrasting human agency from divine agency. It wouldn’t make sense for Paul to leave the identity of the one doing the unveiling unknown in light of the fact that his exhibit A was that his message did not come from mere human beings. Let’s just say for the sake of argument that it is a revelation about Christ(which is also true as we will see from Galatians 1:15-16) and Paul didn’t mention who’s doing the revealing, then one might infer that his message came only from men unknown to them, and as a result destroy a crucial argument for his claim that he’s not a man pleaser. Here’s another way of saying it: if Paul was indebted to another human being for that revelation then he will have a motive to please that person. Therefore Paul makes it clear that it is a direct revelation from Jesus Christ himself. He’s indebted only to his Lord and no one else.
2) God the Father indeed reveals the person of his Son during conversion according to 2 Corinthians 4:6
3) But it was Christ himself who appeared to Paul and gave his divine appointment and purpose to be an apostle to the gentiles in Acts 9:4-6 and Acts 26:14-18.
But why does it even matter for us today whether Paul’s message came from Jesus or not? Why bother?
One commentary said that It is crucial to note this point, for Paul’s call to the ministry and the gospel which he preached rested upon this single fact: did Jesus Christ really reveal Himself and the truth of His death and resurrection to Paul or not? If Paul was lying, then he was not a true minister of the gospel. He would be a fraud, a deceiver, a man who viewed the ministry only as a profession to provide a livelihood, to secure honor, and to secure power over people.
Therefore if that were the case, then we’re all deceived by this man. Paul wrote more than half of the New Testament and that’s like saying we can throw it away out of the window. But Paul is not a liar, a fraud or a charlatan, he’s just a faithful slave following his master.
Argument from Concession : Zeal for Judaism(verses 13-14)
Paul’s second argument comes as part of a mini autobiography that serves to vindicate his gospel and its origins, validity, and authority. This narrative section within a highly didactic literary piece is arranged around temporal paricle and adverbs: “former” (1:13), “when” (1:15), “then” (1:18), “later” (1:21), “fourteen years later” (2:1), and “when” (2:11). These are the chronological pegs on which he hangs each of his arguments according to one commentary.
Verses 13-14 is a concession to support the third argument in verses 15-17 and therefore makes a cumulative evidence for his case. Paul concedes that before his conversion he sought for the approval of men. He said “you have heard”. Which implies that Paul’s reputation for his zeal in Judaism precedes him. He used to persecute the church of God and tried to destroy it and was ahead of the curve in Judaism amongst many of his contemporaries. His prominence came as a result of zeal for their ancestral traditions. Paul, so to speak, was a better candidate for being a Judaizer, the legalist of legalists. He knows better than most of these proselytizing false teachers what it means to please the elites and so gain their support and protection and therefore avoid persecution.
This only shows the impossibility of Paul’s gospel’s having originated from himself given his Judaistic past.
Argument from Calling(verses 15-17)
But.. Oh how I love the buts and fors and therefores in the scriptures. Verse 15 says “But when the One [God] was pleased”. That is all what Paul would ever want to hear and say. Namely that inspite of his former manner of life, God was pleased! God’s grace is a sovereign joyful grace. It flows from the pleasure of God. Not that God was pleased by how Paul persecuted the church but by how He himself would use this man for his own purposes. We know that because (1) He already set him apart from his mother’s womb, knowing that Paul would persecute the church(Romans 9:11-13). (2) He called him through his grace. This is Paul’s conversion. But not only that, (3) God was pleased to reveal His Son to his elect. In this case Paul. Lastly, the Father revealed His Son so that (4) he(Paul) might preach Christ among the Gentiles. That’s why God was pleased. What pleases God was the fact that Christ would be preached among the gentiles. So since Paul wanted to please God more than anyone else, he will do what God wants him to do. He cannot appeal to human authority nor modify the message of the gospel of Christ.
So what was Paul’s response then to his calling?
Verse 16c-17 says that he did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, that is human beings in general, nor did he seek the approval of the apostles before him. Instead Paul obeyed his Lord first, because the mandate of Christ to preach the gospel to gentiles cannot wait for men’s approval. When our Master speaks, we obey.
Seek God’s approval first by doing what pleases him, namely that we preach Christ.
For application, first, Paul definitely was not saying that we should believe any person who claims to have a direct revelation from God today just because they claimed to have one. Notice that he didn’t just say that his message was from God, instead he challenges his opponents to test whether his message accords with the will of God. He already said that even if he himself or an angel preached that which is contrary to what they received, let them be accursed. In other words, there’s a standard set forth by God by which we must test any claims of direct revelation, and that is the Word of God. Today, we know that there can no longer be an apostle since the word of God tells us that the office of the Apostles was foundational. It can never be repeated.
Second, we are not to wait for the approval of men before we act on the mandates of Christ. It can be very paralyzing if we wait for other people’s stamp of approval first before we obey our Lord Jesus whose approval and pleasure should matter most to all professing Christians.Seek God’s approval first by doing what pleases him, namely that we preach Christ.
Third, we should not despair from our former manner of life, thinking that God can’t use us for his good purposes. Instead we should rejoice in the fact that God’s good pleasure in proclaiming his glory through his Son was the unshakable ground and foundation of our election, conversion and calling to gospel ministry. It does not rely on our performance before our conversion nor our performance after our conversion.
Fourth, we don’t deify Paul or any other people we admire. But we can say with John Piper that: “Paul is not God. He is not the highest authority. Only Christ is the Himalayan touchstone. Christ never sinned! Paul shares not only my humanity, but also my sinful humanity. But, oh, what heights of greatness and Godwardness he attained — most of it through suffering! I love him for the Christ he shows me. I love him for the unsearchable riches of truth he opens to me. I love him for the constellation of his own personal excellencies, which are all the more compelling because of how diverse, even paradoxical, they are.”
I’ll close by pointing your attention to verses 13-14. Notice that the subject in these sentences was Paul but then in verses 15-16 he shifts to God. In the words of David Platt and Tony Merida, it can be said that “Paul’s raging fanaticism was no match for the good pleasure of God. God set him apart, God called him, and God saved him by revealing Christ. And it was all by grace. You and I may not have the same background as Paul, but every follower of Christ has this same testimony.”