by Darrel Cline (darrelcline biblical-thinking.org)
Chapter # 1 Paragraph # 5 Study # 3 January 2, 2011 Dayton, Texas
15 But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace,
16 To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood:
17 Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus.
1901 ASV Translation:
15 But when it was the good pleasure of God, who separated me, even from my mother's womb, and called me through his grace,
16 to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the Gentiles; straightway I conferred not with flesh and blood:
17 neither went I up to Jerusalem to them that were apostles before me: but I went away into Arabia; and again I returned unto Damascus.
I. The Characterization of the Author of the Change.
A. Paul's argument, thus far, is that his "message" is legitimate because it altered his former, and deeply driven, behavior of aggression against God's Church and Paul's own generation.
B. At this point, he switches from that former reality and begins to press the claim that God altered his behavior; thus making his message a message from God. This presses the initial argument deeper into its essence. If the message really is legitimate, God had to have been behind it.
C. In this switch, he begins by addressing the activities of God involved in the process.
1. The "when" phrase automatically brings the issue of timing to the fore. It is a part of the warp and woof of Paul's theology that all things are subject to "timing" because of the nature of the creation as a cause/effect reality: every stage of the procedures requires the previous stages and prepares for the coming stages and, for that cause, everything occurs "in its time". Even if the action of God is "miraculous" (standing outside of, and above, the cause/effect progression that already exists), it is an "addition" to the overall progress of the Plan of God and, as such, takes its own place as a "cause" in the cause/effect reality and fits into the "timing". Thus, Paul's "when the fullness of the time was come..." (Galatians 4:4) is simply another way of revealing his understanding of a creation under "procedural processes of progress".
a. In John 9 there is a record of the disciples' curiosity about who was responsible for the condition of a man born blind. Jesus' response was that the man's condition was not linked to the man's sin, or that of his parents, but, rather, to the intention of God to make His works and truth manifest (9:3). This demonstrates the fact that God decides the whats, whens, hows, etc. of "events" according to the Large Plan. Even though many go ballistic over the idea that God would be involved in any way with a man being born blind and compelled to live blind for many years so that He might demonstrate His powerful works, this record sets this reality before us: God does as He pleases among the children of men and their outrage is of no consequence to Him (Daniel 5:21). Outrage assumes moral superiority and men have no basis in fact to claim it.
b. Most of the miracles of Jesus fall into this category of events under a special period of revelation. There is little doubt, for example, that the woman who had the issue of blood for twelve years sought after every manner of "healing" during her long bout with the problem (Luke 8:43). This, more than likely, even included "prayer". But she was not healed until Jesus came on the scene and she took the action described in the records of the event. That she was healed at this time, and no other, indicates that all things are done in a time and for a purpose that suits the intention of God. Nor is there any real doubt that the revealed intent for the timely healing was to bolster "faith" in Jesus of Nazareth as the Redeemer (thus, Jesus' words were, "...your faith has made you whole...").
c. But, Paul's focus in our text is that the evidence for the truth of the Gospel rests not in what men consider "miraculous", but what is infact "miraculous": the reality of a changed heart/mind complex from its bondage to Sin to its love for God. It is a more difficult thing to get one of the offspring of Adam to embrace Love than it is to raise a dead body. The former involves love/faith issues in fallen man; the latter simply requires "power" to be applied to a physical entity.
2. To address the timing factor in terms of the "pleasure of God" does not indicate any sort of "willy-nilly" characteristic in God, but it does bring out the fact that involvement in the stages in the development of His Plan satisfies God in some way. It is obvious from Paul's record that he was euphemistically "hell-bent" in the pursuit of the destruction of the Church of God and that it would take an "event" to turn him from that pursuit. God thought it good (Paul's term translated "pleased") to step into the processes and give them a new and better direction. The word Paul used indicates a significantly developed "point of view". God thought it significantly good that the arrival of the "time" for the next "divine interruption" of the activities of the wicked had transpired. The message of the Bible is that God typically frustrates the progression of evil at various points of time in order to accomplish His good will.
a. Paul's verb is interesting. It is in the "active voice" but it is very often translated in the New Testament as a "passive" (God, or someone, "was pleased"). This may be telling: perhaps the meaning is not what the translators think it is. Perhaps we should be thinking more in terms of God's part in the activity that is under consideration, rather than the notion that the activities somehow "please God". If we alter the concept into its grammatically correct "active" voice, we end up with God actively determining that a thing/person is very good. Etymologically we can easily see that the word originally meant that someone "thinks it good that...". There does not seem to be any particular reason for drifting from that origin. This shift would make God more of the Actor than the Acted-upon, and that is a huge part of Paul's doctrine of grace.
1) Paul used the root of his word-choice in four other places in Galatians (2:2, 6, 9, and 6:3) and they all have to do with certain persons having good opinions of other certain persons.
2) The point is this: what one "thinks" reveals both what he values and why he takes action. For God to "think it good" to reveal Christ in Paul's situation meant that He was going to "do" something because it was "good".
b. It is impossible to dismiss the implications of God's actions in terms of His "thinking". God has a Plan and He fully intends to execute it. Those who are caught up in His Plan have a special focus from God upon them. Those who have no such part receive no special grace. Paul's own experience and testimony was that he alone, of all of the Pharisees in Israel in his day, was given the experience of the road to Damascus and the rationale was, "...he is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My name before the Gentiles..." (Acts 9:15), a rationale made known to Paul (Acts 9:16). The picture this generates is that of a "particular" plan within The Plan that energizes the Larger Plan. In other words, Paul's special experience was necessary for the salvation of many others who would experience nothing quite so special. But this is merely an example of how the entire universe works: there are a few hypercritical issues that drive most of the remaining "dailies".
c. At the root of Paul's theology is the realization that God is, after all, God, and He does as He sees fit without regard for the attitudes, objections, or "superior intelligence" of any of His creatures. The bottom line here is not hard to see: it is inevitable that someone's vision of "fitness" will ultimately be determinative and of all who might lay claim to such "vision", only the omniscient God has any credibility as the author of the "vision of fitness".
3. At this point, Paul points to two actions of God which further his claim that his message is God's by virtue of the alteration of his behavior.
a. The first "action" was God's involvement in Paul's original "birth". This may be a subtle reference to Jesus' "born again" comment to Nicodemus, a "ruler" in Judaism. Whether that is so, or not, it is clear that Paul considered the success of his live birth an "act of God". The question here is why Paul would have resorted to the issue of his "beginning" as an "actor" on the world stage.
1) The very first issue is that of "grace", i.e., the matter of just who was/is the actual "initiator". No man "separates" himself from his mother's womb. No man even has any "say" about the fact that he exists in his mother's womb. All of men's "decisions" come about after an initiation by another/others that makes their decision-making possible. As a given, this reality posits a particular and real moral obligation upon all who "exist" by reason of some "other's" decisions. Since they exist by the choice of another/others, they automatically exist under those others. Thus, the "first commandment with promise" (Ephesians 6:2) is focused upon "giving honor" to those who made the choice that resulted in the existence. There is no other particular reason for this command. "Existence by grace" is not "existence without obligation". Many seem to think that because "grace" is consistently presented in Scripture as unmotivated by the recipient, it, therefore, has no "obligation" attached after the fact. But Paul would highly disagree. He is the one, after all, who championed the doctrine of salvation by grace apart from works and who said he was "under necessity" (1 Corinthians 9:16) and was "a debtor" (Romans 1:14 and 8:12) because of the grace given. Clarity might be achieved if we simply recognized that though the initial "gift" of "grace" is not rescinded if the consequent obligation is not fulfilled, there are consequences to the failure to respond properly after the fact.
2) This first act of God was followed by a long-permitted, set of actions by Saul of Tarsus wherein he fought God tooth and nail at every turn, though he would not have described his actions in those terms while he was involved in them. His growing conviction was that he was a very "superior" servant of God, not a profoundly opposed enemy. But this cancerous pride was the foundation of his inimical mindset and the very reason that a "second birth" was necessary.
3) Paul's reference to his original birth clearly brings God into the picture, but it also raises the issue of his own progression in wickedness after the fact. One wonders why Paul would have done this. Perhaps it was his way of identifying with his readers who, like him, had been the recipient of significant grace from God and had turned away from Him.
b. The second "action" of God in regard to Paul's message is that He "called" Saul into his "Paul" identity. The attribution of the "call" to "grace" is deliberate. Paul was changed, not by a message of demand/performance, but by a message of clearly undeserved kindness and deliberative activity at a highly personal and individual level.
1) This reference to grace fundamentally guides Paul's readers' attention into the realm of great good being extended to seriously undeserving recipients. It does two things simultaneously: it gives hope to those who are guilty; and it creates a profound level of understanding of the relationship of "guilt" to the rebellious rejection of God's evaluation of sin's dominance in men. Men who receive grace from God and make no return (2 Chronicles 32:35) are in serious danger, but not so much that it cannot be rectified (2 Chronicles 32:26).
2) The method of this "grace" is given: He "called". This was not a "general" call that would come by the preaching of the Gospel by some Christian. This was a very specific confrontation on the road to Damascus that had very specific personal characteristics. In any case, the issue here is that God took the initiative so that His action is called "grace". It is a mistake to think that God's call is not personal and individual. God is the Overseer of the question of to whom the Gospel goes and any given individual's exposure to it is not a matter of "chance" (Acts 16:7). Even when a person hears the Gospel there is no guarantee that such hearing constitutes a "call". Saul of Tarsus was not ignorant of the content of the Gospel because he was a witness to the message of Stephen before he took his part in the murder of this evangelist. The fact is people often "hear" without "hearing"; that is to say, the sound penetrates their ears and they give some level of response, but the penetration and response is of no impact in regard to the information having any kind of effective influence for good upon the hearer.