The other day I heard of a man who was sharing his testimony with some friends, telling how God had sought him and found him. How God had loved him, called him, saved him, delivered him, cleansed him, and healed him. It was a tremendous testimony to the glory of God. After the meeting, one rather legalistic friend took him aside and said, “You know, I appreciate all that you said about what God did for you, but you didn’t mention anything about your part in it. Salvation is really part us and part God, and you should have mentioned something about your part.”
“Oh,” the man said, “I apologize. I’m sorry. I really should have mentioned that. My part was running away, and God’s part was running after me until he found me.”
I think many of us should be able to relate to this story. I'm sure the apostle Paul could. He spent his whole life pretending to be righteous, thinking he was near God when he was actually running in the opposite direction.
Paul has an amazing testimony and he shares it boldly in this section. But he doesn't share it to draw attention to himself. Paul's not the focus, God is.
In this text we see two basic reasons for Paul sharing his testimony: 1) to refute false claims and 2) to display God's amazing grace.
The first reason Paul shared his testimony was...
1. To refute false claims.
This first reason has three parts. Paul shares his testimony to prove three things about the Gospel.
- It didn't come from him.
- It didn't come from others.
- It agreed with the other apostles.
A. It didn't come from him.
Paul said in verse 11...
For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel preached by me is not of human origin. For I did not receive it from a human source and I was not taught it, but it came by a revelation of Jesus Christ.
Paul testifies that the gospel didn't come from him. Paul didn't go through a gradual change in thinking and come to understand the truth on his own.
Paul was headed in the opposite direction and God turned him around dramatically as an evidence the gospel he preached wasn't made up by him. There was no time. One day he was persecuting the church, the next he was defending it. Why? God is the only explanation for how this could happen.
So, it didn't come from him and...
B. It didn't come from others.
Paul says in verse 16...
...I did not immediately consult with anyone. 17 I did not go up to Jerusalem to those who had become apostles before me; instead I went to Arabia and came back to Damascus.
The gospel he preached didn't come from others. He was by himself for three years. He wasn't a part of a gospel committee. He didn't read a book and get his ideas from there. He didn't ask anyone's opinion his ideas. He didn't need to because his ideas about the gospel didn't come from himself or from others. They came from God.
But, nevertheless, Paul testifies that...
C. It agreed with the other apostles.
18 Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to get to know Cephas, and I stayed with him fifteen days. 19 But I didn’t see any of the other apostles except James, the Lord’s brother. 20 I declare in the sight of God: I am not lying in what I write to you.
Apparently, there were some who thought Paul was a fraud and shouldn't be trusted. That's why he's sharing his testimony, to refute false claims. Peter and James could both attest to the validity of Paul's claims, and I'm sure they did.
Not only that but Paul's gospel message agreed with what the others taught even though he hadn't been with them. The other apostles had been with Jesus personally but Paul hadn't been among them, yet Paul's gospel matches with theirs because he, too, had been with Jesus, just not at the same time.
It's an amazing testimony, one that the churches he visited can verify...
21 Afterward, I went to the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 I remained personally unknown to the Judean churches that are in Christ. 23 They simply kept hearing: “He who formerly persecuted us now preaches the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.
These churches knew what the faith was. They knew when it was being preached correctly. They also had heard of Saul and how he was trying to destroy them and the gospel. But now they could verify that Paul was preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.
Paul was preaching the gospel which was essentially his testimony to how God had changed his life.
Paul's testimony was similar to the other apostles, because they too were changed. Peter was no longer arrogant and boastful. The other disciples were no longer jockeying for position. Paul no longer persecuted people who believed the gospel, but preached it.
So, first of all, Paul shared his testimony to refute false claims. Watch out for those who have ulterior motives when sharing their testimony. Maybe they want you feel sorry for them. Maybe they want you to give them money. These aren't the best reasons.
And, secondly, Paul shared his testimony...
2. To display God's amazing grace.
There are three ways Paul's testimony displayed God's amazing grace. It displays God's grace...
- In who Paul was.
- In what God was doing.
- In who Paul became.
A. In who Paul was.
Paul says in verse 13...
For you have heard about my former way of life in Judaism: I intensely persecuted God’s church and tried to destroy it. 14 I advanced in Judaism beyond many contemporaries among my people, because I was extremely zealous for the traditions of my ancestors.
Paul was a terrific Jew, but he hated Christians because they were a threat to his way of life. He had many killed and he was planning to kill even more when God stopped him on the way to Damascus.
From Paul's point of view he had good reasons to put Christians to death. He was extremely zealous for the traditions of his ancestors. He was a patriot. He stood for all that was good morally about his people and he was willing to do whatever it took to preserve what he valued. I'm sure he even thought he was doing God a favor.
There's something sober to think about at this point.
If Paul had been American he would have been an expert on American history. He would have had huge firework displays in his front yard on the fourth of July. And he would have been fanatical about preserving his way of life and using whatever political means to destroy those who stood against him. Remember, stoning, was a legal way to deal with those who spoke heresy, and sadly, I'm afraid there maybe some Christians who wish it were still legal.
Paul was a patriot who was defending his way of life. Yet, in his patriotism, in his desire to preserve Jewish culture, he was at odds with God because he was persecuting the church.
But Paul's testimony is that he's tried the patriotic route. He's been there, done that, and it's a dead end. You can't get to God that way.
What he could see so clearly, others were struggling with. Some were saying in order to be fully accepted by God you needed to be Jewish. If you weren't born Jewish, you needed to embrace the Jewish way of life, including it traditions and standards.
Paul's testimony is that he used to be a rule-keeper. He used to follow the party line. He was proud of his heritage. Reading verse 14 again...
14 I advanced in Judaism beyond many contemporaries among my people, because I was extremely zealous for the traditions of my ancestors.
But none of that got him anywhere with God. In fact, it was driving him in the opposite direction and didn't know it.
Yet, God pursued him and rescued him. This is amazing grace.
Paul's testimony also displays God's grace...
B. In what God was doing.
Now that Paul is saved, he realizes God was at work even before he was born. Verse 15...
But when God, who from my mother’s womb set me apart and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me, so that I could preach him among the Gentiles...
None of Paul's previous experiences were wasted. God was at work, preparing Paul. He set hm apart before he was born so that he could preach to the gentiles.
Why did he wait so long before He called him to preach? I think the implication is that God waited so that Paul's testimony would even more clearly testify to God's amazing grace.
This theme is all throughout the Bible. We see it in the life of Joseph. His bothers attempts to get rid of him ended up being the very means God used deliver him and his people. We see it in the life of Christ. The successful attempt to take Jesus' life end up bing the very means God used to exalt Jesus and rescue his people.
In Paul's testimony, God gets the glory. God didn't save Paul because of something he saw inside of Paul. Paul was chosen before he was even born. God groomed him and prepared him...because he "was pleased" to do so (verse 15).
And the end result was...
24 ...they glorified God because of me.
God received the glory because He was the one working. They didn't glorify Paul because Paul hadn't done anything. It was all God.
Paul could've been born to someone else. He didn't have any control over being called. You, too, could've ended up anywhere. You could have been born in the middle of a war zone in Syria to terrorists never to hear the gospel. But you weren't and you did hear the gospel. Why? Because of God's amazing grace.
So Paul's testimony declares God's grace because of who Paul is, because of what God is doing, and...
C. In who Paul became.
Paul underwent a radical transformation which he makes clear in verse 10...
For am I now trying to persuade people, or God? Or am I striving to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.
Paul is no longer trying to please people. He is no longer trying to persuade people. "Persuade" might be better translated "seek the approval of".
The gospel changed Paul from a people pleasing person to a God pleasing servant. And Paul is dogmatic that followers of Christ will not be people pleasers.
The Bible has a lot to say about this.
Proverbs 29:25 "The fear of mankind is a snare, but the one who trusts in the Lord is protected."
Ephesians 6:6-7 "Don’t work only while being watched, as people-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, do God’s will from your heart. 7 Serve with a good attitude, as to the Lord and not to people..."
Colossians 3:22-23 "...obey your human masters in everything. Don’t work only while being watched, as people-pleasers, but work wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, do it from the heart, as something done for the Lord and not for people..."
When we become Christians our whole motivation for service changes. How does this change happen? The gospel destroys the desire to please people and replaces it with a desire to please God. I read this example the other day...
Imagine a father watching his beloved son play baseball for the team his father coaches. As he sits in the dugout, he loves his son fully and completely. If his son forgets his father’s instructions and strikes out, it will not change his love for him or approval of him one bit. The son is assured of his father’s love regardless of his performance.
But the son will long to hit that home run. Not for himself—to gain his father’s love—but for his father, because he is already loved. If he doesn’t know his father loves him, his efforts will be for himself—to win that love. Because he knows his father already loves him, his efforts are for his father—to please him.
We do not live in a way at that is pleasing to God in order to become God's children. We live in a way that is pleasing to Him because we already are.
Now, some final thoughts about when we share our testimony...
Paul doesn't share his testimony to draw attention to himself. He doesn't share his testimony to inspire people. He shares it to help people find Christ and to stay close to Christ.
Also notice that Paul cares about how we think and how we feel. Belonging to Christ is an act of the mind and the heart. When we share the gospel, if we don't share our testimony, even if get all the gospel facts right, we leave leave out the part that connects with the heart.
At the same time, when we share our testimonies we want to avoid making us the focus. We don't want the main point to be "Look at how wretched I was! Look at how hopeless I was!" It's true, we should follow Paul's example and let the emphasis be on how amazing God is because it's His amazing grace that has changed us!