The call of the apostle Paul. 1:11-2:10


From 1:11 to 2:14 Paul presents an autobiographical defense of both his gospel and his apostleship. Paul is aware of the personal attacks directed against his apostleship by members of the circumcision party and how these attacks are undermining the gospel which he proclaims in the Gentile churches. Paul therefore, sets out to establish the authenticity of both his ministry and his message before proceeding with his study on the gospel of God's grace in Christ.

The passage

v11-12. Paul begins by arguing that the gospel he proclaims is not a product of human devising, and certainly not something taught him by some other person, rather, it came directly by divine revelation. The gospel which Paul proclaims is actually a revelation that was given him by God through the person of Jesus Christ. Paul may be referring to his Damascus road confrontation with Jesus, but also possibly to the time he spent in Arabia where he grew in his understanding of God's grace in Christ.

v13-14. Only a divine revelation could have turned Paul away from his former life as a fanatical Jew. As a pious Pharisee, Paul happily persecuted the church, but then he met the risen Lord on the road to Damascus and his world changed.

v15-17. Paul's enemies had probably suggested that he had moved in his understanding of the gospel from what was first explained to him by the apostles at the time of his conversion. Yet, the truth is, it was years after his conversion that Paul got to meet the apostles. Paul's gospel of grace, apart from the law, was a direct revelation from God, as was his commissioning as apostle to the Gentiles. As far as Paul is concerned, his commissioning is a sovereign act of God. The language he uses is of the call of an Old Testament prophet, the servant of Jehovah.

v18-20. Paul tells us that he did eventually visit Jerusalem. This took place some three years after his conversion. During a fifteen day stay he got to see the apostle Peter, as well as James, the Lord's brother, but none of the other apostles.

v21 -24. Paul then went off to Syria and Cilicia, during which time he remained out of contact with the Judaean Christian church; they only heard of his preaching ministry.

2:1-10. Paul goes on to recount his visit to Jerusalem some fourteen years later. This visit, known as the Jerusalem Council, is recorded in Acts 15. He goes up with Barnabas, who is an apostle, but not one of the twelve, and Titus, a Gentile believer. Paul gave the apostles a run-down on his understanding of the gospel, seeking their confirmation, but certainly not their authorization, v2, which confirmation was given, since there was no demand, on their part, that Titus be circumcised, v3. Paul did this to counter the Judaizers who were undermining his ministry, v4. So, Paul stood his ground, v5, and the apostles made no attempt to edit his gospel of grace, v6, but rather entrusted him with the mission to the Gentiles, v7-9. The only request made of Paul was that he continue to collect funds for the Palestinian poor, v10.

The call of God

As with the Old Testament prophets, Paul the apostle had a strong sense of God's call to ministry. Much like the prophets of old, or even the messiah, Paul said of himself, God "set me apart from birth, and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles." Paul's ministry was marked by a strong sense of God's directives, rather than the directives of others.

When it comes to God's use of particular people for particular purposes, there are two points worth underlining:

i] Divine service is within the sovereign will and foreknowledge of God. The "call" is part of God's sovereign intentions. As Paul puts it, God intended this special task for him "from birth".

ii] Divine service is supported by God. For Paul, Christ was "revealed in" him, such that the living God revealed the living Word, Christ, the gospel, to Paul. Paul was equipped with the message. His calling, his special task, was to make the gospel known to the Gentiles, and to this end God equipped him.

When it comes to applying these truths in our own Christian life, we are often confined by our own particular theological bent. If we are Calvinist we may argue that God has determined a certain path for our life, and by means of God's sovereign will, we will inevitably travel this path. If we are of an Arminian bent we may argue that God has given us free-will, and by means of human freedom we will see God's sovereign intentions fulfilled, either through our free submission to his will, or through the submission of others. Either way, the kingdom of God is realized.

Few of us are called to divine service as Paul was called, but we are called to place ourselves in the center of God's will. When we submit ourselves to the will of God we then find ourselves equipped for service - God enables us to do what he intends.

What then are God's intentions? The specific call to the Messiah, or to the prophets, was a call to a particular divine task. For Paul, it was a direct call to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles. For us, God's intentions are revealed in the Scriptures, particularly the New Testament. Jesus has made his will clearly known to us in his Word. Our task is to study the Word of God and apply it to our lives. In the application of the Word our Lord will supply the wherewithal for our service. So, let us hear, read and inwardly digest the Word of God.


Christians often use the phrase "the Lord called me......" What does this mean?

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