And they praised God because of me. (Galatians 1:24 NIV)
This verse sounds a little egotistical out of context, don’t you think? Paul is “too spiritual” for his own good.
Not really. You will remember, in our earlier devotion, Paul talked about his spiritual journey following his conversion in Damascus. After leaving the city of Damascus, under the cloak of darkness, he went to Arabia for three years of reflection and ministry retooling. Then he returned to Damascus and prepared for the most critical visit of his life: Jerusalem.
In Jerusalem, Christians remembered Paul’s approval of the stoning of Stephen, an early leader in the church. In Jerusalem, they recalled his threats, persecutions and murders. And in Jerusalem, they knew the young Pharisee would stop at nothing to prove his worth to the enemies of the cross.
When Paul reached Jerusalem, he tried to join with the disciples there. “Hey guys, it’s me, Paul! Remember when I was Saul and I persecuted you? But I don’t do that anymore! Come on now… ‘group hug’ everyone…”
Ok, so we aren’t told that’s what Paul said, but maybe that’s what he hoped would happen. But it didn’t. In Acts, Luke tells us the believers in Jerusalem were afraid of him, and didn’t buy his story that he was a follower of Jesus (9:26).
Fortunately, a man by the name of Barnabas intervened. Barnabas knew the story of Paul’s conversion and his bold proclamation of the gospel in Damascus. And he had enough respect among the believers in Jerusalem to put their fears at ease. From that point on Paul moved about freely in the city and preached the message of Jesus. This doesn’t mean everyone liked him. But the church supported him. This is why he wrote, “and they praised God because of me.”
They praised God because Paul was a changed man and was being used mightily for the sake of the gospel. They praised God because Paul was on their side, instead of trying to destroy them. And they praised God because Paul was obviously a well-educated man with a bright future, and could make a major contribution to the kingdom. But most importantly, they praised “God” because they credited Him with the transformation.
As I reflected on this passage, I was convicted of the fact I spend too much time focusing on the people God calls, and not enough time thinking about His role in the process. I don’t mean we should fail to encourage those who turn their lives around and use them for the Lord. In fact, that’s what this morning’s passage is about: the feeling of encouragement Paul felt from the believers in Jerusalem. It’s just that the credit for the work being done ultimately goes to God. It takes courage and resolve to change, but it takes grace and the regenerative power of the blood of Christ to cleanse.
Offer praise when lives are changed. Hug new believers and tell them you are proud of the steps they have taken in their lives. But give God the greatest praise. Without the gracious gift of His Son Jesus, a clean heart would be impossible.
Dear God, open my eyes to the work You are doing. In Jesus’ name, Amen.