“In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!” —Galatians 1:20
Galatians 1:11–2:14 forms the largest autobiographical section within Paul’s letters. Indeed, they comprise the largest autobiographical material in the entire New Testament, excepting of course Jesus Christ as both the supreme author and subject of the New Testament.
Paul is a fascinating figure. His conversion is most dramatic. His post-conversion life is worthy of imitation. It is not without good reason that he tells the Corinthians “I urge you, then, be imitators of me” (1 Corinthians 4:16). But if this is as far as you go with this passage, you have missed the forest for the trees. If you miss the gospel for the apostle, you’ve also missed his apostleship which centers on the gospel.
This text is very much about Paul and yet it is not about him at all. It is as though Paul is testifying in court before these Gentiles. Yet, though he defends his apostleship, it is really the apostolic gospel he is zealous to defend.
It is too easy to take a biographical passage like this, as we do with many Old Testament narratives, and twist them into the very kind of man-pleasing Paul so adamantly denies here. One could come to this passage and preach a “be like Paul” message in such a way that is all about Pharisaical glory-seeking before men. We must beware of preaching what Bryan Chapell calls “the deadly be’s.” “Be this, be that, be like Paul.” And when I say “preaching” I refer to what you do with yourself as you read and study the word as well. Such an approach to the text is often all sting devoid of the sweet honey of the gospel. We should indeed wish to be holy as our God is holy, but if you only come to this text only wanting to be like Paul, you’ll likely indeed be like he was, before his conversion, a Pharisaical self-righteous people-pleaser.
The central truth that should bear down on us here is the verity of Paul’s apostolicity, the veracity of His claim to be an apostle, and thus the truthfulness of His gospel. If this isn’t appealing to you, ask yourself, is it because you would like a man-centered application? If you think you’ve got no beef with Paul, you fail to realize there is a Galatian residing even in the saints this side of glory.