Normally we don’t think of Saul (Paul) being discipled, but that is exactly what happened. Even the greatest of the Lord’s servants had to go through a phase of being mentored by someone else. It is true that the gospel was given directly to him by “revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:12). Ananias, a disciple, discipled Saul immediately after his conversion (Acts 9:10-19).
In Acts 9, we notice that there were “disciples” in Damascus who immediately realized that Saul was in danger because “the Jews plotted to kill him” (9:23). He submitted himself to them ‘as a disciple.’ “Their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him, but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket” (9:24–25). We are seeing here a ‘two-way’ discipling work happening in Damascus. But there is more.
After escaping Damascus, Saul heads to Jerusalem. Saul was well known there as the ‘persecutor of the Way’ and “they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple” (9:26). Now, Barnabas enters the picture. He knew exactly what happened to Saul on the Damascus road and “how…he [Saul] had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus” (9:27).
In a real way, Barnabas discipled Saul and help him become accepted by the church in Jerusalem. Discipling is never about hierarchy, but how we help others to grow spiritually and become passionate about God’s purpose being worked out in and through us. A unique relationship developed between Barnabas and Saul forged by the Holy Spirit and sent out by Him at Antioch (13:2-3). Are you being discipled? Who are you discipling?
It is good for us to ask some questions about the life and ministry of Paul. Why was he so effective and focused on spreading the gospel from Antioch to Rome in about ten years? What events in his walk with the Lord after conversion, helped to shape his new life and helped make that tremendous change from Judaism to being a faithful follower of Jesus.
As passionate as Saul (the old Paul) was about persecuting the Church (Christ), he became very passionate about proclaiming the person he had persecuted. With such a dramatic change, some asked; “is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name [Jesus]? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests? (Acts 9:21). Saul turning his back on a life of religious pride and hatred against Christ and those who represented Him, to a life of devotion to Christ. A man like Saul who made a 180 degree change would make many people wonder whether it was real or just a mentally deranged state.
It was real! “Saul increased all the more in strength and confronted the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ [Anointed Messiah]. (9:22).
One of the proofs of our conversion is what we say to those we used to associate with. When conversion is not deeply rooted in Christ delivering us from sin and all our sins, and receiving God’s forgiving grace, we will not be able to say much about what has happened in us. The ‘confession with our mouth’ (Romans 10:9-10) will be difficult to make and not convey a real transformation God intends to make.
Do those who knew you before your conversion ask what made the change they see in your life?
We come to the second point of our topic from yesterday. Peter’s human thinking would have diverted the Savior from the most important moment here on earth. In the stern reply from Jesus, He speaks to another issue; where our minds are focused.
2. “For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matthew 16:23). The words in English, “setting your mind” are actually one word in Greek, and mean to “give serious consideration to something, to ponder, to let one’s mind dwell on, thinking about, or to fix one’s attention on” the things of God. When we follow this instruction, our values change from those values that people set to the values God has given us in His Word. By fixing one’s attention on the things of God, we are much less likely to allow outside influences to change our determination to do the will of God.
As Jesus closed out His comments in Luke 9:62; “Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”” Here again is a very strong statement. I well remember my father teaching me how to plow a field. If I became distracted from the fixed point at the end of the field, my furrow would look very crocked. Following Jesus requires yielding everything to Him; first and most importantly, your mind and heart. If He has those, everything else will fall into place.
Be sure that your mind is not working against the will of God. It is easy to get distracted by the world and people. The solution is to keep your eye on Christ.
Since Jesus was determined to follow God’s will for Himself, anyone who follows Him must do the same. We live in a world where standards are constantly being lowered; from how we achieve grades in school, how we do our work, to moral standards of integrity in the offices of government.
Jesus faced similar problems with the disciples. Over and over, Jesus instructed them that He was going to suffer and die, and rise the third day. In the face of all this teaching, Peter had the audacity to “take the Lord aside and rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to You”” Matthew 16:22. Can you imagine speaking to Jesus like that? Jesus comes back to Peter with these stunning words, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a hindrance to Me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (16:23).
Think about this for a moment. Jesus is saying that any influence that would divert Him from doing the will of God came from Satan. We tend to allow the ‘shades of gray’ to influence our thinking. Not with Jesus; it was black or white, total commitment. In His return rebuke to Peter, Jesus makes two important observations:
1. “You are a hindrance to Me.” Have you ever said that to someone who was trying to influence you in the wrong direction? Your co-workers, neighbors, relatives, students at school or college, or even respected leaders in the Church may seek to influence you in the wrong direction. How do you respond to their suggestions? ANY INFLUENCE THAT IS NOT THE WILL OF GOD BECOMES A HINDRANCE IF WE ALLOW IT. The idea behind this word “hindrance” is that the other person is a trap that immediately closes, in the same way as when an animal is caught by a trap. Paul uses the same idea when he writes about becoming a “stumbling block” to someone. This is “sin” (1 Corinthian 8:9, 12).
This is a hard issue for all of us! So often when we take a stand for a value that is not shared by others, we are immediately criticized, made fun of, or even mocked; sometimes much worse. This becomes a test to our determination and resolve to follow Christ. One of the hardest parts of the Christian walk is “standing firm” on biblical convictions in the spirit of grace, even when other professing Christians are doing something different!
We will pick up on the second point tomorrow. For now, are you resolute and purposeful in your life? If not, it will show.
So many events in this ministry keep reminding us of our need to constantly depend on the Lord for every detail. As we told you before, God opened a door for us to invest our training into Spanish speaking nations, churches and leaders. Next week, Tim will travel to Managua, Nicaragua for one week of introducing God’s Plan for His Disciples (GPHD) and God’s Plan for His Church (GPHC).
Here are a few details that had to come together for this event to be successful. We needed to print at least 100 GPHD and 10 GPHC for the conference. The order for 1,500 had been placed here in the US, but they will not be ready to ship for another three to four weeks. God put us in touch with a printer in Managua who gave us a reasonable price for 500, but required a 50% deposit before they would start printing. They needed six business days to do the printing and the conference starts on April 11th. The deposit was wired 9 minutes before the bank deadline on Tuesday April 2nd. It usually takes 2 days for a wire to be transmitted, but we received confirmation they received the wire April 3rd – ONE DAY! Today we received the pictures you see here – the printing is finished TWO DAYS LATER! AMAZING how God works!
I often think He purposely puts us in these ‘tight’ situations to increase our dependence on Him. Now we cast on Him the burden of the conference. We cannot assume the Spirit of God will move there in power. We must ask in humble faith that He will cause this event to be abundant in fruit for God’s glory. PRAY WITH US!
I well remember my days in the corporate world. It was a shock to my upbringing and fourteen years of working with a humble Christian brother. Most of those around me in the manufacturing company often talked about climbing up to the next level in management. Most of the advice only fed the human ego and pride.
Paul had been on the same path. “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” (Philippians 3:4–6). He was in the inner circle with the high priest, getting written approval from him to carry out his hatred of followers of “the Way.”
Listen to the dramatic turn that took place in Paul’s life after Damascus; “But when He who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by His grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone [flesh and blood]” (Galatians 1:15–16). The grace of God made this huge difference.
As we saw yesterday, Paul received the gospel “through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:12). No human can do that! Now that he had this “revelation,” Paul realized that his direction would come from the same source. While it is right to lean on others for godly wisdom, it must always be measured by the Word of God and our personal fellowship with Him. The divine message must be carried and presented by divine guidance and power.
Most of the culture we live in is marked by ‘seeking approval’ from others. This comes in many forms and is seen all over the world; sadly, even in the church. Paul faced this problem head-on as he wrote his first letter to the Galatians.
“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10). What mattered more than anything to Paul was preaching the pure gospel, “not man’s gospel” (1:11). That required getting the message from the right source.
Notice how important this point is for Paul. If he were in any degree seeking the approval of man, he “would not be a servant of Christ.” This attitude of heart brings freedom from trying to meet man’s expectations and allows us to focus our attention on where God wants us to go, what God wants us to say, and who He wants us to say it to. Do you qualify as a servant?
This was the benefit of Paul going to Arabia for about three years after his dramatic conversion at Damascus (1:17). We are not given the details of that time in his life, but he was away from the religious and political influences of the day. In this period of training alone with the Lord, Paul gained a clear understanding of the gospel, because he “did not receive it from any man, nor was [he] taught it, but…received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:12).
The test of anyone responsible for ministering the gospel to others in any capacity is by asking the question; ‘who do I want to please?’ That will also answer the question of where you receive the supply of truth, grace and strength? None of these can come from man. Have you taken the test?
“If anyone knew the difference between [law and grace], it was Paul the apostle of grace, who had been Saul the persecutor of grace.
Through the Christ-centered preaching of Paul, the Galatians had been delivered from the bondage of trying to get to heaven by obeying the Ten Commandments and following the ceremonial law. Paul preached a Jesus who had obeyed the moral law for sinners, a Jesus who had suffered the penalty of a law broken by sinners, and a Jesus who had abolished the rituals and ceremonies by fulfilling them.
The yoke of bondage was smashed. The prison doors were opened. The chains fell off. They entered a new world of freedom and liberty. Who would ever give that up?
The Galatians did. They allowed false teachers from the Jewish synagogue to persuade them that faith in Jesus was not enough. They needed to be circumcised. They needed to follow the ceremonial rituals. Turning away from Jesus, they put their necks under the heavy yoke again.”
Be careful that having been set free by Christ and “begun in Spirit,” we “do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 3:3; 5:1).
David Murray, Jesus on Every Page, Thomas Nelson, 2013, page 26-27.
What do you want most out of time spent in the presence of God? Is it a better understanding of the Bible, or clear direction for your life or ministry? Would you just ask God to supply all your wants and favorite things in life? If you were concerned about getting a job or finding the right person to marry, would that be what you want most? What about asking God to deal with all your enemies or taking away struggles, conflict and persecution?
None of these things, and many more, measure up to this request; “Moses said, “Please show me your glory”” (Exodus 33:18). It was a simple request, but with an entirely different focus. Moses was not concerned about himself, even though he could have asked for relief from the burden of a rebellious people through the wilderness. At this moment, Moses wanted to know more of the character and glory of the God he served.
“And He [God] said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (33:19).
The best way we can grow spiritually and become better and more effective servants is by getting to know God better. God showed Moses His glory and it changed Moses. “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God” (34:29).
When we become more interested in the presence of God and His glory, we are changed and it quickly becomes evident to those around us. This make us more effective as husbands or wives, fathers or mothers, members of the Body of Christ and ministers of the gospel. Whatever role we have, the presence and glory of God will make us far better at what we do.
In our training sessions and the materials we have created, we often speak of the vital importance of intimacy with the Lord. When this becomes a regular habit, the transformation created by God also becomes obvious to those around us. Priorities change, attitudes and conduct are shaped by these times with the Lord, and the reflection of Christ becomes clearer.
I am thinking particularly of one man who was much like most of us; proud, self-willed, and afraid of his own brother. Unlike the type of person I mentioned above, who makes it a regular habit of being close to the Lord, Jacob was so fearful of what his brother Esau would do to him for stealing his birthright, he divided his family into three groups and left them in the hands of his servants while he stayed overnight by himself (Genesis 32:13-21). This was a major crisis for Jacob.
“And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day” (32:24). Jacob did not realize until well into the night that he was wrestling with God. That match changed Jacob forever! God changed his name from Jacob to Israel. He was going to become a new man “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered” (32:30).
Should this be our expectation when we spend time alone in the presence of God? Transformation is not the only thing that happens in His presence, but it is perhaps the most important. Fellowship with divine persons is enjoyed most when we are willing to be changed into His likeness.
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