Galatians 1:17-24 KJV (NIV link below)
17Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus.
18Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days.
19But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother.
20Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not.
21Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia;
22And was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ:
23But they had heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed.
24And they glorified God in me.
(Sorry, this one is slightly longer than the other reflections.)
Although Paul was called and immediately acted upon his calling, that didn’t necessarily mean he assumed his role as a church planter and itinerant pastor right away. Instead, he went to the dessert of Arabia, and then back to Damascus, the church that he first had contact with after his calling. He reflected and studied for three years before going to meet a single apostle. It is interesting to note that Jesus, at least from what we can gather in the Gospels, spent roughly three years with his disciples. The point, however, is not a specific length of time, but that there was a time of training, and of preparation.
Now, I need to be careful at this point. Far too many Christians excuse themselves from doing any sort of service to the church because they “don’t have the training.” That is almost always a lie. You are likely better trained than you think you are. The point isn’t the delay in time, but the purposed and systematic nature that Paul took with this activity. The point is that Paul didn’t start out as the “super hero” apostle we often picture him to be. It took time and intentionality and purpose. The point is no one is born as a perfect disciple of Christ; we are made into disciples of Christ. The great commission doesn’t instruct Christians to save souls and then leave people. It says we are to “make disciples” and to “teach” in addition to “baptizing them.” So let me be clear on this one thing: being a good disciple of Christ, and faithfully following his call on your life is not a natural ability you are born with, nor is it something you immediately receive upon becoming a Christian. As with any plant (such as a vine or the fruit of the spirit), it must be cultivated. This takes time. Even once Paul began his missionary work, he still needed to grow and mature.
Once Paul finished his semi-solitary period of making this new faith his own he went to see Peter. This is particularly telling. You can’t make yourself a disciple in isolation. Paul sought out a mentor, then began to get involved in the larger community. If you don’t have, or have never had, a mentor in the Christian faith, I encourage you to seek one out as Paul did with Peter/Cephas. These mentoring relationships may be long term or short term, but they are important. The proverbs tell us that “As iron sharpens iron so one man does another.” Typically, you should approach a Christian who is a bit older than you, seems more mature in the Christian faith, and is of the same gender. Ask them if they wouldn’t mind acting as a mentor for you. Come up with a plan. It may be a good idea to have a book or bible study you would want to go through together. Now, for those Christians who have been engaged in the church for some time, especially those who have some sort of formal training (I’m looking at you ordained ministers), be open and receptive to mentoring someone else younger in the faith. You should seek them out as well. Granted there are seasons of our lives where this is not practical, but don’t neglect the practice. Both parties can learn from the mentoring relationship. This brings us to the next phase of Paul’s spiritual journey.
After his time with Peter, Paul went and joined the greater community of Christ more publicly than had been the case at Damascus. It is important for Christians to understand that we are meant for community. We are part of a heavenly kingdom that exists now on this earth in the Church. It was established by Christ and is the continued presence of his eternal kingdom in the face of this present evil age. It is the body of Christ and the army of the Lord. You are not alone, and this community called the Church is comprised of individuals who are your family.
Finally, chapter one ends with the people praising God for what he has done in Paul. I really like the KJV translation of the text here: “they glorified God in me.” Wow! God is in you and it is your mission to let others glorify God even through your accomplishments.
Please leave your thoughts, comments, responses and questions below (Join the conversation). We can be the embodiment of the Church even online and help each other grow in our relationship. If you don’t know what to say, here are some questions to get started: If you currently have or have had a mentor, would you share what impact he or she had on your life? If you have ever mentored anyone, please share how that impacted you as well. Do you ever feel that you aren’t able to do ministry with the Church? Does knowing that it takes work and time make that easier? What are you doing now to better prepare yourself? Are you currently engaged in service anywhere while you are training?