18Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days; 19but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother. 20In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie! 21Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, 22and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; 23they only heard it said, “The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24And they glorified God because of me.
1Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. 2I went up in response to a revelation. Then I laid before them (though only in a private meeting with the acknowledged leaders) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure that I was not running, or had not run, in vain. 3But even Titus, who was with me, was not compelled to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. 4But because of false believers secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might enslave us – 5we did not submit to them even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might always remain with you. 6And from those who were supposed to be acknowledged leaders (what they actually were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality) – those leaders contributed nothing to me. 7On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel for the circumcised 8(for he who worked through Peter making him an apostle to the circumcised also worked through me in sending me to the Gentiles), 9and when James and Cephas and John, who were acknowledged pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do.
Paul gives an account of his early ministry. He asserts his right to preach because he isn’t just repeating the testimony of the other Apostles. He has his own firsthand encounter with and commission from the risen Jesus. In addition to this authority he claims, Paul mentions an interesting detail—that following his conversion, he went away for three years (verse 17, you might remember from yesterday, puts Paul in Arabia, and then Damascus). What was Paul doing before he began his ministry there? We don’t know. Acts is silent on the matter. But it’s interesting to think that Paul began his ministry with several years of isolation, taking the time to become reacquainted with the God he thought he knew—the one who bowled him over on the Damascus road. Paul must have spent that time learning God’s way around his own soul. And for those of us looking for productive uses of this relative time of solitude, could anything else be better?
Gracious God, alone in the quiet, and in the solitude of these days, help us to hear your still small voice, reminding us of who you have created us to be, in Jesus Christ, your Son. Amen.