|Series Theme: Meditations in Galatians|
Meditation No. 4
Meditation Title: Poacher Turned Gamekeeper
Gal 1:13,14 For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.
I don't know if you've come across the expression, “poacher turned gamekeeper”; it simply means taking someone who was once bad to chase others who are still bad, or in its simplest form, a complete about turn. The Christian world is full of ‘poachers turned gamekeepers'! In fact I would suggest that this fact is one of the most convincing proofs of the reality of the Christian Faith. Examine the millions of people who have turned to Christ and you will find millions of life transformations. Look more carefully and these aren't people being religious, these are people being good!
I believe it is scientifically observable – and people like Charles Colson has written books documenting such cases – that people who encounter Jesus Christ are transformed. Where they were once evil, they are now good. Where they were once extortionists, drug pushers, prostitutes, adulterers, thieves, even murderers, they are now utterly transformed and have become pillars of society, working for the good of others. Oh no, don't get the wrong idea; this working for the good of others is not working out their guilt, it is simply an offshoot of their being good, not the main issue. No, now they have become reliable, dependable, faithful, trustworthy, honest, truthful, kind, caring and so on. This is not something they are trying to do; it is just the outworking of Jesus Christ through them.
Paul was one such person. His life had had a complete turn about. At one point in his life he had been a devout Jew following all the dictates of Judaism. He viewed the rapidly growing Christian Faith as heresy and obtained authority to persecute and arrest the Christians, to destroy the church that was becoming a threat to Judaism. He was an all-out scholarly Jew, rising up the ranks, so to speak, and highly thought of. But then something happened. He had his ‘Damascus road experience', an encounter with the risen and ascended Lord Jesus. From them on he considered himself differently: “But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles…..” (v.15,16) he was transformed. He came to realise that actually God had had him in His sights from birth, for the present day, and had called him to leave his old life and embark on this new one to share Jesus with the rest of the world, the Gentiles.
When he received this commissioning, “I did not consult any man, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus .” (v.16,17) There is a mystery about these years of Paul's life that we really don't know the truth about them. Why he went into Arabia we just don't know. Whether he went there to wait on the Lord in seclusion or whether he went to immediately start preaching the Gospel to Arab (non-Jew = Gentile) people, we just don't know, but the reason he is saying this here, the point he is making, is that he hadn't gone to anyone else and picked the Gospel up from them. He wasn't coming from a partisan position. He came with the Gospel directly from the horse's mouth, to put it crudely. He had the Gospel directly from Jesus.
Now what is interesting is that this could have actually turned the believers in Galatia away from him. If he'd got the Gospel from the apostles in Jerusalem, wouldn't that have given him sufficient credibility with the Galatian believers? But he actually claims to have had direct contact with the ascended Lord Jesus. This is what marks Paul out, this encounter that became the very foundation of his life from then on. Yes, he had had some contact but that was only later: “Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles--only James, the Lord's brother. I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.” (v.18-20).
Three years after his conversion he had gone up to Jerusalem and had met with Peter and James but that was not where he had got the Gospel from – he had already had it. After that – “Later I went to Syria and Cilicia . I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only heard the report: "The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” (v.20-23). He hadn't got his credibility through the churches even – they simply heard about him, that the ‘poacher had turned gamekeeper'.
What can account for such a testimony? Only that it happened. He wouldn't have bothered to testify to these things if they hadn't taken place. But if you'd like something to ponder on for the next week (!) think about the transformation that takes place when people meet up with Jesus Christ. Around the world are millions of testimonies of lives that have been utterly transformed – just like Paul's!