Paul: An AWOL Christian

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Paul tells people about the prophecy-fulling Jesus
Image source: Sue Bentley/

With today’s Bible reading*, we begin reading through Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Paul introduces himself and says the gospel he preaches was revealed directly by Jesus Christ. And he wasn’t called to be an apostle by any person except the Lord Jesus Christ.

These are important qualifiers along with his Jewish credentials. He contrasts his zeal before and after coming to faith in Jesus. And he mentions that after his conversion, he went to Arabia and stayed in Damascus for three years before making a brief trip to Jerusalem. (Galatians 1:17-18) In tomorrow’s reading, we’ll see that he spent another fourteen years before returning to Jerusalem.

It seems that for seventeen years, Paul was AWOL. Why? What was Paul doing for all those years?

Imagine believing something so strongly to the core of your being. You are so committed to your traditions, you’re willing to kill people who speak against your beliefs. And then you have an encounter that turns on its head everything you’ve ever known to be true. I’m sure it would rattle you to the core. And it did for Paul.

Except for a brief trip to Jerusalem to consult with Peter for a little over a week, Paul was unknown to the Christian community. (Galatians 1:22)

So again, what was Paul doing? I believe he was going back to what He knew: “The Law, the Prophets, and the Writings” (the Old Testament). Paul went back and combed through his Bible, looking for evidence to validate his Damascus Road Experience. After seventeen years, Paul emerged a new man. Paul was a changed man. Old things had passed away and new things had come. (2 Corinthians 5:17) The persecutor became the persecuted. All of this probably happened in the middle of Acts 9.


If your Bible has cross-references in the margins or in the middle column of the text, you can easily see the quotes and allusions Paul makes to his Bible. If you slow down a little in your reading through Galatians and check out those cross-references, you’ll see how deeply influenced by his Bible that Paul was. The words of the Old Testament flow freely through Paul’s pen. He had found his identity in the big story of the Bible. And he found himself right in the middle of it.

For someone who was driven with a passion for his cause, seventeen years is a long time to live in isolation and obscurity. But those seventeen years proved to be very fruitful as Paul comes back with more zeal than before. Rather than being committed to his traditions, Paul emerged committed to the truth. Paul was AWOL, but only for seventeen years. And those seventeen years was the best seminary education anyone ever had. The fruits of Paul’s studies all those years can be seen very clearly in his letters to the First Century churches. But to see it, you may have to look a little closer than you ordinarily do.

How convinced are you that you are walking in the truth? Have you considered the ramifications of holding a Bible in your hands that reveals the prophecy-fulfilling Lord of creation? Let me challenge you to slow down in your Bible reading for the next few days. Look at the cross-references. Look at footnotes at the bottom of your Bible. Look at study notes if you have a study Bible.

Drink deeply of the truth of God’s Word. Ask God to reveal more of Himself as you slow down.

* Today we are reading Galatians 1.

This devotional was originally published on March 20, 2020.

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