These small group studies of Galatians contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, and applications. Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.
Galatians 1:13-24 Inductive Bible Study Online Lesson – With Discussion Questions
I. Paul’s life prior to conversion (13-14)
II. Paul in Arabia and Damascus for 3 years (15-17)
III. Paul begins his ministry (18-24)
I. Paul’s life prior to conversion (13-14)
- What was Paul’s life like prior to conversion?
- Why does Paul want to tell the Galatians about his life as a Jew before conversion?
- What motivated Paul to persecute the church?
- What do we learn about Paul’s character in these verses?
- What was he zealous for? How is this similar to people who are religious? What should we be zealous for?
1. Paul’s life prior to Christ – Paul was an extremely religious person prior to his conversion to Christ. He was not an agnostic. He was not an atheist. He was not into materialism. He didn’t live by the mantra “eat, drink, and be merry.” According to this passage, he was “extremely zealous for the traditions” of his Jewish ancestors. He was well educated. He was not lukewarm or apathetic. So what do we learn from Paul’s life?
- Religion can’t save you. If religion couldn’t save Paul, it can’t save anyone. He tried his very hardest to a moral person and follow the religious traditions, but it wasn’t good enough. (See Philippians 3:4-8.)
- Focus on Christ, not external traditions. In Paul’s zeal to pursue the traditions he grew up with, he actually ended up persecuting those who were following Christ and trying to destroy the very church Christ was building up. Even today many believers zealously pursue certain traditions and attack those who have different traditions. Many of these people allow traditions and rituals to distract them from Christ. Some traditions which people may focus unnecessarily on today include things like: how to structure a church service, saying “in Jesus’ name ‘Amen,’” rituals concerning the Lord’s Supper, wearing a certain type of clothes to church, and many others.
- God can save anyone – If God could save Paul, then He can save anyone. You may have a relative or friend who seems beyond hope. He may be very hostile to the gospel. Do not give up on him. Do not stop praying for him. God can still save him.
- Whatever is worth doing, is worth doing zealously – Paul was the kind of person who gave his all. He gave his all to persecuting the church. Then he gave his all to building it up. Certainly he was wrong to persecute the church, but he did understand that whatever is worth doing, is worth doing to the very best of one’s ability. After conversion, he channeled this same enthusiasm to building the church. Are you “extremely zealous” for the things of God?
II. Paul in Arabia and Damascus for 3 years (15-17)
- What do we learn about God’s plan for Paul? When did God predestine Paul for ministry? What does this teach us about God?
- What was Paul’s calling? What is your calling? Can you identify it as clearly as Paul identified his? Are you currently working toward fulfilling God’s calling on your life?
- What does Paul mean that he did not immediately consult with flesh and blood?
- Where did he go after conversion? For how long? Why? Why does he share this with the Galatians?
Jeremiah 1:5- Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.
On God’s Eternal Plan:
1. The plans of God do not change
A. God set me apart from my mother’s womb – Many people ask, “Why did God create the tree of knowledge of good and evil? Did He know what Adam and Eve would do? Was this a mistake?” God did know. You see, God has only ever had plan A. There is no plan B. God planned for Paul to be the flag-bearer to take the gospel to the Gentiles. He had set him apart for this even before his birth. Paul did not know this, but God did. God had a plan for Paul’s life and he has one for you as well.
B. From this we see that God is sovereign. He uses sinful people to carry out his plans and He decides to use them even before they are born. I have meditated on this point trying to understand how God uses the decisions and actions of sinners who are fully responsible for their own sin. I can understand how God can use loyal followers to bring about His plan. He tells them what to do and they do it. The result is God’s will is fulfilled.
But I cannot comprehend how God can use even the sinful choices of fallen humans to bring about His plan. They actively seek to rebel against Him and His plan, but still end up bringing His sovereign will to fruition. How is this possible? My conclusion is simple: He is God. That is why I cannot understand it. It is one aspect of His sovereignty that is incomprehensible.
But was God’s plan for Jesus and salvation only foreknown (meaning He merely knew it ahead of time), or was it also predestined (meaning He planned it ahead of time?) The answer is BOTH. (See Acts 4:27-28 and 1 Corinthians 2:6-7.)
God’s foreknowledge demonstrates one very important aspect of His character, His omniscience. His predestination demonstrates another very important aspect of His character, His omnipotence. These concepts are extremely closely linked and often are impossible to separate as we see in Jeremiah 1:5, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
God both knew and appointed Jeremiah ahead of time. The same could be said for Paul.
2. Set me apart – God set Paul apart. He had a plan for him. He had a calling for him. For a while he let Paul go. Paul lived his life his way. But according to His timing, he stepped in. Jesus appeared to Paul in a vision and Paul’s life was transformed. The rest of Paul’s life story is about how he zealously pursued God’s calling for him.
Application: How about you? Are you set apart? Do you have a calling? If so, what? Are you spending your time zealously fulfilling this calling?
3. God’s plan for the Gentiles – In verse 16, we see that God’s plan for Paul was to take the gospel to the Gentiles. This wasn’t a new plan. We see hints of it already way back in Genesis 3 and 12 and then many more verses on it filling the Old Testament. God had a plan for the whole world before even creation. Nothing could stop it from being fulfilled.
Suggested Read: God’s end vision.
4. Nothing in history did or could happen which could change God’s plan. History is His Story. Although God’s plan of salvation for the Gentiles was established before creation, He was remarkably patient to implement His plan. At least 4000 years likely passed between creation and Paul’s calling to take the gospel to the Gentiles. Why did He wait so long?
We don’t know the exact answer, only that it was God’s plan. He did it when the “fullness of time” had come (Galatians 4:4-7). In other words, He did it at just the right time. From this we see that God not only plans what will happen, but when it will happen. He has a perfect timing for everything. This is very important for us.
Application – Are you waiting for something? Do you wonder why God doesn’t let it happen now? Did He forget? God knows how many hairs are on your head. He knows what you are waiting for. If it is good for you, He will give it to you at exactly the right time.
Are you waiting for marriage? Be patient. If you aren’t married yet, that means that the right time hasn’t come yet.
Are you waiting for a promotion? Be patient. If you haven’t been promoted the right time hasn’t come yet.
Are you in a hurry to graduate? Be patient. It isn’t time yet!
Don’t waste your life wishing for something to come in the future! Instead get ready so that you will be prepared when God says it is the right time. The Israelites were mostly not prepared when Jesus came. In Jesus’ parable of the ten virgins, half were also not prepared for His second coming. Are you ready?
5. My immediate response was not to consult any human being – Remember the big picture of this passage here. Paul is defending his apostleship. And he is doing that so that the people will not be swayed by false teachers who attacked both Paul and the gospel he was preaching. Paul is telling them that his apostleship authority is from God, not even from the apostles in Jerusalem. He did not go up to meet them immediately. Instead there is a three year period of time before his first visit to Jerusalem after conversion. What did Paul do during those three years? The simple answer is, “we don’t know.”
6. These three years are the most obscure of any in Paul’s life after conversion – Acts simply does not mention his time in Arabia.
There are many theories about what Paul did there, but they are only theories. The facts tell us he was converted, he was called, but before he fulfilled his calling he spent three years in Arabia. It appears to be somewhat similar to Moses’ years in Midian before fulfilling his calling in leading God’s people out of Egypt, or John the Baptist’s wilderness years, or Jesus’ 40 days in the dessert.
Whatever the exact purpose of Paul’s time there, it would seem reasonable that he was using it in preparation for the great task in front of him. It is hard to ignore that the three years he spent in Arabia is the same amount of time Jesus spent training the original apostles. Whether through prayer, meditation, time in the Word, or personal training from Jesus, Paul likely used this time to prepare spiritually for the huge mission in front of him.
III. Paul begins his ministry (18-24)
- How soon after conversion did Paul go up to Jerusalem to meet Peter and James?
- Why is it significant that he only spent a short period of time with them?
- What testimony did Paul have among the people?
- What does his testimony (persecuting Christ, then preaching Christ) teach us? About God? About people?
- Why is verse 24 significant? What can we learn from that verse?
Acts 9:26-30 – When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. He talked and debated with the Hellenistic Jews, but they tried to kill him. When the believers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
1. Verses 18-19 probably are described in Acts 9:26-27.
Galatians 1:18-19 – Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother.
Acts 9:26-27 – And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus.
When Paul finally went up to Jerusalem he met Peter and stayed at his house for 15 days and also met James. They were all on the same team so it was important that he meet them, get to know each other, and start to establish a relationship with them. It is not surprising that he only met Peter and James as many of the other apostles were likely out of Jerusalem on ministry trips.
2. Verse 20 – For whatever reason, Paul thought some might have a hard time believing what he said. Perhaps this was because they may think Paul should have met all the apostles, who would have then put a stamp of authority on him and his teaching. But a main theme seems to be Paul telling them that his authority comes from Christ, not the apostles or any man. All people, even apostles, could make mistakes, but this gospel is from Christ and is no mistake.
3. They praised God because of me – This is a very good testimony. God’s plan is for our good. At the same time, His plan is for bringing glory to Himself.
God is actively trying to get glory! How can it be that when we try to get glory for ourselves it is prideful, but when He does it, it is right?
Illustration: Let’s say that I am an author. I spend thousands of hours to write a book. It’s a very good book. But just before I get it published someone steals my manuscripts. They then publish the book in their own name as if it is theirs. After that they get the credit and the profit from the book that I wrote. As the rightful author, what should I do? Am I justified in taking up the case, going to the bookstores or to the court and showing proof that I wrote the book? I believe I am. It is my work, my creation. It is right and just that I receive the credit. Is that pride? No, that is justice. On the other hand, the person who is trying to steal the credit is sinning. He is trying to take what is rightfully mine and that is not just.
The same is true for a painting. If you painted a beautiful picture, you would not like it if someone erased your signature and added their own.
This can help us to understand why God seeks praise and glory for all the things He has done. He is the Creator. He is the redeemer. He is the King. He deserves the glory for what He has done. If someone else tries to take glory for themselves, it is unjust and robbing God.
When we try to glory to ourselves for our successes or achievements we are taking it away from its rightful owner, God.
Our own purpose in life is to give God the glory He deserves. We should not do good deeds to be recognized for those good deeds. Paul did not say these things so that people would glorify him. He said them so that people would believe in the one true gospel and therefore give glory to God. In Colossians 1:16, we learn that we are created for Him. The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. God’s glory and the good of His believers generally go hand in hand.
We know that one day God’s glory will cover the whole earth. Wow! That will be an exciting time. I for one hope to help make this happen by spreading the light of Christ wherever I go. But we should also look at our own lives and consider if this is happening now.
Application: Do people praise God because of you? Does the glory of God fill your home? Is God glorified by you in your workplace? Do you glorify God in the deep hidden corners of your own mind?
Galatians E-Book – If this lesson is helpful for you, you can download our entire Galatians Bible study guide in one convenient E-book.
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