11For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 13For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. 15But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; 17nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. 18Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. 20(In 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 in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24And they glorified God because of me.
To begin his instruction to the readers, Paul reiterates his own conversion story. He was not brought to faith in Jesus Christ through the words of another person. He did not hear of Jesus saving work through one of the Apostles. His conversion happened through the work of Jesus Christ Himself, who appeared to Paul as he was headed to Damascus one day to continues his persecution of the Christians. This argument gives strength to his warnings against those who share false doctrine.
We know that Paul was knocked off of his horse on the road to Damascus and was gifted with a visitation by the resurrected (and ascended) Lord Jesus. Now, with these words, Paul fills in what happened to him next. Because of his history as a murderer of Christians, he wisely did not immediately go to Jerusalem and try to meet up with the Apostles. That took a few years. Instead, he headed into the wilderness and spent time in prayer and learning. After those 3 years, he then when to Jerusalem and met with Peter (Cephas). Those must have been a very interesting 15 days spent together as Peter shared his stories of life with Jesus and Paul shared his story of that roadside visitation. It would take time for these two men of God to learn how to trust one another but that is what happened.
I’ve never had to learn how to trust someone who had previously wanted me dead. That was the path that Peter had to walk. One can only imagine what this relationship between two powerful men was like. You have impetus Peter and strident Paul, both with viable and incredible stories with Jesus. We know from the Book of Acts that they didn’t always agree either. Those must have been explosive moments! But they did both serve the Lord with all that they were, and the church grew because of their ministries. God uses the unique aspects of each of us to further the Gospel and these two very different men prove that we don’t all have to be the same or even always agree with each other. From this reading, we do know that for a time, Paul submitted himself to Peter’s tutelage. This is how God’s kingdom works.
If you’ve been a part of a church you know that peace and harmony do not always preside. Sometimes we disagree, and God is happy to use each of our unique abilities to serve His kingdom. That’s encouraging and should perhaps cause us to look upon one another (especially those with whom we disagree) more kindly.