Galatians 1:13 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. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.
After laying the foundation for his history in coming to know God – that the message Paul presents originated with God – He relates his personal history, sort of "in the beginning." He first notes “You have heard . . . ,” this must have been an oft-told tale. Paul must have had “larger than life” status in the early church. But he does not shrink from the unpleasant truth that he once attempt to do to the church what the Judiazers are now trying to do indirectly – destroy the message; snuff out the Gospel.
Verse 14: Here, it almost seems like Paul is downright proud of who he was in his former life. A child prodigy? A wunderkind? Paul’s gifts, talents, and abilities were evident long before the Lord called him (see verse 15 “set apart from birth”). In another section of scripture (Philippians 3), Paul lays out his credentials as a “Hebrew of Hebrews.” He was part of the Jewish aristocracy. “High Society” if you will – the upper crust. In the matter of the Galatians’ great “cultural controversy,” he was about as pure as you could get. As far as obedience to the law, he had followed it as closely as anyone. Its interesting how he describes that here – “zealous for the traditions of my Fathers.” He does not anchor his past devotion to the Word of God, or to God personally. He frames it in terms of culture – a connection to his ancestors, not to God’s ways or God Himself. There really is an underlying sense of bigotry here – in the struggles of the era, Jews were trying to protect their faith and way of life from pagan influences. This was a noble motivation – Yes! But, the Jews of Paul’s time also thought their position as God’s chosen people made them better than everyone else, which in the bitterness of the struggle with paganism became hatred – cultural prejudice – and bitter root judgment. At one time, Paul had been at the forefront of this cultural bigotry and snobbery. So he could speak first hand about this issue. He could discredit the Judaizers with authority. Its more than just the drama of “I once tried to kill Christians.” Its “I did it in the name of purifying my race!” Shades of the Third Reich! Paul had holocaust intentions in his heart at one time -- and what Paul had been trying to do in the name of God was the same thing as "ethnic cleansing" in the modern world. The application to what is happening amongst us today -- as it relates to the vision of our own church and my own experiences in a racially diverse church and community are patently obvious.