v24: “they glorified God because of me.”
The way Paul was converted, there wasn’t really much opportunity for anyone else to steal any glory from God by claiming the credit for it, but even when God uses more ordinary means to convert people, he still gets all the glory. When Paul started preaching Christ, he didn’t start earning glory for himself. Hence Paul doesn’t say “they glorified me for all the preaching I was doing”. They glorified God because of what Paul was doing.
But just in case we forgot that Paul’s conversion was all down to God, there are a few reminders in this passage.
We talked last time about God getting all the glory for providing the way of salvation for us. All we contribute is our sin, and Jesus gave himself to deliver us from that sin. Now we see that not only does God get all the glory for providing that way of salvation for us, but he gets all the glory for the way we learn to put our faith in him for our salvation. Jesus does all the work in delivering us from our sin, and we don’t even get to claim any glory for being clever enough to put our trust in him, because even that was God’s work too.
In v15 Paul tells us that God had “set me apart before I was born”.
If God set Paul apart before he was even born, then Paul clearly hadn’t had a chance to earn the right to be set apart. God did it entirely on his own initiative, not because of anything Paul had done, but just because God chose to.
And, also in v15, Paul says that God “called me by his grace”.
Just in case anyone thought perhaps God set Paul apart before he was born, but then when Paul grew up he had to work to pay God back, Paul makes it clear that when God called him, it was still on the basis of God’s grace towards him, and as Paul explains in Romans 11, if someone does something for you on the basis of grace, however much you might want to try and pay them back for it, you can’t; if you did, it would no longer be grace.
And in v16 Paul says God “was pleased to reveal his son to me”.
I think we sometimes skip over the fact that God is pleased to save people. We’re well aware of how much God hates sin, and the magnitude of the sacrifice he made on the cross in order to save us, but God didn’t do it begrudgingly. He gets pleasure himself out of saving sinners. Jesus endured the cross for the joy that was set before him (Hebrews 12:2), and there’s joy in heaven over one sinner who repents (Luke 15).
Finally, in v23, the churches of Judea heard that “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”
So let us not forget that, because God is the one that converts people, it’s not up to us to convert anyone, so there’s hope for the most unlikely people we could imagine. If God could convert the apostle Paul who hated Christians as vehemently as he did, there is no one he can’t convert. If we think of the most anti-Christian person we know, and consider what God did in the Apostle Paul’s life, how will that affect how we talk to them?