Monday, January 18, 2016

Paul's distinctive apostleship and message

The most important issue in all of the Word of God for members of the Body of Christ is knowing the distinctiveness of the message and apostleship of the Apostle Paul.

Many believe that the Bible words printed in red are the most important because they were spoken by Christ. Of course they are important, as is all God’s Word. And we are to study them. But they were especially important to the Jewish people — who were still under the law — and to whom these words were written regarding the coming kingdom.

And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying,"Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon." But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, "Send her away, for she is crying out after us." He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."(Matt 15:22-24).

Likewise, all that His apostles said and wrote were especially important to the Jewish people because they spoke and wrote directly to and about them.

These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, "Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand'" (Matt 10:5-7).

The Apostle Paul, on the other hand, spoke and wrote directly to the Gentiles.

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth (1 Tim 2:5-7; cf.Gal 1:11-12; Gal 2:7-9; Eph 3:1-3; Col 1:24-26; Titus 1:1-3).

Therefore, when we study the New Testament books, we must interpret them in light of the epistles written by Paul because they are Christ's final marching orders for the Church today and have the correct interpretation for the day in which we live. This does not mean we should read Paul back into what Jesus Christ and His apostles said. Rather Jesus Christ and His apostles should be interpreted in accordance with progressive revelation, taking into account the circumstances (Christ hadn't died and risen again yet, and people were still under the law) and to whom they were talking directly to and about (the Jews). For more on this go here.

There is probably no place where Paul sets his apostleship forth in stronger terms than in the first chapter of his epistle to the Galatians, especially in the very first verse. You can almost hear the thunder in the apostle's voice as he declares in his salutation, "Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—" (Gal 1:1).

Paul didn't always open his epistles by asserting his apostleship (cf. Rom 1:1; Phil 1:1; etc.), but the Galatians suffered from the same spiritual problem that plagues many Christians today — they doubted Paul's apostolic authority! So Paul comes out swinging in this epistle by declaring his authority as an apostle of God, and states, "I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles" (2 Cor 12:11). Who were these super-apostles? The Lord's chief apostles were Peter, James, and John, men who are mentioned ten times in Scripture apart from the twelve. Of those three chiefs, Peter was the chiefest of them all, but Paul was "not at all inferior" to him either (2 Cor 11:5).

But if Paul's apostleship was equal to Peter's, and no higher, why should we follow Paul? Surely it's because Peter was the apostle to the circumcision, and Paul was the apostle to the uncircumcision (Gal 2:7-9).

It's important for a believer to know who his apostle is! The governors of all fifty states are equal in authority, but you follow the governor of your state, and I follow the governor of mine. Peter and Paul were of equal authority in Scripture, but we follow Paul because he is the Apostle to the Gentiles. Just as we can't function as citizens unless we know who our governor is, we can't function as Christians unless we know who our apostle is.

Unfortunately, most believers today don't know that Paul is our apostle. And since most of them believe that Paul's apostleship is of no more consequence to us than the apostleship of Peter, James, and John, they are forced to conclude that Paul's message must be the same as these chief apostles.

The problem with this is that they know Paul taught if you are saved, the Lord has already forgiven you "all our trespasses" (Col 2:13). But they also know the Apostle John teaches that the Lord is "faithful and just to forgive us our sins" if we confess them (1 John 1:9). So to homogenize these two opposite and contradictory messages they conclude that believers are forgiven when they get saved, but need just a little more forgiveness when they sin. This despite the fact that forgiveness of sins is something that every believer receives the moment he is saved, along with salvation, justification, and redemption. Most Christians wouldn't think of asking for more salvation, justification, or redemption when they sin, but asking for more forgiveness is the only way to get Paul and John to say the same thing.

Most believers also know that Paul says that salvation is by grace through faith without works (Rom 4:5), but they also know that James is just as adamant that "faith without works is dead" (James 2:20; cf James 1:1). So to homogenize these two opposite and contradictory messages they conclude that Paul is talking about justification before God while James is addressing the issue of justification before men, even though the Lord never asked anyone to be justified before men — in fact, He condemned it (Luke 16:15).

And on and on it goes, as futile attempts are made to try to blend Paul's unique message with the teachings of the Lord's chiefest apostles, the other writers of the New Testament. How much easier it would be to just acknowledge the distinctive apostleship and message of the Apostle Paul — and how much more Scriptural.

No comments:

Post a Comment