Paul’s Ministry

The apostle Paul must have been an egomaniac, right? Consider these points:

  • In his gospel, the apostle John never refers to himself by name and only once by the personal pronoun “I.” Paul, in his letters, refers to himself by name about 30 times and by personal pronouns a few hundred times.

  • Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus is told in detail three times in Scripture (Acts 9:1-18; Acts 22:6-16; Acts 26:12-18).

  • Three times, Paul refers to his message as “my gospel” (Romans 2:16; Romans 16:25; 2 Timothy 2:8).

  • Three times, Paul refers to his message as “our gospel” (2 Corinthians 4:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:5; 2 Thessalonians 2:14). The three letters in which this phrase appears are signed by Paul and Timothy and, in the case of the Thessalonians letters, Silas.

  • In two places (1 Corinthians 15:1 and Galatians 2:2), Paul refers to “the gospel which I preach(ed). And once to “the gospel which was preached by me” in Galatians 1:11.

  • Extensively (Ephesians 3:1-12; Colossians 1:24-29; 1 Timothy 1:12-16) Paul talks about how God chose him especially to take a new message to the Gentiles.

  • Paul does something no other apostle dares to do — he tells his readers to pattern their behavior after his (1 Corinthians 4:16; Philippians 3:17; Philippians 4:9).

  • Paul uses the word “mystery” 17 times to refer to doctrines that God gave him that had never been given to anyone else.

  • Frequently, Paul uses the term “but now” to refer to things revealed by God through him that were previously hidden. For example, Romans 16:25-26.

No other writer of Scripture ties his message and his ministry so closely to his own person. It almost seems like Paul himself is part of the message. That can’t be a good thing, right? Paul must have been conceited.

OR, as is the case, Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit to make it very clear that his particular message was new and important and that Paul himself was the key to understanding it.

However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life (1 Timothy 1:16).

Some say that’s Paul message was simply that Gentiles could now be saved as Jews were saved. That is certainly part of it, but just as certainly not all of it. After all, the Old Testament prophets foretold that the Gentiles would someday be blessed (Isaiah 49:6 for example). But those prophecies look to a time, still future, when the Gentile nations will be blessed through Israel during the millennium. Paul’s message — a mystery that was not foretold — is that Gentiles can be saved apart from Israel.

Jesus Christ, when He was on earth, ministered only to Jews (Matthew 10:5-6). The Gentiles were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world (Ephesians 2:12).

Now Jesus Christ, through Paul, makes salvation available to all, Jews and Gentiles alike (Romans 15:8-12).

For Gentiles to be saved during the Old Testament period, they had to become Jews. Now there is no longer a distinction. Both are joined together in the Body of Christ, another revelation given only to Paul. He says: I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God, the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints (Colossians 1:24-26).

Peter spoke of the resurrection of Jesus Christ at Pentecost, but apart from the basic fact of the resurrection, his message wasn’t much different from that of Christ Himself before the cross. It was through Paul that the Lord revealed exactly what Christ’s death and resurrection mean (Romans 5:6-11).

So, a new audience, a new body of believers, a new emphasis on the cross. But that’s not all. Paul also was the messenger of a new way to live.

Salvation, since Adam and Eve, has always been by faith. But prior to Paul’s ministry, that faith had to be demonstrated. In the Old Testament, God made it clear: You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by them: I am the LORD (Leviticus 18:5). The law was still in effect when Christ was on earth: For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:20).

And for those Jews saved under the kingdom gospel, the law was still in effect after the resurrection, which is why James, in his book to the Jews says, faith without works is dead (James 2:20).

Yes, the purpose of the law was to teach us that we couldn’t be saved by obeying the law but only by trusting in Jesus Christ. But it wasn’t until Paul that this was revealed. But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor (Galatians 3:23-25).

Now, Paul explains, instead of trying and repeatedly failing to keep a law we are incapable of keeping, we are simply to walk in the Holy Spirit. I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh (Galatians 5:16).

There are many other aspects of Paul’s ministry. We’ll get to them in a future post on the “mysteries” that he mentions.

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