Paul: Do we make too much of him?
Who is this man, the apostle Paul? Is it possible for us to make too much of him and his teaching? If you think we do, let me ask you a simple question. Where in the Bible do we find the gospel message that tells us of the means to salvation for people in our time? I think most people would turn to a passage in “the gospels,” that is, Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. In fact, I think the most likely place they would go would be to the book of John and they’d probably point out this well-known passage.
16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
But as I’ve covered this in another study [Bible: What’s the true meaning of John 3:16], where is there anything in this verse that tells us of Christ’s accomplishment on the cross of dying for our sins and being raised from the grave to provide a way of salvation for us? In fact, where is there anything in the whole book of John that tells us of this? Isn’t it Paul who explains this to us?
II Corinthians 5:21
21 For he hath made him [Christ] to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. [Emphasis added]
Furthermore, where is there anything in John 3:16 about Christ’s resurrection? Aren’t the cross, the burial, and the resurrection essential parts of our gospel message for today? Isn’t that what the apostle Paul tells us?
I Corinthians 15:1-4
1 Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;
2 By which also ye are saved [so as to end up in Heaven], if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.
3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: [Emphasis added]
Only in Paul’s writings do we find a full explanation of all this. Furthermore, where in the Bible do we find our “marching orders” for how we’re to conduct our lives as believers? Is it in the Old Testament? Are we under the directives of the writings of Moses, the Mosaic Law? Are we to “keep the Sabbath” when the apostle Paul tells us there are no “holy days” in our time? While there are certain immoral things we are clearly not to do, are we to avoid eating certain foods or drinks when the apostle Paul tells us we are free to eat anything consumable?
16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: [Emphasis added]
Again, while we’re not to live a “lawless” life, some people think we should be living under the Mosaic Law or at least certain aspects of it. But what does the apostle Paul tell us about this matter?
13 Neither yield ye your members [the various parts of your body] as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.
14 For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace [speaking of a different program].
15 What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. [Emphasis added]
Doesn’t Paul tell us we are free from the Mosaic Law but not to abuse that privilege?
13 For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh [our sinful nature], but by love serve one another.
Paul then explains to us the heart of the law and its meaning.
14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
15 But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.
He then goes on to tell us more of what our manner of life is to be. There are thirteen books in which he does this—Romans to Philemon.
16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.
17 For the flesh [our sinful nature] lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do [with perfect consistency] the things that ye would [wish or desire].
18 But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law [not under the condemnation of the law].
19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,
20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance [strife], emulations [jealousy], wrath, strife, seditions [dissension], heresies [erroneous opinions],
21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings [the consequences of drunkenness], and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they [the unbelievers] which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
We are clearly not to live like unbelievers. We’re to have an entirely different manner of life, one that produces the fruit of the Spirit of God in us.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. [Emphasis added]
After all this, it is no wonder that Paul says what he says about the “office” God gave him. As Moses and his teaching gave God’s directives to Israel, the apostle Paul is the one who directs us today.
13 For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office: [Emphasis added]
So, no, we don’t make too much of Paul. The fact of the matter is that most of “Christianity” makes far too little of him. He is OUR apostle! It is for that reason that we are to pay special attention to him and his teaching. Anything in the Bible that conflicts with his teaching is to be treated as something for our understanding and learning, but not for our application.
4 For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. [Emphasis added]
It is through Paul that we even find out how this period of history ends, as well as some things about what follows for us. Two very important events come to mind.
- The rapture! This is the occasion when we’ll get our resurrection body in which we’ll reside forever in Heaven.
I Thessalonians 4:13-18
13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep [believers who have passed away], that ye sorrow not, even as others [unbelievers] which have no hope.
14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again [our gospel], even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord [special revelation given to the apostle Paul], that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord [the Rapture] shall not prevent them which are asleep [believers who have passed away].
16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
17 Then we which are alive and remain [believers living at that time] shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air [Christ doesn’t come to the Earth then]: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words. [Emphasis added]
We’ll get to live forever in Heaven with a wonderfully transformed body.
21 Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself. [Emphasis added]
- The Judgment Seat of Christ! This is the occasion when we’ll be rewarded according to our faithfulness.
II Corinthians 5:10
10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. [Emphasis added]
When the emphasis went from Israel to the Gentiles, it represented quite a change for the apostles of Israel. Initially they didn’t know what to think of it, but they finally accepted it.
9 And when James, Cephas [Peter], and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me [Paul], they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen [the Gentiles], and they unto the circumcision [Israel]. [Emphasis added]
This is all in contrast to the mission of the Twelve Apostles which is all to do with Israel. Paul’s ministry and this period of time in which we are a part today began with his salvation.
15 But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he [Paul] is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:
16 For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake. [Emphasis added]
Paul himself writes about this in his letter to the Romans.
16 That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost. [Emphasis added]
In every generation since the time of the apostle Paul, many people shirk his teaching. It even happened in his own time. Notice his comment to the churches in Galatia.
16 Am I [Paul] therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth? [Emphasis added]
Even to the end of his life, there were people rejecting him who had at one time responded to his message and ministry. We see him commenting about this in that which we believe was his last epistle.
II Timothy 1:15
15 This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me; of whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes. [Emphasis added]
Even Peter in his last days acknowledged that the teachings of the apostle Paul should now have priority over all others. Here are Peter’s very last words to us.
II Peter 3:15-16
15 And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you;
16 As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest [twist], as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. [Emphasis added]
Isn’t Peter making much of Paul and his teachings in this passage? The church today needs to heed His words. Again, in our day it is Paul’s teaching that needs to be given priority over all the other writings of Scripture. All 66 books of the Bible are of great value to us, but Paul’s writings are most important of all for us. Only when people give them that kind of priority will they have a clear understanding of the gospel as well as the Christian way of life for us in our time.
25 Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began,
This verse you just read is telling us Paul’s teaching IS the teaching of Jesus Christ for us today. It comes to us from His heavenly ministry, rather than His earthly one.
26 But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets [literally, the prophetic Scriptures], according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith: [Emphasis added]
Our focus must not be on Paul himself, but his teachings. For it was Paul God used as His channel for our instruction. And just as God commissioned him with this which is called the gospel of the grace of God, it is to be ours as well. We should all dedicate our lives to the communication of that message.
24 But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God. [Emphasis added]
As some people know, I had a long career with a direct sales company. That business provided me with many opportunities to communicate this gospel of the grace of God as a part of many training sessions I conducted. Presenting the wonderful truths about Christ was an ongoing part of my life as it should be for every believer.
My emphasis in this study is not on the man, Paul, but the doctrine God provides for us through him. Contrary to the teaching of traditional teachers, I recognize the unique ministry our ascended Savior gave this man. This is known as Christ’s heavenly ministry to us, rather than His earthly one he gave especially to Israel. This is why Paul always spoke of it as his gospel, rather than just speaking of it as the gospel. [For more information, see my article on our website entitled Gospels: Did Peter and Paul preach the same gospel?]
16 In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel. [Emphasis added]
25 Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, [Emphasis added]
Even in Paul’s last epistle he’s still speaking of this to help people see the striking difference between his message and the one that had gone before through the teaching of Peter and the other apostles.
2 Timothy 2:8
8 Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel: [Emphasis added]
So, as I’ve said, if anything, people today tend to make far too little of the teachings of the apostle Paul. He is the one God used to present His message to us today. To neglect his message is a serious mistake, for it is through his teaching that we learn of the gospel message for salvation and the Christian way of life for our time.