The Apostle Paul
In His earthly ministry, Christ said to His disciples, “Follow me” (Matt. 4:19). The only other man in the Bible who exhorts people to follow his example and teaching is the apostle Paul.
Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ. (1 Cor. 11:1)
One of the most important truths that believers need to learn is that Paul is the divinely appointed pattern and spokesman and for the Body of Christ to follow in this present age of grace (1 Cor. 4:16-17; Phil. 3:17-21; 4:9). Sadly, very few churches today recognize Paul’s authority (2 Tim. 1:15).
In saying that we are to follow Paul, we are simply quoting scripture. We are not exalting a man or making more out of Paul than the scripture does. We are certainly not putting Christ and Paul on the same level. We know that Paul was the “chief of sinners” saved by grace, while Christ is the sinless Son of God and the Savior of sinners. We know that Paul was nothing in himself while Christ is everything for “in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” But it was to Paul that the glorified Lord committed the revelation of His message and program for this present dispensation.
It is not the person but the office of Paul that we magnify (Rom. 11:15). We are not to follow Paul as a man (1 Cor. 1:10-17). We are to follow the doctrine that Christ revealed through Paul (1 Tim. 1:3; 6:3; 2 Tim. 1:13; 2 Tim. 2:2; 3:10-14).
Even though the word of God plainly tells believers in this present age to follow the apostle Paul, many professing Christians resent that idea when presented with it and claim to follow the whole Bible instead. However, that is not possible because God’s word has different things to say to different people living under different dispensations. A casual reading of the Bible reveals that there are different instructions given concerning the same issues.
All of the Bible is the word of God and is therefore profitable FOR us (2 Tim. 3:16), but it is not all written directly TO us (2 Tim. 2:15). We need to read and study the whole Bible. When we come across something that does not line up with what the apostle Paul taught in his epistles, we are to follow what Christ said through Paul directly to us in this present age (1 Tim. 6:3; 2 Tim. 1:13).
We are not pitting the words of Moses, Jesus Christ, or Peter against Paul. All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is, therefore, the word of God (2 Tim. 3:16). But the word of God must be rightly divided if it is going to be understood (2 Tim. 2:15).
In rightly dividing the word of truth, we must recognize the difference between the ministries of the apostle Paul and the twelve apostles. Yet, mainstream dispensationalists insist that there is no difference between the ministries of Peter and Paul and claim that it is “hyper-dispensationalism” to believe that there is. They have evidently never asked themselves the important question, “Why Paul?” If his apostleship, message, and ministry were the same as the twelve apostles, what was the point of Christ saving him in the manner He did, away from Jerusalem, and away from the twelve?
The twelve apostles had already been commissioned by Christ to go into all the world (Mk. 16:15). Well, they did not go, but Paul did! What brought about this change? It was the continued rejection of Christ by the leaders of Israel, their fall, and the revelation of the mystery (Rom. 16:25).
In the kingdom commission, the apostles were instructed to begin at Jerusalem because according to prophecy the Gentiles are to be blessed through Israel, and Jerusalem will be the capitol city in the Kingdom Age (Jer. 3:17). Because the nation of Israel did not repent of killing their Messiah, there was no need for them to go to the nations. When Paul explained his ministry to the apostles in Jerusalem (Gal. 2:1-10), they agreed that he would go to the heathen with his gospel while they continued to go to the circumcision. The commission given to the twelve apostles was postponed, but it will be fulfilled in the future tribulation period (Matt. 24:14).
Paul’s ministry was so different that some to this very day claim that he was a false apostle. Even lost people can see the difference between Peter and Paul!
It is not an exaggeration to say that Paul’s conversion is one of the most significant events in the Bible:
- It is more fully described and more often referred to than any other conversion.
- It is more fully described and more often referred to than any other personal experience in the Bible outside the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.
- The majority of three chapters in Acts are taken up with the account of it (9, 22, 26).
- So aware was Paul himself of the significance of his conversion that he refers to it repeatedly in his epistles (1 Cor. 15; Gal. 1; Phil. 3; 1 Tim. 1). Paul was not an egomaniac (Eph. 3:8). He wrote by inspiration of God. Clearly, the Lord has placed an emphasis on the distinct apostleship and ministry of Paul because he is the spokesman for the Body of Christ to follow in this age.
The Apostle Paul is Distinct from the Twelve Apostles
The sudden and glorious appearance of Christ to Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9) was totally off the prophetic script. He had blasphemed the Holy Ghost (Acts 7:51-60) and therefore could not be saved under the gospel of the kingdom (Matt. 12:31-32). Everything was ripe and ready for God’s wrath to poured out (Acts 7:56), but instead, He poured out exceeding abundant grace by saving the leader of the rebellion against Him and sending him out with the message of reconciliation that He might build one NEW man, the church which is His Body (1 Tim. 1:12-17). Paul was the first one to hear and believe the gospel of Christ (Gal. 1:11-12).
All of the apostles (sent ones) saw the Lord and were personally sent out by Him with a message and ministry (with the “signs of an apostle”). Paul clearly distinguishes his apostleship from that of the twelve (Rom. 11:13; 1 Cor. 15:5; Gal. 1-2). He was not even qualified to be one of the twelve apostles, and there are many differences between his apostleship and theirs.
Paul received an abundance of revelations (2 Cor. 12:7) directly from the Lord. The gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24; Gal. 1:11-12), the church which is the Body of Christ (Eph. 3:1-13), the rapture of the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 15:51), and many other things were revealed to him first. He was the first one to glory in the cross and preach it as good news (Gal. 6:14). It is Paul alone who taught that we are justified by the faith of Christ (Gal. 2:16). It is Paul alone who says, “ye are not under the law, but under grace” (Rom. 6:14-15).
When we simply compare how Christ sent out the twelve apostles with how He sent out Paul, it should be obvious that they were not sent under the same commission.
- Sent from Christ on earth (Acts 1:8-9) vs. from heaven (Acts 26:19)
- Begin in Jerusalem (Lk. 24:47) vs. depart from Jerusalem (Acts 22:21)
- Gospel of the kingdom (Matt. 24:14) vs. gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24)
- Go baptize (Matt. 28:19) vs. sent not to baptize (1 Cor. 1:17)
- Teach the law (Matt. 28:20) vs. not under the law (Rom. 6:14)
Having a different apostleship, message, and commission, means that Paul had a different ministry. He was “made a minister” to every creature with the gospel of the grace of God, and to the church which is the Body of Christ with the mystery (Col. 1:24-29). Are there some similarities between Peter and Paul? Yes, but for every similarity, I can show you a significant difference. Why does this matter? We cannot follow the ministries of both Peter and Paul at the same time in light of the significant differences. Who are we to follow? We are to follow Paul because He is divinely appointed pattern and spokesman for this present age of grace. This is the answer to all of the confusion that abounds in the professing church today.
Paul was not one of the Twelve Apostles
Some Bible teachers claim that Paul was God’s choice to replace Judas Iscariot, and therefore Peter was out of God’s will when he led in appointing Matthias as the replacement.
(15) And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said, (the number of names together were about an hundred and twenty,)
(16) Men and brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas, which was guide to them that took Jesus.
(17) For he was numbered with us, and had obtained part of this ministry.
(18) Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out.
(19) And it was known unto all the dwellers at Jerusalem; insomuch as that field is called in their proper tongue, Aceldama, that is to say, The field of blood.
(20) For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishoprick let another take.
(21) Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us,
(22) Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection.
(23) And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias.
(24) And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen,
(25) That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.
(26) And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles. (Acts 1:15-26)
The following points prove that Matthias was the divinely appointed replacement for Judas:
- It was prophesied that another would take the place of Judas (Ps. 109:8), but Paul’s special ministry had to do with a mystery hid from the prophets (Col. 1:24-27).
- There had to be twelve apostles for the kingdom to be offered to Israel in the early Acts period (Matt. 19:28).
- Peter and the other apostles had the authority to act in the stead of Christ (Matt. 16:19; 18:18-19).
- They prayed about the matter (Acts 1:24), and Christ promised to give them whatsoever they asked (Matt. 21:22).
- Some think casting lots was a wrong thing to do (Acts 1:26), but it was a scriptural way for the Jews to discern God’s will (Prov. 16:33).
- Paul did not meet the qualifications to be one of the twelve (Acts 1:21-22).
- The apostles were “filled with the Holy Ghost” a few days later (Acts 2:4).
- Matthias was “numbered with the eleven apostles,” and the Holy Spirit stated that Peter stood up “with the eleven” (Acts 2:14).
- Paul was not appointed through men, but by God Himself (Gal. 1:1).
There are clear differences between the ministries of Paul and the twelve apostles. Paul plainly and purposely distinguished himself from them (Gal. 1:15-24; 2:1-10). While there were other apostles to the Body of Christ (Eph. 4:8-12), Paul was “THE apostle of the Gentiles” (Rom. 11:13).
- The twelve were chosen by Christ on earth. Israel is God’s earthly people (Deut. 7:6). Paul was chosen by Christ from heaven. The Body of Christ is God’s heavenly people (Eph. 2:6).
- The twelve were appointed to lead Israel (Matt. 19:28). Paul was appointed to lead the Body of Christ (Col. 1:24-27).
- The twelve represent the twelve tribes of Israel. Paul represents the one Body of Christ. He was a “Hebrew of the Hebrews”, and yet he was also a Roman citizen (Phil. 3:5; Acts 22:27-28). So, in a sense, we could say that he was a Jew and Gentile in one body.
- The twelve only knew Christ on earth. When Christ ascended back to heaven, a cloud received Him out of their sight (Acts 1:9). Paul only knew Christ from heaven (Acts 26:16).
- The twelve were sent to proclaim and offer the kingdom of heaven to Israel (Matt. 10:5-7; Acts 3:19-21). Paul was sent to preach the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24).
- The ministry of the twelve was based on covenants and prophecy (Acts 3:24-25). After Israel is blessed, the Gentiles receive blessings through them. The ministry of Paul was based on a mystery. The Gentiles are blessed through the fall of Israel (Rom. 11:11) and there is neither Jew nor Gentile in the Body of Christ (Gal. 3:27-28).
- Under the kingdom commission water baptism was required and signs were the evidence of salvation (Mk. 16:15-18). Under Paul’s commission he was not sent to baptize, and he said early in his ministry that signs would cease (1 Cor. 1:17; 13:8-10).
Magnifying Paul’s Office
The apostle Paul had something to say about the importance of his message and ministry in every epistle that he wrote. He was not an egomaniac because he wrote by the inspiration of God. Paul gave all glory to God and knew that he was nothing as a man (Rom. 7:18). He considered himself to be:
- The least of the apostles (1 Cor. 15:9-10).
- Less than the least of all saints (Eph. 3:8).
- The chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15).
Yet, he knew that God, by His exceeding abundant grace, had given him a special ministry.
For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office: (Rom. 11:13)
I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name. (Ps. 138:2)
What good is God’s name if He cannot keep His word? How many preachers in the world today believe that God inspired and perfectly preserved His words? Very few. Among those that believe that, how many recognize Paul as the pattern and spokesman for the Body of Christ to follow in this present age of grace? Even fewer.
Do we make too much out of Paul? Let’s consider what the word of God says about his ministry.
An Apostle (Gal. 1:1)
That God inspired Paul to write much scripture in defense of his apostleship proves the importance of it. His apostleship was under constant attack largely because of the distinctiveness of his message and ministry. Apostles were men chosen by the Lord and personally sent out by Him with a message and signs to confirm it (2 Cor. 12:12). While on earth, Christ sent twelve apostles to the twelve tribes of Israel. From heaven, He sent Paul and other apostles to the Body of Christ (Eph. 4:8-12). With the completion of the word of God there is no longer a need for apostles. Paul was the last one to see the Lord (1 Cor. 15:8). Christ sent him as the apostle to the Gentiles and the Body of Christ (Acts 26:16-18). There are some who say they will not follow Paul because they follow the Lord. You cannot follow the Lord if you don’t follow the apostle that He sent to you (Jn. 13:20).
A Preacher (1 Tim. 2:3-7)
As a preacher, Paul faithfully heralded the gospel that Christ revealed to him and committed to his trust (2 Tim. 4:16-17; Titus 1:1-3). Christ sent Paul to preach the gospel (1 Cor. 1:17) and His unsearchable riches (Eph. 3:8). He was the greatest evangelist the world has ever known.
A Teacher (2 Tim. 1:11)
As a teacher, Paul faithfully taught the doctrines that Christ revealed through him for the Body of Christ in this present age and trained faithful men to teach others also (1 Cor. 4:15-17; 2 Tim. 2:2).
A Minister (Col. 1:21-29)
He was a minister to every creature with the gospel and to the church with the mystery. Paul was not a Christian celebrity, but a humble servant of the Lord (1 Thess. 2:6). He did not abuse his great authority (2 Cor. 1:24).
An Ambassador (Eph. 6:19-20)
Ambassadors are sent to a foreign land (our conversation is in heaven. Phil. 3:20) in a time of peace (today is the day of salvation, 2 Cor. 6:2) to represent their king. Ambassadors are sent with a message (Prov. 13:17). Christ revealed the mystery of the gospel to Paul (1 Cor. 15:3-4; Gal. 1:11-12), and he became a prisoner of the Lord by faithfully fulfilling his ministry. We too are ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20).
A Pattern (1 Tim. 1:12-16)
Paul is our pattern in salvation in that he was saved by grace through faith in the finished work of Christ. He is also our example in how to walk and serve the Lord (Phil. 4:9).
A Wise Masterbuilder (1 Cor. 3:10-11)
Paul laid the foundation for this present age by preaching Christ according to the revelation of the mystery (Rom. 16:25). Christ gave him the blueprints, so to speak, for how to do the work of the ministry in this present age.
A Steward (1 Cor. 4:1-2)
Christ revealed the great mystery (i.e. secret) of the Body of Christ as well as other corresponding mysteries to Paul, and he was a faithful steward of those mysteries.
A Spokesman (1 Cor. 14:37)
Paul did not actually use the word “spokesman,” but it is a Bible word for someone who speaks for another (Ex. 4:16). Paul was God’s mouthpiece to the Gentiles and the Body of Christ. God took Moses up on a mount and revealed the Law through him for Israel. After his conversion, Paul went out into the wilderness for three years (likely on the same mount) to receive revelations for this present age for the Body of Christ (Gal. 1:15-20). Paul’s thirteen epistles are the word of God.