The Message and Ministry of the Apostle Paul and Its Importance for Us Today
by Dr. Robert E. Nix, President
Estimated Time to Read: 9 Minutes
As we consider the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul, it is essential to understand his unique role in presenting God’s redemptive plan for mankind in the Dispensation of Grace. Saved by the Lord on the road to Damascus, from the beginning, Paul was designated by the Lord to be a “chosen vessel of Mine, to bear My name before Gentiles, Kings, and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15). Paul’s appointment was to be the conduit through which the risen Lord would reveal His will for His Church, the Body of Christ.
When we look at the Bible objectively we can see that the Apostle Paul was used by God to write almost half of what is considered to be the New Testament. Was the appointment of Paul a continuation of the ministry of the Twelve Apostles, or did God reveal something new to him through the resurrected Lord Jesus? The Apostle Paul was indeed unique from the Twelve, and God revealed to him a distinct message. It was a message whereby God was creating something entirely new. In his letter to the Ephesian church, he calls the Church the “one new man” made up of both Jews and Gentiles in one Body (Eph. 2:15). It is in understanding Christ’s message through Paul that we find the key to understanding what God is doing today.
A Special Mission with a Unique Commission
To see Paul as our example in truth or doctrine means that we see him in his rightful role. In the gospels, the Twelve Apostles had a distinct role of being heirs of the Kingdom, judges in the Kingdom, and proclaimers of the Kingdom. However, from the outset of Paul’s salvation, the Lord sets him apart with a unique role under a completely new program.
Paul received his message by direct revelation from the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ. This is an important point because it helps to explain where Paul fits into God’s plan of redemption. Many people struggle with the idea that there is too much emphasis on Paul and not the earthly teachings of the Lord Jesus or the rest of the Bible. To be honest, I bristle when I hear statements that insinuate that the rest of the Bible is somehow less important than Paul’s epistles. We must never forget that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable” (II Tim. 3:16).
However, that does not diminish the fact that what was revealed to the Apostle Paul were the words of Christ Jesus and are critical in our understanding of what God is doing today in the Dispensation of Grace. Therefore, to focus on Paul and his message is to focus on the Lord Jesus and His plan for His Church. Paul very clearly explains what he received came directly from the Lord Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:1,11; Eph. 3:1-3).
Paul makes it crystal clear that his message was unique to him and was not given by being handed down from the other apostles; instead, it was received through a special revelation and appointment by God. It is essential to understand that with a new and unique message comes the responsibility to proclaim it and help others understand it.
For Paul, and those who ministered alongside him, the propagating of the message of Grace was “mission critical.” Paul writes in II Timothy 2:1-3: “You, therefore my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. You, therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” For Paul and his companions, it was essential to teach and train others who would continue to proclaim what God was doing in the new Dispensation.
If you think about it, we benefit today from what Paul told Timothy in these verses. Those faithful to proclaim the gospel of Grace have passed it on to us, and we are called to do the same.
The Doctrines of Grace Establish the Believer in the Lord
The vast majority of the Scriptures were written with the nation of Israel as the focus. Only in Paul’s epistles do we begin to find a new standard of operation for this Dispensation. Paul declares that national Israel has been set aside for a time, and God is doing something completely different (Rom.11:25). Paul makes it clear that God is now working in and through what he refers to as the Church the Body of Christ. This Church is made up of both Jews and Gentiles who come to Christ based on the finished work of Christ on the cross (Rom. 10:12). The fact that one group is not above the other is something completely new (Eph. 2:14-16). Therefore, it should be of no surprise that the mode and means of operations of this “new body” should be found in Paul’s epistles.
William R. Newell makes the following observation concerning the importance of understanding the distinct nature of Paul’s epistles.
“Take Romans through Philemon out of the Bible, and you are bereft of Christian doctrine. For instance, if you were to take Paul’s epistles out of the Bible, you cannot find anything about the Church the Body of Christ, for no other apostle mentions the Body of Christ. You cannot find one of the great mysteries, such as the Rapture of the Church or the mystery of the present hardening of Israel in the Old Testament, and the four Gospels, or Hebrews through Revelation; for no other apostle speaks of any of those mysteries. Paul alone reveals them. You cannot find the exact meaning of any of the great doctrines, such as propitiation, reconciliation, sanctification, except in Paul’s epistles. You cannot find what is perhaps the most tremendous fact of every real Christian life, that of his personal union with the Lord of Glory. Paul is the great divinely chosen opener to us of truth for this age.”1
Newell succinctly states that it is in Paul’s epistles where we find the “one new man;” it is in Paul’s epistles where we are taught that one day the Lord’s Church will be caught up to meet Him in the air. It is even in Paul’s epistles where we learn what has happened to Israel as a result of their rejection of the Messiah. Paul’s epistles both demonstrate God’s plan for the Church as a whole, as well as also giving the individual member guidance on how to navigate or live in a sin-cursed world. From Newell’s quote, it should be obvious why the Pauline epistles are so important. Simply put, they are important because they are what God is doing today.
The Doctrines of Grace are to be the Primary Focus of the Church the Body of Christ
We are told that the local church is “the pillar and support of the truth,” and, of course, the best way to combat error is truth (I Tim. 3:14- 4:6). All believers will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ and give an account of our works to the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 14:10-12; Rom. 5:9,10). It is God Who decides what is truth and by what message or set of standards man will be judged.
Paul’s teachings on sanctification and obedience are to be expressed in the life of the believer based on what was given to the Apostle for the Church. When you and I stand before the Judgement Seat of Christ, we will be judged by God’s standard for this Dispensation and no other.
As we find ourselves being bombarded with religious and philosophical teachings rooted in pseudo-Christianity or pagan worldviews, our only hope is to be established in God’s truth for today. Paul declares that the believer is to “walk in Him rooted and built up established in the faith” (Col. 2:6,7). It is only then that the believer can stand.
The Doctrines of Grace are to Lead in the Transformation of the Believer and the Glorification of God
The primary focus of Paul’s message that he received from the resurrected Lord were truths given to establish and transform the believer, ultimately leading to the glorification of the Lord through us. The doctrines of Grace should lead to transformation. When you examine the prayers of the Apostle Paul, you see that his prayers for the churches were for knowledge as well for obedience. Truth should always have an outlet, and our outlet is to practice what we know from God’s Word by faith.
According to a number of sources, the Dead Sea is the lowest point on the planet (not counting the deepest trench under the sea floor). It is filled with many minerals that make it unfit for life. Its salt content is nine times that of any ocean. Water from the Jordan River and other smaller streams feed into the Dead Sea, but the Dead Sea has no outlet whereby its contents can feed other sources.
For the believer who has been transformed by the power of Christ, we are called to “be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding: that you may walk worthy of the Lord fully pleasing Him being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:9,10). Paul’s prayer highlights both knowledge and application as essential for the life of the believer. The believer is to live in light of what they know and, in doing so, bear fruit for the Lord.
By examining the significance of the Apostle Paul and his ministry, we can clearly determine that based on the uniqueness of his call by the resurrected Lord and the uniqueness of his message, his role as the Apostle to the Church, the Body of Christ, carries with it the same importance as Moses did to the children of Israel. Paul’s message was given to him by the Lord Jesus Christ and is the standard by which members of the Church are to live. The doctrines of Grace given to and through the Apostle Paul are key in establishing the believer to live a fruitful life serving the Lord.
The ministry and message given to the Apostle Paul cannot be overstated. Paul’s words to the Church, the Body of Christ are the words of the Lord Jesus Christ to the Church, the Body of Christ, and as such are to be understood and obeyed. In this, we glorify our Savior, and that is our highest calling.
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