Never Underestimate the Power of God’s Grace
Ephesians Lesson #005
October 28, 2018
“Our Father, we’re so thankful for Your Word—the uniqueness of Your Word—given to us over a period of 1,500, 1,600 years to over 40 authors, each from different backgrounds, all speaking about some of the most controversial subjects in all of human history, yet without disagreement, indicating that behind these 40+ human authors is one Author, the Godhead.
“God the Holy Spirit Who oversees and breathes out Your Word through these writers has not only breathed that out but preserved it for us, and remarkably, we have our own translation in front of us where we can learn and read on our own, and we can understand the marvels of Your grace and the transforming power of the gospel.
“Father, as we study today, we pray that we might be impacted by our understanding of Your grace and the power of the gospel, for that is Your responsibility, and it does indeed change lives.
“We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
In Romans 1:16, Paul says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first, and also for the Greek.”
He makes a very clear statement there about the gospel: it is the power of God;. it changes people; it transforms people. And, we must never underestimate the power of the gospel or the power of God’s grace to break through that veil that shields the mind of so many and leaves them in unbelief. For God is able to pierce that darkness, and He is able to bring spiritual life out of spiritual death.
The apostle Paul himself was a trophy of that power. I want you think about him a minute. We’re going to talk more about him a little bit later. But as we think about the apostle Paul, up until the moment that he trusted in Jesus of Nazareth as the promised, prophesied Messiah of the Old Testament, you and I would be absolutely convinced he was a lost cause, that he hated Christians with a passion, militantly promoting the rabbinical Judaism of his day to the point of persecuting, beating, and even signing off on the execution warrants of untold numbers of Christians.
We would not have believed that he would ever be one of the greatest writers of Scripture, used by God to open up and to teach about the mysteries of the Church Age and the important doctrines related to the church made up of Jew and Gentile together—not this Hebrew of the Hebrews and Pharisee of the Pharisees.
Yet the gospel transforms people. You and I can think of people in our life that seem so hardened to the gospel, and we think they’re a lost cause, and that is bad for us because we should never sell short the gospel. We should never sell short the grace of God or the power of prayer in their lives.
As we begin the opening verses in Ephesians, looking at the salutation, we must come to understand that it is in the writing of this epistle that we come to understand even more about the grace of God in this dispensation.
It is that grace that is transformative and this is brought out from the very beginning of chapter 2, talking about the fact that we are born dead in our trespasses and sins. But God, who is rich in mercy, is the One who makes us alive together with Christ and raises us up together, and seats us in the heavenly places that the exceeding riches of His grace may be known.
Charles Wesley talked about this in his hymn we sang just a couple of weeks ago, “Oh, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing.” In the third stanza, first verse he says that this is “… the triumphs of His grace.” The apostle Paul is arguably the greatest triumph of His grace.
We need to understand who this man is, and how God transformed his life, because He’s still able to do this. If we study church history, if we even study some things that have gone on—and some people who are on the scene today have remarkable testimonies—we would think that they would never become a believer in Jesus Christ, and yet they have and God uses them in incredible ways. So, we should never underestimate the power of God’s grace.
Slides 3 and 4
In Ephesians 1:1-2 we have a typical, but atypical, greeting in the letter. Paul addresses it to the saints in Ephesus. He uses language that is partially common in Greek correspondence. He says, “Grace to you—and he uses language that is typical of the Jewish community, Shalom—peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
But it starts off with this phrase, “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God …”
That’s about as far as we’re going to get. I think it’s important for us to understand who Paul is and what it means to be an apostle. I think it’s important to understand who Paul is because there are many people today who really don’t have an adequate understanding of who Paul is, and this is partially related to the biblical illiteracy of our age.
I personally ran into this when I was 18 years old. I went off to university at Stephen F. Austin in Nacogdoches, and back in those days before liberalism destroyed the teaching of history in modern universities, every freshman had to take Western Civilization.
I had a professor who had just earned his doctorate. I ended up taking five or six different courses from him because he was one of the few that really challenged me intellectually—I didn’t do well in his courses.
I now have gone back and read many of the books that he required us as freshmen and sophomores to read. And now that I have a Master’s degree in philosophy and advanced degrees in Greek, Hebrew, and Church History, I sit down and read those books, and I am amazed that I understood anything, because even today I have a hard time reading through those books.
That’s typical of men who just come out of the PhD program, that they’re overloading freshmen with what they’ve read and impressed them at their level. But he was also a theological liberal and a political liberal, and later he would become a leader in the Methodist church there in Nacogdoches.
I have had time since then to dispute some of his teaching with him. I haven’t won. These people get too ingrained in their unbelief, But one of the things that he threw out—he liked to just trigger freshmen, to use a modern metaphor—and he would talk about that Moses could never have written the Pentateuch. He taught us the whole thing about the documentary hypothesis.
Then when it came to the apostle Paul, he gave your standard liberal interpretation of Paul: that when Paul was converted on the road to Damascus, Paul just had a psychological experience. He had been persecuting these Christians; he is overwhelmed with guilt. It finally gets to him in some sort of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), and he passes out on the road, and has this vision, and he switches sides completely, and he becomes a new person.
Something of that is evident in that film that came out on the apostle Paul (Paul, Apostle of Christ) this last year—not completely, but if you’re familiar with the liberal view there, you can pick up on some of this is as undertones.
When I heard these attacks in that Western Civilization class, I didn’t quite know how to respond to that. First of all, even though I had been a believer for 12 years and grown up in a church that taught the Bible, I had no idea what this meant about Paul on the road to Damascus. That was just beyond me.
I had worked at a Christian camp, I had read through parts of the Scripture, but not all of it, so I wasn’t familiar at all with Paul’s conversion, and I really didn’t know how to answer it from that perspective.
I find that this is true today; some of you may be going to college and you hear things even in some Christian schools that are supposedly biblical, you get some of these ideas promoted.
I find reactions from Christians in a couple different ways. First of all, I find some that say, “Well, you know, that’s what they say. If I need to regurgitate on a test, I’ll regurgitate it on a test, but I don’t let that bother me. I just move on.”
I have a problem with that because 1 Peter 3:15 says something about being able to give an answer for the hope that is in us. That doesn’t mean that you take on your professor, but you need to know what the answers are. You don’t just get past it in some sort of blind ignorance, “I’m just gonna believe what I believe, and I’m not going to engage intellectually.”
I have seen some believers take that response. I’ve seen some on the other end that they hear this, it just absolutely trips them up spiritually. They fall by the wayside, and they never seem to recover from the liberalism that they are taught when they go off to university.
To parents, just as an aside, you must be aware of how dangerous things are in any public state-supported education today. I’ve mentioned this before, that about a month or so ago when we had our last men’s prayer breakfast, we started having the men bring their sons to the prayer breakfast. I was sitting at a table with three boys 9, 10, 11, 12 years of age, and they were plying me with questions about global warming and evolution and how old is the universe, and these were things that they were getting in school.
What was kind of fun was one of the older boys was answering the questions the younger ones had. That was really good because 9-year-olds will listen to a 12-year-old more than they’ll listen to somebody who’s an adult, so that was great to see.
But you as parents and grandparents need to understand how your 4-year-olds and 5-year-olds are being brainwashed by the world system. This is why it’s important. Don’t wait till they can understand the words of Scripture, to read to them the words of Scripture.
Shape their minds, shape their thinking by reading the Word to them from the moment they come out of the womb. You’ve got all kinds of things available today.
You can play Scripture, you can play good hymns with good music to train their sensitivities early on and build those brain pathways, those neurological pathways, and build this so that you’re laying that foundation early on in their lives. That helps to prepare them for the intellectual assaults that will come too early in life.
You have some that just ignore it, some that fall by the wayside because of it, but in my case, it sort of stimulated me, that for some reason I said, “I need to know the answers to this. If I’m going to believe that Christianity and the Bible are true, then I have to understand what’s wrong with what is being said, and what the truth is.”
That sort of goes beyond what I’m talking about this morning, but it is basically the story of my career in college coming to a point where I needed to understand what the evidence was that the Scripture was true.
What I want to do this morning in the first part of the message is to focus on this first question,
1. Who is Paul? What do we know about him? What’s his background and what happened to him? How did he become Paul, an apostle through Jesus Christ?
The second question we need to ask is this question,
2. What exactly is an apostle?
There is a certain amount of ignorance on the one hand and false teaching on the other about being an apostle. You have today, even in political circles, a number of politically influential, for lack of better terms, let’s just call them religious leaders—I won’t dignify them with names such as pastors because some are women and some are just men who are way off the reservation in one way or the other—and they identify themselves as apostles, and as prophets.
When you read about President Trump having these “evangelicals” surrounding him, many of those evangelicals that surround him are from some of the wildest, off-the-charts, heretical, evangelical type, pseudo-evangelical ministries that you can imagine.
They believe that apostles and prophets are still today, and they’re part of that group. It’s a new apostolic church, is a phrase that is being used. We need to understand what the Bible teaches in both of these areas.
First of all, who is Paul? I put some Scripture up here; we’re not going to go through all of these; I’ve got a few that I have selected that I will put up on the screen. But the key verses to read to get an understanding of the apostle Paul’s conversion and his background, are Acts 9:1-30.
You can actually start at the last verse of chapter 8, which describes him standing in the crowd that is stoning Stephen for his faith, and they’re taking their cloaks off and throwing them at the feet of Saul. So, he’s there to witness the martyrdom of Stephen.
Acts 9:1-30, and then twice he recounts his conversion in Acts 22:3-21 and also in Acts 26. I don’t have the verses down, but it starts around verse one and just reading through that chapter.
Then he makes some references to his time before his salvation in Philippians 3:1-6, as well as in Galatians 1:13-14. This is the basic understanding of the apostle Paul.
We’re going to break this down in about, let me see here, about four points here. We are going to look at:
1. His early life, education, and belief
2. His hostility to the gospel
3. His salvation on the road to Damascus
4. His commissioning as an apostle of Jesus Christ
What do we know about the apostle Paul and his early life? Well, Paul was born somewhere between AD 4 and 14. A number of scholars will say it’s probably close to 9 or 10, but due to certain things that he mentions about his life, he could not have been born earlier than 4 and was probably not born later than 14.
Somewhere around AD 9 or 10 which would have made him at least 18 years of age at the time of the crucifixion of Christ, but if you take AD 9 or 10 as his birth date, then he would’ve been 23 or 24 years of age when Jesus was crucified.
I’ve always thought that was kind of interesting because he would have moved to Jerusalem when he was 14 at his bar-mitzvah, to begin his formal rabbinical training. If he is 14, then that means that he would have moved to Jerusalem sometime between AD 24 and 30. Jesus begins His public ministry around AD 29 or 30.
The Scripture never tells us anything about Paul during the time of Jesus, but it tells us a lot about the various assaults, confrontations—not physical assaults but verbal assaults, and confrontations—that Jesus had with the scribes and the Pharisees.
I’ve always speculated that it’s very likely that Paul, Saul of Tarsus, was part of that crowd. He was studying in Jerusalem under one of the most famous rabbis of the first century, Gamaliel. Jerusalem wasn’t that large at the time, and it would’ve been impossible to have been ignorant of what was going on.
In fact, that’s what the two disciples said to Jesus on the road to Emmaus when He said, “What are you so troubled about?” They said, “Well, how can you be in Jerusalem and be ignorant of these things?” That’s one of those questions I’m going to ask the Lord when I get to Heaven.
Saul was born in Tarsus. Tarsus was a major city in the Greco-Roman Empire. There were a number of Hellenized Jews. What I mean by Hellenized Jews is, today we would say they’re not quite orthodox. They’re really influenced by the Greek culture of their day. Some were more assimilated than others.
But it seems from what we know about Saul of Tarsus, which he talks about in Philippians 3, he was a Hebrew of the Hebrews, a Pharisee of the Pharisees, born in the tribe of Benjamin.
To say that you’re a Hebrew of the Hebrews and a Pharisee of the Pharisees would indicate to me that he was reared in a pharisaical home. Then when he got past his informal training at home, whatever training, education he got in Tarsus, then he was sent to live with his sister in Jerusalem to begin his formal training as a rabbi.
If you notice on the map, Tarsus is located on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. It was a sizable city, so he was exposed to a lot of Gentile culture at the time, which may have provided a foundation for why he was comfortable interacting with Gentiles later on in his ministry.
Also, I want to point out on the map that just to the southeast of Tarsus is the city of Antioch. This was where Paul is first brought by Barnabas. Later in his life, after he’s saved, he went back to Tarsus and had a ministry in that area for around 10 years.
Then Barnabas who was a leader in the church in Antioch went to get Paul and say, “we have a task for you; we need you back here in Antioch.” That gives you an understanding geographically of some of these places that that we talked about.
We learn that Paul is a dedicated, passionate, militant Pharisee. He talks about this in several passages. Philippians 3:4, he says, “… though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so …”
That sounds a little arrogant, but he’s talking about the time when he was arrogant. That as an unbeliever, he had a greater education, a greater background, greater diligence and commitment to his belief as a Pharisee than anybody else. No one excelled him.
He says in Philippians 3:5-6 that he was “… circumcised the eighth day—according to the Mosaic Law. He is—… of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church—he had a militant passion to destroy Christianity and—“… concerning the righteousness which is in the law …”
He’s saying he was über-moral. He followed the Law to the letter. According to the pharisaic tradition, he was “blameless.”
He grew up in a rigidly observant family of Pharisees. When he went to Jerusalem, he was a student of rabbi Gamaliel, who was one of the most significant rabbis of that time. Gamaliel had a great appreciation for Greek culture. So, some of that certainly could have been a part of his education, enabling him to interact with the Gentile and Greek culture at that time.
He was also born into a family that had done something in the past, nobody knows what, where they had acquired Roman citizenship. This would be of benefit to him later on when he was on his journeys because he was not afraid to exercise and to take advantage of the privileges that his Roman citizenship gave him.
In Galatians 1:13-14 he says that he “… persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it.” And that he was zealous beyond all of his contemporaries, following “the traditions of his fathers.”
That’s really a technical term. “The traditions of the elders” is the oral law that is in addition to the written law, according to rabbinical theology.
Acts 22:3, “I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet—meaning Jerusalem—at the feet of Gamaliel.”
That’s his birth; his basic background.
We need to understand his hostility to the gospel. It was because of his passion for his belief system—his pharisaical belief system—that he just refused to accept that this carpenter’s Son, this Man from an inconsequential city like Nazareth would be the promised and prophesied Messiah.
He was intensely opposed to the church, as we read in Galatians 1:13-14. and he persecuted the church, according to Acts 22:4. He said, “I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women.”
This was a major operation that he was in charge of, and he was responsible for arresting and binding and persecuting. Also, he says that he was there when they signed off on the death warrants for these Christians.
Acts 22:5 the last part of the verse, they “… went to Damascus to bring in chains even those who were there to Jerusalem to be punished.”
At the end of Acts 26:10 he says, “… and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them.”
This was not somebody who is a seeker of truth. This is somebody who has found truth and is adamantly pushing it to the point that he wishes to destroy all of those who are opposed to him.
At that time he is given a commission by the high priest in Jerusalem to go to Damascus in Syria, which is a journey of about 80 miles. He is going to go to Damascus and search out these Jews who have betrayed Moses—they are followers of Jesus of Nazareth—in order to arrest them and bind them in chains and bring them back to Jerusalem for punishment as heretics.
It is on the way there that suddenly he is struck and there is a flash of light, and he hears a voice, and he saw the Lord Jesus Christ and heard the words.
Those with him, the Scripture says, heard the voice, but they couldn’t make out the words. Sort of like if you’ve seen any of the Peanuts television cartoons, where the adults talking sound like, “Reh, reh, reh, reh.” You hear noise, but you don’t hear the verbalization of the words.
That’s what happens on the road to Damascus. So, it’s not something that is just internal and psychological to Saul. Of course, if you don’t accept Scripture as giving the truth, then, of course, you can make it say whatever you want it to.
But the others that were there saw the light, they heard the sound of Jesus’ voice, even though they did not hear the specifics of it.
That’s described in Acts 9:3-6. He is either riding on a donkey or walking, but the bright light is such that it knocks him to the ground, and he hears the Lord Jesus Christ say, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”
That verse is also important because Paul hasn’t been persecuting Jesus personally. He has been persecuting Christians. This shows they are already members of the body of Christ, so that to persecute a Christian is to persecute Jesus.
He then responds, “Who are You, Lord?” He’s not at all sure who this is, and then the Lord replied, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”
Again, reiterating the fact that an attack on any Christian is an attack on Jesus because they are of the body of Christ. He says, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”
Now a goad was a stick that you would use to prod an animal to get it moving; they didn’t have electrical cattle prods at that time, or that’s probably what the Lord would’ve said—something like that.
What He is referring to is that he is constantly hearing the gospel, he’s constantly exposed to the truth, he is seeing the visible testimony of the changed lives in front of him through those he is persecuting, and he has been under conviction through this entire time.
I don’t know about you, but I know some people who whenever I bring up the gospel, there’s a wall that props up. They want to ridicule; they want to diminish, demean; they want to make light of it; do anything to avoid seriously talking about the issues. They’re “kicking against the goads.” They are under conviction, and they are saying, “No, no, no,” closing their eyes, clenching their fist, “don’t tell me anything about it. I don’t want to know.”
That’s where Paul was. His response, which indicates that he is now recognizing that Jesus is who He said He was. This is often used as a passage for Lordship salvation, but he uses the term “Lord” not to recognize that “You are the absolute total authority in my life,” but to recognize He is God. That’s what “Lord” does: “You are God.”
He said, “What do You want me to do?” The Lord then gave him directions to go into Damascus and seek out a man named Ananias. From this point on, he is blinded for three days until Ananias heals him.
Acts 9:15, “But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen—this is direction to Ananias to meet him—for he is a chosen vessel of mine to bear my name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.”
This is when we learn that Paul is being commissioned by Jesus Christ as an apostle. When Jesus appears to Ananias and directs him to go and to minister to Saul, to take him into his house, and then to heal him, He identifies him as the one chosen to take his name “before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.”
How many times have you heard Paul referred to as “Paul is the apostle to the Gentiles,” as if that means not to the Jews. Unfortunately, some dispensationalists have presented it that way, and the same with Peter—that Peter as the apostle to the Jews wouldn’t have had anything to do with Gentiles. But it was Peter who initially opened up the door to the church by going to the Gentiles—Cornelius, the centurion in Caesarea in Acts 10-11.
We’re told here that he’s going to take the gospel to Gentiles. That’s his primary mission: “… kings, (but also) to the children of Israel.” I’ve heard some dispensationalists even suggest that Paul was wrong when he went to the synagogue first. This is where you take a theological system and overdrive it to where the theological system drives your interpretation of Scripture.
Paul went to the synagogue because that is where he had the ripest fruit. They have heard the prophets, they have heard the prophecies, and so all he has to do for many of them is just connect the dots, and they’re going to trust in Jesus as Messiah, and the church begins.
As we conclude this look at Paul, we see that Paul is a trophy of God’s grace. We’re all trophies of God’s grace. We’re all sinners. We’re all born spiritually dead. We’re all just as hopeless and helpless as Paul was.
Some of us may have had less egregious violations of God’s character than Saul of Tarsus, but we’re all born just as spiritually dead. This is what Paul will emphasize when he gets into Ephesians 2.
In Philippians 3:8-9, after he finishes talking about all of his religious attainments, he says he just counted it all rubbish. “All” was nothing more than, literally, just manure and he says, “… that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness …”
He’s been extolling how righteous he was according to the Law, but he came to realize it wasn’t his righteousness that had any value at all, that it was only the righteousness that came from Christ.
Not the righteousness which was from the Law, but that “… which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.” That’s the doctrine of justification by faith alone.
Saul of Tarsus, the rabbi who kept himself free from anything unclean is now commissioned to take the gospel to those who are the unclean, to the Gentiles. And he is called by the Lord Jesus Christ to specifically be an apostle or the apostle to the Gentiles.
Our second question: What does the Bible teach about apostleship? We’ve gone through this before, and I just want to hit some of the high points, but we have to understand that these are important terms.
The term “apostle” was a term that was not really used in the biblical sense that much in the Greek culture. Paul, under the guidance of God the Holy Spirit, is taking this term, and giving it a special, distinct meaning related to Christianity. That’s not uncommon for the apostle Paul.
1. The Greek word is APOSTOLOS.
In classical Greek it was used a couple of times to refer to the commander of a military operation or naval operation. Someone who is sent out on a particular mission, but more often it was used to refer to a written letter or something of that nature that was sent out.
But in the New Testament it refers to a man who is officially commissioned by an authorizing agent. It is important the way I’ve structured this. It refers to a man commissioned by an authorizing agent and given the authority to perform a task.
There’s a technical use that is related to the 12 apostles. Revelation 21 tells us that the foundation of the New Jerusalem will be marked by the 12 apostles. If you count apostles up in the New Testament, you often come up with more than 12, but there are 12. Of course, one question is, who are those 12? And if you take Judas out, you have “the Eleven,” I believe that it is most likely Paul who is the 12th.
One of the interesting things about this word, its basic core meaning in the verb form, APOSTELLO, is to send someone, to give them a mission or a commission to perform a particular task.
It’s not really used as such as a translation in the Old Testament, when it was translated into the Greek. The Hebrew word is shaliach, someone who’s given a mission, someone who is given a task, and he goes out as a representative of someone else. That idea, I think, is in the background, although it is difficult to demonstrate.
But even today, for example, we’ve had Idan Peysahovich here, who works with JAFI, the Jewish Agency for Israel. I first met him when he was out working as the overall director of JAFI in Ukraine. He was the shaliach; he was the one sent out with a commission to gather the Jews and to bring them home to their historic homeland. So even today that word is used with the same sense.
2. The first use of the verb “to send out” is found in Mark 3:14, but the first use of the noun is found in two passages Matthew 10:2 and Luke 6:13.
Mark 3:14 says that Jesus appointed 12 and called them apostles. But that phrase “and called them apostles” is really only found in three old manuscripts.
If you take the view that those three really tell you what the true original reading is then that settles it for you, but the vast majority of ancient Greek documents that we have of the New Testament do not include it. That’s called the Majority Text view.
However, Matthew 10:2 tells us that these are the names of the 12 apostles, because Matthew writes in the 40s, and he’s reading this back anachronistically into that particular time. That’s not uncommon in the Scripture, and the same would be true in Luke 6:13. Other than these two statements, they were never identified or called apostles until after the resurrection.
3. Jesus is also referred to as the “Apostle of our faith.”
Hebrews 3:1, “Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus.”
The terms “apostle” and “high priest …” If you were in Bible class two or three weeks ago on Thursday night, this is a Granville Sharp construction, which simply means that in the Greek, the way these nouns are constructed with one article at the beginning covering both nouns, that both of these nouns are referring to the same person. Jesus Christ is the Apostle. He is sent out from God on a mission. That’s the basic meaning of the word.
4. Uses in the New Testament: 79 uses of the noun; 66 in Acts and the Epistles, so that leaves 13 elsewhere.
There are 130 uses of the verb, but most are just general, somebody sending somebody, or sending something somewhere else.
5. The key issue is determine the context:
Who is doing the sending? That’s important. Remember when I defined it, you have a sending agent commissioning someone on a task. That’s what it means in its most generic form.
But there are those who were commissioned by Jesus to a specific task, and those are the Twelve. They are commissioned by Jesus on a task.
There are others who are commissioned by a local church, and they are sent on a task. This would apply to Barnabas, Junia, some of the others. And it’s also important when does this sending occur?
Those are the questions that should be asked and addressed as we look at this.
6. There are two categories of apostles that are mentioned in the Scripture.
1.The first are those who have not only an office, but they have the spiritual gift of apostleship.
I personally believe—and I don’t know how I could prove it—that an apostle had all of the spiritual gifts. They’re usually manifested when you read about Paul, specifically that he had at least a vast majority of them, if not all of them.
- They were commissioned personally by the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ.
They had to have seen the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ. That pretty much excludes anybody since about AD 40 Paul is the last to see the resurrected Christ. So all of these people today that claim to be apostles are lying and they’re false teachers. So that’s the first requirement.
- They were given the authority:
a) to communicate the gospel and Church Age doctrine throughout the world.
That is their mission; they were for the whole body of Christ. The word “apostle” is used four times in Ephesians. So, this is important.
In Ephesians 2:20 it says that the apostles and the prophets are the foundation of the church. If you’re building a building, you don’t lay the foundation but one time. You don’t lay a new foundation with every floor, so once that foundation is laid, those who are laying the foundation are no longer on the scene.
That argues for the temporary nature of at least those two gifts, but I believe that there are many others that were temporary as well.
They taught doctrine, the teaching of Scripture (that’s what doctrine means), throughout the world.
b) To lead the incipient church: that is, the beginning church in its very early infant stage, and
c) To write the canonical books of the New Testament.
Luke was not an apostle. James, the brother of Christ, who wrote the Epistle of James, is not identified in his heading as an apostle of Jesus Christ, but they wrote under apostolic authority. They were closely associated with apostles.
Last of all, in terms of requirements, they were
d) Temporarily empowered to perform miracles and healings to authenticate their mission.
So the temporary gifts vanished with the death of John, the last apostle.
2. The second way it’s used is to refer to a pioneer missionary that’s commissioned by a local church in the first century, but they did not possess the spiritual gift of apostle. They were commissioned and sent out as missionaries to proclaim the gospel and to start churches.
That doesn’t fit. You could use that word today, and some people do, but it’s too confusing for people, so where technically it could be correct to refer in this secondary sense to a missionary, it’s not wise because it just confuses them with the Twelve.
Barnabas is called an apostle in this sense with Paul, because they’ve been commissioned by the church in Antioch in Acts 14:14.
In Romans 16:7 Andronicus and Junia are of note among the apostles, and they were also commissioned by a local church. They’re not part of the Twelve.
7. In the Church Age, “apostle” was a spiritual gift.
As such it’s not bestowed by men. Nobody makes that decision. Jesus is the One who chose the apostles under the authority of God the Father. All these gifts are sovereignly bestowed at the instant of salvation by the Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12:28-29 shows that all of the gifts were somewhat limited. Not everybody has all the gifts. I think some people have more than one gift, but they don’t have more than two or three, I don’t think.
Ephesians 4:11-12, the apostles and prophets were given to the church for the equipping of the saints to do the work of ministry.
8. The qualifications are laid out in various passages. Acts 1:22 said that they “… should become a witness of the resurrection.”
They were also witnesses of Jesus’ life on the earth, which is one reason I think that Paul would fit that category there also. If he were in Jerusalem, he would have witnessed things about Jesus’ life prior to the crucifixion, although the Scripture says nothing about that.
Paul is specifically an apostle of this type. This is stated in 1 Corinthians 15:8, “Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.”
He identifies himself as being one with the 11. What’s interesting is he says he’s the last one, so recognition of a finite number.
In 1 Corinthians 15:9 he says, “I’m the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”
But he is an apostle.
As such he was
9. Delegated the ability to perform miracles.
2 Corinthians 12:12, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance by signs and wonders and miracles.”
In Acts 2:43, we see that there were signs and wonders performed by the apostles on the Day of Pentecost.
Acts 5:12, “… at the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders took place …”
Paul is responsible for performing some miracles. For example, in Acts 16:16-18, where he casts out a demon.
Also, in Acts 19:11-12, where he healed people, he performed the signs of an apostle, so he had the credentials of being an apostle.
10. Apostleship came only after the Day of Pentecost and the beginning of the Church Age.
The listing in Matthew 10 doesn’t have anything yet to do with apostleship.
When you compare passages like Ephesians 4:8-11 with Matthew 16:18, the apostle is a foundation of the church, and the church does not begin until a future time from Matthew 16 or from Matthew 10. So, it began on the Day of Pentecost when the church began.
11. The apostles were recipients of direct revelation from God and were the only authorized source for revelation in this early period of time.
Prophets received some revelation, but it was not canonized. That’s my point. It wasn’t to be kept or recorded or inscripturated.
12. Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles. Peter was specifically identified as the apostle to the Jews.
In Galatians 2:7-8 we’re told that they had a confrontation and Paul had to straighten out Peter because Peter was slipping back into legalism. So being an apostle did not make you inerrant or infallible.
13. No such thing as apostolic succession that is promoted among Roman Catholicism and Greek Orthodoxy, that it’s a succession of persons.
The Pope is traced back allegedly all the way to Peter, but the problem with that is that it’s never a succession of people. There’s never that kind of emphasis in Scripture. It is a succession of teaching. It is a succession related to content. It is a succession of the truth of Scripture. That is what apostolic succession is really all about.
We learn that Paul is a trophy of grace, and as part of his salvation he is given a mission. And that is not unlike all of us: we’re given a mission. We are transformed by the power of grace, by the power of the gospel, and we’re given a mission in the tradition of the apostles to what? To make disciples by evangelism and by teaching people the truth.
Paul writes in Ephesians 3:8, “To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.”
In other places in Ephesians he talks about the riches of grace. They are connected together. This is his basis for writing this great epistle.
“Father, we thank You for Your grace, understanding we are all trophies of grace. We are all saved by grace through faith by trusting in the same gospel: that Jesus of Nazareth is the promised, prophesied Messiah of the Old Testament, that He died on the Cross for our sins in our place, that we might gain His righteousness, righteousness from You, simply by faith alone, as Paul says in Philippians 3.
“Father, we pray that if anyone is listening to this message today, either here or via the Internet; that if they have never trusted in Christ as Savior, they’re unsure of their destiny, what will happen at the time of death, that they would come to understand that the solution is clear. That it’s based on Your grace, it is not based on what they have done or haven’t done.
“Saul of Tarsus considered himself the chief of sinners—as he’s described later as the apostle Paul. Few of us will ever sin in the relative sense to the degree of the apostle Paul, and yet he was saved by faith alone in Christ alone, the same way we are saved. Father, we pray that You would make that clear to anyone listening today.
“Father, we thank You for the fact that we can grow in grace, and we are to grow in grace by our knowledge of Jesus Christ. And we pray that we might continue to pursue that in our personal lives, our personal growth.
“We pray that in Christ’s name. Amen.”