There is no doubt that Paul was a zealous evangelist and successful in his church building mission around the Mediterranean. However, Scripture reveals that Paul may have been more than simply the Billy Graham or George Whitfield of the first century.
Having been used to write thirteen epistles in God’s Word, Paul testifies in multiple places that he was not the ‘average’ convert. Instead, he bears witness to being appointed a special office and position in God’s purpose. Paul was the dispenser of a new message, the dispensation of Grace:
“If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward:” – Ephesians 3:2
Saul turned Paul ‘out of due time’
It was during the ministry of the twelve disciples and the church at Jerusalem that Saul was ‘breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord’ (Acts 9:1).
Saul was among the ‘stiffnecked and hard-hearted’ that stoned Stephen. Being a devout Pharisee, he may have been among the ‘generation of Vipers’ who deserved damnation in hell condemned by Jesus (Matthew 12:34, 23:33).
However we view Paul, it cannot be denied that he was not numbered among the ministry of the Disciples or John the Baptist [See ‘Did Paul replace Judas?’].
Instead, Paul was one saved ‘out of due time’ (1 Cor 15:8). While Israel was stumbling at the rock of offense Paul was the first to be saved by the longsuffering mercy of God out of the due time of any covenant promise (Romans 9:33, Romans 11:26-27).
“Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.” – 1 Tim 1:16
Paul’s special ministry to the Gentiles
In the testimony of his salvation and commission, Paul says that ‘God called him by his grace’ to ‘preach among the heathen’ (Gal 1:15-16).
Luke records these words of Jesus to Paul:
“But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee” – Acts 26:16-17
Paul was given a special ministry by the Lord Jesus to go preach a message of reconciliation to the Gentiles and the entire world!
“But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.” – Gal 1:11-12
It was this gospel and revelation by which Paul was given the office of ‘Apostle of the Gentiles’:
“For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office” – Romans 11:13
Paul the Apostle
As a result of this special revelation and gospel, Paul frequently indicates the unique position and responsibility that he holds.
“Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity.” – 1 Tim 2:7
“For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me.” – 1 Cor 9:17
“Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God” – Col 1:25
“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” – Romans 16:25
Paul’s special apostleship
No fewer than a dozen times does Paul refer to himself as an ‘Apostle of Jesus Christ’. There is no doubt that Paul was given the office of an apostle, but the extent of his authority is signified when he places his own responsibility on and above the level of the ‘chiefest apostles’.
Speaking of Peter, he explains:
“But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter; (For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:)” – Gal 2:7-8
“For I suppose I was not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles.” – 2 Cor 11:5
“I am become a fool in glorying; ye have compelled me: for I ought to have been commended of you: for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing. “ – 2 Cor 12:11
Paul refers to himself as the master builder who lays the foundation in 1 Corinthians 3:11:
“According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.”
Therefore we can conclude that Paul, though indeed a great evangelist and missionary, was given an office far more important than is often credited to him.
More important than his missionary work was his responsibility in communicating a new dispensation from God.
If we would take heed to the sure words of Scripture and the directives given by our Lord Jesus we would better understand the ‘manifold wisdom of God’ as it was first revealed to our Apostle Paul (Eph 3:9-10).
It is only through the divinely inspired writings of Paul that we read and learn about the glorious message of salvation by grace without works, justification by faith, and righteousness apart from the law.
Those who would follow Christ today, would do well to follow the Apostle he entrusted to lay the foundation for our understanding of grace – the Apostle Paul.
“Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things. Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel:” 2 Tim 2:7-8