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:
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).
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:
Paul was given a special ministry by the Lord Jesus to go preach a message of reconciliation to the Gentiles and the entire world!
It was this gospel and revelation by which Paul was given the office of ‘Apostle of the Gentiles’:
Paul the Apostle
As a result of this special revelation and gospel, Paul frequently indicates the unique position and responsibility that he holds.
“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:
“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:
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.