Because of what Christ said to the apostle Paul at the moment of his conversion, the man from Tarsus was aware that it was God’s will and statement that he was to be a slave (Greek doulos) and servant, or, using a more comprehensive word, an apostle of Christ.
Yet, when he starts the Ephesian letter with, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,” I am not sure whether or not he is saying that he is an apostle by the will of God, or that he is writing this particular letter by the will of God. I am confident however, that either denotation could be correct. This man was converted by revelation from heaven – as are we all who have put our faith in Christ, and he was established by revelation. Even his letter writing was under the blanket umbrella of, “revelation.”
As Paul came to the end of his letter to the church at Rome he makes a striking remark: “Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past” (Romans 16:25). I say, “striking,” because of the intrinsic meaning of the sentence. Follow me in my sequence of thoughts as I explain:
- All converts need establishing in their faith. This means they require a few, “i’s,” to be dotted and even more, “t’s,” to be crossed in the mind and thought processes, as well as the overall attitude to and understanding of the faith. Details of the faith and all its implications need to be grasped as firmly as possible. Faith is something people might be challenged to die for. For these kinds of reasons, a person’s new found faith needs to be set in “understanding concrete.” Faith needs a full rationale and applied intelligence to its concepts and practicalities. This is being, “established in the faith.” Modern Christian terminology uses the verb, “to disciple,” to describe how to establish somebody in the faith. The meanings of, “being discipled,” and, “established in the faith,” are synonymous.
- Not wanting to insult the intelligence of any of my readers, but I need to state the obvious – not so obvious to some – that He who gave the faith and facilitated a person’s conversion needs to be left to finish the work of establishing that same faith. It is the same current of electricity that switches on the light that keeps the light burning. Paul said to the Philippians that he was, “Confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you shall perform it to the day of Jesus Christ.” But how does God establish our faith? Yes a mentor, or a teacher, needs to deliver the word, and demonstrate the word in practice to establish that word, but the gospel, and the Holy Spirit Himself are the divine “Establishers.” Revelation brings a person into the Kingdom of God and revelation keeps that person walking in the light.
- “By my gospel.” The normal terminology of twenty first century evangelicals is that the “gospel” is simply the appeal to the unbeliever. I have been often asked by pastors and church leaders when itinerating around the world and invited to their church to speak, “Will you be preaching the gospel? Or will you be addressing the believers?” To which my standard answer is, “I will be preaching the gospel to believer and unbeliever alike!” The entire revelation of Christ is the gospel, not just the appeal to be converted. The repetition of the sacred truths of Christ’s first advent, and the expectation of His imminent return and Second Advent, should initiate and/or nourish faith and affirm new found lifestyles in the hearts of believers and unbelievers alike. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing…”
- Paul then defines his gospel in this verse by explaining it as, “the proclamation of Jesus Christ.” It is the full, unadulterated, undiluted explanation and declaration of the who, what, where, how, when and why of Jesus Christ that straightens out people’s lives, and in so doing straightens out the world. One might say that He is definitely being declared around the world in all the churches on the planet. I respond to that statement by suggesting that we need to work at declaring the message in the same manner and on the same grounds as how Paul defined it. In the midst of the purest declarations, God has promised to accompany the word preached with signs and wonders running alongside the message.
When Paul arrived at Thessalonica for the first time, he was there over two weeks (three Sabbaths) and was run out of town by severe death threatening persecution. But such were the constituent elements of the message he preached and his confidence in that message and power with which he preached it (1 Thessalonians 2:13), that, even though he, the father of their faith left after such a brief period (15 days at the most), the church stood, as his two ensuing letters confirm. I personally have never heard preaching that has had such an incredible impact on anybody.
You would then ask me, “Are you saying that you have never heard sound preaching?” A pox on that thought. It may be that some vital elements are missing from certain flavours of evangelical Christianity, but that is not necessarily my issue here. My point is that Paul states, “… and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past.” My concern is the phrase “according to the revelation.” It is revelation by the power of the Holy Spirit that secures a rock solid faith when the truth is declared. My thesis is that the statement of Romans 16:25 is not merely saying that the gospel has arrived to us by the revelation of the Old Testament and the first advent of Christ – although that is definitely true – but that it was taught under the auspices and inspiration of the direct and personal revelation that constituted Paul’s intimate reception of the message. People are converted and established by revelation. The more the gospel is delivered from a heart and head filled with revelation, the easier it is for the listeners to grasp the message. Christianity is a thing of the Spirit. Academic attainment is a thing of the mind. Revelation received in the human spirit of preachers needs to be assimilated by the mind and then delivered under the projection of revelation. Revelation in the human spirit teaches and trains the mind and makes us spiritual people. Books written by an academic mind also trains the recipients mind and makes us academics. Much of Christianity in the west treasures the academic far above the spiritual. This is ungodly.
- The fact that we read in the book that Christ’s advent (both first and second) was predicted by revelatory prophecy since the time Adam left Eden, as well as the fact that I understand the gospel in my academic thinking and declaration, does not mean I am emulating Paul. Paul declared his message, it being a personal revelation to himself. It is the “proclamation that is according to the revelation.” The very proclamation and all its why’s and wherefores need to be declared from the fount of revelation in the heart of the person doing the declaring. This is the definition of New Testament ministry. The gospel needs to be revealed, as opposed to being merely academically understood, in order to be declared in a manner that fully emulates Paul. 1 Thessalonians 2:13 is the authority on this issue. The Thessalonians were not gullible to receive Paul’s words as the word of God in the person of Saul of Tarsus whom they knew as Paul; they had good grounds for believing that what he said was divine. And for Paul to refer to such a concept infers his own confidence that what he delivered to them was the revelatory word of God revealed to him by Christ Himself. Anything less is not New Testament ministry.
- How was Paul himself established in his message? “For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:10). What are we to deduce from this? We may say that, “It was different for Paul.” We may say, “Paul was called and chosen for a unique purpose!” And, for a short distance, I would run with the statements and agree with that perspective. But on the issue of revelation I feel that I am diluting scripture if I concede the imperative need for personal revelation to every Christian alive on planet earth, especially those that minister the word. Ministers of the gospel must be carrying the message in their hearts more than it is in their head.
In the first sermon I ever heard from the man I consider my mentor and father in the faith, TB Joshua, back on 2001, he made a remark which frankly has always screamed at me since I heard it. He said, “How much of our Christianity comes from what we have been told by others? How much of our walk with God has come from being taught by books or other man made means of learning? And how much of our relationship with God has been revealed and/or initiated by God Himself?” Understand that neither TB Joshua nor I are in any way shape or form against listening to teachers, preachers or pastors. God forbid! Neither do I want you to think that any book reading or course of study is incorrect. That should not be said, because it wouldn’t be true. The three questions were intended to challenge all who heard him to get more from God’s own mouth. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” That scripture carries weight to all of humanity.
Our whole being should constantly ache for revelation by God’s own enlightening.
There are other statements that aid our understanding of the role of revelation in the life of Paul.“But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus.” (Galatians 1:15-17)
No matter how much we claim that “Paul was a special case,” which indeed he was, if we utilise that fact to excuse ourselves from the need for personal revelation, and the imperative of our waiting on God for His personal tuition and understanding, we are clearly wrongly dividing the word of truth. You and I, samples of the “ordinary” Christian person on the street, the typical John Doe of the church, are still called upon to seek God and His revelation. To leave the discovery of revelation for the pastor’s, prophets, teachers, apostles and evangelists is a horrific backward step that verges on the Old Testament practice of, “Don’t venture anywhere until one has heard the prophet, priest or king speak.” Jesus Christ, of course, is the ultimate Prophet, Priest and King. In the New Testament every believer is to receive with meekness the engrafted word of truth, we can all intercede by prayer for others (i.e. the priesthood of all believers), and we are all to reign in righteousness. I know the smoking flaxes and the bruised reeds of church membership that need counselling, prayer and shepherding through some basics of life, but revelation through God’s Word and by His Spirit is the daily bread that God sets before the believer through all of life.
Paul refers to his conversion as God being pleased to reveal Christ “within Him.” It was one of the basic qualifying factors that equipped him to preach to the gentiles. When he had realised that the hand of God was on his life since birth, and that he was called by grace and not be deserving character, it gave him a healthy perspective of who and what he was in Christ. In plain modern English, when Paul talks of grace here, it means he was called for no other reason than God decided he would call Paul. It was all revealed, uncovered and shown to the man, Saul of Tarsus.
It is revelation that enables Christian’s to talk about the moving of the Holy Spirit and the concrete realities of Jesus Christ in such a concrete fashion.
- Epistle Reading St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians 2:19-22; 3:1-7 (orthodoxlogos5.wordpress.com)
- (02) What is New Testament theology? (altruistico.wordpress.com)
- Creativity – It’s All In Christ Jesus (riversofeden1.wordpress.com)
- Ephesians 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: (calvinistview.com)