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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Man In The Message

This is not intended to be a "Life of the Apostle Paul," but rather to do with the particular significance of this servant of Jesus Christ. While there are those vital and essential factors in his case which must be true of every servant of Christ, and which are basic to every fruitful ministry (as we shall later mention), everything about Paul indicates that he was indeed "a chosen (elect) vessel," foreknown, foreordained and selected. This was true particularly in the nature of the ministry for which he was "apprehended." The same nature of ministry may - in measure - be the "calling" of others, but it was pioneered in Paul. All the Apostles stood on common ground where the fundamentals of the faith were concerned: the Person of Christ; the work of Christ; redemption; justification; sanctification; the world commission to preach salvation in Christ to all the world; the coming again of the Saviour, etc. They had the same foundation. Each one may have had "grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ"; that is, according to their personal gift, whether apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, or teacher, each had "grace" - anointing, enablement - corresponding to the responsibility, but on "fundamentals," i.e. foundation matters, they were agreed and one. Whatever we may say in distinguishing Paul, we would not for a moment take one small fragment from the great ministry of John, or Peter, or James, or others. Never could our New Testament suffer the loss of those ministries, and elsewhere we have gloried in them. When all has been said as to their value - and it would be an immense "all" - we still have to affirm that there was, and is, that which is unique and particular in what came through Paul. Let us hasten to say a very significant and helpful thing before we proceed.

It would never have been possible for Paul to understand his pre-conversion life until he came under the hand of Jesus Christ. That vocation with which he was called when Jesus became his Lord throws so much illumination upon the sovereignty of God in his past history. This is a principle which will help so many people and servants of God, and it shows how immensely important it is that Jesus shall be - not only Saviour - but Lord. We shall see this more fully later. Paul's Jewish birth, upbringing, training, education and deep embeddedness in something from which he would be extricated by the power of God, and something which was going to be shown no longer to be what God needed, is in itself of tremendous educative value. Why God, in His foreknowledge, should put a man deeply into something which does not ultimately represent His mind contains a point to be noted. Many there are who argue that, because they have ample reason to know that God put them into a certain way, work, form, association, there they are to abide for ever, willy nilly. Paul's history says "No" to that argument. God's ways in his case came to show that He may do a thing like that, and all His sovereignty may truly be in it, but only for a purpose, and a temporary purpose; namely, to give a deep and thorough first-hand knowledge of that which is really at best a limitation upon the full purpose of God. it is necessary for an effective servant of God to have personal knowledge of that from which people are to be delivered. Abraham must know Chaldea; Moses must know Egypt; David must know the falsehood of Saul's reign. So Paul must know the proscribed Judaism, so that he can speak with authority, the authority of personal experience. Were we the Psalmist, we should put "Shelah" there. "Think of that!"

But we must underline two aspects of this principle. We are referring to what was definitely within the Divine 'working of all things after the counsel of His own will,' and "according to His purpose." Paul was not changing his God at conversion, Jehovah was his God for ever. The change was in the method of God. It was still God working. We say this because no one can say that, because they were born and brought up in this or that, therefore "Providence" (meaning God) intended that to be their way for always. We must be as we are and where we are by the sovereignty of God, and we must know that any major change is equally definitely of God, and the only alternative to making it is clear disobedience to the presented will of God. It has to be a must, or a missing of the way. It certainly will make demands upon faith's walk with God, because the element of apparent contradiction may be present. We do not know what mental and soul battles Paul had. It is not recorded that in facing the immense revolution he reasoned with the Lord - 'Well, Lord, by Your own sovereignty I was born a Jew, and that with more than general terms; "of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews ... a Pharisee." And now, Lord, you are requiring me to take a course which repudiates all that and contradicts it. It is not like You, Lord, to contradict Yourself; it seems so inconsistent. It is not as though I have not been God-fearing and have been without faith in You.' The change was so revolutionary as to seem to be two contrary ways in the same God. Here was a very big occasion to "trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not upon thine own understanding." We could cite the cases of many servants of God who have been brought to such a crisis between reason and faith when God was demanding a decision which seemed to contradict all His former leading. Some of these have come to be very greatly vindicated by obedience. Some have lived to be examples of having missed the way, or God's best.

All this has to do with God's sovereign preparation and equipment of a servant so that that servant should truly know by deep experience what he is talking about and what the differences are. This then, in brief, as to his Jewish relationship.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 2)

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