Paul's Distinctive Vocation
That there was a difference and peculiar importance in Paul's ministry has a number of strong evidences and attestations. He knew it himself and often referred to it, both as to its substance and the way in which he received it. This is expressed in such words as these:
"the stewardship of that grace of God which was given me to you-ward";
"how that by revelation was made known unto me the mystery ... whereby ... ye can perceive my understanding in the mystery of Christ"; "Unto me ... was this grace given ... to make all men see what is the stewardship of the mystery" (Ephesians 3:2-4, 8, 9).
While Paul does not say that he alone had the "mystery" made known to him, he does claim that, as a stewardship, a ministry, it was revealed to him in a distinctly personal and direct-from-heaven manner. He claimed that he was divinely apprehended for this particular ministry. What that revelation was has to spread itself over all that we shall yet write. At the moment we are concerned with the fact of Paul's specific vocation.
Not least among the evidences of this was the fury, invective, hatred, malice and murderous cruelty of the devil and his forces focused upon this man, relentlessly. It was surely because of what was coming through him and not just because of his personality. It began and broke loose on the same issue before Paul was the apprehended vessel of it. To see and understand this we have to go back to the one man who had previously seen what Paul was shown. We refer to Stephen as the first Christian martyr and we are deeply moved when we read the account of his death. But how little Stephen has been understood, and how blind we have been to the real meaning of his death - his destruction by satan controlled men.
Stephen - The Precursor of Paul
A thoughtful consideration of Stephen's discourse before the Jewish Sanhedrin will show that Stephen was like a 'preface,' an introduction, to Paul's ministry. If Stephen had lived, there is little doubt that he and Paul would have been a mighty partnership in the Stewardship of the Mystery. This, of course, supposes that the Lord did not foresee that Stephen would die, and that, in that foreknowledge, He did not mark down Paul for the alone steward of this ministry in its fullness. The Divine sovereignty has rarely been evidenced more than in Saul's presence with Stephen at the time of the latter's death, although an accomplice in it. As we move with Stephen through that long discourse, following his mind from Abraham through Isaac, Jacob, the Patriarchs, Joseph, Israel, Moses, Egypt, the Exodus, Sinai, the Tabernacle, the Wilderness, Joshua, David, Solomon, the Temple, the Prophets, up to Christ, the "Righteous One," there is one thing that is in Stephen's mind throughout, and that one thing is the key to everything and that which - more than anything else - explains, defines and characterizes Paul and his ministry. That one thing is that God is ever, from eternity to eternity, pressing on to an all-comprehending goal. Through human failure, human and satanic obstruction and attempted frustration; by a variety and multitude of ways, means, and persons, in all generations and ages, God is ever going on. His desired and selected instruments may become a hindrance rather than a help. Nations, empires and systems may oppose and obstruct; circumstances may seem to limit Him, but - given time - He is found not to have given up, but still to be going on. He has set Himself a purpose and a goal, and that goal will be reached. Let Jewry "always resist the Holy Spirit" as Stephen says; so much the worse for Jewry. That is the tremendous upshot of Stephen's discourse. Within that inclusiveness there are other features. God's purpose is a heavenly one, a vast one, a spiritual one, an eternal one. Neither the Tabernacle, with all its inner beauty and symbolic embodiment of divine thoughts; nor the Temple of Solomon with all its magnificence and glory; nor Solomon himself with his stunning wisdom and overwhelming wealth - says Stephen - can remotely approximate to that toward which God is moving in relation to His Son. That is not "made with hands". That is not of the earth. That is not God's house. The Holy Spirit says Stephen, in effect, is moving on, ever on to this so-much-greater in every way. Stephen, in one glorious hour met the devastating force of that with which Paul contended all his life, namely the incorrigible disposition of God's people to bring what is essentially heavenly down to earth and fix it there; to crystallize spiritual things into man-made systems; to lay hands upon what is of God and make it something of man, something exclusive and legal under man's control. Stephen's stand for, and testimony to, this "Heavenly Vision" (that became Paul's phrase) brought him into the most violent and vicious hatred of vested religious interests, so far as systems were concerned, and satan's fiercest jealousy behind all. Touch religious traditions and established orders and you will find the same thing that Stephen met, a jealousy which issues from blindness to the vastly greater purpose of God. In some way you will be stoned by ostracism, exclusion, closed doors, suspicion and misrepresentation, all of which are traceable in the case of Paul.
Have we said enough about Stephen to justify and establish our statement that he was - so to speak - Paul in advance? Stephen himself is an example of God going on in spite of hell and men, as Paul was the going on of God in fullness when men put Stephen away. We look back to our beginning statement that a major evidence of the particular ministry for which Paul was chosen is the vehemence of satanic antagonism.
All that we have said, and much more, will, of course, come out in our consideration of the ministry of Paul himself, but I am sure that we are beginning to see something of his significance.
Still ahead of our contemplation of the crowning and consummate ministry of Paul the Apostle, there are several matters of considerable value which may make a brief chapter of helpfulness by themselves.
(continued with # 4 - "Spying Out the Land")