October 4, 2020 The Apostleship of Paul

The Apostleship of Paul

 

Scripture reading: 2 Corinthians 12:1-13.

 

Chapter 12 is now the third chapter in this epistle in which Paul is defending his ministry and his apostleship. As Christians, we may think this is all too much. After all, we already believe that Paul is an apostle and that his writings are inspired. It may seem to us that we do not need to spend much time on these chapters. Yet, we must see the great wisdom of our Lord. He is the one who decided what was to be included in our Bibles. It was by his sovereignty what words of the apostles were to be included in the New Testament.

 

You see, there are still people today that question the authority and the inspiration of Paul. Three groups that do so are Muslims, what we may call liberal Christians (based on what they actually believe, they are not true Christians at all), and the New Age movement. You may run into these people. If the subject of Paul’s inspiration comes up, chapters 11 and 12 of this epistle will prove to be quite helpful in your conversations and defense of the Bible.

 

Muslims believe that the gospels are inspired by God but that they have been corrupted over time. Of course, God has preserved what the gospel writers wrote and He has preserved it amazingly well. This can be demonstrated but that is a subject for another time.[1] But, they believe that Paul waylaid the burgeoning Christian faith when it was just beginning and took it in a direction that Jesus did not intend for it to go. This is mainly because Paul is firm and strong on the deity of Christ which, of course, the Muslims reject.

 

So-called liberal Christians have the same view of Paul. They believe he just party-crashed the Christian faith, but for a different reason. They don’t like Paul because of two reasons: his teaching on the headship of men over families and the naming of certain sins. It is true that Jesus didn’t directly address, in the gospels, the sins that are so prevalent in our society today – the sins which the unregenerate love to defend and promote. Sins like homosexuality, for example. Although, Jesus did address the sinfulness of homosexual acts in the Old Testament. Jesus was the one inspiring the prophets to speak and write (I Peter 1:10-11; 2 Peter 1:21)! But, the reason it was not addressed in the gospels directly is easy to explain. Jesus was speaking to his fellow Jews in Israel and homosexuality was known by all to be a sin. It was not a prominent sin in Israel at the time of Christ. But, Paul was writing to the churches in Gentile nations where homosexuality was being practiced. Thus, he had to address it. Nothing mysterious about it at all.

 

New Age proponents, like Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra, object to Paul for the same reasons that so-called liberal Christians do.

 

The reason that people today reject Paul is the same reason why people rejected Jesus in the first century.

 

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.[2]

 

People do not want to give up their sins. That is why they reject the gospel and that is why they reject Paul.

 

Paul begins chapter 12 by writing, “I must go on boasting.” He does not want to boast, but he is compelled to do so in order to affirm his apostleship. In verse 2, when he says, “I know a man…”, he is speaking about himself. This is made evident when, in verse 7, he writes: “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations.”

 

The revelations of the third heaven and Paradise were seen by Paul.

 

In verse 2 we read that “the man,” Paul, was caught up to the third heaven. The third heaven is the dwelling place of God. The first heaven is the sky. The second heaven is the panoply of stars (outer space). The third heaven is what we commonly refer to as heaven.

 

In verse 3 he writes that this man was caught up into Paradise. Some commentators believe that Paradise is just another name for the third heaven. Others think that it is a different place, so that Paul is saying that he visited two places: the third heaven and Paradise. The ones who think that he is referring to two places rather than the one, do so based on how verse 3 begins. It begins with the word, “And.” They say that if Paul were referring to the same place he would not have used “and.” I think it is difficult to determine.

 

We do know this much: Paradise is the place where the righteous departed go to await judgment (Luke 23:43). The third heaven is the dwelling place of God. These could be the same place or they could be different places. (Don’t forget that both the Father and Christ are omnipresent. Therefore, they are present in Paradise regardless whether it is a different place or not.) It seems to me that the Lord has not revealed very much about our intermediate state by design. He has only revealed a tiny bit – enough to give us a desire to be in Paradise and enough so that we will be fearful of torment in Hades if we are not forgiven of our sins.

 

and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.[3]

 

He heard things spoken in Paradise that he was not permitted to repeat. But, I tell you, because I know that Paul knows spiritual realities that no one else knows, this gives me a supreme confidence in what he has written! You can have this confidence also! Paul was shown amazing things by the Lord in Paradise! He is, in truth, the Lord’s anointed!

 

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.[4]

 

When we receive revelations from God there is a temptation to become conceited, that is, to think too highly of oneself. Even knowing our unworthiness is insufficient to keep pride at bay. Paul, of course, was aware of his unworthiness. Yet, he was still given a thorn in the flesh so that he would not be self-exalted. What this “thorn in the flesh” was we do not know. Some think it was his eye problem that affected his vision. He did have one (Gal. 4:13-15). But think of this: if the apostle Paul was given a physical malady to retrain his pride, then the Lord has a purpose for any afflictions that come our way. It may be to restrain your pride. Or, it may be for some other reason. But there is a purpose for it.

 

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. [5]

 

Like Paul, we should bring our afflictions to the Lord in prayer. We don’t want them! And, sometimes – maybe many times – the Lord will answer that prayer! Our God still heals! Our God still delivers! Hallelujah! Many times the Lord will not answer right away. Keep praying! If he answers, He will do so in the best time. It may be weeks or it may be months. Other times, he will leave you with an affliction as He did with Paul.

 

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. [6]

 

We all have weaknesses. Do not fret over your weaknesses. The Lord uses your weakness, whatever it may be, to have the power of Christ work through you! It is through our inability that God’s ability is made known! So, never let your weakness prevent you from speaking out on behalf of Christ! Just start speaking! The Spirit will manifest the truth through your feeble effort!

 

Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, and Michael Faraday[7] all had something in common. Each one had dyslexia, making it difficult for them to both read and speak. They each not only overcame this weakness, but went on to bless the world with their discoveries.

 

Amie Norton, a contemporary chemist and PhD, relates how her dyslexia has been a great challenge in her life and required that she apply herself far more than her peers in order to compensate for it and a motor skills deficit that she has.[8] If weakness in the natural realm can lead to great accomplishments, how much more when God is the one who uses it to manifest His power in a person?

 

Paul said, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” You must know that this is your saying! This is for you! Say it out loud after me. (Repeating a truth out loud is more powerful than simply reading it or hearing it.)

 

“For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

 

“For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

 

“For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

 

I have been a fool! You forced me to it, for I ought to have been commended by you. For I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing.[9]

 

Paul was compelled to defend his apostleship. Why? Because the Corinthians were not loyal to him. They were listening to the opposers. Paul writes that they should have commended Paul. They should have but they did not. Can I ask you to commend those whom the Lord has placed in your life? Commend your husband to others. Commend your wife to others. Commend your parents. Commend your children. Refrain from telling others the negative things about them. We all have negative traits. Don’t dwell on those. Be loyal to those who have blessed you, even if they have only blessed you in small ways, in your estimation.

 

The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.[10]

 

Paul was a true apostle! How did God affirm to all that Jesus Christ is the Savior and Lord? One way was through the miracles that he performed. And the Lord did the same towards the apostles. They, too, performed signs and wonders and mighty works so that all would know that the apostles were divine emissaries, speaking on behalf of God infallibly.

 

There are some today that presumptuously take the title of apostle. Unless they are doing miracles, pay them no attention. They would be the party crashers, not Paul.

 

How may we apply what we have learned in this chapter to our lives? I hope we can take away three things.

 

  1. Be loyal to those whom God has placed in your life. The Corinthians should have been loyal to Paul but they were not. You, as a man of God, as a woman of God, be loyal in your words. But, be loyal in your heart. The Lord honors loyalty.
  2. Be certain that the apostle Paul has divine authority. What Paul has written are the very words of God. The Lord has borne witness to Paul through his translation into the third heaven and the miracles that he performed (Hebrews 2:4), even raising the dead (Acts 20:7-12)! Therefore, do not neglect reading the letters of Paul. They are a source of life to you!
  3. Know that when you are weak, then you are strong. This was not only Paul’s experience. It is yours. Never allow the perception of your weakness to prevent you from speaking on behalf of the Lord. The Lord especially uses weak vessels. So, he will use you.

 

“Lord, we are weak. There are not many strong among us. Thank you that your power is perfected in our weakness. Use us for thy glory even this very week. Amen.”

 


[1] Three good books on this subject are Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell, Jesus and the Gospels by Craig Blomberg, and The Historical Reliability of the Gospels also by Craig Blomberg. The last book listed is more technical, but the first two are easy to understand.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jn 3:19–20). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 12:4). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 12:7). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 12:8). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 12:9). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[7] Faraday was an English scientist, born in 1791, who discovered the principles behind electromagnetism and induction. He laid the groundwork for the future of electronics and is considered one of the greatest scientists.

[8] See https://storiesinscience.org/2017/11/26/weakness-becomes-strength/

[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 12:11). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 12:12). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.