The Gospel of Christ
Paul's Divine Authority

The dummy spit

We've just seen Paul say that he is right and that anyone who disagrees with him is wrong. It almost sounds like a three year old who is upset because things aren't going his way. What we need to ask ourselves is on what authority Paul speaks. Does he really have the authority to say such things, or is he just having a dummy spit?

Paul's divine (not delegated) authority

Moving on from last time, we come to:

  Gal 1:11 - 12 I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin. For I did not receive it from a man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it through a revelation from Jesus Christ.  

So we see that Paul is insisting that he has divine authority (from God), not delegated authority (like most people in power have). His reasons:

  • that the message he preaches is not something that was made up by people, but rather is from God
  • he wasn't taught the message by anyone, but rather received it straight from God
This revelation that he talks about happened one day when he was on the road from Jerusalem to Damascus, where he was going to put to death the local believers. Jesus appeared to Paul, and from him Paul learned the gospel. So he learned it from Jesus himself, not anyone else.

What are the implications of this? That if you disagree with Paul, he is right and you are wrong, because his authority comes straight from God. That even applies when Paul has a disagreement with another apostle, as we shall see shortly. So if anyone stands before you and says something that disagrees with Paul, you go with Paul. It doesn't matter whether they are a church minister, bible study leader, or the pope because Paul has received his authority straight from God.

Now, that's a pretty big call. If you've read much of his stuff, you'll know that he says some pretty controversial things, such as

  • 2 Thess Ch 1 Those who don't obey the gospel of Jesus Christ will be punished with everlasting destruction
  • Slaves are to serve their masters as if they are serving God himself
  • Wives should submit to their husbands
If anyone preaches anything other than what Paul says, you go with Paul because he got his info straight from God. There is one qualification - we must know what "the gospel" is to Paul. There are some things on which he won't budge, and other things on which he says that it doesn't matter what people believe. But on those things that Paul won't budge, neither should we.

Paul gives three reasons for why he has divine authority, why we should side with him and not anyone else. We'll look at these in turn in the next three sections.

1st reason: Paul's extraordinary conversion

  Gal 1:13 - 16 For you have heard about my earlier life in Judaism - how I kept violently persecuting God's church and was trying to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when God, who set me apart before I was born and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles...  

Paul's first reason for why he has divine authority is that his conversion story is so incredible that is couldn't have been made up. In verses 13 and 14 we see three aspects of Paul's previous way of life, in verses 15 and 16 we see what happened to him after his conversion. Kind of a Before / After extreme make over comparison. The full account of Paul's conversion is found in Acts.

Firstly, Paul was trying to destroy the church of God. You don't really get more anti-Christian than that. Secondly, he was on the fast track to becoming a big name in Judaism, with all the right connections and a good education. Thirdly, he could always claim the moral high ground, with the traditions of the fathers on his side; no Jew would could disagree with him. Conclusion - Paul was a Jew who had it all.

After his conversion we see that his life has been completely turned around. Not by anything he has done, but by God working in him. Firstly, we find that God set him apart from birth. Secondly, that he called Paul because of his grace. This means that it was not because of anything that Paul did, but that God graciously reached his hand out to turn Paul around, away from Judaism and towards Jesus Christ. Thirdly, God showed Jesus to Paul. Not just Jesus the teacher who had walked around for a bit then got crucified, but Jesus risen and seated at God's right hand. Conclusion - Paul did have it all, but he gave it all up. More amazingly, he stopped killing Christians and started making Christians. And he made them out of non-Jews, which is a pretty amazing thing for a zealous Jew to do.

The reason that Paul says he has divine authority from God is because of his extraordinary conversion. His life changed so drastically in an instant that it has to have come from God, it couldn't have come from anyone else. And it's true - the best evidence of the gospel is the way it changes your life.

2nd reason: Paul's relationship with the Jerusalem apostles

The second reason that Paul gives for his divine authority is his relationship with the 12 apostles. The 12 were the ones who had been with Jesus since the beginning. They dropped to 11 for a short while after Judas had a nasty accident, then found someone to fill his place. They were the founding fathers of Christianity, and anyone who had questions went to them for answers.

Paul says he never went to the 12 for his info because he got it direct from the source. His point is going to be that he couldn't have learned anything from the 12 because he didn't see them - meaning that he must have got it from God.

  Gal 1:16 - 2:10 ...I did not confer with another human being at any time, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before me. Instead, I went away to Arabia and then came back to Damascus.

Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Peter, and I stayed with him for fifteen days. But I did not see any other apostle except James, the Lord's brother. (I declare before God that what I am writing to you is not a lie.)

Then I went to the regions of Syria and Cilicia. But I was unknown by sight to the churches of Christ in Judea. The only thing they kept hearing was this: "The man who used to persecute us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy!" So they kept glorifying God for what had happened to me.

Then fourteen years later I again went up to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus with me. I went in response to a revelation, and in a private meeting with those who seemed to be leaders I set before them the gospel I proclaim among the Gentiles. I did this because I was afraid that I was running or had run for nothing. But not even Titus, who was with me, was forced to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek.

However, false brothers were secretly brought in. They slipped in to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus so that they might enslave us. But we did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might always remain with you. Now those who were reputed to be important added nothing to my message. (What sort of people they were makes no difference to me, since God pays no attention to outward appearances.)

In fact, they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel for the circumcised. For the one who worked through Peter by making him an apostle to the circumcised also worked through me by sending me to the Gentiles. So when James, Peter, and John (who were reputed to be leaders) recognized the grace that had been given me, they gave Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. The only thing they asked us to do was to remember the destitute, the very thing I was eager to do.

 

He says he didn't go to Jerusalem to learn from the 12 apostles, and when he finally went he didn't have time to learn anything from them. The first thing he does when he got converted was to go away from Jerusalem. After being a Christian and teaching Gentiles for three years he goes to Jerusalem, to meet Peter. He says that he saw none of the other apostles besides James. It was 14 years later that he went to Jerusalem.

The point is that he didn't go to Jerusalem to study Christianity, and then have some kind of commissioning. He only goes there to meet people for a bit, then goes off to keep teaching the Gentiles as he had already been doing.

In Chapter 2 he finally does go and spend some time in Jerusalem. Notice his reason: "I went in response to a revelation". He goes because he's received a revelation from God, not because the Jerusalem 12 have called him in to account for his last 14 years of work. And what did he do there? He set the gospel that he had been preaching before the leaders privately because he was afraid that he was running his race in vain. Why might he be afraid that he had run his race in vain? Maybe he has lost his confidence, and is worried that he has been preaching the wrong message for the last 14 years. More likely is that he is worried that the Jerusalem 12 are preaching the wrong gospel - he is worried that he is running his race in vain because where ever he goes preaching the gospel, some one from Jerusalem comes along behind him and undermines his work.

The reason that the second situation is probably the correct one is that he is quite rude about the Jerusalem 12. See in verse 6 he says " Now those who seemed to be important... what sort of people they were makes no difference to me", and in verse 2 "with those who seemed to be leaders". He's casting a slur on them - they seemed to be leaders but he was afraid that he had been running his race in vain because they were undermining him.

This is a major incident in the early history of the church. It is a split between the 12 and the divinely appointed apostle.

The reason that Paul felt he may have been running his race in vain is mentioned in verse 3 - "But not even Titus, who was with me, was forced to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek." It is on the issue of circumcision that people were disagreeing with Paul, leading him to his comments about eternal condemnation to anyone who was against him. To bring the issue into the open, he brought a non-circumcised, non-Jew to Jerusalem with him. It's kind of like taking pork chops to a Jewish barbeque. Paul saw that the issue that the Jews had been undermining his work with was their view of circumcision, so he took someone uncircumcised to the meeting. And the outcome? They saw that Paul had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews. A summary of the results of the Jerusalem council was written by John Stott:

  "Paul and Peter had a different commission, but they had a common message"
John Stott, The Message to the Galatians
 

They had a common message about the gospel - that you don't have to be circumcised to be saved. But see what happens next...

3rd reason: Paul's stand off with Peter

  Gal 2:11 - 21 But when Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly wrong. For until some men came from James, he was in the habit of eating with the Gentiles, but after they came he drew back and would not associate himself with them, being afraid of the circumcision party. The other Jews also joined him in this hypocrisy, to the extent that even Barnabas was caught up in their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I told Peter in front of everyone, "Though you are a Jew, you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. So how can you insist that the Gentiles must live like Jews?

We ourselves are Jews by birth, and not Gentile sinners, yet we know that a person is not justified by the works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. We, too, have believed in Christ Jesus so that we might be justified by the faith of Christ and not by the works of the law, for no human being will be justified by the works of the law.

Now if we, while trying to be justified in Christ, have been found to be sinners, does that mean that Christ is a minister of sin? Of course not! For if I rebuild something that I tore down, I demonstrate that I am a wrongdoer. For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ. I no longer live, but Christ lives in me, and the life that I now live in the flesh I live by the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, then Christ died for nothing!"

 

After leaving the Jerusalem council, Paul went off to preach to the Gentiles, and Peter to the Jews. Now we have the two big guns of the early church meeting again.

Back in Jerusalem, Paul met with the 12 in private so that he could rebuke them in private. This time in Antioch he does it very publicly. Sometimes we must draw the line and stand up against heresy. It seems that Peter still thinks that it's important to be circumcised. He used to associate with Gentiles until James sent men from Jerusalem. Then he drew back because he was afraid of them. Not only that, but other Jews started to join him in his hypocrisy. When finally Barnabas, Paul's friend, is lead astray, Paul steps in and draws the line in the sand.

What is Paul objecting to here? Firstly, hypocrisy. We hear people say things like "Not what I do, but what I say", or have parents who have one rule for their children and another for their selves. Maybe you've heard people say "I'd be tempted to believe in Christianity if it wasn't for the Christians". Paul sees Peter changing what he does when different people are watching, and so rebukes him for it.

His second objection is the big one. He disagrees with Peter on theological grounds. Theological is a big word just meaning "to do with God". Paul says in verse 14 " I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel". For Paul, it's not just about what you believe that's important, it's how you act. And if you act out of line with the truth of the gospel, anathema to you. Peter was saying that circumcision was important for salvation, but as Paul says at the end of the passage above "if righteousness could be gained through the law, then Christ died for nothing!" Things that we do canot help us to be right with God, we simply have to rely on the goodness of Jesus to save those that are his.

Where to from here?

The big question now is "What is the truth of the gospel?" How do we know what the truth of the gospel is, and whether we are walking in line with it? Paul says it is a very serious matter. We'll find out about that on the next page.

Sometimes, we need to draw the line. The biggest sin a Christian can be accused of by another Christian is not immorality, it's disunity. No one cares about immorality, unless there are children involved. The worst thing you can do is be divided from other Christians. Or so people say. The problem with that is that unity against the gospel means just that: that you are united against the gospel. The first example of unity in the Bible can be found in Genesis chapter 11. Remember what happens? The nations of the world gather together, united in the purpose of building a tower to the heavens, so that they will never be scattered again. They gather together against God. Unity against the gospel is Babylonian unity, it's like the tower of Babel all over again. Disunity is not the biggest sin we can make. The biggest sin we can make is not drawing the line over the truth of the gospel.

Summary

  • Paul's words have authority because
    • he was divinely appointed by God
    • after disagreement the other apostles agreed with Paul
  • We must act in line with the truth of the gospel
  • Sometimes it is important to draw the line and stand apart from those whose actions and beliefs are against the gospel.


And can it be that I should gain
an interest in the saviour's blood?
Died he for me who caused his pain
For me, who him to death pursued.
Amazing love! How can it be
that thou my God shouldst die for me!

'Tis mystery all! The Immortal dies:
who can explore this strange design?
In vain the first-born seraph tries
to sound the depths of love divine.
'Tis mercy all! Let earth adore,
let angel minds inquire no more.

He left his Father's throne above,
(so free, so infinite his grace!)
emptied himself of all but love,
and bled for Adam's helpless race
'Tis mercy all, immense and free;
for O my God it found out me.

Long my imprisoned spirit lay
fast bound in sin and nature's night:
thine eye diffused a quickening ray -
I woke; the dungeon flamed with light!
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in him, is mine!
Alive in him, my living Head,
and clothed in righteousness divine,
bold I approach the eternal throne
and claim the crown, through Christ my own.

Charles Wesley, 1707 - 88          


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Under Spirit, Not Law