Wednesday, October 05, 2011

“Paul’s Authority and the Gospel”

Fourth Quarter 2011 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
“Paul’s Authority and the Gospel”
For the week of  October 2 - 8, 2011

Authority is defined as the power or right delegated or given to determine, adjudicate, or otherwise settle issues or disputes.  Authority is also defined as: the right to control, command, or to issue commands and to punish for violations.  This is usually determined by a ranking official. From this definition arises the question of who gives the authority and whether or not it is recognized and accepted by others.

For example, a warrant is a written document certifying or authorizing its bearer to make an arrest, search and or seize property, or carry a judgment into execution. The ‘letters’ Saul took to Damascus were similar to a warrant.  We read in Acts 9:1–2, “And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest,” “And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.”

As a member of the Sanhedrin, Saul had authority; and when he left for Damascus he secured letters from the ‘church leaders’ to persecute the Christians there.  The idea was to arrest and bring them to Jerusalem to be punished (Acts 22:5).  Those letters which authorized him to carry out his duty, no doubt identified him, listed his credentials, his target audience, intention and purpose. Most assuredly the documents were signed and sealed with the signet of the Sanhedrin. Saul could probably have carried out his work without the written authorization of the Sanhedrin’s ‘letters’, but his conduct would likely have been criminal.

For example, walking around with a gun holstered to your hip is probably illegal in most cities. However, carrying a badge identifying you as law enforcement officer makes bearing a gun legal.  Those letters were Saul’s badge, giving him the authority to carry out his duty with force.

In contrast, upon his conversion, Paul did not have a visible letter when he was sent to the gentiles. Instead, the Lord, spoke to Paul the contents of the Invisible letter.  We read in Acts 26:16-18, “But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee;” “Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee,” “To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.”

This invisible letter identified Paul as the one sent, the Lord as the Sender, the gentiles as those to whom Paul was being sent.  The stated intention: to open their eyes to the truth, and its purpose: to reconcile them back to Christ.

Instead of force, which was Paul’s method prior to his conversion, Paul used love and reasoning.  On more than one occasion, Luke says that Paul went to the temple and reasoned with anyone who would listen (Acts 17:1-4; 18:3-5; 18:18-20; 24:24-25).  Acts 17:1-4 says that many believed by Paul’s reasoning, and in Acts 18:3-5 it says that some were persuaded.  The Greek rendering uses the same word for both belief and persuaded: peitho.  Peitho is the root word for faith: pistis; this implies no force was used.  Saul/Paul used the respective methods of those whose authority he possessed.

Many Christians failed to see Paul’s authority as legitimate or authentic.  Therefore, they questioned the message he preached.  To them his apostolic badge was not real.  However, Paul asserted that his apostleship was granted not by man, nor by the laying on of the hands of men (as Judas’ replacement), but by Jesus Christ and the Father (Galatians 1:1).

In essence, Paul was saying that his experience of seeing the crucified and risen Lord (Acts 9) qualified him to be an Apostle as much as the selected twelve.  Since the word Apostle means one who is sent, Paul is declaring that whoever chose and sent the Apostles, also chose and sent Him, and therefore their message is the same.

Paul’s confidence is in proportion to the authority of the One who sent him and was evidenced by his confidence in that Authority and Power, "He whom God has sent utters the words of God" (John 3:34). Paul spoke with authority, and the words, which he spoke, were the commandments of God.  The Lord desires us to comprehend that although He chooses different men to do different work, each with their individuality and peculiarities, He has chosen them, and as such, they speak (or write) His Words.

This is true, not only of the apostles, but of everyone in the church, as each is commissioned to "speak as the oracles of God" (1 Peter 4:11).  All who are ‘in Christ’ are new creatures, having been reconciled to God by Jesus Christ; and all who have been reconciled are given the Word and ministry of reconciliation, so that they are ambassadors for Christ.  All who are ‘in Christ,’ speak for Christ.  So, when they, which are ‘in Christ,’ speak to other men and plead with them to be reconciled to God, it is as if Christ, Himself was pleading with men to be reconciled to Him (2 Corinthians 5:17-20).  Ambassadors of earthly governments have authority according to the power of the king or ruler whom they represent.  Christians have a higher authority, for they represent the King of kings and Lord of lords!

It is my prayer that the written letter we have been given by our heavenly Father will inspire with courage and faith those whom He has commissioned to lovingly communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ to a dying world.
-- Raul Diaz