“Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us”.
Romans 12:3 NLT
Is Paul getting a little ahead of himself, by claiming that he can effectively speak for God? He claimed that he had “privilege and authority”, a status not given by a societal or governmental process, but by God Himself. The problem for some people is that they do not observe, or participate in, the process that provides such authority. In history, many people have claimed that they have some special power or mandate given to them by God, and, through that, they have gone on to deceive people and lead them down a path that is nothing to do with God at all. The Bible accounts call them false prophets, and Jesus warned about them, as we read in Matthew 7:15, “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves”. So how can we validate Paul’s claim that God had given him His authority?
In the Matthew 7 account, Jesus went on to teach His disciples how they can avoid being misled by these false prophets. Matthew 7:16-17, “You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit”. And He finishes the section by saying, “Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions” (Matthew 7:20).
So back to Paul. He claimed that Jesus had appointed him to his ministry. “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength to do his work. He considered me trustworthy and appointed me to serve him” (1 Timothy 1:12). Romans 1:1, “This letter is from Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, chosen by God to be an apostle and sent out to preach his Good News”. Paul was obviously recognised as an Apostle by the other Apostles at that time. Paul met with the leaders of the Church in Jerusalem, and we read in Galatians 2:7-8, “Instead, they saw that God had given me the responsibility of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as he had given Peter the responsibility of preaching to the Jews. For the same God who worked through Peter as the apostle to the Jews also worked through me as the apostle to the Gentiles”. There are other verses in the New Testament that confirm Paul’s appointment as an Apostle, so we can rest assured that he did indeed have God’s authority, and he considered it a privilege.
If we apply the false prophet test to Paul, it soon becomes very clear that his single-mindedness in furthering the work of the Gospel throughout the Eastern Mediterranean region and beyond, often at great personal cost, was indisputable. No bad fruit there at all. And as a legacy Paul left us with his letters, that have shaped and instructed disciples ever since.
We believers, pilgrims for Christ, also have the same authority that Paul had. We read in Matthew 28:18-20, “Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age””. The early disciples were given the authority to make more disciples, who go on to make even more. And that process has been continuing ever since.
So, the question is, how many disciples have we made? We have Jesus’ request, His mandate, and authority to do so. Hmmm…
Father God. Please forgive us for our lethargy in spreading the Gospel to those around us. We pray for Your guidance to take us the the right people, at the right time, so that we too can obey Your instructions to make disciples. In Jesus’ name. Amen.