The Apostle Paul wrote a good bit of the New Testament, and much of the Christian lifestyle and church governance come from Paul‘s teachings. Should you and I still listen to him? The Bible is, after all, pretty old.
Has the Bible become so outdated that we’re smarter to follow the standards set by current culture? Or does it still speak, with power and relevance, into modern life?
I wrestle with these questions from time to time, but so far I’ve always returned to the Bible. I’ve found its God-inspired words to hold truth. Its teachings have helped me to build a firm foundation to walk in wholeness. Society can’t do that; its stability is an illusion because of ever-changing standards. Take morality, for example.
“Love,” in every flavor, is now “right,” because society now asserts that a person’s subjective view can’t be labeled as “wrong.” The same goes for sex. Society enthusiastically champions the freedom of personal experimentation and expression. But this “freedom” often results in chains. I personally experienced this with my 11-year addiction to pornography. Despite its promised satisfaction and intimacy, I lived wounded and disconnected, hiding in shame.
On whose authority does Paul speak? Do his teachings help us to live our best life?
Christ Bestowed Apostle Authority
Before we get to Paul’s authority, let’s define the term “Apostle.” Jesus first used the term to reference the 12 men He commissioned to preach the kingdom of Heaven to the Jews, God’s chosen people (Matthew 10:1-7).
After His resurrection, Jesus then commissioned the Apostles (all but Judas, who hanged himself in remorse after betraying Jesus to be crucified) to spread the gospel to all nations and people (Matthew 28:16-20). These early evangelists were thus distinguished in human history.
The Apostles were recognized as holding God-given authority because Jesus had personally selected and appointed them to share His teachings.
By definition, an Apostle had to have literally seen and walked with the risen Lord. Paul had not done so, yet Jesus did call him. And so dramatically that Paul instantly stopped persecuting the early Church, forfeiting all else to ardently champion it. His impact on the world would be amazing.
In Acts 26 we read the details of Paul’s vision of how Jesus revealed Himself as Paul travelled the road to Damascus. Of this life-changing encounter (1 Corinthians 15), Paul wrote, “Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him.” Paul’s personal commission by Christ (Acts 26:16-18) gave him the authority to speak for God with boldness and tenacity.
Paul reiterated his authority by sharing his commission in Galatians 1 and 2. He further distinguished himself from false apostles by performing miracles in Jesus’ name (1 Corinthians 12:12). And when he brought new teachings to the Jews in Berea (Acts 17:10-12), they examined the Scriptures to see if Paul’s words had support. They found they did.
The Apostles Confirmed Paul’s Authority
The believers in the early Church sought out and accepted the teachings and miracles of the Apostles because of the authority Christ had clearly given them. Paul and the other Apostles were supernaturally empowered, just as Jesus promised. In John 14:26 and 15:26-27 we read that they were sent a helper (the Holy Spirit) to testify of God and to teach them further.
The Apostle Peter, upon whom Christ declared He would build His Church, confirmed Paul’s authority when he asserted that Paul’s letters were equal with other Scriptures. In 2 Peter 3:15-16 he wrote, “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”
Paul’s God-given authority withstood the scrutiny of the other Apostles. His conversion was too compelling.
Ignatius, a Church father from the first century (AD 50-115), further confirmed Paul’s authority. He wrote, “I do not issue orders like an Apostle,” and “nor am I such a disciple as Paul or Peter.”
Paul’s Teachings Remain Relevant to Us
Neither Paul, nor the other Apostles, spoke or acted on their own power. Jesus knew they would share His teachings in their own personal styles, which makes the Bible so unique. Their authority and His authority were combined, as God intended. We can trust that God knew what He was doing when He commissioned them.
Some of Paul’s teachings are hard for us to understand, as they were written to address specific issues happening in the various church communities he was shepherding. Some of his writings seem harsh in the view of our modern lens. But Paul’s words remind us of our sin and the grace of Christ’s work on the cross to make us righteous before God. Every person needs to hear and accept these truths, to understand how much they are already loved, accepted, and wanted.
I choose to not sway with the instability of cultural morality, but to live to the set standard of my loving and unchanging God. Paul’s writings are God’s words. So as I read and study them, I strive to live by them. The lifestyle Paul promotes is good.
Without Paul’s teachings, I would still be living in the shame and guilt of my porn addiction. His words — God’s words — speak life and truth into my brokenness, empowering me to find abundant life.
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