Sermon: Paul, an Apostle of Jesus Christ
Sermon by Matt Kennedy
Text: Colossians 1:1
Colossians part 4
Sunday October 31st, 2010
I used to hate listening to the opening sermons in a series on Paul’s letters because I knew I’d have to sit through about five to ten minutes of a lecture on the “form of an ancient letter” which I thought was about as interesting as watching paint dry…but now that I am a pastor I see just how fascinating and interesting and important it is (smile). So, we are going to start with the form of ancient letters today and if you are sitting there dreading the idea…just sit back and relax, we’ll be through it in a moment and move on to talk about apostleship and other interesting things.
When we write letters we start off with an address: “Dear John” or whoever it is that we’re writing. Then, to be polite, we usually write something like: “I hope this letter finds you well” or some kind of greeting and then move into the body of the letter and it’s not until we get to the end that we sign our names. So when I receive a long letter I flip to the back to see who’s writing.
Ancient letters, I think, were better organized.
If I were writing an ancient letter to Anne, I’d identify myself first: “From Matt” and I’d probably want to attach a title of some sort so it would be: “Matt, master of the house”. Then I’d identify the recipient: “to Anne” and her title “obedient wife”. I’d write some kind of greeting: “Greetings.” And then I’d include a thanksgiving and prayer: “I’m thankful that we’re married and I pray that we will be when I return home”...and then I’d write the letter. And I’d end by asking Anne to greet others for me: “Say hi to the kids”. And if I were dictating the letter to someone else, say my secretary Andrea, then I’d name her. And then I’d take the pen and write the final line. Paul does that in 4:18, “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.” (Colossians 4:18)
Now if you pay careful attention to the conventional sections of Paul’s letters, and especially this one to the Colossian church, the identification (1.1-2), the greeting (v.2), the thanksgiving and prayer (3-14), and the final greetings (4.7-18), you’ll notice that Paul uses these conventions to tell us a lot about the reason(s) he’s writing, to fill us in with regard to his own circumstances, and to hit on some of the major themes he’ll take up in the body. That’s why it is important to pay attention to “the form of an ancient letter”—because Paul uses this form to reveal quite a lot.
What we see in his final greeting is a great example. Paul writes “in chains”. We know that Paul was “in chains” in Rome from 62-64AD. So we know when this letter was written and from where. And that’s huge. Only 30 years after Jesus’ ascension, during the lifetime of the 11 men who lived with him day and night, he’s already proclaimed to be “the image of the invisible God” in whom “the fullness of the deity dwells”. Modern skeptics argue not only that Jesus never claimed to be God but that the church fabricated the idea that Jesus was God much later and doctored the Gospels in order to secure its own power. Well, here’s Paul writing during the lifetime of the living apostolic eyewitnesses who could have easily refuted that claim and if they’d done so we wouldn’t even have this letter. So it pays to pay attention to the conventional parts of his letters.
This morning we’ll look Paul’s identification in v1:
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God”
The church in Colossea was planted by Epaphras (1:7). Paul had never been there. That makes his task very difficult. He’s got call out and take down a popular form of teaching embraced by people a congregation he’s never met. So he can’t just be “Paul”. He’s Paul an “apostle” of Jesus Christ.
So what’s an apostle and why does it matter whether Paul is one?
That’s an important question. There are many leaders today who claim to be apostles. The president of the Church of Latter Day Saints claims to be an Apostle and to possess teaching authority on par with the NT Apostles. Some well known Pentecostal preachers, Todd Bentley, Benny Hinn, Rick Joiner, claim that Jesus has appointed them to be a new generation of apostles. Orthodox and Roman Catholic bishops claim to hold the office and authority of the apostles handed down through the ages. One basis for the claim that the Pope can speak infallibly is that as chief apostle God speaks through him. So it’s important for us to know what apostleship is, what authority apostleship carries and whether there are apostles today.
The word “apostle” means one who is sent.
Turn to Hebrews 3:1 and as you’re doing so, I’ll ask you a bible trivia question: Who can tell me the name of the most important apostle in the New Testament? If you are in Hebrews 3:1 you know the answer:
“...consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to him who appointed him” (Hebrews 3:1)
Jesus is the first and greatest apostle. He was appointed by the Father to be “the” Apostle of “our confession”—“our confession” means “the truth we proclaim”.
Jesus is the Apostle of the Truth.
Jesus says the same to Pilate in John 18:37: “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth.
If you’ve been reading John’s Gospel up until that point you would know something very unique about that claim. Turn back to John 14:6 Jesus says: “I am the way, the truth, and the life…”.
Jesus is the Apostle of Truth. But the Truth is not something else that he has been sent to declare “look over there at the truth.” No. Jesus is the Truth and he has been sent by the Father to bear witness to himself.
The purpose of Jesus’ apostolic ministry was to call people out of the lie of sin, self, idolatry, addiction, and commit our lives to him—to the Truth. That is the call of the Apostle.
And that, as we will see, is the call of every Apostle…to bear witness to the Truth who is Jesus.
Now Jesus, as the Apostle, appointed apostles. Turn to Luke 6:13 “...he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles”(Luke 6:13). There were more than twelve disciples. But only the twelve are appointed as “apostles”...men sent out directly by Jesus to bear witness to him and he gave them his authority to drive out demons, to heal, and to work signs and miracles.
We can already, I think, identify at least one more characteristic of an “apostle”. An apostle bears witness to Jesus and an Apostle carries the authority of the one who appoints him. When Jesus speaks, he speaks with authority from the Father. When the apostles he appointed teach, they teach with Jesus’ authority. You can’t have more authority than that.
But on the night before Jesus died, he made two promises that take this authority to entirely new level.
Turn to John 14:26, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26). Jesus promises the 11 that the Holy Spirit, God, will teach them everything they need to know and enable them to remember Jesus’ teaching.
So the Gospels are not the product of the apostles’ power of recall. God, the Holy Spirit, supernaturally enabled the apostles to remember accurately and fully what Jesus taught. So Jesus’ apostles not only carry his authority—they accurately, truly, pass on his teachings.
Turn forward to John 16:12-15, ““I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.  He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.  All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:12-15)
Jesus already promised they would remember what he taught them in the past—but now he says,. “I’m not finished teaching. I’m going to reveal more truth from the Father to you.”
So as apostles of Jesus Christ, these men were given the promise that Jesus would, through them, teach and preach things over and above what he said while on earth.
Jesus teaches and preaches through the apostles he calls and appoints.
Everything the apostles wrote and taught comes under these promises. They come directly from the Father, through Jesus, by the Holy Spirit. The red sections of your NT are Not more important than the others. Every apostolic writing is inspired, inerrant, and comes directly from the throne of Heaven.
Can you see why people want to claim apostleship? Can you see why Paul wants to put his apostleship up front?
But wait a moment. There are only 11 apostles in the room when Jesus makes this promise and Paul is not one of them. Neither is Jude, James, Jesus’ brother, Mark or Luke. Can we say that the promise applies to them as well? And if so why not the President of the LDS or the Pope or Todd Bentley?
Well let’s look at what happens after Jesus rises from the dead and ascends into heaven.
After the Ascension, Jesus both directly and through the Holy Spirit appoints additional apostles. Turn to Acts 1. After Jesus ascends, the 11 determine, on the basis of OT prophecy, determine that Judas must be replaced—but not by just anyone. Verses 21-22: “So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” (Acts 1:21-22)
Notice the criterion—this is not random. The 11 carry Christ’s authority and with that authority they declare that an apostle must be from among those who were with Jesus throughout his ministry and were witnesses of his resurrection. God, the Holy Spirit, chooses Matthias and he is counted as one of the 12.
So notice two criteria for apostleship: 1. Called directly by Jesus Christ directly or through the Holy Spirit and 2. You must have been with Jesus throughout his ministry all the way up to his Ascension.
Later the number of apostles increases beyond the 12. And as a rule I think we can safely say that the criteria remain intact. Let’s look at one place that will illustrate the expansion of the office of apostle beyond the 12. Look with me at 1 Cor 15:1-9.
This is a very early form of the creeds we say today. Let’s look specifically at a section beginning after 5 which is detailing the resurrection appearances: “He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” The 12 apostles we’ve been dealing with are identified here.
Now skip down to vv.7-8 “Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Corinthians 15:5-8)
Who are these guys?
In verse 5, Jesus appeared to Cephas, Peter, and to the 12—which includes Matthias—but in 7 we see that he also appeared to James and to “all the apostles.” The apostles here include both the “12” and this other larger group extending beyond the 12.
How did that happen? We don’t know but we know the criteria.
We know from what we’ve read already that apostles of Christ must be 1. appointed by him directly or through the Holy Spirit acting in the other apostles. And 2. we know that he must be a witness to the ministry, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.
Those two criteria may have been met by a number of people beyond the 12…remember the 12 were called out from among a larger group of disciples who had been with him. In this wider group you might be able to name Jude, Barnabus, Mark, possibly James although while he was certainly a witness to Jesus’ ministry he was not a follower until after the Resurrection, but he still fits. But all of these men are called “apostles” in the NT.
Paul, however, does not seem to fit. He wasn’t with Jesus the entire time. He was, in fact, Jesus’ enemy and an enemy of the apostles.
I think that’s why describes hi himself in 1 Cor 15. as “untimely” born—the least of the apostles. His apostleship is unique. He did not fit the full apostolic criteria.
At the same time, he was 1. appointed directly by Christ and 2. a living witness of his bodily resurrection—the risen Lord appeared to Paul in bodily form.
The criteria were modified in Paul’s case but not removed. Paul could bear witness to the Truth and to the Resurrection because he, like the other Apostles had been with Him face to face.
Paul, in fact, appeals to this to verify his apostleship in 1 Cor 9:1 “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” He tells us in Gal 2 and we see in Acts 10-15 that the other apostles,m with the authority of Christ, recognize and embrace his apostleship.
And Peter drives this point home in his second letter. Let’s turn there to chapter 3:16: “There are some things in [Paul’s letters] that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. (2 Peter 3:16)
This is among the crucial texts for establishing the full apostolic authority of Paul. Jesus’ promise to the 11 apostles that he will speak directly through them—is a promise that Peter recognizes as applying to Paul…Paul’s writings are “scripture”—the very word of God—the promise made on the last night of Jesus’ life in John 16—that he would continue to teach through his Apostles, applies to Paul.
Okay, so let’s back out of this a bit and ask the question who is an apostle:
1.To be an apostle is first to be appointed by God to bear witness to the truth. In that sense every believer has an apostolic calling. You and I by virtue of the Great Commission, have an “apostolic” duty and charge and it is not to be taken lightly. But when we are speaking about the office of apostle, this office is one to which only those who Jesus directly or through the Holy Spirit, calls and appoints may enter. I don’t think anyone here has been called to the “office” of apostle. But, as we have said there are some who make that claim in the world today.
2.The second criterion is the kicker: An apostle must be a witness to the earthly ministry, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ. And even if we suggest that Paul’s “untimely” appointment is normative which he said very clearly it was not, at the very least be be a living witness to the bodily resurrection.
This criteria as we have seen applied to everyone the NT names as an apostle. In 1 Cor 15 above, we are told that Jesus appeared to “all the apostles”.
Now what does that mean? It means that when the last of those the NT names as apostles died, the last of those who witnessed the bodily resurrection of Jesus died, the office of apostle was closed. There are no more Apostles in the NT sense. You and I are all called to apostolic ministry—but there are no more apostles.
So no contemporary church, no minister, no council of bishops, no pope, no one or group of people carries the authority of an “Apostle of Christ called by the will of God.”
This means that if anyone in a collar or anyone claiming to be a prophet or apostle speaks to you or this church or to the world, claiming apostolic authority and says: “this is the word of the Lord” he’d better be quoting scripture. Because unless what he or she says is a direct quote from the writings of the apostles or prophets, he’s speaking falsely. Do not listen to him