No single event, apart from the Christ-event itself, has proved so determinant for the course of Christian history as the conversion and commissioning of Paul.
–F. F. Bruce
Paul’s vision and commission not only shaped the course of Christianity itself, but also became the spark of many spiritual revivals in church history. Augustine, Luther, John Wesley, and Karl Barth were all profoundly affected by Paul.
In a real sense, we all should be similarly affected by Paul. When Paul defended himself before King Agrippa he said, “I would to God that both by little and by much, not only you, but also all those who hear me today might become even such as I am” (Acts 26:29).
In the book of Acts, Paul’s conversion experience is recorded by the Spirit three times (ch. 9, 22, 26).
In chapter 22, Luke reveals that on the day of his conversion, Paul asked two questions of the Lord:
1) Who are You, Lord?—v. 8
2) What shall I do, Lord?—v. 10
The answer to these two questions sum up Paul’s vision and commission.
I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision. –Acts. 26:19
The heavenly vision that Paul received was constituted of two mysteries—the mystery of God (Col. 2:2), which is Christ, and the mystery of Christ (Eph. 3:4-6), which is the church.
These two mysteries are actually one incorporated mystery in God’s economy—the great mystery of Christ and the church (Eph. 5:32). Paul received this earth-shattering revelation on the day of his conversion.
“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”
“Who are you, Lord?”
“I am Jesus, whom you persecute.”
This divine-human conversation became the basis for Paul’s word in 1 Corinthians 12:12 that shows that the body of Christ is “the Christ” (ὁ Χριστός). Augustine expressed this divine-human incorporation by the term totus Christus. Calvin, commenting on this verse, said that Paul, “calls the Church Christ.” Witness Lee used the term, the corporate Christ. Thus, Paul’s vision and understanding of Christ is the center and circumference of God’s eternal purpose.
Paul’s vision of Christ is profound, preeminent, and unsearchable.
In 1 Corinthians, to a church that was hardly exemplary, Paul presents 20 aspects of the all-inclusive Christ as the solution to every problem in the church. This pastoral approach (ministering the all-inclusive Christ) reveals to what extent the revelation of Christ had revolutionized him and how skilled he was at applying Christ in very real situations.
Paul’s Vision of Christ in 1 Corinthians:
- Our God-given portion—1:2
- God’s power—1:24
- God’s wisdom—1:24
- Our righteousness—1:30
- Our sanctification—1:30
- Our redemption—1:30
- The Lord of glory—2:8
- The depths of God—2:10
- The unique foundation of God’s building—3:11
- Our Passover—5:7
- The unleavened bread of sincerity and truth—5:8
- Our spiritual food—10:3
- Our spiritual drink—10:4
- The spiritual rock—10:4
- The Head—11:3
- The Body—12:12
- The firstfruits of resurrection—15:20, 23
- The second man—15:47
- The last Adam—15:45
- The life-giving Spirit—15:45
Paul’s vision and experience of Christ should challenge us and cause us to consider whether we know the Christ Paul knew. If not, Paul, in a way, preempted this future lack of ours by leaving us an excellent prayer to pray. And we should actually pray it, not just read over it:
That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the full knowledge of Him. –Ephesians 1:17
I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a minister and a witness… To open their eyes, to turn them from darkness to light and from the authority of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me. –Acts 26:16, 18
These verses answer the second question Paul asked, “What shall I do, Lord?” Paul’s vision issued in a commission. Paul’s commission is intrinsically related to the contents of his vision- Christ and the church. His commission was to announce Christ and build up the church (Eph. 3:8-10). Paul’s commission was a stewardship, a distribution of the riches of Christ for the producing of the church as the fulness of Christ (Eph. 1:23).
If indeed you have heard of the stewardship of the grace of God which was given to me for you. –Ephesians 3:2
Paul realized that what God gives to us, is not to remain with us. We are not the final destination of God’s dispensing. There should be a conveyor belt from our being to the Body. “To me, for you” should become a governing principle of our service. We aren’t meant to hoard God’s riches or carry out a private endeavor in isolation. Our commission, while Christ-centered, is Body-conscious. This is obviously something I’m still learning.
While Paul occupies a special place in this commission, he certainly is not a lone ranger. The book of Acts describes a body of witnesses bearing a corporate testimony. In fact, Paul is always seen carrying out his commission within a company of related members, and he always seems to be seeking to bring others into his calling (e.g. Timothy, 2 Tim. 3:10).
It is certain that in the past men who hungered and thirsted after righteousness naturally recognized that they were bound to labour with Paul. They could not remain unmoved spectators in his presence.
However, if we do not see the vision Paul saw, we will not be able to participate in this commission in any meaningful way. The vision produces the commission, and the commission is sustained, governed, and directed by the vision.
1. F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, p. 75
2. Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, 6th ed., p. 1
- The Completing Ministry of Paul (thingsienjoyed.blogspot.com)
2 Timothy 4:16: At my first defense no one was with me to support me, but all abandoned me.
2 Timothy 1:15 This you know, that all who are in Asia turned awy from me …
This was the experience of the Lord Jesus, the Apostles, and the martyrs throughout all the church history. So, Paul is not “always” seen with a company of related members. The great commission includes also suffering, persecution and martyrdom and, not to forget, 1 Corinthians 13. At the end of the Gospel of John the Lord asked Peter: “Do you love me more than these?” -“And moreover I show to you a most excellent way.” Romans 8 says that nothing is able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. cf. Robert Govett and D.M.Panton (“Love and martyrdom”) and the life of Watchman Nee.
Yes I see where you’re coming from. (Although Luke was still with Paul in the end- 2 Tim 4:11). In principle Paul carried out his commission as much as possible in the context of the Body. Romans 16 and Acts 20 demonstrate what an intimate connection he had with the saints he ministered among. But I can also see that certainly Paul experienced a deep aloneness at times because of the uniqueness of his commission. The Lord Jesus experienced this also as indicated by Psalm 102:7 and John 16:32. Witness Lee has an incredible portion on this in chapter 48 of his Life-study of Hebrews in the section on “Gideon, Barak, Samson…” He contrasts experiencing the silence of God versus the miracles of God.
These words stood out to me, “Christ-centered & Body-conscious”. May He truly grant us day by day a spirit of wisdom and revelation to really know our Lord in such a subjective way for the sake of others, for the building of His corporate Body. Our vision & experience of Him would grow so that we wouldn’t lose sight of why we are here on this earth. Thanks for sharing Kyle!
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