"I am commissioning you to open their eyes" (Acts
THE CAREFUL READER who has thoroughly studied the various commissions as
dealt with in the current series "The Secret of the Evangel," will be well aware
of the difference between the "Previous Commissions" (volume 53) and the two
commissions to Peter on the one side, and Paul's commissions on the other (volume 54). The
twelve received definite commissions from the Lord while He was still on earth; Paul,
however, received his commissions from the risen and glorified Christ in heaven.
We all have read, time and again, what happened on the
Damascus road when Saul was given his initial commission. The Concordant Commentary (Acts
8:1; 9:1-4; 1 Tim.1:16) offers this exegesis: "The following combines the three
accounts (Acts 9:4-6; 22:7-10; 26:14-18) and probably includes all that passed between
Saul and the Lord.
THE LORD: Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? Hard is it for you to be
kicking against the goads!
SAUL: Who art Thou, Lord?
THE LORD: I am Jesus, the Nazarene, Whom you are persecuting.
SAUL: What shall I be doing, Lord?
THE LORD: But rise and stand on your feet, for I was seen by you for this, to fix upon you
before: for a deputy and a witness both of what you have perceived and that in which I
will be seen by you, extricating you from the people and from the nations, to whom I
am commissioning you, to open their eyes, to turn them about from darkness to light and
from the authority of Satan to God, for them to get a pardon of sins and an allotment
among those who have been hallowed by faith that is in Me. Rise and go into Damascus, and
there you will be spoken to concerning all which has been set for you to do.
"With Stephen was interred the hope of
the kingdom. Yet at the same time God begins to hint at another testimony of a
very different character. The kingdom called for righteousness. It visited iniquity with
swift judgment. In preparing for the new departure, God introduces Saul of Tarsus, not as
a just or holy man, but as a malignant and vicious enemy. This is necessary because He is
about to deal with those who are sinners and enemies, on the ground of grace. Grace cannot
be shown to those who deserve aught. Merit mars it and hinders its outflow. Saul was, in
very truth, the foremost of sinners. He exceeded the most rabid of the Sanhedrin in his
hatred of Messiah and His people. If any man deserved to be damned, the man was Saul of
Tarsus. Yet, eventually, he it is who is raised to the highest pinnacle of glory, far
beyond the fondest hopes of Stephen or the twelve apostles. Such is the potency of grace
when it is unhindered by human help!
"Saul was at the stoning of Stephen. He endorsed his
assassination, and seems to have been the leader in the persecution which followed, until
Jerusalem was emptied of all disciples except the apostles. The call of Saul is the most
marvelous of all the manifestations of God's grace. It is a pattern for us who believe in
this day of grace. He was the foremost of sinners, yet God made him the foremost of His
saints. The grace of the Lord overwhelmed him, with faith and love in Christ Jesus (1
Tim.1:12-16). The twelve apostles were called by the Lord on earth, before His ascension.
Saul was called by the ascended glorified Lord from heaven. They were called in the land.
He, was called outside the land.
"Paul's case is a pattern of God's present ways in
grace. Instead of reforming and repenting and seeking to gain God's favor, he was madly
endeavoring to do all in his power against Christ and His people (Acts 9:1,2). He was the
foremost sinner of his day, and deserved the direst doom. Instead, he receives the
greatest grace. Once outside the land of Israel, where God's grace was unrestrained by the
law and His dealings with the covenant people, God calls him and transforms him into His
most brilliant exponent of grace. Corresponding to the gracious character of his call, he
is assigned to the dispensation of God's grace among the nations, a ministry distinct and
different from that of any of the twelve apostles. They had mercy for the nations
as a result of Israel's blessing: he dispensed grace in spite of, and resulting
from, Israel's failure."
With this background information well understood, we will
now venture to bring out three salient points in connection with Paul's initial
|(1) Witness Paul|
(2) Deputy of Christ
(3) Administrator of God's Secrets
As imitators of Paul and of
the Lord (1 Thess.1:6) we will find out that aspect one of Paul's commission does not
pertain to us. The Lord bids us, however, "attempt the same thing in the same
manner" with regard to aspects two and three. He commissions you and me to open the
eyes of others, as deputies of Christ, and administrators of God's secrets.
LUKE'S EYEWITNESSES AND DEPUTIES OF
The Greek for witness in Acts
26:16 is martura and reminds us of the English word "martyr" which
denotes a person suffering for his convictions. In the scriptures, however, the Greek word
is never used in this sense, but describes a person who testifies to facts which he
has perceived (Keyword Concordance to the Concordant Version, page 330).
The second occurrence of this word in Acts (1:21,22) is in
connection with the qualifications of an apostle, such as the eleven were: "Then, of
the men coming together with us in all the time in which the Lord Jesus came in and out to
us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day on which He was taken up from us,
of these one is to become a witness of His resurrection together with us."
In other words, the twelve were to bear witness or testify
to facts which they had perceived themselves, i.e., the Lord's earthly career from John's
baptism to His ascension. Apparently they were not the only ones to whom Luke (at the
beginning of his first account) refers as "eyewitnesses and deputies of the
word" (Luke 1:2), for the disciples to which Joseph and Matthias belonged (Acts
1:23), had been eyewitnesses, too, since the day of the Lord's baptism by John.
Because of their constant loyal attendance, and since they
had left everything in order to follow the Lord (Matt.19:27,28), the twelve could qualify
for the office of an apostle in the Pentecostal ecclesia which Peter was ordained to
establish in Jerusalem "at the fulfillment of the day of Pentecost" (Acts
Saul of Tarsus definitely did not measure up to
the fixed standard of requirements for the office of an apostle as the twelve did. This is
why he said of himself, "For I am the least of the apostles, who am not
competent to be called an apostle, because I persecute the ecclesia of God" (1
Cor.15:9). Authority to sit on twelve thrones and to judge the twelve tribes of Israel in
the coming kingdom, had been vested in those who were fully qualified for this highest
office on earth, ever to be held by human beings. However, there can never be a
thirteenth throne in Israel for an unqualified apostle like Paul. But Christ in
His celestial glory would eventually qualify him to judge celestial messengers and
potentates, and thus occupy the bench in the highest celestial tribunal (1
Before His ascension, the eleven had asked
the Lord, "Art Thou at this time restoring the kingdom to Israel?" And He had
answered them, "Not yours is it to know times or eras which the Father placed in His
own jurisdiction. But...you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem and in entire
Judea and Samaria, and as far as the limits of the land" (Acts 1:6-8).
Now Paul could never testify (or be a witness) to
the facts which they had perceived. When he refers to these fundamental facts in
the Lord's earthly career, he is careful to use a different pattern of words:
"For I give over to you among the first what
I accepted also, that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that He
was entombed, and that He has been roused the third day according to the scriptures, and
that He was seen by...all the apostles..." (1 Cor.15:3-8).
When Christ in His glory appointed Saul as a
deputy and a witness (Acts 26:14-18), He selected him for a different kind of testimony
which was in harmony with the situation. Saul was told to testify and bear witness of
what he had perceived. In other words, the theme of his testimony was to be Christ
in His glory. In addition, his testimony was to be progressive, so as to
include that in which He would be seen by him in the future. This means that Saul
was going to receive additional commissions and further revelations of things unheard of
heretofore, thus progressing from glory to glory as had no mortal before him.
As to the Lord's earthly service up to His ascension, Paul
accepted the facts from others and passed them on to his listeners and readers, as we have
just seen (1 Cor.15:3-8). But he did not go into the details of the life of Jesus. As a
matter of fact, he was not concerned with His life at all, but rather with His
death, burial, and resurrection. As soon as these fundamental facts were received,
Witness Paul gave his own testimony of the celestial glories of Christ which he
had perceived and which he calls "the testimony of our Lord" (2 Tim. 1:8).
Since none of us were present when Christ in His
glory was seen by Paul, he is the only eyewitness to its celestial splendor. We cannot
testify to what he saw and what he heard. However, we are supposed to pass on to
others what we have accepted from Paul, so that now we all, with uncovered
face, viewing the Lord's glory as in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image, from
glory to glory, even as from the Lord, the spirit" (2 Cor.3:18).
As imitators of Paul and of the Lord, we are supposed to open
the eyes of those who believe the fundamental facts of 1 Cor.15:3,4, and to uncover
their faces, so that, in spirit, they can view our Lord's celestial glory as in a mirror,
being transformed into the same image, thus progressing from glory to glory as Witness
Paul once did himself. Hence his fivefold command to Timothy as to the word of Christ
in His celestial glory: Herald the Word! Stand by it! Opportunely, inopportunely!
Expose! Rebuke! Entreat! (2 Tim.4:2).
The eyewitnesses of the Lord's earthly life
were able to testify to the facts which they had perceived and to the words
which they had heard. Hence they were called by Luke: eyewitnesses and
deputies of the word. As many of these divine facts as are "beneficial for
teaching, for exposure, for correction, for discipline in righteousness" (2
Tim.3:16), are recorded for us in the accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and elsewhere
in the Greek Scriptures. Their knowledge provides most of the essential background
information for a thorough understanding of those additional divine facts of which Paul alone
became a deputy and a witness.
Deputy Paul, too, became a deputy of the word,
i.e., the risen Christ's word, progressing from the word of the cross to the
revelation of celestial secrets. Hence he calls himself a deputy of Christ and
administrator of God's secrets (1 Cor.4:1). Step by step, as he received the word from
Christ in His celestial glory, he unfolded it in his epistles, beginning with the two
letters to the Thessalonians, and then proceeding from Romans to Philemon.
These additional divine facts and words, the Pauline
"testimony of our Lord" are among those at which our Lord had hinted when He
said to the eleven, "Still much more have I to say to you, but you are not able to
bear it at present" (John 16:12). This means that their knowledge was not
complete. Even their additional instruction prior to the ascension of the Lord was
restricted to the "kingdom of God" of which the prophets of old had told
(Dan.2:44; 7:27). The Lord never talked to His disciples about things which they could not
yet understand, just as in Paul's initial commission, He did not make mention of any secrets
to be revealed to him in the future. Hence there was no reason to mention the office of
"administrator of God's secrets" at that time.
Spiritually, Saul was still a minor then and, therefore,
was unable to grasp anything except the fundamental facts of 1 Cor. 15:3,4, and the
general outline of his own commission. But he made progress in his spiritual understanding
when the risen Christ Himself lead him from glory to glory, until be was qualified to complete
the Word of God which is now before us in the Hebrew and the Greek Scriptures
(Col.1:25). The Concordant Commentary explains this completion of the Word of God as
"Colossians was not by any means the last of the Greek
Scriptures to be penned. Paul completed or filled up the Word of God in another sense. All
the other scriptures were limited in their scope to the earth, as to space, and to the
eons, as to time. They were concerned with a fragment of the universe. In them the nations
could have only a subordinate place and position. As the secret of Christ breaks beyond
the barriers of Judaism, these restrictions vanish. On earth, Messiah never left the land
of Israel. Now, in spirit, He walks among the nations, dispensing blessing as He did in
the days of His earthly sojourn. Christ, Who never went among the nations before
His ascension, met Paul outside the land, on the Damascus road, not as the lowly
Jesus, but as the glorified Son of God. Gradually, in spirit, through the apostle's
ministries, He unfolds His secret purpose, to be to the nations, in spirit, all that He
had been to Israel in flesh, and far more. This is the secret: Christ among the
nations, a glorious expectation! Not a subordinate place in the earthly kingdom, but
a pre-eminent place in His celestial domains."
GLORY AND SUBJECTION GO TOGETHER
It is interesting to note that the literal
meaning of the Greek word for deputy is UNDER-ROWER. This word picture is taken
from the ancient galleys which were propelled with oars by the rowers, under the
strict supervision of their taskmaster. In the Concordant Version, the verb is rendered to
subserve (Acts 13:36; 20:34; 24:23). Hence the noun denotes a person in a subservant
capacity, i.e., officially, a deputy (see Lexical Concordance, page 287). Deputy
Paul had to forego his former independence. When he recognized Christ as his Lord, he said
in complete subjection: "What shall I be doing, Lord? "This is also
brought out by the manner of the call of Saul; Christ appeared in His celestial glory
and subjected him under His feet, for glory and subjection go together,
as the following quotation (from volume 29, page 315) shows.
"Paul never met our Lord in His post-resurrection
body, as He presented Himself to His disciples. When he saw Him, it was enveloped in a
glory which the eyes of the disciples never could have borne. To the disciples on the way
to Emmaus our Lord presented no outward evidence of His glorified position. This was
dimmed, and invisible in His intercourse with the kingdom saints. This was not
the body which pertained to His glory. This is not the prototype of our future
frame. Even the transformation on the holy mount, though His face shone as the sun, seems
to have been bearable to their sight (Matt.17:2). But when Saul saw Him on the Damascus
road, the light irradiating Him was above the brightness of the sun (Acts 26:13).
Its beams were too bright for Saul's poor eyes, and blinded them, scorching the sclerotic
coat into scales (Acts 9:18). Such is the body of His glory.
"Contrary to our conceptions, glory and
subjection go together. Now our flesh is not subject and is inglorious. Then it will be
endued with power and effulgent in its splendor. This is because it is once more connected
with the source of life and power and fully under the sway of Christ. Independence and
insubjection drag down to degradation and death. Dependence and subjection lead to life
and glory. The transfiguration of our bodies will inaugurate a similar operation to
include the whole universe, for He is able to subject all to Him. In each case it
will involve glorification, so that, at the consummation, when all will be
subject, He will hand over to God a universe glorified as well as subject."
JOHN MARK WAS NOT SUBSERVIENT
In his second account, Luke reports of a
deputy who was not subservient, i.e., he was willing to serve the Lord,
as he saw fit, but not under Paul. He was willing to row in the Lord's
galley, but he did not like the role of an UNDER-ROWER, subject to directions given by his
senior teacher, Deputy Paul.
"Now they had John also as deputy..yet John, departing
from them, returns to Jerusalem...the man who withdraws from them from Pamphylia and comes
not with them to the work..." (Acts 13:5,13; 15:38). Like John Mark, most of us
are willing to serve; some are willing to be subservient as humble imitators of
Paul, but few can stand the humiliation of being ignored or disfellowshiped, or any kind
of humiliation whatsoever. Coming with Paul to the work demands a subservient
deputy, for the apostle has already laid down the work rules in his epistles. As A.E.K.
once said (volume 39/17), "The tide is against the truth. The desire for fellowship,
for a living, for popularity, for gain and for fame, and many other motives not
only discourage a teacher in standing for the truth, but tend to turn him against it.
Those who stand firm, must count on apostasy and opposition."
In the Scriptures, the term administration
(literally HOME LAW) denotes an orderly arrangement for the management of
affairs. The administration of the grace of God, and of the secret
(Eph.3:2,9) is the same. It is the administration characterized by the grace of
God and by secrecy. As per instruction, Administrator Paul was the first to enlighten
all about it and open their eyes. As imitators of Paul and of the Lord, we
are supposed to do just the same, even at the risk of being ignored or disfellowshipped.
Young Timothy seems to have been a faithful deputy within
limits. However, when his senior teacher, Administrator Paul was no longer present and
when all the ecclesias in Asia Minor had turned away from Pauline truth, he showed
symptoms of timidity and was even ashamed of the special testimony which the Lord had
commissioned to the apostle of the nations. Hence Paul wrote him, "You may not be
ashamed, then, of the testimony of our Lord, nor yet of me, His prisoner, but suffer evil
with the evangel...of which I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher
of the nations" (2 Tim.1:8-11).
Paul himself was a faithful administrator (1
Cor.4:2), for he closely followed the orderly arrangement of divine facts, just
as he had learned them from the risen Christ in His glory. The apostle of the nations
presented this new truth in an orderly manner and carefully arranged, as we find it, for
example, in his epistle to the Romans. He did not omit anything about
justification (which was no secret), nor about conciliation, "hushed up in times
Administrator Paul went into all the details of the WORD OF
THE CROSS which requires our appropriation of such divine facts as faith righteousness,
negative righteousness, and positive righteousness (Rom.4:5,6:17,18; 8:9,10). THE WORD OF
THE CROSS also requires the appropriation of Christ's death (Rom.6:6) and of "peace
through the blood of His cross" (Col.1:20), which is the reconciliation of the
universe Unsearchable Riches, volume 52, pages 129, 132, 167, 174). Paul's orderly
arrangement is by far more comprehensive than the fundamental fact which he had
originally accepted from others (1 Cor.15:3).
FULLY FOLLOW ME IN MY TEACHING!
The orderly arrangement is easily
recognizable anywhere in God's Word, hence we find it in Paul's epistles too, as their
skeleton index shows. The order is being destroyed whenever any aspect of Pauline truth is
missing in our presentation. As a faithful administrator, the apostle
was FULLY discharging his service, and he warned his deputies to do the same (Col.4:17; 2
Tim.3:10; 4:5,17). But ever since "all those in the province of Asia were turned away
from" Paul's teaching and his terminology (the pattern of sound words which
we hear from him, ever since the word of others "spread as gangrene,"
the ears of the majority have been tickled by the presentation of one myth after another,
as a substitute for Paul's sound teaching, until today (2 Tim.1:13; 2:17; 4:3,4). If a
myth were a flagrant error, it would be easily detected; but very often it is rather a
distorted truth, where one aspect is being overemphasized so as to more or less obscure
other vital aspects of the truth.
"Outstanding spirituality" is often claimed by
those whose emotions are moved by a myth, who are carried away from Paul by a new wind of
teaching (see Eph.4:14), who are "deluding the hearts of the innocent"
(Rom.16:18) by man-made adulation. Even though adulation is the same in Greek as blessing
(eulogia), it differs radically from our "spiritual blessing among the
celestials" (Eph.1:3). Even though myth (muthos) belongs, in Greek, to the
same word family as secret (musterion), the most "spiritual" myth is
just as man-made as the "outstanding spiritual" adulation that goes along with
What is being sought in administrators? Is it spiritual
understanding, a clean heart, a clear conscience? As a matter of fact, Paul did not claim
the latter for himself as an unfailing criterion (1 Cor.4:4). In view of the many traps of
the Adversary during this perilous period of the last days, only FAITHFULNESS is
mentioned, since you can check it against the rules laid down by Paul and thus find out
how faithful you have been as an administrator of God's secrets (1 Cor.4:2).
There is no such scriptural yardstick for checking on the "spiritual attitude"
of a believer. But no one would ever arrogate it to himself or others, if he were heeding
the divine em>sequence of requests which include "growing in the realization of
God...in all wisdom and spiritual understanding" Unsearchable Riches, volume
51, pages 131-135).
Anyone who FULLY follows Paul's teaching should be able to
distinguish "spiritual adulation" from spiritual blessings among the
celestials, and men's myths from God's secrets, as long as he nurtures
himself daily with the words of faith (many of them given as prayer guides) and
with Paul's ideal teaching (1 Tim.4:6). Now, do you pray daily for a spirit of wisdom and
revelation, for the transcendent greatness of God's power, for boldness to make known the
secret of the evangel, for the realization of God's will, and for an open door to herald
the secret of Christ? Or have you ceased praying and requesting? Paul never ceased! All
scripture is inspired by God; so are the prayer guides which Christ Jesus in His
glory had Paul write down for us; they are beneficial for the correction of our prayer
habits, that the man of God may be equipped with the right words for petitions, pleadings,
At one time or another every one of us has not been FULLY
following Paul's teaching, or heralding, or praying. Therefore, we are all reminded to remain
in what we learned from him and verified, and to rekindle God's gracious gift
which we accepted from those who made it a point to closely listen to Witness Paul and
imitate him as deputies of Christ and administrators of God's secrets.
THE PAULINE TRADITIONS
A tradition, in scriptural use, is
what is added by report (Lexical Concordance, page 137). Paul speaks of the
tradition of his fathers (Gal.1:14), of human tradition (Col.2:8), and of "the
traditions which you were taught" (2 Thess.2:15), which the risen Christ had added
to the fundamental facts (1 Cor.15:3,4).
Concerning these additions, as reported
in his epistles, the apostle of the nations wrote the following reminder:
"Consequently, then, brethren, stand firm! and hold to the traditions which you were
taught, whether through word or through our epistle! Now may our Lord Jesus Christ
Himself, and God, our Father, Who loves us, and is giving us an eonian consolation and a
good expectation in grace, be consoling your hearts and establish you in every good work
and word" (2 Thess.2:15-17).