In Acts 20:27, Paul proclaims to the Ephesians, “for I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.” Paul was certain that he would not see his beloved brethren from Ephesus again. Apparently he had no regrets and his conscience was clear in leaving them, because he had declared unto them the whole counsel of God. For three years he had not ceased to teach them night and day with tears. See Acts 20:19-21. He taught them the fundamentals of the Gospel and instructed them in all the truths that were vital to godly living. [See Ephesians 4-6 regarding Paul’s teaching on the lordship and headship of Christ.]
So then, as a faithful teacher, Paul could declare: “I have not shrunk from declaring unto you God’s purpose without reserve.” Paul was ordained by God to be an apostle and a preacher and teacher to the Gentiles, as he illustrates in 1 Timothy 2:7 and 2 Timothy 2:11. Additionally, in Galatians 2, he declares he has been appointed by God to preach the Gospel.
As a teacher, Paul was commissioned by God to unveil the unsearchable riches of Christ. Yet, Paul’s ministry was both unique and powerful because:
1) He was separated from God BEFORE his conversion. (See Galatians 1:15)
2) He was separated unto Christ AT his conversion. (See Acts 9:15)
3) He was separated by the Holy Spirit AFTER his conversion. (See Acts 13:2)
Humanly speaking, despite his superior education, he was a most unlikely channel through which God would reveal Himself. In 2 Corinthians 10:10, Paul quoted his critics slandering him by saying that “his letters are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech is contemptible.” Paul had indeed been battered and scarred because of persecution and an unknown cause that he referenced as a “thorn in the flesh” in 2 Corinthians 12:7. This unknown cause of pain and suffering Paul referenced could recall stigmata, which are wounds or marks that appear, much like Christ’s own wounds from his death on the cross.
By Paul’s own assessment, he also did not amount to much as an orator. For example, in 1 Corinthians 2:1 and 2:4 he claims, “I did not come to you with eloquence or philosophy” and “my preaching did not sway you with subtle arguments.” However, despite his physical frailty, Paul’s words were accompanied with the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, transforming him into the most powerful teacher the world has ever known.
Paul definitely knew the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, and understood what it was to be filled with the Spirit. See Ephesians 5:18. He said, “I came to you in the demonstration of the power of the Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 2:4) By viewing Paul this way, it is evident that God can use the most unlikely person for his glory. Jesus even chose simple fisherman as his disciples for his earthly ministry!
So why was Paul such a great teacher? Because God revealed Himself to Paul as He did to no other man. For three years while alone in the desert of Arabia, God emptied him of the flesh and poured Himself into him, revealing the deep counsels of His heart. Paul experienced both imprisonment and house arrest in his ministry for God as well. Paul assured his audiences that these revelations were not human invention, rather God-given revelations. Some of the counsels Paul received from God include: (1) The structure of the local church and its functions and purposes, (2) The pre-tribulation rapture of the church, and (3) The explanation of the Lord’s Supper.
Paul’s Ministry: His Teaching and Conviction
Paul was a defender of the “faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” See Jude 3. He was also extremely zealous of the deity and pre-eminence of Christ, as evidenced when reading through Paul’s epistles written from prison, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians. Paul also guarded, protected, and defended the Scriptures against false teachers.
“All scripture is given by inspiration.” (2 Timothy 3:16) Paul believed the Scriptures to be God-breathed as well as His final message to mankind. Scripture was not to be viewed as simply a textbook for believers, but the ultimate authority in matters of faith, conduct, and doctrine! They were “profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be mature thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
Paul’s Method of Teaching: Oral and Practical
Paul believed in discipleship. Note how he nurtured Timothy, calling him his “son in the faith,” (Philippians 2:22) and the intimacy and care he had for him that is expressed in his letters. Paul’s relationship with Titus is also noteworthy in Titus 1:4, calling him “my son.” He taught these young men the whole counsel of God, took them on his missionary journeys, and as they matured he sent them out as God’s messengers to the saints. Eventually he commissioned them to teach the truths they had heard from him “before many witnesses to faithful men,” who in time would be able to teach others as well. See 2 Timothy 2:2. Other models similar to this in the Old Testament Scriptures include Moses training Joshua and Elisha apprenticing and shadowing Elijah.
Paul’s Dealing with Error
Paul refers to believers as “ye which are spiritual” in Galatians 6:1, warning them about transgression and temptation. He was fearless when he dealt with error amongst God’s people. Paul warned against those “that are unruly” in 2 Thessalonians 3, and encouraged believers to “mark them that arouse divisions” in Romans 16. He equally abhorred false teachers that came from the outside, calling them “grievous wolves not sparing the flock” in Acts 20:29. He also warned of ambitious leaders within the church who would draw some away to follow them. Take for example 3 John, where he condemned Diotrephes, a false teacher and leader in the church.
Paul also hated immorality. In 1 Corinthians 5:6-13, Paul compared old leaven to evil people mixed in among the believers. He told the Corinthians to “purge out the old leaven,” “put away that wicked person from among you,” and “deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh.” Paul then spoke about the restoration of believers in 2 Corinthians 5:3-8, claiming, “we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord…for we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body.” Paul believed in a pure church and taught absolute unity and purity in the church. In 2 Timothy 2:19-20 Paul exhorted believers to “depart from iniquity.”
So did Paul practice what he preached? In Philippians 1:21, Paul declared, “for me to live is Christ.” He displayed fruits of the Spirit and exercised discipline as shown in 1 Corinthians 9:26: “I keep under control the lusts of my body. I therefore so run with a purpose in mind. I so fight not as one that beats the air.” Paul gave up all earthly honors that he may have Christ. See Philippians 3. We can see an example of this in Moses’ ministry as well. He was also strong in his ministry to the end, serving the Lord until his death, even before entering the Promised Land and before receiving any earthly glory. Paul’s life exemplified this too. He was so orderly and disciplined that very close to death he wrote: “I am now ready to be offered.” “I have fought a good fight.” “I have finished my course.” “I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness.” In his exemplary life Paul spoke to every generation, past, present and future. Three times he wrote and appealed to his readers to “be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” See 1 Corinthians 11:1.
Paul’s Teaching: Spiritual Gifts
Paul taught that each believer was given a spiritual gift at his or her new birth, and we, as believers, have no choice in this. These gifts come from two sources. First, Ephesians 4:11-12 shows how Paul viewed believers as gifted distinctively to be evangelists, pastors, and teachers. The risen Lord gave these gifts and these men to the church for its growth, both spiritually and numerically. The Evangelist has a burning passion for the lost, while the Pastor has a deep compassion for the saints, and the Teacher has an unbridled desire to reach others with the pure, uncluttered, unadulterated principles of the Word. The risen Head ultimately gives those gifted men to the church.
Secondly, Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 12 that the Holy Spirit bestows gifts for service to men. These permanent spiritual gifts given by the Spirit are…
(1) The gift of ministering or helps.
(2) The gift of administration or ruling.
(3) The gift of exhortation.
(4) The gift of giving.
(5) The gift of showing mercy.
(6) The gift of faith.
These six gifts of the Spirit combined with the three roles given by the risen Lord are necessary for the well being of the Church. What is your gift?
Conclusion and Challenge
Paul was a man zealous for God and nothing could deter him! In 2 Corinthians 4:1-4 we see this passion for the “light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” He taught not only by his life, but also by his words. He was also determined to preach the Gospel in the “regions beyond.” (2 Corinthians 10:16) Furthermore, Paul separated himself from the world in order to take the Gospel to these places. He spoke of this separation in 2 Corinthians 6:14-18, saying, “do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers” and “come out and be separate from them.”
The result of Paul’s uncompromising stand and Herculean effort was that when he died thirty years later, there was a Christian church for the worship of God in every major city of the Western Roman Empire! He also desired to teach in every church everywhere, and his exemplary life should be an example to us. See 1 Corinthians 4:17. For instance, while a believer can be excused from public participation and active service if he does not have the mental ability or physical strength, no follower of the Lord can be excused if he does not have zeal for the things of God! If a believer’s heart is not aflame with red-hot passion for the Savior, he stands condemned.
Jesus said, “The zeal of your house has consumed me.” (John 2:17) Note the zeal of John the Baptist in his exalting of Jesus in John 3:22-36. His passion for and devotion to Jesus is like a shining light to others around him. We can consider zeal for God as being expressed in various ways. First, there is front line confrontation with the enemy. Second, if you cannot fight in the valley with Joshua, you can still pray like Moses, Aaron and Hur on the mountain in Exodus 17. Thirdly, if you cannot preach or fight, you can cry and sigh and pray in the sanctuary.
God is looking for men who are completely turned over to the control of the Spirit, like Paul. Here are some examples of this kind of zeal from some exemplary people in history:
C.T. Studd said, “Some want to live within the sound of the church or chapel bell. I wan to run a rescue ship within a yard of hell.”
John Wesley said, “Give me a hundred men who love God with all their hearts and who fear nothing but sin and I will move the nation.”
Jim Elliot wrote, “Saturate me with the oil of your Spirit that I may be a flame for you,” and “God I pray you light those little sticks of my life, that I may burn for you. Consume my life, my God, for it is yours. I seek not a long life but a full one, like yours, Lord Jesus.”
Paul, the teacher, urges us by precept and example to present our bodies to God in Romans 12:1-2. How many of us will surrender our bodies to the Lord today?