It has sometimes been supposed that, while the utterances of the Lord Jesus are authoritative and binding on His people, those of the Apostle Paul are not. His are considered to be the mere expression of the ideas which at times he sought to impose upon the believers. This implication would have no weight with any who regard the whole of the Bible as the Word of God, which indeed it is, but it is liable to unsettle the minds of others who are not well founded in the faith.
The purpose of this paper is not to show the validity of Paul’s apostleship. It is, rather, to remind the reader that Paul was aware of the authority of his writings; and that, consequently, he enjoined obedience to them on the part of the saints. It is admitted that this was not a demand for obedience accompanied with a warning of penalties in the event of disobedience, that would have been reverting to the Mosaic spirit. None the less, while disobedience to the commandments written by Paul may not entail any earthly consequences, it will inevitably entail loss at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Furthermore, it might also result in the disciplinary dealings of God even here and now.
In First Corinthians chapters 12 to 14, Paul sets out those principles and practices which should characterize the local assembly. He knew that carnal believers were likely to affirm that, for example, the restrictive commands as to women were the product of his alleged natural antipathy to them, possibly the result of the thoughts of an embittered bachelor.
He knew also that the restrictive rules as to public speaking on the part of the men would grate on the ears of the carnally and unduly active members of the Corinthian church. He was well aware that there was even in his day, as has proved to be the case in our own time, the liability of his writings being ignored or misconstrued, or even repudiated. For that reason he said, “If any man thinketh himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him take knowledge of the things which I write unto you, that they are the commandment of the Lord” (R.V.). Note those important words, “of the Lord”; Paul was only His mouthpiece. Non-compliance with the principles stated in these chapters would be disobedience to the Lord’s own words, a much more serious matter than disobedience to an apostle.
The authority of Paul was exercised not only in regard to churches, but also in regard to individuals. Consider Acts 17:15 and Colossians 4:10. In the prosecution of Paul’s missionary efforts Silas and Timothy worked under him and were duty-bound to do as he required. This surely is the force of the word “commandment.” It does not mean that Paul rode roughshod over the private convictions of fellow-saints, especially fellow-workers, for as in the case of Apollos, he respected his private opinion and was ready to explain to the Corinthians that, although he, Paul, would have liked had Apollos gone to them, his mind at that time was not to do so. In the development of Paul’s missionary programme, it was essential that his fellow-workers should submit to his leadership.
The Colossian saints in all likelihood knew about the dispute concerning John Mark that had arisen between Barnabas and Paul. Time, nevertheless, had wrought changes in Paul’s judgment. Hence he sent a “commandment” about Mark to the believers at Colosse, possibly through Epaphras. They were duty-bound, therefore, to receive him and not to allow any past failures to prejudice their welcoming him at that time.
Timothy, in like manner, was to regard Paul’s first letter to him as “this commandment” (6:14) which he was to keep without spot, without reproach, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Now, what applies to these persons who have long since gone to their rest, applies to us in our own day and generation. Paul’s writings are binding on all God’s people everywhere now as much as then. Prompted by a spirit of love and devotion to our Lord, we should gladly obey what Paul wrote seeing that he was not the author but only the transmitter of the Lord’s commandment.
Paul also uses another and almost synonymous word, which in the King James Version is translated “command.” In the cases cited before, the word was “entole.” In this case the word is “parangellia.” We might almost translate it for the purpose of differentiation as “injunction.” In its verbal form it is used of God, the Lord Jesus, the Apostle Peter, the Sanhedrin, the Philippian magistrates, etc. Paul uses it when speaking to the spirit of divination that possessed the damsel. He said, “I charge thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her” (Acts 16:18). Please note, “It came out that very hour.” Even that wicked demon could not resist the Apostle’s authoritative command.
So, too, Paul speaks with authority to those that are married, showing by this very phrase itself that he was speaking with divine authority (1 Cor. 7:10). He affirms the permanence of the marriage tie; for the Lord had before affirmed, “What God hath joined together let no man put asunder.” He employed the same word in connection with the Lord’s supper. His introductory words in this matter are, “But in giving you this charge (1 Cor. 11:17 R.V.). The word “charge” is the same as the one translated in First Corinthians 7:10 as “command.” Paul’s apostolic authority covered an extensive field. In addition to the above, it had to do with the behaviour of believers who were required by him to be quiet, to do their own business, to work with their own hands, and to walk honourably in the sight of the ungodly who observed them so that they might develop for themselves a healthy independence of all men, although not independent of God (1 Thess. 4:11-12). He had such confidence in the Thessalonians that he was sure they were both doing and would continue to do the things he commanded (2 Thess. 3:4).
Obedience to the word of the Lord sometimes brings us into circumstances that are not pleasing to the flesh and which, naturally, we would avoid. Notwithstanding, faithfulness has a first claim upon us, and we should not evade it in order to secure temporary ease. If a brother is walking disorderly and not according to the tradition handed down by Paul, he commanded the saints in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that they should withdraw from such a one. There could be no doubt as to what was orderly behaviour, for they had seen it exemplified in the conduct of Paul who wrought with labour and travail night and day to be independent of the Thessalonian converts, and to not hinder the work of God in their souls. Indeed, when he was with them he had commanded that if any man would not work neither should he eat. That rule was still to be observed, painful as it might be. Therefore, Paul commanded them that were such that with quietness they work and eat their own bread, not sponging on the kindness of others. If they failed to do this, the rest of the saints were commanded to withdraw from them so that they might be ashamed.
That the force of this word “command,” or “charge,” or “injunction” has not been overpressed is clear in that verse 14 of this chapter states: “If any man obeyeth not our word by this epistle, note that man.” Note the word “obeyeth.” We are not entitled to exercise our own private wish, and to comply or refuse if we so desire.
The reader of this paper should refer to 1 Thessalonians 4:2 and note its context, for Paul’s authoritative command extends also to matters of personal and marital purity. He should also consider 1 Timothy 1:3-5; 4:11; 5:7; 5:18; 6:13-17. He should ponder these references, considering each one quietly and thoughtfully before finishing reading this paper. They will give him an idea of the range of Paul’s apostolic authority.
A perusal of 2 Corinthians 7:15; 10:6; and Philippians 2:12 will also prove profitable. In these passages the verb “obey” and the noun “obedience” occur. The noun is also found in Philemon 21. Paul required the saints corporately and individually to obey him, not because of personal self-importance or because he would impose his will on others, but because he was deeply aware of the unique position he held under the Lord. He never forgot the vision on the Damascus road to which he himself had not been disobedient.
Pursuant to that vision, and in the execution of the charge then given to him, he required that fellow-workers and fellow-saints obey the communications which he handed to them from the Lord.
There is no doubt whatsoever that, were this more understood and heeded there would be less diversity of judgment in respect of many matters. It seems now-a-days that saints are far more prone to test things by the rule of expediency than by what is written. Some, indeed, affirm that the writings of Paul were designed merely to meet the temporary and local circumstances of his day, failing to recognize that Paul’s writings have force at all times, and throughout all generations while the churches are on earth. Peter indeed ranks them with “other Scriptures,” so that he recognized their inspiration and claim to obedience.
It is amazing what an extensive territory Paul covers! He deals with the domestic relationship of parents and children, the commercial relationship of master and servants, and the marital relationship of male and female, husband and wife. He discusses marital difficulties; he deals with church government and order, with personal manners and dress, with foods and special days, and many other things. Paul speaks with authority, but not in the same sense as did the Lord Jesus. The Lord spoke with authority, not as a commentator but as an originator; Paul, not as an originator but as a communicator.
As one moves about here and there, signs are not wanting that Paul’s injunctions are either being ignored or wilfully disobeyed. Maybe it would be more charitable to suggest that younger believers are unaware of what he has written. It also may be that they have been ill-instructed touching his letters because of a failure to understand the power which his apostleship possesses.
Once the fact is grasped that obedience to what Paul writes is obedience to the commandment of the Lord who died for us and rose again, we shall be the more ready not to overlook one item but to seek help from God to comply with all. We must not allow modern customs to mislead us. Live fish go upstream which is to go the contrary way to those that are dead.