“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God…”
In our examination of Paul’s salutation to the Ephesian church, we will explore Paul’s past life before salvation, his calling as an apostle by Christ, and the qualifications that validate his standing as one of the greatest apostles of Christ.
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” (Ephesians 1:1, LSB). Paul here gives his greeting to the church at Ephesus but also establishes his authority as an apostle.
We all understand who Paul was prior to his conversion: Saul of Tarsus, one who was a Pharisee (Philippians 3:4-6) pursuing righteousness under the law, consenting to the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:58, 8:1), pursuing Christians as a hater of “the Way” (Acts 8:1-3; 9:1-2) and, by his own account, dragging men and women out of homes and having them delivered into prison and death, because they dared love Jesus and forsake Judaism (Acts 26:9-11).
As we look at all of these passages, what do we find concerning Saul of Tarsus? He acknowledges he was a rebel against Christ, the gospel, and those of “the Way,” the followers of Christ. He also writes that he “persecute[d] the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it.” (Galatians 1:13, LSB). The picture is not just of mild opposition to Christianity, but violent opposition to the faith and its followers.
This was a man who disciples of Christ were justified in being fearful of, but of course we know that God had other plans for him. On that dusty road to Damascus, Saul of Tarsus was on his way to arrest followers of Christ, but instead he was “arrested” by the risen Christ himself. Instead of imprisoning others, he became a captive and prisoner of Christ (Ephesians 3:1; 4:1). He was bound by sin and the law, but here Christ freed him by grace.
His story is our story: that we were bound as slaves to sin, Satan, and spiritual death. Like Paul, we are freed by grace, as he often mentions (Romans 6:22, 8:1-2). Truly he was a trophy of the grace of Christ, and his life and ministry are a display of God’s grace.
Now Paul speaks of his apostleship to establish the authority of what he is about to tell the Ephesians. The word “apostle” comes from the Greek word apostolos, which simply means a “sent one.”
What were the qualifications of an apostle? An apostle was a witness to the resurrected Christ (Acts 1:22; 1 Corinthians 15:8), and we know Paul was one personally appointed by Christ as an apostle (Acts 9:15; Galatians 1:1). The purpose of an apostle was certainly to govern the church, especially in the early days, but the primary role of an apostle was to preach Christ and the gospel (1 Corinthians 3:11; Acts 4:12; Romans 1:16), teaching followers of Christ by laying the foundation for the doctrine and practice of the church and for the building up of believers (Ephesians 2:19-20; 4:11-16).
Paul’s specific role, of course, was to preach the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15; Galatians 1:16) and to help establish churches wherever souls were saved. He publicly stated his previous sin, but also established that he was an apostle and had authority from God to teach and preach and establish the doctrines of the church (1 Corinthians 9:1-2).
What are the duties of Paul and the other apostles? They are preaching the Gospel (1 Corinthians 1:17), teaching and praying (Acts 6:4), working miracles (2 Corinthians 12:12), and building up the leaders and members of the church (Acts 14:21-23). Paul did not place himself above anyone else; he referred to himself often as a bondservant, but he did here establish his authority to teach and instruct the Ephesians.
Then Paul establishes that his apostleship is “of Christ Jesus by the will of God” (Ephesians 1:1, LSB) Paul is affirming that his calling is not his own or anyone else’s, but that it is by God’s sovereign design and pleasure. The word for “will” here is thelema, which means “determination,” “choice,” “purpose,” or “pleasure.” Paul was therefore indicating that this calling was by the determination, choice, and purpose of God.
Jesus also indicated this reality in relation to the calling of the other apostles in John 15:16 and 15:19, when He said “You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would abide… I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you” (LSB). If one returns to when Paul was called out by our Lord on the road to Damascus, the Lord instructed Ananias to go to him because “he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel” (Acts 9:15, LSB). Paul knew that this was God’s will and calling, not his own.
I am reminded of other callings in the Scriptures to service or leadership. In men such as Moses or Jeremiah, what we see often is a fear, a reluctance, or an inability on their part. But then, once called and having the presence and power of God upon them, these called servants display a boldness to do that which God has called them to do, to forsake everything for Christ in life and even unto death.
Paul likewise said “according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:20-21, LSB). Paul, and those called by the will of God, will have that insatiable desire to fulfill their Master’s will and purpose for their lives.
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David Webber is married to Mary and they have four children and four grandchildren. He is the Pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Longview, TX. Webber earned a BS in History from the University of Texas at Tyler, TX, and attended Baptist Missionary Association Theological Seminary in Jacksonville, TX. Throughout his ministry, he has served as a guest preacher and teacher in many churches and various Bible conferences.
September 8, 2023
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