My friend the Rev. Michael Philliber recently stated that to be dismissive of an apostle of Jesus is to be dismissive of Jesus himself. That’s a bold assertion. He based it on the words of Jesus in John 13:20, “Very truly I tell you, whoever accepts anyone I send, accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.”
In this text, Jesus was preparing his disciples for their ministry after his departure. He was connecting their mission to his. His mission would become their mission. They would carry it forward. “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21).
This means that Jesus imparted to these disciples a special authority to speak and write in his name and to be His ambassadors. They would become “apostles,” those sent out with Christ’s message, the Word of God. That is why the New Testament refers to Paul’s writings as “scriptures,” equal in authority to the Old Testament scriptures (2 Peter 3:15-16).
Paul repeatedly said that he was an apostle “by the will of God.” He began most of his letters with some form of this claim because he knew there were those who denied his authority as an apostle of Jesus and as a spokesman for God. There are those who deny it today.
The call of Jesus
Is my friend Mike correct? is it true that to be dismissive of Paul is the same as being dismissive of Jesus himself? Let’s look at the evidence. The early church leaders in Jerusalem could not deny that a powerful intervention had changed Paul from a violent persecutor of Christians to a preacher of the gospel of Christ. That intervention was an appearance to Paul of the resurrected Jesus himself (1 Corinthians 15:8-9). Many times he spoke of his Damascus road conversion and the personal call of Jesus (Acts 22:1-21; 26: 9-23). The change in his character was undeniable.
Signs and wonders
Another set of facts, witnessed by many, were the miracles he did in the name and by the power of Jesus. “I ought to have been commended by you,” he wrote to some who doubted his authority, “for I am not in the least inferior to the ‘super-apostles,’ even though I am nothing. I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders, and miracles” (2 Corinthians 12:11-12).
The reports of Paul’s ministry in the Book of the Acts indicate these were the same kinds of miracles performed by Jesus himself. These miracles validated his claim to be an apostle of the Lord. “I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done — by the power of signs and wonders through the power of the Spirit of God” (Romans 15:18-19).
Perhaps the most convincing evidence for Paul’s apostleship is found in his ministry in the lives of people. He claimed to speak with the authority of Christ. “With the help of God, we dared to tell you this gospel. … We speak as those approved by God. … When you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:2,4, 13).
His close relationship with the believers in Thessalonica testifies to the transformation of life they experienced when they believed Paul’s gospel proclamation. “You became imitators of us and of the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 1:6).
He was satisfied that his ministry among them “was not without results.” (1 Thessalonians 2:1). The changed lives of these people proved the validity of his apostleship: “You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thessalonians 1:9).
Is it reasonable to say, then, that to be dismissive of Paul, is to be dismissive of Jesus? Paul would say so. “Anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 4:8).
The man who received his apostleship from Jesus, worked miracles in the name of Jesus and preached the gospel so that others could know Jesus, actually spoke and wrote with the authority of Jesus. We would do well to believe and obey what he says. He speaks for Jesus.