Ben: The apostle Paul was given a twofold ministry: that of the gospel – especially to the gentiles - and the ministry of the church. The Lord Jesus, when here, spoke of himself as being sent to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel”. His service was confined to the borders of Israel. He set out the principles of the kingdom (Matthew chapters 5-7, Luke 6, etc.). Had Israel accepted him, the kingdom of heaven would have been established with Christ Jesus, their king. Israel having failed as a witness, and having rejected their Messiah, God chose to “let the vineyard out to others”, in the words of the parable. God meets the failure of the Jewish system with something better. After the resurrection and glorification of Christ, the Holy Spirit came to indwell persons, and in so doing there was formed the church, where Jew and Gentile were formed into one body, united to Christ - the head - in heaven. This mystery, opened out in Ephesians and Colossians, had been hidden in God in past ages. The Lord opened it up to the apostle Paul by way of revelation. Look at the Galatian epistle for details about the directness of revelation to Paul.
James: Do you mean that Paul’s ministry went beyond that of the Lord himself, when he was here? That seems hard to believe that he went beyond the Son of God himself.
Ben: Yes. It took me a while to understand that fact. The Lord told the disciples that he had more to say, but that they could not bear it. They were not ready for it then, because the Holy Spirit had not come.
James: You mean that things are given only as we are able for it.
Ben: Always. I was helped by looking back to the Old Testament to see if there was a parallel, and there is one. God gave the law to Moses – often a type of Christ as the apostle or “law giver” – and the pattern of the tabernacle, along with the levitical system. But God never said a word to him about Mount Zion, nor about Jerusalem, the city of God. All that waited for king David to appear. God revealed to David that Jerusalem, Mount Zion, had been chosen as his centre. Further, the Spirit gave David the pattern for the house of God, and its operation. In 1 Chronicles 28:11-21, “And David gave to Solomon his son the pattern…”; verse 12, “ and the pattern that he had by the Spirit, of the courts of the house of the Lord”. The parallel I draw is this: Paul was given, by direct revelation, the truth as to the church, and the conduct appropriate to such a distinguished entity. And this after the Lord had risen and the Holy Spirit was given.
James: I noticed that the apostle Peter includes Paul’s epistles with the scriptures, even though Paul had rebuked him - 2 Peter 2:15-16.
Ben: Paul knew his place in the Lord’s service. He had a great place, but along with that went enormous sufferings. He was able to say, as under the Spirit’s guidance (inspiration), in 1 Corinthians 14:37, “If any one thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize the things that I write to you, that it is the Lord’s commandment”. If Paul’s teachings are undermined, you have lost the distinctive character of Christianity: the church as the bride of Christ, the truth of the one body, our true status before God as sons, the new Jerusalem (heavenly city,) our being seated in the heavenlies in Christ - our heavenly calling in fact.
James: You mean that there is no church in the Old Testament.
Ben: No, only some types or shadows of what was to come. Nor will there be a church on earth in the millennial reign of Christ, the coming kingdom. Israel will be blest, Jerusalem on earth will be the centre of teaching and rule here, and the nations will come there to worship the king. See Isaiah 60 and Zechariah 14:8-21, and many other prophetic utterances. But Israel and the nations will be separate entities and the church will be ruling with Christ, above. In our time, the middle wall of partition has been removed by Christ’s death, and [converted] Jew and gentile are formed into one body – see Ephesians 2:13-22. The Holy Spirit is not said to indwell believers on earth in the millennium; the new covenant involves the forgiveness of sins and divine teaching in the heart.
James: If I look at Paul’s teachings, his instructions to Corinth, can I say that some details are not so important? You seem to “major on minors” sometimes.
Ben: Firstly, I accept that some details as to our conduct in the assembly [the church of God] are not involved with our eternal salvation. But, who are we to say what is unimportant? It is all part of the truth of God - it reflects the mind of God, his character. Let me give an example from the tabernacle system, the pattern given to Moses on the mountain. The pattern is described in Exodus 25 to 31. In chapters 35 to 40 we get the doing of it. It says in Ex. 39:43, “And Moses saw all the work, and behold, they had done it as the Lord had commanded – so had they done it; and Moses blessed them”.
Did Israel take any short cuts? The ephod, the garment worn by the high priest, was to have bells and embroidered pomegranates around the bottom of the garment. Did someone decide that they could omit the pomegranates? A person might say: “Those minor touches will not affect Aaron’s service, or his speaking; let’s drop them, as they are no longer fashionable; after all, God knows the heart”. No, they did it as the Lord had commanded. God always has a reason. It may not seem obvious to us at first. At the end of every paragraph in Exodus 39, it says that they had performed their tasks “as the Lord had commanded Moses”. These things are only shadows of the things revealed in Christianity, but it demonstrates the principle, that what the Lord has “revealed to his holy apostles and prophets in the power of the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 3:5) is to be held dear, and neither given up nor added to.
A little later, Aaron’s two sons “presented strange fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them” and they died instantly for their innovation. Perhaps they wanted to “rev up” the service of God – to the natural mind, their flame was perhaps brighter than that specified by God. Leviticus 10:1-3 is a solemn lesson. So things that may appear minor to a superficial observer are vitally important as expressing the mind of God in some way. Our job is to obey and then search out the wisdom behind it.
If the Lord, through Paul, outlines conduct that is suited to God’s house now, then I am to reverently obey. It is not my house, it is God’s. Look at 1 Timothy 3:15: “These things I write to thee…that thou mayest know how one ought to conduct oneself in God’s house, which is the church [assembly] of the living God, the pillar and base of the truth”. Obedience to his word will secure the Lord’s approbation to the person, and glory to God.
MM 13 November 2006