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Is Paul a super-Christian or a model of service for all believers?

Posted by on Aug 2, 2012 in spiritual gifts | 18 comments

Is Paul a super-Christian or a model of service for all believers?

In my previous post, I asked the question, “Is an apostle a super-Christian with all of the spiritual gifts?” Using Paul as an example (primarily because we have more information about him and his life in Scripture), we see that while Paul is identified as an apostle and identifies himself as an apostle, he actually exhibits almost all (if not all) of the spiritual gifts through his life.

So, does the scriptural example of Paul indicate that an apostle is some type of “super-Christian” who is imbued with all spiritual gifts, and perhaps even that the spiritual gift of “apostle” actually encompasses all other spiritual gifts?

I don’t think so. In fact, I believe that Paul is an example of how God works through all of his children who yield their own will and desires and submit themselves to him. You see, in Scripture, while only a few may be given a particular spiritual gift, it is not only the people with that spiritual gift who are responsible for and able to serve in that manner.

What do I mean? Well, this is easiest to see in the spiritual gifts of serving, giving, and encouraging. While only some followers of Jesus are given those spiritual gifts, all followers of Jesus are exhorted to serve, give to, and encourage others. Thus, these types of service are not only for those with the particular spiritual gifts. It’s even easy to see that evangelism (i.e., proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ) is not only left up to those who have been given the spiritual gift of evangelism (i.e., the evangelists).

What about other spiritual gifts? Consider the spiritual gift of teaching. If only the person with the spiritual gift of teaching (i.e., the teacher) was responsible for and able to teach, then every believer would not be exhorted to teach. (See Matthew 28:19-20 and Colossians 3:16 for two examples.) Paul even says that all are able to prophesy, not just those given the spiritual gift of prophecy. (See 1 Corinthians 14:31, where the “all” who are able to prophesy is parallel to the “all” who learn and are encouraged, and Paul’s encouragement to all believers in Corinth to “earnestly desire to prophesy.”)

I think the same parallels came be drawn to the other spiritual gifts as well, even the spiritual gift of being an apostle and of shepherding.

In other words, like Paul says that the end of 1 Corinthians 12, no, all do not have the same spiritual gifts, but all can serve in many different ways as God directs them and provides opportunities. When we yield to God, we do not have to wait for a “teacher” to begin teaching. We do not need to look for someone who is an “apostle” to travel somewhere away from home. We do not have to wait for a “pastor” before we begin caring for people. God can (and does) serve other in these ways even through his children who are not gifted in those ways.

In Scripture, we can see the examples of God doing this through his children – especially in the life of Paul, although also in the lives of others. In the same way, we can trust that God will use us and others to serve as he needs us to serve even if we may not be specifically gifted in that form of service.

So, I would conclude that the gift of “apostle” does not include all spiritual gifts. Instead, while God may give one of his children only one spiritual gift (or certain spiritual gifts), he can and does use them to serve others through many other different ways (as we see in Paul’s example).


18 Comments

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  1. 8-2-2012

    Sorry I didn’t join in the conversation yesterday, Alan. Keeping pretty busy. Anyway, I think I very much agree with this. I believe we often get too caught up trying to find “our gift” and end up neglecting all the other areas where God can use us. And as far as Paul being an example for us to follow, he said as much himself in Philippians 3:17.

  2. 8-2-2012

    Some people have suggested that the gifts are primarily intended for growing and building the church. So, for example, a person with the gift of evangelism is there to help others evangelise. Or when you see people being cared for by a gifted pastor, you will begin to grow in your own ability to look after those around you.

    Is this what Paul means when he writes to the Ephesians (4:11-13)? ‘So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.’

    I’ll share a link to an audio presentation. It covers this subject very well in my opinion.

    http://www.cmaresources.org/audio/christ-is-the-gift_neil-cole

  3. 8-2-2012

    Sounds good to me!

  4. 8-2-2012

    Chuck,

    I definitely understand. Thanks for jumping in here. I think you stated my point very well… and much more succinctly than I did. :)

    Chris,

    I think that those given a certain gift both serve in that area and through helping others serve in that area. So, the evangelist (the person given the spiritual gift of evangelism) both serves by proclaiming the gospel and by helping others learn to proclaim the gospel.

    Scott,

    Thanks for the feedback.

    -Alan

  5. 8-2-2012

    Alan,

    Are you mixing spiritual gifts?

    In 1 Corinthians we have a list of manifested spiritual gifts given for the common good. Now is this to mean the common good, as in local ekklesia, or in our everyday dealings with both the saved and unsaved? I lean towards the common good as meaning ekklesia. These spiritual gifts are for us, firstly, but…hah…we also know that these spiritual gifts can convict even the non-believer of God’s power. Prophecy springs to mind.

    Then we have the spiritual equipping gifts as detailed in Ephesians 4. These are specifically given for the maturing of The Bride, and I do not believe these gifts have anything to do with The World. Ephesians 4:11 specifically deals with “Family Business”, and are not designed nor intended for The World. (Yes, even evangelism and prophet in Ephesians are for The Body.)

    We know that Paul manifested several gifts. Not only was he an apostle (Ephesians 4:11), but he healed, spoke in tongues, taught, had discernment, etc. Your question lies within this: did he have all these gifts because he was an apostle, or because he was open to them, and his relationship with Christ allowed him easy access to everything The Spirit offered?

    I would say, Yes. Yes to both.

    Now fast forward to today, here, now. We are every bit as much a part of The New Covenant and our Father’s Kingdom as Paul ever was, even more so really, for we believe in Him whom we have not seen. Paul met Jesus, face-to-face. Speaking for myself, I have not had that experience, but I have bowed under the weight of His Holiness when it manifested Itself.

    We have the same access that Paul had. We have even greater faith, really. Paul is esteemed, to be sure, for his service and due to the ways our Father used him. The Spirit employed him to write 3/4 of The New Testament, after all. But at the end of the day, Paul was just like us. He laments the same things we do, in that he knows what he should do and does them not, and finds himself doing what he knows he should not do. Talk about familiarity! How many of us can read those words of his and not flinch a little on the inside? :)

    I fully endorse, believe in, and support the present-day Ministry of The Holy Spirit, to include signs and wonders. I am a tongue-talker, myself, in accordance with The Scriptures and never as a parlor trick or side-show act. I have been involved in healings, prophecy, words of knowledge, and deliverance. None of this seems abnormal to me, and I wonder why other believers balk and stutter whenever the gifts of The Spirit come up in conversation. But I digress.

    Not a one gift, listed in 1 Corinthians, is out of our reach. Not one. All of us fall within Ephesians 4:11, as well. Our Father did not save us simply so we could be saved. His purposes are much greater than that. We do not have because we do not ask. At what point is He withholding any of His blessings, giftings, and truth from us?

    Approach The Throne with boldness, not arrogance, and lay claim to that which our Father so freely offers. Paul did it. So can we.

  6. 8-2-2012

    Donald,

    I don’t think there are different types of spiritual gifts. Instead, I think that each list of gifts is given as examples, never intended to be exhaustive. Notice that each list of gifts is introduced with a very similar statement: Romans 12:6, 1 Corinthians 12:7, Ephesians 4:7, and 1 Peter 4:10.

    Otherwise, I definitely agree with what you said.

    -Alan

  7. 8-2-2012

    Alan,

    “Instead, I think that each list of gifts is given as examples, never intended to be exhaustive.”

    But in Ephesians 4:11 those are equipping gifts,and serve The Bride, whereas the gifts in 1 Corinthians can be sued to serve not only The Bride but non-believers. To me there is a distinction. Not seeking to argue, merely disagreeing! :) Let us ever seek to reason together as brothers, not as debaters/enemies. :)

  8. 8-2-2012

    Donald,

    I don’t see why the Ephesians 4:11 gifts aren’t for the unsaved world as well. In fact, I don’t see how you could say that evangelist is not for the unsaved world. It certainly is not for evangelizing believers.

  9. 8-2-2012

    Alan, you said, “I believe that Paul is an example of how God works through all of his children who yield their own will and desires and submit themselves to him.”

    Could we grasp this immense contrast and connection between gifting and serving!

    This seems to be what Paul thought, too. And importantly, Paul’s focus was not gift-centric, but service-centric (which echoes Chuck’s comment). For example:

    All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not. Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth….Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved. Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ. I Cor 10:23,24,33; 11:1

    Paul pointed to himself as an example of service that others should follow in areas like perseverence through difficulty as you serve, working to support yourself as you serve, setting aside your rights as you serve, sacrificing earhtly gain as you serve, humility as you serve, etc.

  10. 8-2-2012

    Chuck,

    Evangelist, as an equipping gift, is not necessarily for The World, but for The Bride. Yes, that sounds odd, and I should explain my position with more clarity.

    We are all, as sons of God through adoption, called to be evangelists. In and of itself, this call for us to be evangelists is not the same equipping gift as listed in Ephesians 4:11. The one listed there is for someone within The Bride to show us, as The Bride, how to evangelize, the spirit of evangelism, the techniques and heart of evangelism. They are not seeking to evangelize The Bride, of course not.

    Is this to say a person with the equipping gift of evangelist doesn’t also focus on The World, as an individual son of God? Surely not! They are evangelists as we all are, but their specific equipping gift is used in a different fashion.

    I hope that made my stance clearer, Chuck!

  11. 8-2-2012

    I would like to throw into this mix a simple truth:

    Maturity in Christ can never be measured by a gift. It is measured by fruit.

    Just saying.

  12. 8-2-2012

    Okay, I think I understand what you are saying now, Donald. I don’t think I agree with that interpretation, but thank you for clarifying. :)

  13. 8-2-2012

    Donald,

    The gifted people listed in Ephesians 4:11 are given so they can equip the body of Christ. But, Paul does not write that they ONLY equip the body, or that ONLY they equip the body. In that section of Ephesians, Paul was writing about the growth and maturity of the body, so that was his focus. That does not mean that’s the only reason for those gifts.

    Your point about the difference between the spiritual gift of evangelism (the evangelist) and the service of evangelism is the point of my post here. We are all to take part in the service of evangelism, even if we are not gifted in evangelism. It’s the same for the other spiritual gifts.

    And, about maturity. Yes! Maturity is about following Jesus consistently, growing in him, growing in unity with our brothers and sisters. It is not related to spiritual gifts.

    Chuck,

    Right. All of the gifts can be used to serve those who are part of the body of Christ and those who are not (yet) part of the body of Christ.

    Art,

    Exactly. Our focus should be on serving as God provides the opportunity to serve, even if we do not have the spiritual gift of serving in that area.

    -Alan

  14. 8-2-2012

    Just re-reading the title of your post, Alan. ‘Is Paul a super-Christian or a model of service for all believers?’

    Maybe this is a false dichotomy – maybe he is both a super-Christian AND a model of service. Perhaps I really don’t have to choose.

  15. 8-2-2012

    Chuck,

    I’ll take clarity over agreement any day! LOL! No worries about not agreeing.

  16. 8-2-2012

    Chris,

    Yes, it’s possible to read the title of the post and choose both/and instead of either/or. Of course, in that case, any of us could be “super-Christians” just as Paul was.

    Donald,

    I’m not opposed to disagreements either. In fact, we will usually disagree with other at some point. The important thing is that we continue to accept one another and treat one another as brother/sisters in Christ in spite of those disagreements.

    -Alan

  17. 8-3-2012

    Well, I am sure we ARE all ‘super-Christians’. At least, we are in the sense that Christ himself lives in us and through us. Can’t get much more super than that!

    If he is in us we have the potential to be used by him in amazing ways. I’d argue that the gifts and especially the fruit of the Spirit are key to realising this potential.

  18. 8-3-2012

    Chris,

    Exactly… and if we’re all super-Christians, then Christian and super-Christian is the same. So, Paul was not a “super-Christian” because he was an apostle. God worked through him in many different ways simply because he was a Christian submitted to God, just as the rest of us are.

    -Alan