Over the next few days, I’m going to examine a few statements made by Paul that I think are taken out of context in the way the statements are often applied today. This is not really a series, because the posts won’t really build on one another. Each post will cover a different statement.
For example, in this post I’d like to consider the statement that Paul was an “apostle to the Gentiles.”
Paul made this statement twice, writing to two different groups of Christians: those in Rome and those in Galatia:
Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. (Romans 11:13-14 ESV)
On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles)… (Galatians 2:7-8 ESV)
I’ve heard Paul’s statement used as justification for only serving certain people (perhaps people groups) or certain types of people (age groups, vocations, hobbies, etc.). Unfortunately, I’ve also heard this statement used as justification for NOT serving other people because they are not called to those people.
I think this is a misunderstanding and a misapplication of Paul’s statement.
Now, in this post I do not intend to work through exactly what Paul meant when he referred to himself as “an apostle to the Gentiles.” In this case, it’s much easier to recognize what Paul did not mean: Paul could not have meant that God had called him to serve the Gentiles and ONLY the Gentiles.
In both letters in which Paul referred to himself as an apostle to the Gentiles, he was writing to mixed groups of both Jews and Gentiles. Paul often served Jews both through evangelism and through various types of service to help Jewish Christians growing in their faith and maturity in Jesus Christ.
In fact, in the book of Acts we find that when Paul entered a city, he usually began by going to Jews, spending time with Jews specifically when they gathered in their synagogues. Only if the Jews rejected him (and that happened often) did Paul then turn to the Gentiles. However, even when Paul turned to the Gentiles, he did not ignore or neglect the Jews.
(By the way, the same could be said of Peter, who Paul refers to as an apostle to the circumcised. But, it was Peter who God first used to bring the good news to Gentiles.)
When Paul referred to himself as “an apostle to the Gentiles,” he did not mean that God only wanted him to serve Gentiles. As we see through Scripture, God often wanted Paul to serve Jews as well as Gentiles.
God may choose to use us primarily to serve a certain sector of society. But, we should never use this statement (“apostle to the Gentiles”) as a justification to ONLY serve those to whom we think God has called us. If God brings someone into our life, then God intends for us to serve that person (even if that person is not part of the sector of society to whom we are “called”).