Paul’s understanding of his own apostleship is instructive for our understanding of the ministry of the church. In the greeting of his epistle to Titus, he describes himself this way:
Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness…
Paul understood that there were at least two components to his task as an apostle. First, he was an apostle for the purpose of the faith of God’s elect. He was a preacher of the gospel intent upon seeing the conversion of the Gentiles (Eph 3:1-10; Gal 1:15-16). That Paul would have a mind and heart for evangelism makes perfect sense to us. The apostles were sent to go out and be witnesses for Christ (Acts1:8). There are numerous passages in the book of Acts that show the apostles leading people to Christ (Acts2:14-41; 8:26-40; 13:13-48; 14:1; 16:25-34; 17:22-34). We easily associate apostleship with evangelism. Paul was an apostle for the purpose of seeking the conversion of the elect.
But Paul did not view evangelism as the totality of the task of apostleship. Secondly, he also recognized that he was an apostle for the purpose of believers’ knowledge of the truth, “which accords with godliness.” We see an example in Acts 20 of the great care he had for the spiritual growth of the churches he planted. Of his ministry to the Ephesians, he said, “You yourselves know...how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ…Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.”
Paul proclaimed not just the bare bones of the gospel to lead them to conversion so that he could immediately go on to the next church. He stayed and declared to them “the whole counsel of God.” He gave them everything. But this was not intended to be a purely cerebral imparting of knowledge. He wanted to declare the “knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness.” If we look at the whole New Testament, we have to admit that there is no such thing as knowledge for knowledge’s sake. Every doctrinal section of every epistle is given as the grounds for subsequent commands regarding holy living. True knowledge accords with, or goes along with, godliness. The two things together are necessary for sanctification.
In Colossians 1:28-29, he makes this powerful statement about his ministry: “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” If we look closely at the rest of Paul’s writings in the New Testament, we find the same care not only for the justification of the elect, but also for their sanctification, for their growth in Christlikeness. Paul was not interested in making converts only—he wanted to make mature disciples.
This is certainly not unique to Paul. The same can be found in the other apostles’ writings (1 Pet 1:13-16; Jas 1:22; 1Jn 2:15; 5:21). This is because it is God’s design not just to save people, but to transform them into the image of His Son (Rom8:29). Paul’s apostleship—purposed on seeking the salvation and sanctification of the elect—mirrors God’s desire for the church.
Had Paul restricted himself to only one of these two great concerns—either evangelism or discipleship— he would have been a lousy apostle. He would have done only half the job. How strange that many times we are comfortable settling for one or the other.
It is much too comfortable to keep this on the level of the corporate body. We need to apply it to our own lives. Am I satisfied only that I have been redeemed? Or do I also desire to be like Christ? If I am interested in the truth, have I separated it from its intended goal—godliness? Am I “always learning but never coming to a knowledge of the truth”? (2 Tim 3:7) Am I guilty of dichotomizing my own Christian life?
I should also evaluate this in my understanding of my role as a believer in the world and in the church. Do I seek to share the gospel with others? In the lives of those who are redeemed, do I try to come alongside them and assist them in their walk with the Lord? In other words, do I have the same objective for ministry that the Lord does—the conversion and sanctification of the elect?
These components of ministry are not optional add-ons. There is one job description for the church and we should see it displayed in our own individual lives and in the local church. The gospel calls us to be a people zealous for Christ’s exaltation and the Father’s glory as pursued through the passionate making of disciples. This is what truly matters. While we are not apostles, we have the same ultimate goal. May our hearts reflect the heart of Paul, which existed for the purpose of evangelizing the lost and maturing the saved for God’s glory.
If you have not already joined us in our study of Paul’s letter to Titus, it’s not too late. We would love to see you next Wednesday evening (April 25) at 6:30. We’ll be focusing in on Titus 1:5-9.
Posted by Greg Birdwell