II Corinthians 1:1
“Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the will of God , and Timothy our brother. To the church of God that is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia”
In his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul begins by declaring by what authority he writes to the “church of God which is at Corinth”.
It would be good for us, in understanding what exactly Paul is asserting here to exam two parts of this passage, namely the characteristics of who he claims to be, which are:
- “An Apostle of Christ Jesus”
- “…By the will of God”
An Apostle of Christ Jesus
In nine of the thirteen books that we know Paul wrote (with the possibility of Hebrews being a fourteenth) he introduces himself in a variation of this greeting, affirming himself to be “an Apostle of Jesus Christ”. I am not a Greek scholar, but if I trust what I am told this noun “Apostle” comes from the Greek verb apostello, which means “to send out”, making an Apostle a “sent one”.
Even though Paul had not been numbered among the original twelve that had walked with Christ, he had received a personal call on the road to Damascus from the risen Christ himself (Acts 9:3-16). Paul saw this event as his commissioning, as he states in the defense of his apostleship in I Corinthians 9:1 “…Am I not an Apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?”
It is easy to ask the question “Why would Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit to write each word, choose to open nine of his letters with this claim? Why here to the Corinthian church, whom he had already written in defense of his apostleship (I Cor. 9)? The answer lies in the centrality of Christ in his claim of apostleship. I believe Paul wanted to be clear that he was not just any “new kid on the block” and that the words he wrote were not on the basis of his own authority, but the authority of Christ. Paul was not an apostle of the church in Jerusalem or Antioch, he was not an apostle of his own learned philosophy. He was an apostle of the one who had died for these Saints in Corinth, an apostle of the resurrected God-man, an apostle of Christ Jesus. Paul was not speaking on his own authority and he desired that from the beginning his audience would know that, even at the risk of being redundant. Finally, Paul was not an apostle by his own appointment or the appointment of mere men. He was “an Apostle of Christ Jesus, by the will of God”.
…by the will of God.
It is one thing to say that you have been sent out by someone. If I go to the store and say to the clerk, “I have been sent to buy diapers by the will of my wife”, it would sound humorous and perhaps in the culture I currently live make me appear weak. Let’s say on a higher level, that I walk down to the park and see a man sitting on a bench and I walk up to him and say, “I have been sent as a messenger of Christ”, that ups the ante a bit. What if I then have the audacity to tack onto that, “I have been sent as a messenger of Christ, by the will of God”, I might get a different response. The man on the bench may think I am just that much more crazy, but it may be intriguing. It is a powerful assertion to the say that you are appointed by the will of God. I myself feel a little uncomfortable when people go around saying that they are doing this or that because it is the will of God, as if they had received special, extra-biblical revelation. Paul was not content to just make the general statement that he is a sent one, but goes on with the bold assertion that it was the will of God. That confidence was not just rooted in his Damascus road experience, in Galatians 1:15-16 in the midst of the account of his calling he says “…he (God) who had set me apart before I was born and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his son to me….” Paul’s understanding of his calling went beyond the words of the risen Christ to Saul, the enemy of the church, the roots of his calling went deep into his understanding of the sovereignty of God. Paul new his Bible, what we call the “Old Testament” well, so when he heard the voice of Christ, declaring that he was God’s chosen instrument to the Gentiles, his scripture saturated mind must have gone directly to the words of another chosen mouth-piece, Isaiah, when he declared “The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name” Isaiah 49:1
Paul wished to make it abundantly clear to the church in Corinth that he was not writing to promote his own agenda and he starts by making a bold assertion, that he was sent out by Jesus Christ according to the will of a sovereign God determined before he was even born. It may be asked how he could substantiate such a bold claim and he addresses this issue and spends much time presenting fruit of his apostleship later in the letter, but that is for another day.
Paul, who admonished against false-teachers (i.e.Galatians 1:9), I am sure wished that his readers would indeed test his apostleship and make certain that his teaching and conduct were consistent with that of an Apostle of Christ. His introduction serves to clarify on what basis and authority he spoke, in order that his teaching would be authoritative and his conduct be glorifying to God and not to himself. He wished that we would be able to go into the letter with the knowledge that these words are not merely good ideas or vain philosophies, but words inspired by God and spoken through his chosen instrument, commissioned by Christ.
Holding dear to the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture, we now look to these words in II Corinthians, inspired by the Holy Spirit through a Christ appointed apostle and we should test all teaching by them. May we only give ear to teachers who root their authority not in themselves, but in Christ and his word, teachers that can make a clear substantiated claim that they in fact are striving to teach on that authority and not their own.