Now you are Christ's body, and individually members of it (NASB, 1 Cor. 12:27).
THE IMPORTANCE OF INDIVDUALS - PAUL AND PETER
In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul emphasizes not only the importance of the corporate body of the Christ, but also the individual members of the body.
Throughout history, the Spirit of God has often set aside single people to "do the impossible" for God: David slaying Goliath, Gideon conquering the Midianites, Mary becoming the earthly mother of the Son of God. Often individual people have been credited with great movements in the kingdom of God.
Perhaps no two men were more responsible for igniting the fiery expansion of the Church than Peter and Paul. Through the work of God in these two ordinary men, the "Jesus Movement" broke out of Judaism into the greatest world-wide religious movement the world will ever know.
THE ROLE OF CLOSEST ASSOCIATES OF JESUS
One of the first great movers and shakers in the world Christian movement was none other than one of Jesus' closest associates during His public ministry: Simon Peter from Galilee. Ten days after the ascension of Jesus, the people of Jerusalem found Peter preaching the resurrection of Christ as the fulfillment of God=s great purpose revealed in the Old Testament (Shelley 15), resulting in the immediate conversion of 3000 souls (Acts 2:41).
AN ORDINARY FISHERMAN
One might expect such a fiery preacher coming out of a seminary, but Peter had no such qualifications. He was but a fisherman by trade, called out by the Spirit in Jesus to become a Arock@ in the church (Mt. 16:18).At first, Peter appeared as anything but a rock. Although he was one of the closest friends of Jesus, Peter still wavered in faith and took his eyes off of Jesus when he walked on water (14:30); he still rejected Jesus' claim of his pending death (16:22); and he still denied Jesus three times (26:69-75). Even so, less than two months after his public denial of Christ, Peter saw three thousand people convert under his preaching and the church of Jesus Christ spring up right before his eyes.
PETER?! WHAT QUALIFICATIONS?!
One is compelled to ask about the nature of the qualifications of an individual the Spirit raises up to take the world Christian movement to a new level. Paul ponders this very question in his letter to the Corinthians. Truly "God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong" (1 Cor. 1:27).
THE APOSTLE PAUL
Paul himself was a living example of what he preached, although one unacquainted with his background might never guess the historical identity of the most prominent Christian figure in the first century.
Shelley asserts that "no one did more the faith, but no one seemed less likely" (19), and even Paul admits that he is an apostle "untimely born" into the faith and not even fit to be called an apostle because he persecuted the church (1 Cor. 15:8-9). Not only did he give hearty agreement to the death of Stephen (Acts 22:20), but even up to the day of his conversion he was "breathing threats and murder against the disciple of the Lord" (9:1).
Yet by the grace of God, Paul counted all things as loss for the sake of Christ (1 Cor. 15:10, Phil. 3:8). He laid down his life, and so found new life in Jesus. The Holy Spirit fills the life that has been emptied of the world, and Paul turned out to be uniquely qualified to bridge the Jewish Christian movement into a world Christian movement. He was a zealous Jew, a AHebrews of Hebrews@ (Phil. 3:5). At the same time, Paul was fluent in Greek culture and held the special protection of Roman citizenship (Shelley, 20). Unknown to Paul, all of his life God had prepared him to be His chosen instrument to bear His name before the Gentiles (Acts 9:15).
THE TENSION BETWEEN JEWISH AND GENTILE BELIEVERS
As Paul began making converts, the tension between Jewish and Gentiles believers mounted. At the heart of the matter was the issue of morality: the Jewish Christians worried that, without the Law governing the Gentile believers, Christian principles of morality would be lost within the church. They reasoned that "justification by faith alone@ would allow Gentile converts to believe that it didn=t matter how they lived after they became Christians, for they were saved irregardless of their works. Paul argued that the man who has abandoned his life in his love for God will be compelled to do the will of God" (Shelley 20-21). He asserted that no distinction should be made between Jew and Gentile because God testified on the matter by giving the Holy Spirit to both groups (Acts 15:8-9).
Thus, as the Spirit used a weak and ordinary fisherman to bridge the Gospel to the Jews, so He used a man who reviled the church of God to bridge the Gospel to the Gentiles.
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE ROLES OF PETER AND PAUL - CONTRAST AND COMPARISONThe lives of Peter and Paul and their roles in the early church carry great significance in the way that Christians understand the work of the Holy Spirit in individuals to advance God=s kingdom across the world.
First, it is important to note that God is the one who chooses these special individuals, not the church. The Catholic church shows what happens when the movement of the church is governed by the church itself: the world ends up with a Pope whose word holds more sway than the Word of God. "Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (1 Sam. 16:7).
Peter and Paul were not looking to be leaders in the church: Peter wanted to catch fish, not men; and Paul wanted to kill Christians, not embrace them. Yet they were each called out by God, and by the very virtue of their calling, God proved to the world that the Christian movement was His own work and not the work of man, so that no one would be able to boast before Him (1 Cor. 1:26-29). So, it made no difference that Peter faded away and Paul went on to gain the chief prominence in first century Christianity, for God had given each of them a different calling, and by fulfilling their separate callings they achieved the ultimate purpose of their lives: to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ.
WHAT DO WE LEARN?
The example of Peter and Paul, two great pillars in the world Christian movement, should be an encouragement to all believers. When I hear about great men and women of faith and all of their exploits for the Lord, I can become discouraged because I feel that I could never measure up to the radical faith that they display. Sometimes I wonder if I could ever truly be useful in the expansion of God's Kingdom on earth when I struggle with so many weaknesses. Yet the examples of Peter and Paul show me that God sees beyond what the human eye can see.
In Peter, He saw more than just a fisherman; and in Paul, he saw more than just a devout Jew. God believed in Peter and Paul when they would have never believed in themselves; in fact, His very word to them was to deny themselves and allow Him to take control. God has called me into the world "for such a time as this" (Esther 4:14), and His calling is never without a significant purpose.
Most Christians will never be a Paul or a Billy Graham in their prominence in the world, but all Christians are corporately the body of Christ that exists to bring glory to the Head, Jesus Christ. Every part of the body is needed and significant. It is easy to look at the sad condition of the world and wonder if God's Kingdom will ever come, but because the work is up to God and not up to believers, there is full assurance that His purposes will be fulfilled.
Thus, following in the footsteps of men and women of faith who have gone before me, today I can step out confidently in the plans and purposes God has for my life, resting in the victory God has already secured. "For nothing will be impossible with God" (Luke 1:37).
New American Standard Bible. The Lockman Foundation, upd. ed. Anaheim: Foundation, 1997.
Shelley, Bruce L. Church History in Plain Language. 2nd Ed. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982.
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