Elder Neil Phelan, Jr.
SALVATION (Part 1)
"For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some" -I Corinthians 9:19-22
If one were to ask the apostle to the Gentiles the theme of his ministry, he would readily tell you "Jesus Christ and Him crucified". But if one were to ask him the objective of his ministry, he would emphatically tell you "the salvation of the elect": to "save some."
This was Paul's purpose, to rescue God's elect from Satan and sin by bringing them to Christ through the writing and preaching of His Word. Without compromising principles of doctrine or Godliness, Paul would approach men and women on some common ground and build a bridge to Christ. And these two go hand in hand: the theme and the objective; the message and the deliverance; Christ and salvation.
THE SCOPE OF HIS MINISTRY
In the life of Paul we see Christ, a man willing to spend and be spent for others. His vision was Christ's vision. He was willing to preach wherever and to whomever God would send him. For instance, in Acts, chapter 16, Paul "assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not." But after his arrival at Troas, a man of Macedonia appeared unto Paul in a vision saying, "Come over into Macedonia, and help us." Paul "immediately" set out for Macedonia.
When Paul would say, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ", he meant more that just owning Christ around familiar friends or in a public place. Paul's intent is clear. He would preach the gospel of Christ wherever a door was opened, even to strangers and people of different nations and tongues. Why? That he might save some, "For it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek" -Romans 1:16.
What preacher has not been inspired by the dedication and zeal of this minister of God? He publicly confessed to the church at Rome, "I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise. So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also"-Romans 1:14-15. If there were any at the Roman church that would confine the efforts of Paul, he gently reminded them that he was a debtor to all: to the Greeks; to the Barbarians; to the wise; and to the unwise; "to all men." Paul's heart was big and his horizon was broad that he "might by all means save some." Should not ours be also?
Paul's desire to "save some" was so unselfish, he even found reason to rejoice when Christ was preached for the wrong reason; in the wrong spirit; when motives were not honorable. When Paul was in prison, there were those who preached Christ of "envy and strife", others preached Christ "of contention, not sincerely". But even then, Paul rejoiced: "What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice" - Philippians -1:15-18. When Christ was preached of envy, strife, contention, and insincerely, Paul did not sit in judgement of these men. Paul rejoiced, because the name of his Lord was published. And the Holy Ghost has seen fit to preserve these words of Paul as a reminder to us all to rejoice when Christ is preached. Paul knew that God might use their message to "save some".
Has not every Christ touched heart burned within to share the message of our risen Lord and King? Have we not desired to lengthen our cords and strengthen our stakes and see every knee bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father? Do we not anticipate that great day when Jesus will receive the honor and glory due His matchless name?
EVIDENCE OF SALVATION
How did Paul know that he had carried the gospel to his God appointed destination? By the response from those that he preached to, which was a manifest token of the outpouring of the Holy Ghost: hearts were pricked and lives were changed. This is the focus of preaching, this is salvation, not for people just to change their minds concerning a religious preference, but that Christ would be exalted in their hearts and souls as the "blessed and ONLY Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords" - 1 Timothy 6:15. (Emphasis mine).
Paul was wise unto salvation. He knew that in Christ was found salvation in total; the summum bonum, "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" -Acts 4:12. He had a burning desire to share this message with others, that they too might enjoy the abundant blessings of Christ and His salvation. He would preach to all that would listen: "to the Jews; "to them that were under the law; "to them that are without law"; "to the weak"; and then Paul's catchall phrase: "to all men." Regardless of the particular kindred, tongue, tribe or nation, Paul was not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
UNTO THE JEWS
In the eyes of most of the Jews, Paul was a Benedict Arnold; a treasonous traitor. But this did not hinder Paul's love for his brethren in the flesh. Paul knew that God had a people among the Jews, and even though they sought his life, Paul sought their salvation. Paul wrote to the church at Rome: "Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved"-Romans 10:1. The persecuted was interested in the persecutors! Was it not so with Christ? But even in the midst of their threats and injuries, Paul would "save some."
Paul's former life as a Pharisee was advantageous to his work as an apostle. He knew the ins and outs of the Jewish religion. He was able to enter into their synagogues and wait for the opportunity to preach Christ from the oracles of God. Thus he "became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews." On more than one occasion, the Lord blessed this apostles efforts in the synagogues to the conversion of many. (Acts 9:20; 13:5; 13:14; 14:1; 17:1; 17:10; 17:17; 18:4; 18:19; 19:8).
THOSE UNDER THE LAW
Paul knew what it was like to serve God "under the law". After his experience with Jesus on the Damascus road Paul saw the law, not only as a cruel taskmaster, but also as a schoolmaster. Paul would look at all of his trophies he had gained under the law and say, "Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith"- Philippians 3:8-9.
Paul was an expert concerning the Jewish law. He knew not only the law, but also the Jewish tradition concerning the law. Even though the ceremonial law service was coming to an end, Paul was willing to participate in their "old law" ceremonies that he might gain those under the law. As long as their actions didn't become unlawful to God, Paul would not allow their Jewish traditions to diminish his fellowship with his brethren in the flesh that he might lead them to Christ. In Acts 21:26, "Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them entered into the temple, to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification, until that an offering should be offered for every one of them." Although not a part of the New Testament mode of worship, Paul was willing to be made all things to those "under the law", that he might "save some."
THOSE WITHOUT LAW
What condescension we observe in the life of this highminded Pharisee as he heralded the message of Jesus Christ to the uncircumcised and untaught Gentiles. In Acts 14, Paul preached unto the region that lieth round about Lycaonia, to Gentiles who worshiped Mercurius and Jupiter. To these worshipers of false gods, Paul encouraged them to "turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therin." Who could know the depth of sin and darkness these heathen worshipers were involved in? Believer, can you imagine what it would be like to be without Christ in your life, to be totally ignorant to God and His word? This kind of darkness affects mothers, fathers, children, families, cities and whole nations. What a blessing it would be for them to turn from their idols and serve the living God and find salvation.
TO THE WEAK
Paul also knew what it meant to be weak. Beaten with rods, stoned, imprisoned, without food and raiment, bearing in his body the marks of his commitment to Jesus Christ, Paul bore many infirmities; he could identify with the weak: "Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not?"-II Corinthians 11:29. But Paul did not use his weakness as an apology to bow out of the army of Christ. He used it rather, as a bridge to reach others; as an opportunity to minister to the weak.
And so it should be. Those who have gone through a particular trial are best equipped to minister to others who are going through similar circumstances. Knowing that his Lord had equipped him for his particular ministry, Paul could write, "Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong" -2 Corinthians 12:9-10.
Paul didn't become all things to all men, he was "made" all things to all men. Through every experience and trial, God was shaping this man for his particular line of duty in His service that Paul might "save some." How have we been shaped and who might we minister to?
As we have noticed, Paul's heart was big and his horizon broad, he knew that God had a people in every nation. Many times, we find ourselves looking for just the right person to witness to, or invite to our church. Most of the time we are looking for someone just like we are because we feel more comfortable with those kinds of people. There is only one problem with this technique: there is no such person. There is no one just like we are. If we do not approach the gospel as Paul did, "to all men", we find ourselves hiding and holding within, the most precious message know to men and angels. Paul's approach is best: "to all men."
Granted, sharing the doctrines of God's grace has not always been a comfortable job. As we review the footsteps of the flock, and the labors of God's servants in days gone by, their efforts were not always appreciated. But if you will notice, even when they were whipped and stoned, God was honored and the gospel of Christ prospered.
In Acts 17, we find Paul in Athens, a city wholly given to idolatry. That would be an interesting place to strike up a conversation about our Lord and His house! In this one area alone, Paul conveyed the gospel of Christ "in the synagogue with the Jews"; "with the devout persons"; with those "in the market daily"; with "philosophers"; and to worshipers of false gods. Rich, poor, noble, religious leaders, educated philosophers, teachers, superstitious, notable sinners, "all men", they were all approached by Paul that he might "save some."
Salvation was an important theme to the apostle, for when he preached Christ, he sought the salvation for others that he had enjoyed. The salvation which is found in Christ is multifaceted and may be divided into two basic categories: salvation from the eternal consequences of sin and salvation from sin in this life. The Lord willing, we will consider these two categories of salvation in the next publication of the "Pastoral Letter."