The second thing Paul says about himself in his attempt to explain what he was going through, is that he was a steward of God’s grace. God had committed a particular responsibility to him. It is a good thing that many translations interpret this word “stewardship” instead of “dispensation” because, in our day, dispensation is often misunderstood.
But if we see it as a stewardship we will understand it more. A steward was a servant who possessed certain responsibilities and received certain goods, which he had to dispense, might give them out to other people. This is the biblical idea behind the word dispensation. It is not a period of time at all; it is a responsibility to dispense something, a stewardship. This is what Paul said was given to him. He was a responsible steward. This is exactly in line with what he had written to the Corinthians much earlier. In First Corinthians 4 he says,
People should think of us as servants of Christ and managers who are entrusted with God’s mysteries (1 Corinthians 4:1)
The “mysteries” are the sacred secrets that God knows about life, which men desperately need to know. Think of this! This is what Paul says Christians are. Beginning with the apostles and everyone who declares the name of Christ. Each one of us who declare ourselves to be a disciple of Jesus are servants of Christ and possess the responsibility of dispensing the mysteries of God, of helping people understand these great secrets which explain life and make it possible to solve the difficulties and problems of our human affairs. To us is committed this responsibility. This is how Paul sees himself — as a steward of the mysteries of God.
And, more than this, he was taught this personally by none other than the Lord Jesus himself! “It was made known to me by revelation.” There are some who tell us that Paul learned his gospel from the other apostles, who in turn had heard it from Jesus, and that, therefore, Paul’s apostleship is somewhat less than theirs. But Paul denies this. He says quite plainly in his letter to the Galatians that in his conversion on that Damascus road, “I didn’t receive it from any person. I wasn’t taught it, but Yeshua Christ revealed it to me!” (Galatians 1:12).
He never talked to the other disciples; in fact, it was three years before he ever went back to Jerusalem after his conversion. And then he only saw James, the Lord’s brother, and they didn’t talk about doctrine. It wasn’t until fourteen years later that he ever had an opportunity to sit down and compare notes with all the other apostles. And, he says, they added nothing to him. He understood everything they did, knew everything Jesus had taught them in the days of his flesh.
We find a striking example of this in First Corinthians 11, where he writes about the Lord’s supper. He wrote,
After all, I passed on to you what I had received from the Lord.
On the night he was betrayed, the Lord Yeshua took bread 24 and spoke a prayer of thanksgiving. He broke the bread and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me” (1 Corinthians 11:23-24)
In other words, Jesus himself had appeared to Paul and told him all that went on in the Upper Room. So when the disciples began to compare notes with Paul, they were astonished that this apostle, this man who had been the persecutor of the church and the chief murderer of the saints in Jerusalem, understood not only the doctrine they had taught but also the very events they had experienced. They had to acknowledge that he was an apostle on equal terms with them! This is what gave Paul his authority.
Now and then we run across someone who says that Paul was a crusty old bachelor who no one could trust and that we must understand that he was conditioned by the culture of his time and that you have to pick and choose among his writings. Paul himself, and all the other apostles would deny this. Here was a man who spoke with direct authority, commissioned by the Lord Jesus himself.
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