Four Levels of Paul’s Self-Description
When we truly understand both the greatness of our spiritual identity and calling, and at the same time our own weakness and failings, it can make us feel embarrassed or uncomfortable. The Apostle Paul (Saul) felt the same way; he referred to himself on four different levels from highest to lowest.
- Highest –Like a “Super Apostle”: In arguments between Paul, Peter, James, John, Apollos and Barnabas concerning the work that he had done in European and Asia Minor, Paul felt he could not yield. This was not so much an issue of ego but of defining spheres of authority. He did not want others to confuse what God had done within his area of responsibility. In this context, Paul considered himself and his authority at the same level as those who were considered as “pillars” among the apostles (Galatians 2:6, 9) or even “super apostles” (II Corinthians 11:5;12:11).
- Medium High – “Least of Apostles”: When describing the witness of the resurrection and the fact that Yeshua had personally appeared to him, he needed to state his position as an apostle; but at the same time there was nothing to defend in comparison to anyone else. It was an issue of testimony for the gospel. So here he mentioned that he was part of the apostolic witness but at the same time referred to himself as the “least of the apostles” and even unworthy of that position (I Corinthians 15:9).
- Medium Low – “Least of Saints”: In describing God’s glorious plan for all of those who love Him, Paul gives divine descriptions of us being filled even with “the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19). In this context, the promises are for everyone who believes. The inheritance is for all within the ecclesia, for all those being sanctified by the Spirit of God. Here there is no need for any explanation of position, so he simply refers to himself as “the least of the saints” (Ephesians 3:8).
- Lowest – “Worst of Sinners”: In describing God’s grace towards us in salvation and the forgiveness of sins, the emphasis is again different. Here we see the greatness of Yeshua’s sacrifice for us on the cross despite our own unworthiness. In deep repentance for his previous sins—especially persecuting the believers- Paul recognizes the depths of his own sinful nature and therefore describes himself as “the worst of sinners” (I Timothy 1:13-15).
So we live in a paradox: God’s grace grants to us supernatural significance, identity and destiny, yet our own frailty and lack of ability lead us to the painful awareness of our own unworthiness and selfishness outside of God’s grace. So, “Just who do you think you are?” Well, with respect to God’s calling, it is “super.” With respect to our own abilities, it is “the worst.”
This article originally appeared on Revive Israel, March 31, 2016.
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Asher Intrater is the founder and apostolic leader of Revive Israel Ministries, and oversees Ahavat Yeshua Congregation in Jerusalem, and Tiferet Yeshua Congregation in Tel Aviv. Asher was one of the founders of Tikkun International with Dan Juster and Eitan Shishkoff, and serves on the board of the Messianic Alliance of Israel and Aglow International.