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.
1. Highest - Like a "Super Apostle": In arguments with 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).
2. 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
3. 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).
4. 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 was previously published on 31Mar16
on the Revive Israel website and on 12Apr16
on Kehila News Israel.