Did Paul Really Say That?

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Title: Did Paul Really Say That? — Resolving Difficult Bible Passages

 

Text: Matthew 28:12-20, 1 Corinthian 1:10-17, Mark 16:15-16

 

Time: October 26th, 2013

 

 

Have you ever had the experience of reading the Bible and all of a sudden a passage strikes you as odd, strange or even not right? A little while ago I was reading along in the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 1:17, where the Apostle Paul says, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel.” I read it again, and thought to myself, “Didn’t Christ send the Apostles, Paul, and the rest of us to do both – preach the gospel and baptize?” So then why is the Apostle Paul saying specifically that Christ did not send him to baptize. Now remember, I’m a Baptist Pastor, so this is important. If Christ didn’t send the Apostle Paul to baptize, then maybe he didn’t send any of us to baptize. So it got me thinking, “What does Paul mean here in this passage as it relates to the rest of the Bible?” I knew instinctively that whatever Paul was saying it was in harmony with the rest of the Bible. I’ve been a Christian long enough to know that God’s Word doesn’t contradict itself. But I also knew that it’s easy for us to misunderstand it, or read and interpret it incorrectly, so I figured I’d get to the bottom of this with a little more effort on my part. Somehow the Apostle Paul here is not contradicting the Great Commission given by Jesus to his disciples in Matthew 28:19-20, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.” What did Jesus mean when he gave the Great Commission? What did the Apostle Paul mean when he said he wasn’t sent to baptize? These were two things I wanted to get to the bottom of, because, like I said before, I’m a Baptist pastor, and if there anything us Baptists are known for it’s baptizing, so we’ve got to get this thing straightened out. Well, in the end, I did get it straightened out, as far as I’m concerned. It all comes down to context – and this is really important when reading and understanding the Bible. Every passage in the Bible has a context, or in other words, it’s surrounded by a certain situation. That specific situation must be taken into consideration or else we’ll be ripping passages out of context and making incorrect application, which will then be wrong and throw us out of balance in our Christian life. So this is a very practical lesson today, because it teaches us the importance of reading the Bible in context. Are you careful to consider the context of the Bible passage you are reading? Or do you just jump into any verse and quickly pull anything out of it you can? It’s very, very important to consider the context when reading the Bible. Let me explain further.

 

 

First, there’s the Great Commission of Jesus Christ to make disciples, baptize and teach. Matthew 28:12-20, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” This is the mission of the Christian church; it’s very point and purpose. A lot of people today don’t think they need to attend church anymore here in the Untied States, because they say they can listen to teaching and preaching on the radio every day, or they can join in with praise and worship music on CD, or have fellowship with fellow Christians on their own. But the Great Commission outlines a church that is a disciple-making community, or in other words, a group of people who are dedicated to developing consistent Jesus-followers – and you need others, in an organized way, to do that. Some people think they can attend an informal home fellowship group of a handful of people and that’s their church. Well, I do encourage everyone to be a part of a fellowship group during the week, but not in the place of Sunday church. Why? Because, while important, a small fellowship group isn’t the same as larger church community. It doesn’t have all the features and components of a full disciple-making community called the church. It’s just one aspect or part of church, but not the whole thing. It takes the whole church to make disciples as Jesus is commanding Christians to do. Now Jesus is giving this command to the disciples, and to us as well today, as a general mission statement as to the purpose of the church. Churches should be presenting the gospel in different creative ways, should be seeing people convert as a result, and consequently should be baptizing them and bringing them into affiliation with the church through membership. Once a person is a church member of a local church he or she is accountable for living out the faith accurately and consistently. They are encouraged in their Christian walk, and also on the other hand, discouraged from getting off the path. Now a lot of people who don’t go to church don’t want the accountability the church community provides; they’d rather have their freedom. But it’s really not an option to a serious follower of Jesus Christ. So Christ is very clear about the purpose of a church – make disciples and baptize. Baptism doesn’t save anyone, but it’s the physical, material mark of an inner, spiritual change. It signifies something God does inside. It’s a window to our spiritual condition. So then why does the Apostle Paul say he isn’t sent to baptize?

 

 

Second, there’s Paul’s statement that he wasn’t sent to baptize. 1 Corinthian 1:10-17, “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Peter? I am thankful that I did not baptize anyone of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t’ remember if I baptized anyone else. For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel – not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” Now it’s clear from the context of this passage that the Apostle Paul is dealing with divisions in the Corinthian church. He’s dealing with people using their baptism as a status symbol by saying, “I was baptized by Paul,” or “I was baptized by Peter,” or “I was baptized by Apollos.” Some people were bragging about who baptized them, rather than seeing it as done in the name of God. This is petty human stuff, but it’s a fact of life, back then, today too. So the Apostle Paul counters it by downplaying his role in baptizing, reminding the people that he’s a gospel preacher not a celebrity baptizer. I remember the Roman Catholic pope, the last one, Ratzinger, complaining that people would come to communion services in order to receive the wafer and instead of eating it they’d keep it as a souvenir. That’s what people do! The Apostle Paul is trying to counter the same thing of people coming for baptism and then using who baptized them as a status symbol. “Billy Graham baptized me.” “Oh really, well, John McArthur baptized me,” and so forth. It’s a silly game, but people play games. So Paul is trying to deal with the problem of divisions in the Corinthian church by shifting the focus from baptism to teaching and preaching God’s Word. Do you see how the context makes all the difference in the world? It makes a huge difference. Without the context, you might get the false impression that the Apostle Paul is rejecting baptism; something that Jesus gave in the Great Commission. You might get the false impression that he’s disregarding something important or belittling something essential. But that’s not the case at all.

 

 

Third, it’s the church’s responsibility to baptize, but not every individual Christian’s responsibility. Mark 16:15-16, “He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.’” It is the role of the Christian church to preach the gospel and baptize and make disciples, but that doesn’t mean every individual Christian or even every specific Christian leader must baptize converts. In a large church, there might be many or most of the full-time pastors who don’t baptize converts; maybe one or two pastors do most of the baptizing. That’s ok. The Great Commission given by Jesus is for the church community, not one or two individuals. For example, we know that the Apostle Paul did baptize converts because he names a few of those he baptized in Corinth. But what he was saying to the Corinthians is that he doesn’t see he main job as baptizing converts, although when there are converts to be baptized he helped out a little, but usually there were other leaders who actually did the baptizing, not Paul. That’s ok. It’s not important that any one person be baptizing, just that the church as a whole is baptizing. Even little churches are responsible for baptizing converts that come to Christ in their midst. Now I just got back from a trip into New York City. How many here have ever been into the big city? I was in Manhattan and stayed there for only a few days, but it’s wall-to-wall people, everywhere. The population density is so great; there are eight or nine million people there. I did some evangelism ministry there and from the time I started until the time I stopped, hour after hour, I was constantly talking to one person after another about the gospel. They just kept coming up to me and I kept talking, none stop. In that context I imagine a church should be making converts and baptizing them on a regular basis, because there are simply so many people to deal with. In Upstate New York, where the population isn’t as great, converts won’t be as many and neither will baptisms. But it’s still the church’s responsibility to do the best it can at presenting the gospel, making converts, baptizing, and discipling them. But the point is, it’s the church’s role to do these things, the church as a whole, not just the pastor or preacher, not just any one leader. That’s why the Apostle Paul could say that it wasn’t his specific calling to baptize, his particular specialized calling. to baptize. But what he was saying is that it is the church as a whole’s calling to baptize in fulfillment of the Great Commission of Jesus Christ.

 

 

Now what every church must ask itself is this: are we interacting with enough people in our area to see enough convert to Christ in order to baptize and making disciples. As I was in New York City I found that it wasn’t very hard to talk to people about Jesus and the gospel because there were so many people available. Even if most people weren’t interested, there always seemed to be somebody interested with that many people. Now in a smaller town or city it will be a little different. A church in a small town or smaller community will have to figure out how to interact with enough people in order to eventually see converts and baptize and see some join the church as member/disciples. When I visit churches I usually ask this question: how does your church reach the people in your community? What kinds of activities does your church do in order to rub shoulders with enough people to see some converts and see some baptisms and see some disciples enter into membership? It’s usually different in each context. Some churches use music to draw people, and from there they present the gospel, some respond, and things get going. Others use children’s ministry. In the early days of my pastoring in Chicago, Illinois, we used our Vacation Bible School each year to draw a lot of people from the community into our church community. We made a lot of contacts and then we followed up and saw converts and some baptisms. This past year I’ve been experimenting with a TV Bible study program that I produce in Jamestown. It airs every day on cable television. I’m trying to figure out if that might be a good way of reaching people with God’s Word, presenting the gospel, making converts, and so forth. I’ve never done anything like that before in my ministry because the equipment was too expensive. But now I’m able to produce a half-hour TV show with low-cost A/V equipment and there’s no charge for putting it on the cable network. Some pastors have found radio works. Others write weekly newspaper articles. Some churches rely on members inviting friends and family on Sundays. There are many different approaches, but the bottom line is fulfilling the Great Commission the best we can in whatever context we find ourselves, and not comparing ourselves with other churches and ministries. God has a will and a work for each Christian and each Christian church, and it’s our job to find out what he wants to do specifically with us, and then get about to doing it. Do you know what God wants to do with your life? Do you know what he wants to do with your church? Let’s seek the Lord together and find out the answers to these questions. Let’s pray.

 

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