Summary: As we examine the credentials of Paul for ministry, we notice that in order to be credentialed for ministry we need to have the right master, a specific office, and a clear purpose.
Shortly after I graduated from High School I went in to the South African Air Force. After basic training I was sent to Pietersburg Air Force Base, which is in northern South Africa, not too far from the border of Zimbabwe.
One night I found myself alone in the middle of the veld, miles from anywhere, guarding a small building housing ammunition.
At that time, the South African military was engaged in combating widespread terrorist activity, and I was to guard that building—with my life, if necessary. No unauthorized person was allowed anywhere near that building.
At one point, in the dead of night, a vehicle approached the building. With my heart pounding, I jumped to my feet, pointed my rifle at the vehicle, and shouted, “Halt! Who goes there?”
When the driver of the vehicle satisfied me that his credentials for entering that area were legitimate, I allowed him to proceed.
Today, I want to talk to you about credentials for ministry. In almost every area of life the right credentials for a particular situation is necessary. A police officer needs the right credentials in order to pull you over and give you a traffic ticket. A surgeon needs the right credentials in order to cut you open for surgery. A pharmacist needs the right credentials to give you medicine. An electrician needs the right credentials to wire your house.
Today, I want to show you Paul’s credentials for ministry, which are found in Romans 1:1:
"Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God" (Romans 1:1)
Lord Lyttleton and Gilbert West were nineteenth-century English barristers. They were not Christians, and one day they took it upon themselves to disprove Christianity.
As they discussed their project they decided that there were two main strongholds of the Christian faith. One was the resurrection of Jesus Christ; the other was the conversion and apostleship of Paul.
West decided to write against the resurrection of Jesus Christ, while Lyttleton’s task was to disprove the factuality of Paul’s conversion.
Since each man was not a Christian, they were somewhat rusty in their knowledge of the facts. So they agreed that if they were to be honest in their investigation they should at least thoroughly examine all the evidence.
While they were preparing their books, they occasionally met together. On one such occasion West told Lyttleton that there was something on his mind that he felt he needed to share. He said that as he had been studying the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection he had come to think that there was something to it, since it was very well attested.
Lyttleton replied that he was glad that West had spoken as he had, because he had also become increasingly aware that there was some truth in the accounts of Paul’s Damascus Road conversion.
Later, after both men had finished writing their books, they met together again. Lyttleton said to his friend, “Gilbert, as I have been studying the evidence and weighing it by the recognized laws of legal evidence, I have become satisfied that Saul of Tarsus was converted as the New Testament says he was and that Christianity is true. And so, I have written my book from that perspective.”
West replied that in a similar way he too had become convinced of the truth of Jesus’ resurrection, had come to believe in Jesus, and had also written his book in defense of Christianity.
Today, their books are found in many good libraries.
Few Christians are surprised by this story, but it has at least one unusual element. Since it is clear that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is foundational to Christianity, it is easy to understand why a non-Christian like West would want to write a book refuting the resurrection. But the conversion and apostleship of the Apostle Paul might initially seem to be a much less important matter.
Yet here, as in many other places, first glances are misleading. Paul was not “the founder of Christianity,” as some have called him. Jesus alone deserves that title.
Yet, Paul is so important as the first and greatest of the church’s missionaries, and as the articulator and systematizer of its theology, that discrediting his conversion and apostleship would seriously undermine Christianity itself. If Paul was not converted as a result of seeing the risen Lord Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus, and if he did not receive the gospel by a direct revelation from Jesus Christ, as he claimed, then Paul was a fraud and impostor, his writings are not true, and Christianity is stripped of its single most important teacher after the Lord Jesus Christ.
And so, right at the outset of his letter to the Romans, Paul gives his ministry credentials. After all, the Christians in Rome had a right to know by what authority Paul was writing to them as he did. And so he introduces himself to the Roman church with three designations by which he establishes his credentials for his ministry. He tells them about his master, his office, and his purpose.