Are you like a pastor I met a few years ago? He related to me that he never preached from Paul’s letters because they did not make sense to him. They did not seem to fit into the rest of the Bible. I don’t think he was alone in that thought. Many people do not understand Paul and how he fits into the over all panorama of the Bible. Whatever man might think, Paul’s letters are a part of God’s Word and thus it is God’s intention that they be understood.
Today I want to take a bit of a break from our normal journey through the book of Acts. I want to consider the apostle called Paul and see how he fits into God’s eternal purpose for the human race and the age of grace.
If we look at Ephesians 1:1 we see that Paul is “an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.” Is that only his own opinion of himself? No, this is the Word of God and not the words of Paul. We are reading the Bible, not a history book or a sociology textbook. Then we turn to Galatians 1:1 and read, “Paul, an apostle (not of men neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead).” He was not made an apostle by the vote or declaration of man. He was chosen to be an apostle by God.
What is an apostle? Take the word in the original Greek and we see it means “sent one.” An apostle is a sent one or one who is sent out from somewhere. In this case Paul was sent out from God.
You have heard of the twelve disciples, also called apostles. They were chosen by Jesus while He was on earth. Peter, James and John and the others were always referred to as the twelve. Paul’s name does not appear in that number and rightly so. He did not qualify. To be one of the twelve the man had to be in the company of Jesus, “Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that same day that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection.” (Acts 1:22). Paul did not qualify. He could not possibly have been one of the twelve apostles because Jesus had already returned to the Father some time before Saul of Tarsus was saved on the road to Damascus and then became Paul, the apostle.
Paul was not just “an” apostle; He was “the” apostle. How do we know? Romans 11:143 tells us:
“For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office.”
He was not one of a number but one of a kind.
Why did God need another apostle? Weren’t twelve enough? Twelve were enough for the purpose for which they were chosen, but that purpose ceased to be God’s program for man. When Jesus chose the twelve disciples He gave them strict instructions where to go. Matthew 10:5,6 tells us:
“These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not; But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
He had to give them those limitations for in Matthew 15:14 He told them, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” The twelve disciples were chosen for a specific purpose.
Yes, I know that in Matthew 28:19, Jesus told His disciples:
“Go ye therefore and teach all nations. . .”
He gave the same command in Luke 24:47, where He said to the same people, at the same time and the same thing which was,
“And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”
Why did he say “beginning in Jerusalem?” Israel was to be a channel of blessing to the world of Gentiles. Israel was to be a nation of priests, a way by which the Gentiles could be saved. Jesus Christ said in John 4:22, “Salvation is of the Jews.”
If you have studied the book of Acts you already know that Israel rejected the ministry of the twelve disciples or apostles. They did not simply reject but they rejected with violence. In Acts 7:59, they stoned Stephen, a man of God filled with the Holy Spirit, who was standing before the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was the supreme religious authority of Israel and Stephen was preaching unto them Jesus. They took offence to that witness and killed Stephen. Also in Acts 12:2, Israel failed again when James, the brother of John, was killed with the sword. James was one of the twelve and they could do nothing further with the offer of the Kingdom as there were only eleven disciples. There had to be twelve disciples or apostles. Before Pentecost, one had to be chosen to take the place of Judas Iscariot. That choice turned out to be Matthias, who according to Acts 1:26, was “numbered with the eleven apostles.” They now could continue offering the Kingdom to Israel.
Israel, as a nation, had rejected the Godhead and Israel was going to be set aside. Let’s look at God’s commentary on this subject, which we find in Romans chapter eleven. As for the nation, Israel, see what happened to them in these words. They were “blinded” (verse 7). They “fell” (verse 11). They were “diminished” (verse 12). They were “cast away” (verse 15). They were “broken off” (verses 17 & 19). They “were not spared” (verse 21). Finally in Romans 11:25 we read, “Blindness in part is happened to Israel.” With all of these words and phrases in mind we can sum it all up by saying that God’s program for Israel is now in abeyance until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in.
If God is no longer dealing with Israel, salvation is no longer of the Jews. Israel is not a nation of priests and not a channel of blessing. What is God doing? With the ministry of Israel ceasing, the ministry of the twelve apostles also must cease. God ushered in a new administration, something that would replace the offer of the Kingdom. That is where Paul comes on the scene.
God had a message, a gospel which had not been revealed until that time. As in the case of Moses, who was God’s human instrument through whom the Law came; Paul was chosen by God for that same purpose – that God might reveal to and through him the Gospel of the Grace of God. When God spoke to Ananias in Acts 9:15, He said to him, “Go thy way; for he is a chosen vessel unto me. . .” Paul gave this view in Galatians 1:15 where he said:
“But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen.”
God could not continue His plan with Israel because of their rejection of the Gospel of the Kingdom. Therefore He chose Saul of Tarsus and separated him unto a unique and specific revelation. What Moses was to the Law and to Israel and the Gospel of the Kingdom, Paul is to the Church and the Gospel of the Grace of God.
I can hear you already. You are saying, “What? Two gospels?” Look at Galatians 2:7 and it says:
“But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter.”
Absolutely true! There are two gospels in the Bible. One to Israel and which has now been set aside and a second to the church of today, the Body of Christ.
If Paul’s letters are difficult for you to understand then start studying them today. In them we find God’s marching orders and commands for those of us living under the administration of grace today. You cannot obey the commands given to Israel and at the same time obey the commands given to the Gentiles through Paul. 2 Timothy 2:15 tells us to “rightly divide the word of truth.” If you do this, then Paul’s writings will not be a mystery to you, and the entire Bible will be an open and understood book.
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Here it is very important that you understand that Paul did not preach to the Gentiles the same message that the twelve apostles preached to the Jews. He was not merely an extension of the Gospel of the Kingdom as some would tell you. Were that true then the twelve would also have been preaching the same message as that which Paul preached.
Paul knew the Old Testament Scriptures very well. He studied for years at the feet of the learned lawyer, Gamaliel. His education did not prepare him for his ministry but made him an antagonist of the Messiah in his unbelief.
Paul made it very clear that he did not learn the message he preached from any man. Galatians 1:1 says,
“Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the father who raised him from the dead).”
Had man done the choosing Paul would have been the last choice as he was the chief persecutor of the twelve apostles and the church at Jerusalem. Galatians 1:11 tells us:
“But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Go on to verses 16 and 17, Paul writes as soon as he is saved:
“Immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood; Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus.”
Had Paul been of the same message as that of the twelve apostles he would have gone directly to Jerusalem but he went in the opposite direction, away from Jerusalem to Arabia. Why? He did this to make sure he was not influenced by the twelve and possibly because people in Jerusalem feared him. I believe the important reason for staying away from Jerusalem was so that his message would not be mixed with the Gospel of the Kingdom that was being preached by the twelve.
Let us consider the events of Acts, chapter fifteen. Paul had been out on his first missionary journey. We know he had been preaching a different message for he was then called to Jerusalem to defend his ministry. The Jews were under the Law of Moses and they had to be circumcised in order to be saved. But the Jews were trying to force this law upon the Gentiles. Acts 15:5 says:
“But there rose up certain of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.”
These people were believers and they were right. But they were right in as much as they were ministering to the Jews. Paul had been preaching to Gentiles. He took Titus, who was an uncircumcised Gentile, with him to Jerusalem. He wanted to use Titus to show the Jews that his gospel did not involve circumcision.
So Paul was at Jerusalem in Acts 15, and the great Jerusalem Council was going to sort out the differences between what Paul was teaching and what the apostles had been teaching. The apostles did not understand and wanted to get it straight. Galatians 2:7 tells us what happened at that Council:
“But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter . . .they gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen (Gentiles), and they unto the circumcision (Jews).”
Thus the pillars of the Jerusalem Church recognised that Paul had special grace from God and, though they did not understand all about it, they accepted that it was of the Lord.
Paul was preaching and teaching a different gospel from that of the twelve. Some time after that Jerusalem Council, Paul was in Antioch. At that time Peter came to Antioch. I just told you that Peter and the others were to preach to the Jews so why was he in Antioch as it was Gentile city? Galatians 2:11 says,
“But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face because he was to be blamed.”
Verse 14 goes on to explain:
“If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of the Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?”
The Jews were carried away with their hypocrisy and Peter was preaching to them a mixed up message.
You can see what is happening. Peter’s ministry, along with that of the other apostles, was being set aside. They no longer had the authority and power they enjoyed in early Acts. Israel was no longer a channel of blessing to the Gentiles. In fact, the Gentiles were now being saved in spite of Israel. Romans 11:11 says:
“Through their fall salvation is sent unto the Gentiles.”
So a believing Jew, even an apostle, could not understand Paul’s gospel. Peter later admitted it as he wrote in his first letter:
“As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.”
Peter is recognising the authority of Paul but admitting that he does not understand this new message. Why couldn’t Peter understand it? Peter was of a different message which was the Gospel of the Kingdom. He was promised a hope that was a Kingdom on earth. In Matthew 19:28 we read that he, along with the others of the twelve disciples, would sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Thus God did not reveal and would not reveal the Gospel of the Grace of God to Peter.
Do you know that preachers today are also preaching like Peter? They are preaching a mixed gospel. They are preaching grace for salvation and then the works of the law to help you grow spiritually. Some even have a Kingdom on earth as their hope and not the blessed hope that is to be with Christ in the heavenlies. It causes Christian chaos then the Gospel of the Grace of God and the Gospel of the Kingdom are mixed together.
If we were all to recognise the authority given to Paul by God, Who chose him to be the Apostle to the Gentiles and to receive the revelation from God for the Body of Christ today, we would eliminate all religious confusion. We do not discard the rest of the Bible but simply rightly divide it and know that all Scripture is given to us for doctrine, reproof and instruction in righteousness, but only Paul’s epistles specifically give us instructions how we ought to live and preach in this age of Grace. Ephesians 3:9 says:
“To make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ.”
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One of the most important questions that is asked as we look at the book of Acts is “Why Paul?” We have found that he was the apostle of the Gentiles (Romans 11:13) and that he was given the revelation of the mystery (Ephesians 3:3). This “mystery” as it is called in Ephesians, was the message that had not been made known to any man until God revealed it to Paul, as His chosen vessel.
Today I want to look at this new message and why it was a “mystery.” We read in 1 Corinthians 15:51,
“Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.”
We cannot escape the word “mystery” in Paul’s letters. That “mystery” was a secret which was only known by God and was made known through the apostle Paul.
First Corinthians chapter fifteen is the resurrection chapter of the Bible. There is nothing so mysterious about the resurrection. All the Jews believed in the resurrection of the dead. In John 11:24, Martha displayed her faith to Jesus when she said concerning her brother, Lazarus, “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” The fact of a resurrection was no mystery but the mystery was in the method of the resurrection.
Look again at 1 Corinthians 15:51, ‘Behold, I show you a mystery, We shall not all sleep but we shall all be changed.” This aspect is different and was a mystery. All believers under the administration of Grace will be changed. For those living in the Kingdom program there is no change as their promise was for an earthly Kingdom, thus no need for a change. Job made this confession in Job 19:26,
“And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.”
Job’s resurrection was a physical resurrection as was the resurrection of Moses and Elijah when they appeared to Jesus and the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration. They were not changed. There was no need for a change in the resurrection body of the Kingdom believer for they were promised that they would inhabit the earth in physical bodies.
Why, then, did Paul teach a changed resurrection body? He said,
“This corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.” (1 Corinthians 15:53).
The verb is an emphatic, “must.” We will not inherit the earth. Our eternal home is in heaven. The Bible says,
“For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”
That is the mystery! The changing of the body and the catching away of the church into heaven are unprophesied events. I have heard many pastors quote the verse that says that flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom of God. That statement is true but do you know who wrote it? It is found in 1 Corinthians 15:50 and was written by Paul. He said,
“Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood can not inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.”
Why is there a need for a change? A change is needed because we will not be on this earth after the resurrection. We will need a body suitable for our new environment, and that is in the heavenlies.
Perhaps some are confused by this new subject of two destinations, or two different hopes, or two spheres of redemption. Let me explain further. Satan is the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4). His kingdom is this earth and that explains why he had the authority to tempt Jesus in Matthew 4:8,9 and it says,
“Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.”
The kingdoms, which he offered Jesus, were in his domain and he could legitimately have given them to Jesus.
But God is the Creator of heaven and earth and according to Isaiah 42:8,
“My glory I will not give to another.”
The earth must be redeemed from the hands of Satan. This was the purpose of God using the nation of Israel. When Jesus Christ returns to the earth as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Satan will be cast into the bottomless pit for a thousand years while Christ reigns. Thus at that time the earth will be redeemed. This redemption has been foretold by the mouth of all God’s holy prophets since the world began (Acts 3:21). That is the redemption of the earth.
Heaven also must be redeemed. That sounds strange doesn’t it? Why does heaven need to be redeemed? Lucifer was located in heaven and it was there that the anointed cherub began is evil work. Not only did he sin by replacing God’s will with his will; he took a great host of angels with him. They are called “the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation. . .” (Jude 6). These fallen angels are also mentioned in 2 Peter 2:4 where it says,
“For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment.”
The end of those fallen angels or spirit creatures will be hell, or the lake of fire. Matthew 25:41 says,
“Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.”
So a great void was left in heaven which God must fill. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:3, “Know ye not that we shall judge angels?” We will not become angels when we go to heaven but we are going to fill a void left by those angels who left their first estate.
As soon as Satan became the god of this world (before the fall of Adam and Eve) God prepared the plan of redemption of this earth through the Gospel of the Kingdom. He also prepared the plan of redemption for heaven. So when Paul talked about the “mystery” he said, “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world. . .” (Ephesians 1:4). He also wrote in Ephesians 3:9,
“And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God. . . .”
2 Corinthians 2:7 says,
“But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory.”
Noting that the Bible teaches two gospels, two spheres of eternity, and two realms of redemption, we can see new light shed on Ephesians 1:10, in which we read:
“That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven (the Body of Christ) and which are on earth (the Kingdom of Heaven) even in him.”
At that stage everyone will know “who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords.” (1 Peter 6:15). Philippians 2:10 also says,
“That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things in earth and things under the earth.”
Where will you spend eternity? God is not dealing with Israel today so there is no present offer of the Kingdom on earth. That was promised to Israel. The choice for us today is either in the heavenlies with Christ, or in the lake of fire that was prepared for the devil and his angels.
By claiming Jesus Christ as your Saviour, and accepting His payment of your sin you are assured that the blessed hope is yours and that hope is to be forever with the Lord in Heaven. It is the “HOPE of our calling.” We shall all be changed and caught up to meet the Lord in the air and thus ever to be with the Lord. Only the apostle Paul tells us this wonderful truth and you can only understand it by “rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15).
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Some may ask why we concentrate so much on Paul. I will say today, as I have said before: AS MOSES WAS TO ISRAEL AND THE FUTURE EARTHLY KINGDOM, PAUL IS TO THE WORLD AND THE HEAVENLY HOPE OF THE BODY OF CHRIST, THE CHURCH.
Israel would not dare to disobey Moses and when they did disobey Moses and the law, there were dire consequences. There was only one doctrine, one law and the people of Israel had to obey it as part of their obedience to God. In similar fashion, God gave another doctrine to Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles. As there was only one set of rules for the Jews as long as God was dealing with them, so there is only one set of rules, one gospel for the world as long as God is dealing with the world by His grace.
God called Paul and revealed to him the Gospel of Grace. It was a new gospel as Israel was set aside and the kingdom would no longer be on offer to Israel. There has to be one set of rules for any household. So there also has to be one set of rules for any of God’s programs. Otherwise there would be confusion and 1 Corinthians 14:33 tells us, “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.” If there are two or more churches in any one town and they each have a different set of rules then confusion rules. One, or both of them, must be wrong because God says there is one gospel for today and that is revealed to and through the apostle Paul. Galatians 1:8,9 says,
“If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.”
It is true that Jesus Christ is the only Saviour. He is the only mediator between God and man. How does Jesus Christ become our Saviour? His shed blood provides the means by which He becomes our Saviour. Romans 3:25 says,
“Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past through the forebearance of God.”
Ephesians 1:7 says,
“In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.”
Colossians 1:14 says,
“In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.”
Who tells us that salvation is through the blood of Jesus Christ? Paul became the first to make known the way of salvation through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. That should not be surprising for to him was given the Gospel of the Grace of God and that is the one gospel for this age of grace in which we now live. Remember I have told you that the message Paul received was a secret or as the Bible calls it, a mystery, hidden from man until Paul was chosen of God to be the apostle of the Gentiles. This gospel had to be kept secret for if it had been known by the prophets it would also have been known by Satan. Read with me 1 Corinthians 2:7-8.
“But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory; Which none of the princes of this world knew; for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”
Had Satan known that it was God’s plan to save the world by the shed blood of His Son, he would not have arranged for the death of the Saviour of the world. The Gospel of Grace and the blood of Christ shed for the sins of the world was part of that secret known only to God.
Once the gospel of God’s grace became known to Paul, Satan became very angry. He hit out at the one responsible for spreading that gospel and that was Paul. God knew Paul would suffer much because of being the one and only apostle of the Gentiles. To Ananias God said,
“I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.” (Acts 9:16).
In Acts 9:24 we read:
“Their laying await was known of Saul, And they watched the gates day and night to kill him.”
Many times the devil used his followers to seek the death of Paul. Acts 14:19 tells us,
“And there came thither certain Jews from Antioch and Iconium, who persuaded the people, and having stoned Paul, drew him out of the city, supposed he had been dead.”
Also at Philippi:
“And when they had laid many stripes upon them (Paul and Silas) they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely; Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.” (Acts 16:23,24).
Satan had been outmanoeuvred at the cross and now the preaching of the cross was committed to Paul. Today many are disobedient to the gospel revealed to Paul and this results in confusion among those who believe in God and Jesus Christ.
In 1 Corinthians 9:17, the apostle wrote, “. . .a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me.” Then from Galatians 2:7 we read, “. . .the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me.”
When Satan could not eliminate Paul, he then sought to divide the Body of Christ. Here we say Body of Christ referring to that group of people in this dispensation who have fully trusted Jesus Christ as Saviour. They are the Christians of today. An example of this division is in the Corinthian Church and we read,
“For it hath been declared unto me of you my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.”
Now don’t get me wrong. All of those men were Godly men, especially Jesus Christ. What were they doing? They were not honouring the exalted Lord but patterning their lives after the earthly life of Jesus. They were not obeying 1 Corinthians 11:1 which tells us that we are to follow Christ as Paul followed Christ. So, though they were believers, the people at Corinth were divided and this is what has happened to the world today. Churches have become increasingly schismatic and have substituted a man-made interpretation of God’s Word for the Gospel of the Grace of God that was revealed by God to the apostle Paul. Through Paul this message was revealed to us in the Holy Bible.
The Galatian Church also listened to other doctrines. Paul wrote to them:
“I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel.” (Galatians 1:6).
We need to know and understand that the ministry of Paul was not his own idea or doctrine. It was the Word of God. He wrote in 2 Corinthians 13:3,
“Since ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, which to you-ward is not weak, but is mighty in you.”
Today Christians are prone to believe that the most important words in the Bible are those spoken by Jesus in the four gospels that tell of His earthly life.
Beloved, we cannot pattern our lives after the earthly example of Jesus. He came to be the Messiah to the Jews and nothing to the Gentiles. We cannot follow the footsteps of Jesus in His humiliation as a man living on this earth. We follow Him in His glorification as a risen Lord. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:16,
“Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh; yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more.”
Our blessings are heavenly (Ephesians 1:3).
Our position is in heaven (Ephesians 2:6).
Our hope is heaven (2 Corinthians 5:1).
How then can God be pleased if we are striving to live a perfect life like Jesus did when He lived on the earth?
Our gospel today is not the gospel of the Kingdom that Jesus preached on earth and which demanded obedience to the law. Our gospel is that revealed to the apostle to the Gentiles and it preaches forgiveness by the shed blood of Jesus Christ and walking with Him in a resurrected life. Moses received the law for Israel. Paul received grace for us Gentiles. So we ought to walk in obedience to God as Paul instructs us in Philippians 3:17—
“Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an example.”
Paul is our apostle, not Moses. We need to study the writings of Paul to know how we ought to live during this age of Grace.