"For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ." (Galatians 1:11-12)Herein is the qualification of a true apostle and what sets them apart from an ordinary teacher or preacher. Many teach and preach what others have said and written, myself included. We teach and preach the revelations of others, but Paul's revelation came to him directly from Jesus. Paul was not teaching the revelation of another but the revelation given to him by God. This is also what sets Christianity apart from philosophies. Philosophy represents the best of human logic, reason, and inquiry; it is the best the human mind can discover and understand. However, Christianity does not depend upon human reason but on the direct revelation of God. Paul did not think or rationalize his Gospel, he learned it directly from the source, from God Himself. The same is true of all the apostles of the church. Later, when some would question Paul's credentials, he would respond, "Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord." (1 Corinthians 9:1-2) Paul had seen the Lord and received his revelation from Him. Later, he would remind the Corinthians, "For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you." (1 Corinthians 11:23) The appearance of Jesus to Paul, and Christ's revelation to him, were Paul's credentials as an apostle.
"For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it; and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions." (Galatians 1:13-14)Zeal, when properly focused, is a wonderful thing, but misguided zeal can be a destructive fire in our lives and the lives of those around us. Worse, when zeal is mixed with competition, it can blind our eyes to its harmful effects. Paul says that he excelled, or surpassed, those who were his equals, or those who were his peers, in his pursuit of Judaism. He describes it almost as if it were a race and he was winning. How much harm has been done in the Christian church by those who were gifted and sought to surpass other gifted men and women by their zeal. Their zeal was not so much to serve in their giftedness but to excel beyond others, to become the next "shooting star" of Christendom. Worse yet, often the church herself is complicit in encouraging and promoting gifted people beyond their level of maturity; encouraging them to excel rather than grow, When we see ourselves in competition with other believers for glory and honor in the church, then we have given the devil a foothold in our lives and set the stage for disaster. The Christian life is not a competition with others; to see who is more gifted, more disciplined, more knowledgeable, or even more spiritual. Christianity is about understanding that we are just a part of a larger body and about finding and understanding the part we are to play and playing it faithfully as unto God.