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In the first two studies in this series we considered the general nature of the church. In the first study we considered the church as the Universal Church, and in the second study we considered the church in its Local aspects, the church in some given place. We will not attempt to go over that material again, but we will now move into a study of the main ministries of the church.
I have found it convenient in studying this to divide them into two groups; first the Mobile Ministries, and second what I call the Resident Ministries. So we will begin with the mobile ministries. At the top of your outline you will see A: Mobile Ministries. In due course, in subsequent studies we will deal with resident ministries. At the present time we will consider the mobile ministries.
I call them “mobile” because they are not tied down to any particular locality, but they can function anywhere within the Universal Church and they are available to all sections of the church in all places. Now by common consent most Bible commentators will agree that the main list of these ministries is given in Ephesians chapter 4 and verse 11, so we will see the list that’s given there. There are actually five ministries that are mentioned in Ephesians 4:11, and of these one is distinctively a resident ministry and the others are primarily mobile ministries. This is not intended to be interpreted in an excessively legalistic way. It’s just a general classification. So we’ll read that list in Ephesians 4:11 and then move into a study of the various ministries, one after the other in turn.
And he gave [he being Jesus Christ] some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
Later on I’ll point out that the word “pastor” would be better translated “shepherd.” This is the only place in the New Testament where it is translated pastor. Many other places it is translated shepherd.
So the five ministries listed there are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Of these, as I’ve said, pastors are essentially resident. So for the main mobile ministries we have the remaining four; apostles, prophets, evangelists, and teachers. And for our present study we will take the subject of apostles.
I don’t know if you were like me, but for many, many years, or first of all as a boy I had to sit in church regularly eight times a week. I had no option about that, but for ten years while I was at school church-going was compulsory once every week day and twice on Sundays which made eight times a week. And I will never blot out of my memory as long as I live the stained glass pictures we had of various Bible figures—Jesus in the carpenter shop and I can always remember that one of His toes was longer than the big toe and this always frustrated me. It kind of disturbed me sitting there looking at that toe. I thought I would like to get up and push it back into place, but I never could. And then there were the apostles in various attitudes and phases, and they were all distinctly elderly. There was not one of them that was below fifty. This is not confined merely to the stained glass windows that I looked at, but it’s almost universal. Wherever you see the representation of the apostles they have scraggly beards and long white hair and their faces are wrinkled and they’re slightly bowed and you get the impression that this kind of thing is for people who are nearing the end of life. This is a complete misrepresentation. Because a careful study of the New Testament will show that all the apostles whom Jesus called in His earthly ministry were young men. And I emphasize young—not even middle aged.
Generally speaking, particularly the word “apostle” has got religious associations which make us think in terms of a rather dim, disagreeable, grumpy old figure somewhere in the remote past whom you’d do better if you didn’t meet. As a matter of fact, in my background, my picture of God was more or less like that too. I don’t how it might be with any of you, but as a result of church going and up bringing and associations and the attitude of my family, I used to think about God essentially as a rather grumpy old man with a long white beard sitting in an office at the end of a long corridor. And the last thing you ever wanted to do was tip down that corridor and knock on that door and get into that office, because you were headed for trouble if you ever did. And I have to say, that in my experience it’s taken years to undo some of these impressions that were created in my boyhood. I believe most of you will find actually that you have to do a lot of adjusting to get a clear scriptural picture of what an apostle is. Certainly I would say ninety percent of professing Christians today imagine that apostles only belong to a period nineteen centuries ago. They would not consider the possibility of meeting an apostle today. I hope that this impression will be corrected by what I have to say.
Let’s now consider, first of all, the meaning of this word. Apostle is a word of Greek origin. The Greek word is apostolos, which has a quite definite meaning. It means “one sent forth.” And in John 13:16 it is translated more or less like that in the King James Version. Many, many people reading it in the King James Version never realize, I’m sure, that the word is “apostle.” John 13:16 Jesus says this,
Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him.
“He that is sent” is the apostle. Neither is the apostle greater than the one who sent him. This brings out that fact that the root meaning of the word “apostle” is one who is sent or more completely sent forth. In the King James Version it is sometimes translated “messenger.” We will find these places in due course. There are some of the modern translators who normally translate it “messenger.” I think Philips is one. I will point out in due course that this is rather unfortunate and slightly misleading. The meaning of the word closely corresponds to a more familiar word in modern Christianity which is the word “missionary.” The word missionary comes from a Latin verb and it means “one who is sent.” The word “apostle” comes from a Greek word and means “one who is sent forth.” But the meanings obviously are very close.
In thinking about apostles, you would do well to turn your mind rather in the direction of missionaries, though I’m not saying by any means that all apostles are missionaries, or all missionaries are apostles.
Now it’s interesting to see the number of times and places in which this word “apostle” occurs in the New Testament. Most people in America today, most Christians, have no hesitation about using the word “evangelist.” And yet that word only occurs twice or three times, actually, in the New Testament. There’s only one man in the whole of the New Testament who is actually called an evangelist. That man was Philip. There’s not another person actually specified in the New Testament as having the ministry of an evangelist. And yet when we look at apostle, as I think you will see in a moment, there are 28 persons in the New Testament who are specified as having the ministry of an apostle. Many, many Christians today wouldn’t consider giving that title to any living minister.
When I gave up a resident pastorship and began to travel and preach, people say to me, “What do you do?” Well I say, “I travel and preach.” And they say, “You’re an evangelist.” And I say, “No, definitely not.” “Well you must be. You travel and preach.” And the attitude was the only kind of person who travels and preaches is an evangelist. If you don’t travel and preach then you’re a pastor and that was the whole option that was left open. Of course that is not scriptural.
Now according to my studies there are about fourteen persons named as apostles before the day of Pentecost, and a further fourteen named after the day of Pentecost. The list with the Scripture references is given in the outline. Let’s go through it because we can learn quite a lot from it. The first person in order of time called an apostle is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. This we find in Hebrews 3:1. This passage in Hebrews 3:1 helps us to understand the meaning of the word apostle. I would say this before we come to this detailed study of this verse, that as I understand it Jesus is the perfect pattern of every one of these main ministries. He is the perfect apostle, the perfect prophet, the perfect evangelist, the perfect shepherd, and the perfect teacher. In Hebrews 3:1 we read these words:
Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession [or our confession, our statement of faith] Christ Jesus;
So Jesus is called is called the Apostle and the High priest of our profession. These are two opposite sides of His total ministry. As the Apostle He was the one who was sent forth by God to do a special task in the world which nobody else could do. As the High Priest He’s the one who’s gone back into the presence of God to represent those who have accepted the ministry that He had on earth. So being the Apostle He is sent forth, being the High Priest He has returned again into the presence of God there to represent us.
Now we have further statements in John’s gospel about Jesus being sent forth. I’d like to look at those two Scriptures there in parenthesis, John 10:36 to start with. I will not go into the background of this because it would take quite a while to explain it, but let’s just notice the words that I want to pick out. Jesus is speaking to the Jewish people of His day who challenged His claim to represent God, and He says,
Say ye of him, [that is Jesus] whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world...
So the Father sanctified Jesus and sent Him into the world. And that word “sent” is the same word that gives us apostle. So the Father sanctified Jesus. That means He set Him apart for a special task which no one else could fulfill. And having set Him apart, He sent Him forth into the world. When He was sent forth, He then became our Apostle, “the sent forth One.”
In John 20:21, we have the same thought again applied to the first disciples.
Then said Jesus to them again, [that’s the disciples in the room where He appeared to them on the resurrection Sunday evening] Peace be unto you: as My Father hath sent me, even so send I you.
My Father has sent me. .. the same word is used again. “My Father hath sent me forth as an Apostle.” And then He says, “Now I’m sending you in the same way that My Father sent Me.” So the apostleship is transferred. First the Father sent Jesus, then Jesus sent those first disciples.
Let’s look at the next group of disciples which is of course the first twelve whose names most people know. Though I don’t believe I would ever be able to recite them correctly, but we all know there were twelve apostles appointed while Jesus was on earth. I’d like to look at the background of this appointment and the details of the wording which we’ll find in Matthew 9:36–10:5. Let me remind you that the chapter divisions are not there in the original text. They were put in in the 17th or 18th century or some time by a jealous man who thought he was doing a good job. Some of them are well placed and some of them are not.
But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd. Then said he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.
Notice, what is needed is those who will be sent forth into the harvest as laborers. Now the chapter division obscures the fact that the next thing that Jesus actually did was to begin to send forth laborers. This is what we find at the beginning of chapter ten.
And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease. Now the names of the twelve apostles are these... (vs. 5) These twelve Jesus sent forth...
Again the same word that gives us the noun apostle. Notice at the beginning of chapter 10 they’re disciples. But when they were sent forth they became apostles. So they were promoted from being just disciples to being disciples whom Jesus had specially commissioned and sent forth and that made them apostles. Now the number of those was twelve. I’ve put the number in each case in the margin on the right hand side in order to arrive at a total. Now of course we are all aware that Judas became the traitor. The Scripture says, “He fell from his apostleship.” And so before the day of Pentecost, when they were still waiting in the upper room in Jerusalem after Jesus had finally ascended to heaven, the apostle Peter declared that it was necessary that this number of twelve should once again be made complete. It could not be left incomplete. So we find that they made a choice and asked God to ratify the choice.
Let’s just look at the words there in Acts 1:21:
Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he [Jesus] was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection.
Notice that these first apostles had to be those who had witnessed the entire earthly ministry of Jesus from the time of John’s baptism through His crucifixion and resurrection. They had to be witnesses of the resurrected and it says they appointed two, Joseph and Matthias. And then they prayed and cast lots and asked the Lord to indicate through the lot which was His choice. and it says in verse 26,
And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.
He became the twelfth apostles. Now many, many people have formed the impression that this was not a valid appointment. But there is not a single sentence in Scripture to raise any doubts about the validity of it. On the contrary, in the next chapter, which is Acts chapter 2 and verse 14, we find that when Peter began to make his well-known speech on the Day of Pentecost, it says,
But Peter, standing up with the eleven...
So the other eleven were all grouped together and all identified with being the eleven apostles. So we find that Scripture actually endorses the appointment of Matthias and the number was made up to twelve by Matthias. So if you add it up you have Jesus, the first twelve, and then Matthias, and that makes a total of fourteen who were appointed before the Day of Pentecost.
Now ten days before Pentecost, Jesus as we know ascended up to heaven finally. All the remaining appointments that we shall consider were made after the Day of Pentecost. This is very significant. If we turn again to Ephesians chapter four which speaks of these appointments, and notice something that I did not point out when we first looked at this list, that these appointments were made after the ascension of Jesus. If you will look in Ephesians 4:8 Paul is quoting from Psalm 68 and he says this,
Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captives, and gave gifts unto to men.
Notice it was after Jesus had ascended that he gave these gifts to men. And the gives that he gave are specified after parenthesis in verse 11,
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers...
So these appointments referred to in Ephesians chapter four were made after the ascension of Jesus into heaven. In actual fact, the first twelve apostles are not actually referred to in this list. These are apostles, prophets and others that were appointed after the ascension. The language is absolutely clear and unambiguous.
Now let’s look at the list that we can make of apostles appointed after the day of Pentecost. Turn first of all to Acts chapter 13. This is a passage we will need to look at again but we will glance at it now first of all. Acts 13:1 says this,
Now there were in the church that was at Antioch prophets and teachers; [these men were recognized as being teachers and prophets.] Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, Manaen and Saul, [who later became Paul.]
It says in verse four that they were sent forth by the Holy Ghost, that is Barnabas and Saul. Notice the key word again is sent forth.
Then in the next chapter of Acts which is chapter fourteen, twice these two sent forth ones, Paul and Barnabas, are called apostles. When did they become apostles? When they were sent forth. Prior to being send forth, they were prophets and teachers. But as a result of being sent forth under the direction of the Holy Spirit for a special task, they became apostles. Notice there is promotion.
This is an idea that I had to go against in my own thinking and background. I imagined that an apostles would somehow float down out of heaven complete in every detail. There would be no errors. There would be no trial runs. Everything would be absolutely right the first time. This is not scriptural. There is promotion in the ministries. We will find many cases as we look through of men who did not begin as apostles, but after having proved themselves in other ministries were promoted into apostleship which is really a very reasonable and practical way of doing things.
So let’s just look in Acts 14 and see these two verses. Acts 14:4 and it is speaking about the ministry of Barnabas and Saul,
But the multitude of the city was divided: and part held with the Jews, and part with the apostles. [plural. And then notice to avoid any uncertainty at all in verse 14,] Which when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of...
So both Barnabas and Paul are specifically called apostles. Originally they were prophets and teachers when we first were presented with them in the beginning of Acts 13. After being commissioned and sent forth, they became apostles. So that makes two who were not included in the original list that we gave.
Then you turn to the 16th chapter of Romans and you get reference to two other apostles. Romans 16:7. Now this section of the 16th chapter of Romans consists of a long list of salutations and messages that Paul send in this letter to many people whom he already knew who were at Rome. And amongst them are included these two persons in verse 7.
Salute Andronicus and Junia, [but Junia is a mistake, it’s Junias. It’s not a female name, it’s a male name.] my kinsmen, and my fellowprisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.
So here are two men, Andronicus and Junias who were noteworthy apostles. That’s the meaning of it. Not merely were they apostles, but they were distinguished, well-known apostles. They were also relatives of Paul and they had come to Christ before Paul, himself, did. So Andronicus and Junias make two.
Then we turn to 1Corinthians 9 and we find further teaching, verse 5, Paul is defending his own ministry and that of Barnabas, because they had been criticized or despised because they didn’t behave exactly other apostles. They didn’t take offerings in this particular area and they didn’t have wives with them. This is a very interesting verse. I could preach half an hour on this verse alone, because it’s so contrary to people’s ideas. Paul says,
Have we not power [the real word is authority] to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, [in other words, most of the apostles travelled with their wives. This is a very important fact which I think the modern church has almost totally overlooked. And then Paul gives a mention,] as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?
Now Cephas we know is one of the names for Peter. So Paul includes among the apostles the brethren of the Lord, His own brothers in the flesh. And we find this confirmed if we look in Galatians 1:18–19. We will not go into the background or the context of this.
Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother.
The language indicates therefore that Paul recognized, and everybody recognized James the Lord’s brother as an apostle. Because he says, “Other of the apostles saw I none, save James.”
And if we want to know how many brothers the Lord had in the flesh, we turn back to Matthew 13:55. The people that were criticizing Jesus in His earthly ministry as not having the qualifications for being the kind of minister that He apparently was, said about Him,
Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary: and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?
James of course is the best known one who wrote the epistle of James, and was referred to many times in the New Testament. Judas wrote the epistle of Jude. The other two are not so well known, but it is clear from those Scriptures that we have studied that all four of them were acknowledged in the early church as apostles.
Turn to the epistle of Jude for a moment and you will see that Jude the write of epistle identifies himself as the brother of James. The epistle begins as usual in ancient epistles with the persons names and qualifications and address if you might call it that way.
Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James...
It’s very interesting that none of these who were brethren of the Lord in the flesh ever claimed this relationship of being a brother of the Lord after the resurrection. So Jude calls himself the brother of James, but he calls himself the servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, the fleshly relationships were not valid, or were not the important thing after the resurrection. As a matter of fact, Paul says, “Though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more.” In other words, after the resurrection and ascension of the Lord, the fleshly relationship which James and Jude and the other two men had, was not any longer given prominence. So Jude, although he was actually in the flesh a brother of Jesus, does not call himself that. He calls himself a brother of James, who was the elder brother after Jesus, and a servant of Jesus Christ. But we end up with this fact by putting these four passages of Scripture together that are given there in your outline, that James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas or Jude, were all acknowledged as apostles. That gives us four.
Now let’s turn to 2Corinthians 8:23, and we again have not time to go into the background and context of all these passages, though it would be illuminating and interesting if you had time to do it on your own.
Whether any do enquire of Titus, he is my partner and fellowhelper concerning you: or our brethren be enquired of, they are the messengers of the churches, and the glory of Christ.
Now where the King James says “messengers” the Greek says “apostles.” I imagine it was really prejudiced on the part of the King James translators that prevented them from using the work apostles. Not deliberate prejudice, but simply they had this idea there were only twelve apostles, and maybe Paul, and that was the end. So when they got anybody else called and apostle, they tended to change the translation. But there’s no valid reason for doing it. So it reads this way,
Whether any do enquire of Titus, he is my partner and fellowhelper concerning you: or our brethren be enquired of, they are the apostles of the churches, and the glory of Christ.
They’re called the “apostles of the churches,” because each of them were sent forth from some particular church. The church that sent them forth was the church of which they were the particular apostle or apostles. Now these men are not named but they are mentioned in the plural. So the minimum plural is two, so we have here Titus who was named, and at least two more.
With regard to Titus we see him also doing the work of an apostle in the epistle that is called after his name. Perhaps we might look at that for just a moment. In Titus 1:5 we find Paul writing to him in this way.
For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee:
In other words, this is the apostolic ministry, the ordaining of elders in every city. So this and the passage in 2Corinthians 8:23 shows that Titus was recognized by Paul and others as an apostle. Putting those verses together we get Titus and a minimum of two other unnamed brethren. There might have been more than two. There might have been five or six, but two is the minimum. So one, plus a minimum of two gives us a minimum of three.
Now turn to Philippians 2:25 and again no time to go into the background.
Yet I supposed it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, and companion in labour, and fellowsoldier, but your messenger, and he that ministered to my wants.
“Your messenger...” the Greek is “apostle.” So writing to the Church of Philippi, Paul speaks of Epaphroditus as “your apostle.” In other words, the apostle sent forth from the church at Philippi. I think the language indicates clearly that it was expected that every apostle would be sent forth from a particular local congregation. And that local congregation had various responsibilities in connection with that apostle. For instance, Paul and Barnabas were sent forth from Antioch. Epaphroditus was sent forth from Philippi and the ones mentioned in 2Corinthians 8:23 were sent forth from churches whose locality was not specified. But there is a principle there that an apostle is sent forth from a local congregation. A very, very important principle which affects us today in the United States. The problem in the United States is there’s no one really competent to send persons forth. Everybody is moving around as a unit on his own, not having anybody that’s sent him forth and not having anybody to whom he is answerable. This has got to be changed. You see, whatever congregation sent an apostle forth, they had a certain authority and connection with him. If he misbehaved, started to go round with some other apostles wife or embezzle the funds, that congregation was responsible to see that his activities were terminated.
This is a problem in modern United States. There’s no one responsible for what anybody does. Anybody can go anywhere and do what they please at any time. If they make a bad name in one city or one congregation, they just move on to the next. It’s clear to me that this has to be changed, and I see that in the New Testament there’s a pattern for doing it.
Finally Epaphroditus there gives us one more. Let’s look in 1Thessalonians and we will find two more there. This is somewhat like a detective problem, finding apostles. I mean it’s a process of study and inference and deduction. 1Thessalonians 1 again we have the writers of this epistle and it was quite common in ancient time for two or three or more persons to unite together in writing an epistle. They would all put their names at the head of the epistle as being the co-authors. So in 1Thessalonians 1:1 we have,
Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of Thessalonians...
Silvanus is another way of saying Silas, and Timotheus is another way of saying Timothy. So the three writers of this epistle are Paul, Silas and Timothy. Now notice what they say about themselves as we move on to chapter 2:6, writing collectively of their ministry they say this,
Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ.
So all three of them were apostles. They said, “We could have lorded it over you and made demands upon you and asked you to kowtow to us because we were apostles, but we didn’t do it.” But notice that the three of them were all classified as apostles. We have already counted Paul so we can’t count him again, but that leaves us Silas and Timothy, which gives two. If you add those up in the right hand column, if your mathematics is the same as mine, it gives us a minimum of fourteen. There’s a possibility of more because in one case we don’t know how many unnamed brethren there were.
But it is, I suppose for most people, a truly astonishing fact that there were fourteen persons appointed as apostles and called apostles subsequent to the day of Pentecost. I imagine the average Baptist, not to be critical of Baptists but just to take them as an example, simply never has conceived the idea that anybody was ever called an apostle after Paul. And yet they will throw the name evangelist around like pepper out of a pot. Anybody can be called an evangelist. And yet there is only one man called an evangelist in the New Testament.
Now we see how much, really, traditional interpretation still dominates our thinking in the words and phrases that we use.
Now let’s look a little more in detail into the nature of the apostolic ministry. In Matthew 10:1–5 I’ve already pointed out and I don’t suppose it’s necessary to turn there again,
And Jesus had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them authority [that’s a key word]... And having given them authority He sent them forth...
Having received authority, and having been sent forth they became officially “sent forth ones,” which is apostles.
In Acts 13 we have already seen that at the beginning of that chapter there were in the church that was at Antioch, five men who were described as prophets and teachers. They had a ministry of being a prophet and teacher combined. Then God the Holy Spirit, spoke and said, “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work where unto I have called them....” They fasted and prayed, laid hands upon them and “sent them forth” and they became “sent forth ones.” In the next chapter, in the course of the description of their ministry, they are twice specifically called apostles.
Now it’s interesting I think in connection with Paul to see that his sending forth was done through a local congregation. His calling was made official by an utterance of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit spoke in the congregation and said, “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.” In other words, I think it’s correct to say that God used human instruments in propelling Paul out into his ministry as an apostle. Bear in mind, however, that Paul must have already received his individual calling. Because as you look at the words there in Acts 13, the Holy Spirit said, “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I havecalled them.” He was not then calling them, He was making their calling known to the congregation as a whole. So they had received an individual, personal calling from the Lord prior to that. What the Holy Spirit did at that point was to make their calling public and set the public seal of His authority upon it.
In that connection, it’s interesting to compare what Paul himself says about his own ministry as an apostle, because he’s always extremely emphatic that his apostleship did not originate with man, but with God. It would appear that not a few occasions Paul’s apostleship was challenged by his contemporaries. It’s rather interesting really, because today we’ve got such a picture of Paul as a tremendous man of God. The last person that we would imagine that anybody would challenge would be the apostle Paul. But you see, we’ve got rather a false picture of him because in 2Corinthians he refers to his critics and his enemies as saying that his bodily presence was weak and his speech contemptible. He was no preacher. I would say that probably Peter was a tremendous preacher, but Paul was absolutely not. And many of his contemporaries in the Christian church despised him, belittled him. He wasn’t a pulpit personality. And so he, from time to time, had to take a very strong stand declaring that he was an apostle, not of men, but of God.
Let’s look at just two examples of this. In Galatians 1:1 he describes himself starting this letter,
Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;)
Notice he’s absolutely definite. “No man made me an apostle. My apostleship comes from Jesus Christ and God the Father.”
Likewise in 1Timothy 1:1:
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the commandment of God our Saviour, and Lord Jesus Christ, which is our hope;
I think this contains a very important lesson which goes beyond apostleship, that God uses human instruments, but the authority is God. And so though God actually used the other ministers in the church of Antioch, the other prophets and teachers to bring out into the open and to commission Paul, his apostleship was a divine origin. I think this applies to many things that happen today.
Although the church may recognize and set its official approval upon a divinely given ministry, the ministry does not originate with man. It originates with God. I think this is the solution to some of the problems that we are facing at present in the United States, which is trying to discern how ministries come into being. God brings them into being, but the church has to recognize them. There’s a cooperation between God and the church. This is true, of course, in every aspect of the spiritual life. God is the one that begins it all, but He cannot do it unless man will cooperate with Him.
I think this is clear in the title of the book of Acts. It’s called in our version “The Acts of the Apostles.” Some people, you’ve probably heard them say, will claim it should have been “The Acts of the Holy Spirit.” But the actual fact is, the Holy Spirit couldn’t do anything until He found somebody to do it. So I prefer the title, “The Acts of the Apostles.” We know the Holy Spirit is the one behind it, but if He hadn’t found men that were willing to do it nothing would ever have happened. I think this is true in many aspects of the Christian ministry. Men are the instruments, who it’s God that is doing it. We have to look beyond the instruments, that are often weak and fallible, to the God whose authority is in it and through it.
When I gave up a resident pastorship in 1964 I had been pastoring a church in Seattle. The last Sunday I took farewell of the church and they were very sorry to see my wife and me go, and quite spontaneously without any premeditation, one of the deacons said, “I feel that we should have Brother and Sister Prince come to the front and lay hands on them sending them off.” I hadn’t planned it. Nobody had planned it. But always looking back on it, I felt very happy that it happened, because our particular local congregation gave us their endorsement, laid their hands on us and sent us forth. I felt that God really wanted it done that way.
Now they were not tremendous, outstanding ministers. They were rather a bedraggled company of deacons to say the truth, who had been through the mill for about two years in the most intense problems that churches can go through. But nevertheless, they were God’s instruments in that particular situation. I think everybody should bear in mind that when you’re dealing with the church and with ministry, you’ll never find a minister who is above criticism. You’ll never find a servant of God who doesn’t have his weaknesses. But remember, that it’s not the servant you have to deal with. In the last resort it’s the God whom he serves. It could be said that the attitude of the church towards God is indicated by the attitude of the church towards the ministers whom God gives them. Actually Christians do not honor God more than they honor the God-given ministry placed in the church.
There’s a very clear example of this in the book of Judges in the fifth chapter. That passage of Judges records the scene when Barak was called by God to go and deliver Israel from the invading hosts that had come. Barak was called in some way associated with the prophetess, Deborah, and Barak said something which was really not the right thing for an oriental man to say. He said to Deborah, “I won’t go unless you go with me.” Well that was not the manly attitude in those days. Deborah said, “If I go with you it will not be to your glory because God will use another.” And He used a woman, Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite to kill your enemy. So they went off, Barak and Deborah together and won the victory. And the fifth chapter of Judges—I think we could look at it for a moment. This is just a point that the Lord has impressed upon me to make. Judges 5:23. This is the well-known song of Deborah after the victory had been won. A song of triumph, a song of praise and a kind of distribution of praise and blame to various sections of Israel for the parts they did or did not play in the battle. In this 23rd verse we get a tremendous utterance,
Curse ye Meroz, said the angel of the Lord, curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof; because they came not to the help of the Lord, to the help of the Lordagainst the mighty.
Now that’s a very strong utterance. “Curse ye bitterly Meroz...” which was one of the villages in that area of Israel. To have a curse pronounced and recorded in Scripture about a certain community is a very terrible thing. Why was the curse pronounced? Because they did not come to the help of—not Barak—but the Lord. In other words the Lord identifies Himself with those who serve Him. Those that failed to respond to Barak’s call and did not come to his help, in the day of reckoning were considered to have failed not Barak, but the Lord.
This is no less true in the church today. If God calls a man and sets him in the church and gives him a ministry, as long as he’s functioning within that ministry he is God’s representative. The attitude of the believers towards that man is really the best indication of their attitude towards God. They may use very pious language towards God, but their real attitude will be seen in how they deal with the ministers whom God sends them. We find, going back to the case of Paul, that he had a continual contest to establish his authority as an apostle. And yet, God used him in a way that perhaps he used none of the other apostles. And his ministry was more supernaturally attested than any of the other apostles that we know. Remarkable fact.
Now let’s consider the nature of an apostolic ministry. In Acts 13 which is the key passage that we have looked at several times, verse 2 it says,
...the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.
So they were called to a work. And this was their calling as apostles. Now what was the work that they did? I think you could describe it as going to areas where the gospel had not been preached, bringing people to the Lord, and establishing churches—functioning local congregations. When they went back on the return lap of their journey, every place where they had preached they left established churches.
This is stated in Acts 14:23,
And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they had believed.
They did not leave just groups of disciples, or little prayer groups. But they left established ordered local congregations which the New Testament calls churches. So I believe we could say that the work whereto they were called was to preach the gospel, bring people to the Lord, and establish them in local churches.
However, apostles also give directions to churches that have not necessarily been brought into being by their ministry. For instance in Romans 1:10–11 you’ll find that the apostle Paul is writing to the Romans and he says that he has never seen them in the flesh. Nevertheless, he spends many chapters in that epistle giving them authoritative direction and instruction. So he had authority over them as an apostle though he had never actually at that time visited the city of Rome.
Colossians 2, Paul says the same thing. He’s writing to a group of believers in Colosse whom he had never seen in the face. But he still had authority to give them direction and instruction as an apostle. If you’ll compare the opening verses of Galatians and the first epistle of Peter, you’ll find that both Peter and Paul wrote to the churches in Galatia. Now they had not both worked together establishing those churches, but as apostles they both exercised authority over those churches. My point, which I hope I’m making clear, is that an apostle has authority within the total body over local churches, primarily naturally over those churches which had been brought into being directly by his ministry, but beyond that over all churches in so far as the Holy Spirit directs them, his authority extends over all local congregations.
If you turn to Galatians 2:7–8, you’ll see confirmation of this in these verses. At a certain point Peter and John met together with Paul and Barnabas to discuss the nature of the message and the ministry which God had given them, and to clear up certain points of misunderstanding. This they succeeded in doing. And it’s summed up in Galatians 2:7–8,
But contrariwise, when they [Peter and John] say, that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter; (For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:)
So we see here that Peter had a general apostleship to the circumcision, that’s the Jews, Paul had a general apostleship to the Gentiles which extended beyond churches which had been brought into being either by the ministry of Peter or of Paul. My point is, in other words, that an apostle if he is genuinely appointed of God has general authority within the universal church whether or not he was used to bring a certain congregation into being. I think this is really common sense, but it is important to see it out of Scripture.
Now in 1Corinthians 12:28 we are given a list of certain main ministries within a congregation.
And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.
Now it is clear that Paul is not talking about the universal church because he has left out evangelists. He is talking about a local congregation. Why does he not mention evangelists? Because an evangelist, as an evangelist, has no ministry in a local congregation. His ministry is to the unconverted. In a local group of believers you only have the converted. This I think is clear proof that Paul has in mind some particular local congregation.
Within this local congregation there is a specific order of authority. First apostles, second prophets, thirdly teachers, fourth workers of miracles, fifth gifts of healing. After that the order is not so clear. So I think this shows clearly that within a local congregation, if an apostle is present his is the senior ministry. After that the prophet and after that the teacher.
Now there’s a principle involved here because apostle, prophet and teacher are essentially, basically ministers of the Word. So the ministry of God’s Word has preeminence over all other forms of ministry. In other words, the final authority is vested in the Word of God and those who are the representatives of the Word of God.
We can sum this up by saying that apostles have two main functions and I’ll read a little passage there in the outline. First of all to bring into being properly ordered churches. Secondly, to set, and maintain in order churches that are already in being. The reference in Titus 1:5 is a situation where there were churches already established in the Island of Crete but they were not properly ordered, and for this reason Paul told Titus to set them in order by appointing elders. I would say that if you were take a total picture, the ministry of the apostle includes the other four ministries. Within his ministry he has the ministry of a prophet, the ministry of an evangelist, the ministry of a shepherd and the ministry of a teacher.
Let us notice a few facts in closing. I think we have time just to go through them. 1 Corinthians 9:2, Paul said
If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: [the church of Corinth] for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord.
The church at Corinth was the seal, the open attestation of Paul’s apostolic ministry. Why? Because they were the evidence that he could do what an apostle had to do. He could go there when the gospel had not been preached, bring them to the Lord in salvation, have them baptized in water, have them baptized in the Holy Spirit, enter into the exercise of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, have them established in the local congregation with their own local elders and officers. In other words, he could do the entire job from foundation to roof. The ability to do that set him apart, or established him, as an apostle. So they were the seal of his apostleship. Had Paul been an evangelist only, he could gone there and brought them to the Lord, but another ministry would have been needed to complete the job. Had he been a teacher, he would not have brought them to the Lord, but he might have been able to complete the job. But being an apostle he could do the whole thing from foundation to roof. The ability to do that is the seal of apostleship.
Then Paul in 2Corinthians 12:12 talks about the signs of apostleship. Let’s look at them briefly for a moment.
Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.
You might say there are two main areas in which an apostle has to demonstrate his apostleship. First of all the area of character. Patience, in modern English, would be endurance. When others give up, the apostle holds out. When everybody else left him, he said, “Demos has forsaken me, no one else is with me. I still hold on.” The first requirement is character.
Then miraculous attestation, which is part of the apostolic ministries. Signs, wonders and miracles. We will come to that also in the gift of miracles which we will come to later.
Then notice there are various levels of apostleship. This is so important. 2Corinthians 11:5, Paul says,
For I suppose I was not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles.
In 2Corinthians 12:11 he uses the same phrase again, he says,
...in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles...
So there are apostles that are “chief” and there are apostles who are “not so chief.” You see the thing is, every time we think of an apostle, we think he’s either got to be Peter or Paul or he’s nothing. But this, of course, is not true. Just as a man have a really God-given ministry of evangelist, the man may not operate on the scale of Billy Graham. That does not invalidate his claim to be a genuine God-given evangelist.
Notice also two other facts and we close. 2Corinthians 11:13–15, Paul speaks about certain who have appeared as ministers in the church at Corinth, he says,
For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ, And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.
This is a very solemn and important fact, that people can come claiming to be apostles and deceive Christians, and yet according to Paul’s words, they’re not the ministers of Christ, they are the ministers of Satan. They’re not just mistaken, misguided people. They are actually the ministers of Satan. This is something that American Christians are going to have to learn in this decade or they are going to have to suffer for it. We shall see more and more of this kind of thing emerging. That’s my personal conviction.
Because there are false apostles, we come to the final statement. At the bottom of your outline the claims of apostles must be tested. Revelation 2:2, Jesus commends the church of Ephesus for this very reason. I’ll read these words of commendation.
I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou has tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars....
It is the responsibility of every local congregation and its leaders when apostles, or self-styled apostles, appear to try them. Do they answer to the description? Does their ministry pass the test? What kind of lives are they leading? And only to accept those that are in line with Scripture.
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