The primary purpose of this paper is to lay out a truth, the understanding of which may be necessary if we are to fulfill the Great Commission in this generation.
There seem to be four options available to Christians for working with other Christians outside of their immediate locale. One, a parachurch organization of one kind or another. Two, a denomination. Three, New Testament apostleship. Four, no unity.
We don’t see parachurch organizations or denominations in the New Testament. However, we do see an amazing amount of national and international cooperation, coordination, communication and mutual help — unity. That narrows the options to one: apostles — webbing Christians and churches together across nations and the world.
Over the past several years it has been enlightening and stimulating as several of us have enjoyed informal and often spontaneous times of discussion and prayer concerning this subject. In a way, it is as though we have grown into an understanding as we have grown into the need.
It is our conviction that a proper understanding of the role and function of apostles could well make the difference in whether this generation sees happen what the early church saw happen — the evangelization of the entire world.
As important as the subject of apostles is, it’s amazing that today there is so little understanding of it. Actually, God offers more thoughts and examples in the New Testament on the subject of apostles than He does on the subject of elders. The word "elder/s" is used about 20 times. The word "apostle/s" or "apostleship" is used over 80 times. Whole chapters and major portions of New Testament books include examples of apostles. There are almost no examples of men that were only elders, prophets, evangelists or even pastors and teachers. In fact, the gift of being an apostle is considered in the New Testament as the most important gift. (l Corinthians 12:28). Apostles are mentioned by name in the New Testament more than men with any other of the gifts. There are only four prophets named, one evangelist and one teacher. By comparison, about 28 apostles are mentioned by name. About half are mentioned before Pentecost; the other half are mentioned after Pentecost. This further underscores the importance of this foundational ministry. The first century Christians had less time to muddle up their theology, so we may discover in heaven that this was another of those simple, but misunderstood or neglected doctrines that helped the first century Christians reach the whole world with the gospel while modern Christianity continues to miss by 50 percent.
What is an apostle? The word in Greek literally means "sent one," one sent on a mission. The Greek word is apostolos, which comes from the words apo, which means "from" and stello, which means "to send."
In New Testament times, "apostle" was not an uncommon word, and it was not only used in Christian vocabulary. Apostle was used by both believers and non-believers to refer to someone sent on a mission. Through years of theological use an aura has developed around the word that never entered the mind of first century pagans or Christians.
The word "apostle" is not uncommon, but what makes it unique in Christianity is of Whom one is an apostle. In simplest terms, if a mother sent her son to the store to get some butter, the boy would be an apostle of his mother. In this case, the mission would be to get butter. However, to be an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, on His mission is unique — there is no other sender like Him and no other mission like His.
Remember, there is nothing special in the word itself. We have many apostles today, even in the Christian sense. The irony is that they are not called by the Greek name, apostle, but the Roman Catholic, Latin-derived name, missionary. "Missionary" is the Latin word for apostle. It’s simply a game of semantics. If we have missionaries today, then we have apostles. If we don’t have apostles today, then we don’t have missionaries. Call them by their Greek name or call them by their Latin name, but they’re still "sent ones", on a mission.
If there are apostles today, is there a difference between the apostles of the New Testament and twentieth century apostles? There are three categories of apostles. First, The Apostle, Jesus (Hebrews 3:1). He was the Sent One from the Father. Second, the twelve apostles (Luke 6:13). They were commissioned personally by the Lord Jesus Himself. Third, all others that are sent out by the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:2). This would include Paul, Barnabas, Silas, Timothy and many others recorded in the Scriptures, as well as those "sent out" today by the Holy Spirit.
The Father directly commissioned One. The Son directly commissioned some. The Holy Spirit has directly commissioned thousands, and is still recruiting and sending today.
What are the primary differences between the three categories of apostles? The Supreme Apostle, (Hebrews 3:1), Jesus, is unique in that He was commissioned by the Father; He was God; He was sinless; He was a sacrifice for sin to purchase the church by His own blood. The twelve apostles (Mark. 3: 13,14) are unique in that they were commissioned by the Son; they were direct, physical witnesses of the life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ; they were with Jesus from the beginning to the end and laid the foundation of the church. All other apostles (Acts 13:2-4) are unique in that they are commissioned by the Holy Spirit; they are witnesses of the Lord Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit and are laying the foundations of local churches throughout the world until the end of the age.
These, then, are the primary distinctions between the three categories of apostles. However, there is much they have in common: their commitment to bring glory to the Father and to seek and save the lost the world over, in every age. Also, their lifestyle, their character, their total devotion and commitment, their sacrifice of all in order to fulfill God’s purpose. These things we can and must imitate.
The following verses show that there are many more apostles than just the Twelve
or Paul, that is, there are many apostles who fit into the third category:
Paul and Bamabas — Acts 14:4,14
Andronicus — Romans 16:7
Junias — Romans 16:7
Paul and Apollos — 1 Corinthians 4:6,9
Other apostles — 1 Corinthians 9:5
Lord’s brothers — 1 Corinthians 9:5
Titus — 2 Corinthians 8:23
James — Galatians 1:19
Epaphroditus — Philippians 2:25
Silas —— 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2:7
Timothy — 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2:7
We — Romans 1:5
Corinthians — 1 Corinthians 1:7; 12:28
All the apostles (different than the twelve) — 1 Corinthians 15:5,7
Your apostles (different than Peter & the twelve) — 2 Peter 3:2
False apostles in Corinth (contrasted with true) — 2 Corinthians 11:13
False apostles in Ephesus (contrasted with true) — Revelation 2:2
Reason to assume even more not named — 1 Corinthians 12:28,31; Ephesians 4:11
Women might also be included in the third category of apostles. There is no scriptural reason to assume that any and all the gifts are available less to women than they are to men. No place where gifts are mentioned does it even suggest a distinction in gender: male versus female gifts. We see women with the "greater" gifts (Acts 21:9; 1 Corinthians 11:5). Of course their role is different (1 Timothy 2:12; 3:1; Titus 2:4).
In Romans 16:7 "Junias" in some translations is spelled "Junia," which is feminine. From a purely lexical point of view the individual referred to may have been a woman. If this is the case, she would have been considered a woman apostle. Some history records Mary Magdalene as a woman apostle. Euodia in Philippians 4:2,3 could suggest the same. In fact, her name in Greek means "fine traveling" or "to help on the road." Note the presence of women as an integral part of the apostolic team in Luke 8:1-3.
The writing of revelation which comprises the New Testament not necessarily a requirement for being an apostle. Most of the apostles (i.e. Timothy, Barnabas, etc.) left no revelation, in fact, most of the Twelve left none. On the other hand, there are books in the New Testament that were written by men who were never called apostles — Mark, Luke, Acts, Jude, and possibly Hebrews.
The passing away of the sign gifts does not signal the passing away of apostles. If so, evangelists would also be done away with. For example, Philip was an evangelist and he performed miracles (Acts 8:6; 21:8).
There is no Biblical basis for assuming apostles are not for today. Simply, no verse says they have been done away with. Peter said he was an elder (1 Peter 1:5). Would that mean elders are done away with also? Saints performed miracles. Are they done away with? The Scripture clearly reveals things that are done away with. For instance, there are verses that clearly show the completion of the old covenant and the beginning of the new. However, there are no verses that throw out the gift of apostles or any of the other gifted men in Ephesians 4:11. Quite the contrary, these men possessed the most important gifts. Much of the N.T. is devoted to men such as these.
There is certainly no less need for men like this today. If the Christian church had not had apostles throughout the ages, there would have been no expansion, no churches, no moving into new territory and countries. That’s what apostles do. If there were no apostles, there would have been no Wesley, no Whitefield. Call them what you will — evangelists, missionaries — but if they weren’t doing the work of apostles, much of what has been accomplished could not have been accomplished.
If we are to see local churches built up and Ephesians 4:12 carried out today, we cannot throw away any of Ephesians 4:11. Maybe that’s why all too often verse 12 is lacking...we’re moving only half throttle on verse 11. If we would like to see verse 12 better fulfilled, we had better fulfill verse 11.
The same held true with the sign gifts (i.e. attesting miracles). These were special miracles intended primarily for Jews (1 Corinthians 1:22) to introduce, attest and verify the Messiah and the new covenant — God in you, the hope of glory. Miracles were not performed exclusively by apostles. Therefore, the revelations and the signs (attesting miracles) were unique, not necessarily to a particular group of leaders, but to a particular time and purpose in history, both of which are now past.
A scriptural understanding and identification of New Testament apostles will help eliminate superficial and/or false apostles. It will eliminate the need to come up with our own man-made organization to do God’s work. Unfortunately, many Christians have developed their own man-made structures because they have assumed apostles are not for today’s church. As a result, they have no New Testament instruction for national or international organization.
An understanding of apostles eliminates having unclear direction for reaching nations and the world. It eliminates being ineffective in foundation work and not knowing the best (i.e. New Testament) way of starting churches. Certain church problems cannot be solved without a proper understanding of apostles, and they become even worse when they are remedied in an unbiblical way. An understanding of apostles aids in having national and international cooperation, coordination and unity, that is, having a national/international spiritual impact, the greatest world impact possible.
The practical necessity of having apostles becomes ever so apparent to those who are full time in the job of reaching a nation, and even more, the world. Let us not be afraid of using the term "apostle" or doing the work of an apostle any more than we would shy away from using the term "elder" or doing the work of an elder. As necessary as elders are for the existence of an effective and united local work, so are apostles necessary for an effective and united national or international work to exist, as well as for starting local works.
Is God only interested in believers that meet in the same building being visibly united? Or does God want visible unity and active cooperation on a broader scale? Does God want Christians in one country to help Christians in another country?
In the New Testament we see Christians from one part of the world being webbed together by the apostles to help the Christians in another part of the world, Judea (2 Corinthians 8 & 9). Think of the spiritual impact they had on the world — whole countries of Christians rallying to help other countries. Did that just happen? No, it took apostles. It could not have happened otherwise. This, along with many other examples, was the reason even heathen historians were writing "how much those Christians love each other!"
Sadly, today the best model for this national/international unity is communism. The devil is no dummy, he knows the Bible! As the Great Deceiver, he uses this very principle of unity to give appeal to communism, while he simultaneously deceives Christians into thinking it is unbiblical.
The main question is, "Does God really want to do today what He did in the in the first century?" If He does, and we pull out apostles, it is like pulling the wheels off a bicycle and expecting it to be as effective riding on the hubs. You will never go as fast, as good or as far. You can have a bigger horn, better seat, giant frame; it may be bigger and better in many ways, but it will not win the race.
The Christian church has lost the race every generation except the first. We should not be afraid to get back to what they had and how they did it. As Revelation says, "Return to your former works."
To summarize some of the purpose of apostles: To spread the faith, to start local churches, to maintain a visible, active love and unity with churches across a nation and from nation to nation. To do this would involve meeting physical needs, helping spiritual progress and expansion, doing some spiritual trouble shooting and, in general, advancing the kingdom of God.
If the work of an apostle could be summed up in one word, that word would be "Paul["], the apostle Paul and all he did. Other than what we have already indicated as unique for the time (writing revelation and performing signs for the Jews), what did Paul do? We cannot believe we can or will do today what was done in the first century if we don’t have "apostle Pauls." Most of what we read about the first century church centers around Paul and his imitators.
It is completely unrealistic to assume the church will ever reach much more than 50 percent of the world with the gospel (its present track record) if we miss, intentionally or unintentionally, the whole work of apostles. They were the highest examples then and should be today (1 Corinthians 4). We need revolutionary examples today!
It would be good to say more about the apostles’ purpose but that would require going through most of the New Testament, covering particularly the life of Paul. What is their purpose today? What was Paul’s purpose? Almost all the New Testament church example is made up of Paul’s work, influence and example. We desire New Testament reality, but ignore or maybe fight against New Testament men. That’s like challenging people to form top notch hospitals across the land, but opposing the existence of doctors.
If this issue is faced honestly, there will be one of two results. We will either enthusiastically accept and obey the example of New Testament apostles, or we will lower the New Testament standard. Most Christians have, knowingly or unknowingly, done the latter. If we want to accomplish the same purpose today as they accomplished in the first century, then it is absolutely necessary that we have apostles today — apostle Pauls.
Since 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11 indicate that being an apostle is a gift, let us briefly look at the subject of gifts. First, what are the two categories of gifts? All the gifts mentioned in the New Testament (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Eph. 4) are condensed into two categories in 1 Peter 4:11, "Whoever speaks...whoever serves." There are "speaking" gifts and "serving" gifts.
Do not be mistaken, however, and think that using a "speaking" gift would not be a service. Any gift used for the good of the body of Christ is a service. Peter makes this clear in the previous verse, "Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others..." (1 Peter 4:10).
Actually, both Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians 12 also show this clear distinction between "speaking" and "serving" gifts. 1 Corinthians 12:28 numbers the speaking gifts. All the rest are unnumbered. In verse 31 it calls these speaking gifts the "greater gifts." Ephesians 4:11 lists all the speaking gifts by name and then does not mention the serving gifts by name but refers to them in the next verse in a general sense as gifts "for the work of service," (exercising these serving gifts as Peter admonished). "The work of service" in verse 12 cannot refer to the speaking gifts, since they were already referred to in the previous verse. Rather, the speaking or greater gifts are shown here to be for the purpose of "equipping the saints for the work of service to the building up of the body of Christ."
It helps, then, to see the gifts as the Scripture reveals them, in two primary categories — speaking and serving. In Ephesians 4:11-12, however, the speaking gifts are referred to as being for the purpose of "equipping." Therefore, the speaking gifts could also be referred to as the "equipping" gifts.
So we see Peter making two primary distinctions between the gifts — speaking and serving. Paul reaffirms these two distinctions.
In Corinthians, Paul calls the speaking gifts the "greater" gifts. In Ephesians, Paul shows the speaking gifts to be "equipping" gifts. Corinthians speaks of their value — greater. Ephesians speaks of their purpose — equipping. Peter speaks of their mode — speaking.
Second, does every Christian have a gift? Yes, at least one. Again, 1 Peter 4: 10 makes that clear: "As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another..."
Every Christian will have at least one gift, some may have more. Since every Christian may not have more than one gift, especially new Christians, the word "gift" in 1 Peter 4:10 is singular. That way, the verse is sure to apply to everyone. However, we know scripturally that every believer can have more than one gift. We know Timothy had more than one gift (1 Timothy 4:14 and 2 Timothy 1:6), yet Paul tells him to "kindle afresh the gift (singular)..." (2 Timothy 1:6). Paul no doubt was referring to one of the greater gifts which Timothy had. We will look at this later. At any rate, 1 Peter 4:10 makes it clear every Christian has a gift, and not only that they have one, but that they should use it. 1 Corinthians 12:7 also indicates that each Christian has a gift. Again, the purpose is to help others.
Don’t feel hampered in using your gift if you’re not sure what it is. Peter didn’t seem to be concerned about this. Whether you are aware of it or not, you probably will be using and developing whatever gift you have as you obey God and serve others. Don’t get the cart before the horse. In fact, don’t worry about the cart. Get the horse going, (i.e. start serving)! If you keep the horse going you will eventually recognize what cart (i.e. gift) it is pulling. The goal is service.
Third, can a Christian have more than one gift? Yes, Timothy had more than one (1 Timothy 4: 14 and 2 Timothy 1:6). Paul and Barnabas had more than one gift (2 Timothy 1:11; Acts 13:1; Acts 14:4; 1 Corinthians 14:18). Paul encouraged Christians to "desire" and "pray for" additional gifts (1 Corinthians 12:31; 1 Corinthians 14:1,5,12,13,39). The Scripture makes it clear that Christians can certainly acquire additional gifts.
Fourth, do Christians receive any speaking gifts when they first get saved? The Scripture does not say directly, but it says enough to assume not.
In 1 Peter 4: 10, every Christian is commanded to use his gift — not next year, but we should always obey immediately. Now, if new Christians got any of the speaking gifts when they were first saved, this is possibly what could happen: two new converts could set themselves up as pastor/teacher of the church, since they have the pastor/teacher gift in Ephesians 4:11! Or, are they evangelists? (I did not say witnesses.) Here come five more new converts. They are prophets; they have the gift. They demand even greater influence over the church. Finally, we see ten more new converts. They have the gift of apostles. They also should obey. They are to use their gift. They are to GO!?? Well, at least we won’t have any problem with those new converts. The day after they got saved someone showed them 1 Peter 4:10 and they left the country! Well, at least they were obedient.
It seems most reasonable that the greater gifts come later in a Christian’s life. That would also make sense in light of Paul encouraging the Corinthians to desire the greater gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:31 and all through chapter 14. We’ll deal with this subject more later.
Since new Christians are probably not spiritually born with any of the greater or equipping gifts, it is no wonder that so few Christians ever raise up to be pastor/teachers, and even fewer to be evangelists, prophets and apostles. Those who do, first desired it. Think what could happen if we encouraged everyone to desire it. Witnessing isn’t thought of as something inappropriate for most believers; yet many believers don’t witness. That is why even fewer, far too few, acquire the equipping gifts.
Fifth, what are the greater gifts? We have touched on this, but a little more may be said. "And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administration, various kinds of tongues...But earnestly desire the greater gifts." The greater gifts would be those that are mentioned first, second and third. Peter referred to them as the speaking gifts (1 Peter 4:11), and as we have already seen, Paul sets them off in Ephesians 4:11, adding one other, evangelist, and a broader definition of the third one, pastor/teacher. Again, in Ephesians 4:11 they might be referred to as the equipping gifts. In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul again refers to them (and especially the gift of prophecy) as being more important (1 Corinthians 14:1). So the greater gifts are the speaking or equipping gifts. It is important to identify them, if in fact we are to "earnestly desire" them.
Sixth, should every Christian earnestly desire the greater gifts? If you just read the Bible, and didn’t get outside interference, you probably would never ask such a question — especially if you read the Bible with the purpose of looking for things to obey. 1 Corinthians 12:31 says, "But earnestly desire the greater gifts." If such a question did come to a man after God’s own heart, the least he would think is, "Well, I don’t know about anyone else, but I am going to do it; I am going after those greater gifts."
Believe it or not, there are arguments against this approach, and in order to be honest, we need to look at them. The arguments I have heard include: "Where would the body be if everyone in a church had all the gifts?" But, that is not what we have said; that is not what the Bible says. It does not say to desire all the gifts; on the contrary, the Scripture does not instruct us to desire the gifts that are not greater. That was the problem in Corinth. They were evidently seeking and abusing the spectacular sign gifts — tongues, etc. Instead, Paul was saying, be jealous for the greater gifts.
What if all the body had the greater gifts? Great! It would surely be a strong body. But, some argue, "What about the body analogy?" Analogies are used to reveal one primary point. It is doctrinally unsafe to assume much more. For example, look at the "Unjust Judge" parable in Luke 18. It can not be applied to prayer effectively if we make the analogy "across the board," because then we would have to say that our Judge, God, is unjust like the judge. This is true with every metaphor in the New Testament.
Therefore, the body analogy in 1 Corinthians 12 should not be used to apply to gifts, but rather what it was primarily intended for, to illustrate the need for love, respect and harmony among Christians. To read more implications into it results in unbiblical interpretations and conclusions.
For example, if we overextend the body analogy, no person could have more than one gift. No physical body would ever have two noses or two left arms would it? Yet, it is unquestionably scriptural that men in the New Testament had more than one gift. Keep in mind that if everyone did have the greater gifts, everyone would still maintain their varied serving gifts. If we continue to assume everyone in a particular church has the greater gifts, would everyone be alike? l Corinthians 12:4-6 indicates there will be as much, if not more, variety in the body from "varieties of ministries" and "varieties of effects" as it does from "varieties of gifts."
There are three general areas in which we have variety in the body — in gifts, in ministries and in effects. Gifts cause only one-third of the variety in the body. The problem is, we tend to look at gifts with tunnel vision and with stereotypes and we don’t recognize the same gift in two different individuals because of the variation of effects or ministries. We each have our own stereotype of teachers — the systematic, outline, methodical, overhead projector man. Then there’s the evangelist — the fiery, charismatic, dynamic, good looking, "personality man." If a person doesn’t fit our particular stereotype they don’t have that gift. I think we will be shocked to meet Paul. He probably wouldn’t have qualified to be a teacher in many churches or an evangelist for most evangelistic organizations. Yet he obviously was not lacking a gift in either of these areas.
Look at two men, Billy Graham — most would say he is an evangelist — and Bill Bright — he doesn’t fit the Billy Graham/James Robison evangelist mold. Yet, is he an evangelist? Certainly, but his "ministry" (i.e. service, channel) is different. Graham’s channel or service is usually the big crusades. Bright’s channel or service is the group-training, organizational, Four Laws program. Their "varied ministry" has indeed been varied. Yet they have the same gift. What about "varied effects?" Graham’s effect is a more emotional, moving one. Bright’s effect is a more simple, logical quiet effect. They each have a different "effect," yet both have the gift of an evangelist. Only heaven will reveal which man has done more as an evangelist using his gifts in the way he has. So, men who have the same gift will manifest that gift as differently as Billy Graham and Bill Bright do. Don’t view gifts on the basis of stereotyped effects or ministries. Rather, view God’s gifts through "the manifold grace of God" (1 Peter 4:10).
Now let’s look again at this question, "What if all the body had the greater gifts?" Maybe you can say now, "No problem! Great! I now see there would still be great variety because of the ‘varied ministries and effects' " Good. However, it won’t ever happen, even if everyone earnestly desires that it would. You say, "Why, because God won’t let everyone have them?" No, not necessarily. It would be fantastic if 100 percent of the saints all the time were hot for God’s best. It’s more likely, though, that some saints will fall short at any given time.
So, the answer is ‘no‘ for two reasons. First, because some will not be that committed. Second, let’s suppose the best — everyone, all the time, in a particular church earnestly desires the greater gifts, and therefore all get them! Is that a problem? No. To begin with, they would not all get them at the same time. It was well over a decade from the time Paul was saved and the time he was appointed an apostle, and got the gift of apostleship.
Here’s a scenario: a little church of 50, with five in the church who have become evangelists. Assuming they’re really doing their job, not to speak of the other 45 believers witnessing, the church could easily grow to be several hundred. If the church had seemed to be lopsided, with five evangelists and 50 believers, it would not appear that way for very long, since hundreds of new ones would eventually be added. In other words, true "equippers" will never produce a lopsided church, but only a growing church. Then remember, those with the gift of apostleship would be spreading to other territories, continually thinning out the men with the greater gifts. This is called multiplication.
Not having this vision for multiplication may be one of the primary reasons Christians have still not covered the earth with the gospel. We have this vision as it applies to our physical families. God said, "be fruitful and multiply." Why? So we could physically cover the earth (Genesis 1:28). It has worked with physical families; people have covered the earth. God wants us to do it in our spiritual family, as well.
Can you imagine parents telling their children, "less than one percent of the children on the earth today are to grow up, get married and leave their own family. Children, we hope you are a part of the wonderful calling of the one percent." What a repressive family that would be! The family tree would be as dwarfed as the Church family tree is in the world today.
So, why won’t a church end up with all its people having the greater gifts (i.e. speaking or equipping gifts)? Because as a direct result of people getting the greater gifts many, many more will be added. There would be constant multiplication. A child does not have to grow up before his parents can have another child. In addition, apostles would be leaving. The saints with the greater gifts would continually be in the minority.
This may be the only way the world can be reached with the gospel in this generation. God never did miracles where the disciples could possibly do something themselves. He multiplied the fish and loaves. They had to hand it out. He raised Lazarus. They had to unwrap him. God will do the miracles to fulfill the Great Commission (through us) if we will only get the vision! The New Testament Christians were doing this; there is no other way they could have had such a multiplying expansion (1 Thessalonians 1:7,8).
Another argument against desiring the greater gifts is, the Spirit gives them as He will, not as you desire. Certainly the Lord is the one that gives them, and as He wills. However, if God tells us to desire them, does it really matter whether we have an answer for the argument or not? We must obey whether we understand the mystery of God’s ways or not. Couldn’t God will to give the greater gifts to those who desire them, those who love Him enough to in simple faith believe and obey 1 Corinthians 12:31?
Isn’t this the same principle as the "whoever will" and "election" principle? In other words, God commands all men to seek Him. Isn’t it interesting that those who do, He has chosen from the beginning (Ephesians 1:4). "Seek and you shall find," Jesus said. This principle is seen throughout the Bible — God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. It would not be inconsistent to assume the same to be true here. Don’t worry about God’s part. You do all you can. You do your part. You may be amazed how much God has willed for you.
ONE AND ALL
Another argument against encouraging every Christian to desire the greater gifts is, "This is for the ‘church in general’ and not for every individual." They would be more honest to say the "church in partial" instead of the "church in general." Even assuming the "church in general" argument to be true, it would not rule out any individual in the church from desiring the gifts. Some in the church would have to desire them in order for the verse to be obeyed by the "church in general." If some are to desire the greater gifts, how can you assume that you are not in that number? How can anyone in the church say it is for the "church in general" and therefore conclude they do not need to or should not, desire the greater gifts. What if they are one of the chosen ones? If one person can justifiably have that thinking, then so can everyone. If everyone had that thinking, then the verse would be disobeyed and unfulfilled. In other words, even taking the "church in general" argument in the way it is used would relieve no one in the church from the responsibility of desiring the greater gifts. If you understand this point and you are honest, it makes absolutely no difference whether you believe 1 Corinthians 12:31 applies to the "church in general" or to every individual member of the body of Christ. Either way, no member of the church could say it does not apply to them. Only if you’re not a part of the "church in general" could you say such a thing.
This should be sufficient, yet some people say, if the "church in general" (i.e. some) gets these gifts, then the command is fulfilled, and that is all that is meant by the verse. They reason that the church in Corinth did not have men with these gifts and the "church in general" was to desire them for their church in general. But that is not true. The ‘church in general‘ in Corinth already had men with these gifts, every gift, for that matter ( l Corinthians 1:7). Actually, this confirms that God was not satisfied with the church in general (only some) getting the greater gifts. That had already happened. As a church in general they were already "rich" in them (1 Corinthians 1:5-7).
He wanted everyone in the church to desire those greater gifts, those gifts that did the most for edifying (1 Corinthians 12:31; 14:1,4,5,12,31,39). Don’t forget, the greater gifts are greater because in a greater way (in quality and quantity) they edify the church. This is the whole point! Greater gifts equals greater edification! How can there be any argument about God not wanting this for the church and for you...to be better edified and to edify better. How can any Christian that loves the Lord (John 21:15-17) and his fellow believer not desire what will be most edifying...whether it is commanded or not?
The "church in general" argument breaks down again when we see the same word, "you" is used twice — for desiring the greater gifts as well as for loving others. "...and I show you a still more excellent way" (1 Corinthians 12:31). The more excellent way is love! Let me ask, is love for the "church in general" (i.e. for some, but not all)? God forbid! Everyone in the church must desire to excel in love!
The same thing is said again in reference to the greater gifts and love in 1 Corinthians 14:1 "Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy." If someone takes liberty to interpret these verses to say love is for all and the greater gifts are for only some Christians, then someone else could just as correctly take liberty to say that the greater gifts are for all and love is only for some. We must be consistent, especially within the context of individual verses. To be consistent, we must either interpret love for some and greater gifts for some, or love for all and greater gifts for all. You make the choice.
When you apply the whole argument to 1 Corinthians 14, where the greater gifts — teaching and especially prophesying — are referred to many times, there can be no mistake — the verses are for one and all (1 Corinthians 14:1,5,12,24,31,39).
This argument that only some Christians are to desire the greater gifts breaks down in many ways. There is no end to the problems when we assume verses are meant for a few to obey but not all, unless the Scripture clearly indicates such. In this case it definitely does not.
Another argument against every Christian desiring the greater gifts is that it would be impractical. The reasoning behind this viewpoint is that as more believers get the gift of apostleship and are moving into other countries, etc. there will not be enough people to stay back and support them. Who would support so many going out? O my, O my, what a "problem!" Pray to God such a "problem" would happen! Jesus commanded, "Pray the Lord of the harvest for laborers" not supporters. The harvest is plenteous, the laborers are few. Even so, if everyone obeyed the Scripture to "earnestly desire the greater gifts," while it is true we would have multitudes of missionaries, i.e. apostles, we would even more so have increasing multitudes of supporters. If there are more parents in the world, there will be more children. Likewise with more spiritual parents, i.e. apostles, there will be more new Christians, i.e. supporters. Not addition, but multiplication is the key to world evangelization. With this vision of the Lord there is multiplication "across the board."
Some people argue that it is impractical for everyone to desire the greater gifts because some men have spent much money and a good part of their life to build a successful secular career that they could use for the Lord. It would be impractical to give that up. Indeed they could, should and must use their career for the Lord! But not when the Lord of heaven has given them some of His greater gifts. His gifts are to be used (1 Peter 4:10)! They would now be gifted to do equipping work for the business of God, His church! Ephesians 4:11,12 also commands such men to use their gifts! These men are to be given to build up the body of Christ. We should fear to give any less work to Him than we would to a secular career. We certainly see no New Testament example of gifted men doing that. The apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastor/teachers, the men that had the equipping gifts, worked day and night for the advancement of the kingdom of God. Such gifted men must do no less today.
Those that still feel their earthly career could do more for God than a spiritual career (that is, men with the equipping gifts), should look at these men: Moses — nationally influential, on his way to international influence and leadership; Barnabas — wealthy real estate owner; Peter — large fishing business with other employees; Paul — top young political leader and educator, possibly next in line after the aging "Dr." Gamaliel for chancellor at JU; Jesus — well-established family carpentry business; Luke — physician; Zenas — noted lawyer. In addition, consider more contemporary men such as Billy Sunday and C.T. Studd — top athletes; BiH Bright — successful restaurant businessman.
All of these, when they were gifted to build God’s people, left their most successful natural career opportunity for greater eternal success. Was this the best? Had they chosen otherwise, maybe they would have spent the rest of their lives helping in the church on the weekend. But you or I would have never heard of them. World history would not have been altered. Have we forgotten the words of our Lord in Luke 18:18-30 or Luke 14:33, to "forsake all"‘? If you qualify to be an army officer, it matters not how impractical it seems to leave all; you leave all and help lead the army. In war, there is no other way to win. And, my brothers, we are in a war. You may lose your career at home, but you will win the war! That is far better than keeping the career and losing the war, for then both will be lost!
"He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose." Is what you’re living for, worth what Christ gave up everything for? President Reagan has coined this motto, though for a far less worthy cause, "If not now, when? If not here, where? If not us, who?" (Stop, ponder these thoughts before reading on.)
GETTING THE GREATER GIFTS
How do we get the greater gifts? First, we must "earnestly desire" them (1 Corinthians 12:31). The word "desire" is a strong word in itself. If you desire something, you will be motivated to be and do that which you would never otherwise be or do. There probably are not many things that, if you have truly continued to desire it, you have not somehow acquired it. To desire something motivates! There may be only one other verse in the New Testament that tells us directly to desire something — 1 Peter 2:2, "desire the sincere milk of the Word..." Indeed, if we do not obey this verse, we will be in spiritual trouble.
Some people have said that telling people to desire the "greater gifts" could put them into bondage. It doesn’t put people into bondage to tell them what the Scripture says; bondage is a result of not knowing or doing what the Scripture says. Even if some people feel "in bondage" with having a quiet time or they read the Scripture under legalism, it would be counterproductive to stop encouraging them to obey 1 Peter 2:2. Certainly 1 Peter 2:2 is no more inspired than 1 Corinthians 12:31, and should be given no more encouragement to be obeyed than the verse in Corinthians.
In fact, because this principle has been ignored by the church in this age, we are suffering the result: we do not see missionaries, i.e. apostles, covering the earth. How the devil will continue to delight if we continue to misunderstand, relegate to the first century or plain ignore 1 Corinthians 12:31! And remember, 1 Corinthians 12:31 is not the only verse that says to desire the greater gifts. Essentially the same thing is said several times in 1 Corinthians 14 every time it encourages believers to get any of the greater gifts (1 Corinthians 14:1, etc.).
The command in 1 Corinthians 12:31 is actually much stronger than even that of 1 Peter 2:2 — 1 Peter 2:2 says "desire,‘ 1 Corinthians 12:31 says, "earnestly desire." Actually, 1 Peter 2:2 and, for that matter, all Scripture, will more automatically be obeyed if 1 Corinthians 12:31 is obeyed. 1 Corinthians 12:31 is certainly one of the strongest positive admonishments for believers in the New Testament. The word "desire" is strong, but to add "earnestly" to it more than puts the icing on the cake. The word comes from zeloo in the Greek, "to have zeal." Its root in Greek is zeo, which means "hot, to boil, fervid." I don’t know how God could have made it any plainer or said it any stronger — get burning hot for the greater gifts! God wants to build, build, build, His church! If we are not red hot for the greater gifts, we’ll miss His goals by a thousand miles. We need prophets — the top edifiers, church builders.
Second after hot desire is prayer. In 1 Corinthians 14:13 Paul exhorts believers to pray for the gift to interpret if they already spoke in tongues. Therefore, prayer is seen as one way God is moved to give gifts. This verse, 1 Corinthians 14:13, presents a problem to those who say, "We cannot affect if, and, or what gifts God will give us." Or to those who say, "God will not give a Christian any more gifts than what he already possesses." In this verse Paul exhorts the Corinthians to pray for a gift! Oh yes, God gives gifts, if, when, and how He wants to; but, God’s character is to "grant the desire of the righteous" and answer the "effectual fervent prayer of the upright." Hallelujah! So, from 1 Corinthians 14:13, we see we should pray for gifts.
The third key to obtaining the greater gifts is humility. Godly, earnest desire and prayer will generate true brokenness and humility. Humility is the bottom line, the last rung on the ladder. Grace always springs from humility. "Grace" and "gifts" come from the same Greek word. Grace is choris, and gift is chorizomar. The difference is slight. It is like a father who lets his son use the car when he needs it. That is grace. Then when the son gets more mature and the father may give his son the car. That’s a gift. Grace is giving, gift is given. "But He gives a greater (and more) grace. Therefore it says, ‘God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble’ " (James 4:6). Be humble. God proportions out grace accordingly. And He has greater grace and gifts to give.
Grace ties right in with gifts. In fact, Paul indicates that himself two out of the three times he talks about gifts. "And since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us..." (Romans 12:6). "But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift" (Ephesians 4:7).
The word "apostleship" and "grace" are used synonymously in Galatians 2:8,9. James says we can still get more and greater grace, therefore, more and greater gifts. How? "God gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5).
How can we become humble? To be humble is to obey (Philippians 2:8). To be humble and obey produces faith (Habakkuk 2:4, Romans 12:6, James 2:22). To be humble (obey and believe) brings grace (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5). To be humble (obey and believe) brings grace, which results in gifts (Romans 12:6, Ephesians 4:7). James 4:6, "But He gives a greater grace" is consistent with 1 Corinthians 12:31. The fact that you can get more grace substantiates that you can get more gifts. Since God has more and greater grace to give you it’s easy to see that He has more and greater gifts to give you. The key...humility! Humility equals grace which equals gifts. So the more you earnestly desire the greater gifts, the more you will actually become broken and humble.
We receive the greater gifts as a result of earnest desire, prayer, . and humility. Some believers feel that they could never be an apostle. That just isn’t in keeping with their personality. They feel they don’t have that make-up or ability. Such believers are "bewitched" like the Galatians, "You foolish Galatians who has bewitched you...this is the only thing I want to find out from you. Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?"
Of course you could never be an apostle, prophet, evangelist! Never in a million years with your own flesh, any more than you could have gotten yourself saved. God is saying, "That’s why they are gifts! I give them to you! It’s grace! It’s favor! It’s a gift! Oh dear child, will you only earnestly desire, pray, and be broken? That’s all I ask of you. I will do the rest."
Now, just a word about the gift of prophecy. There are only two verses that I have ever heard anyone refer to suggesting prophets might not be for today. One is in 2 Peter 2:1. Though the verse does not say there are no prophets today, some people say it implies it. First, if Peter was trying to give us a clue that there were to be no more prophets of any kind any more this would have been very evasive, quite unlike the character of Peter, or for that matter, the character of God. And, this subject is certainly one he could not be evasive about.
In all of history, God has never been without prophets! With prophets being so much a part of the scene at that time, and always having been, to assume there were to be no more prophets would have been quite a traumatic thing and would have needed definite, direct clarification. It is much easier to understand the verse in light of the context (2 Peter 1:15-21). In 2 Peter 2:1, Peter is referring to the prophets that gave the "the prophecy of Scripture" (2 Peter 1:20), versus those teaching the Scripture. "The prophecy of Scripture" has been completed, now we teach the Scripture. But prophets in general were not ended then, or now. Peter did not say so.
Many years later, John talks about false prophets, which would have been irrelevant if there no prophets at all (1 John 4:1). Should John have said "false teachers" like Peter? No, because Peter was referring to the comparison of the "prophecy of Scripture" and not trying to hint that God is through with prophets altogether. John and the Asian believers knew there were the prophets of God and also those that were false. John was showing how to distinguish the false ones from the true ones.
1 Corinthians 13:8-10 is also referred to in suggesting that prophets are not functioning today. "When the perfect comes" is thought to be referring to the Bible, therefore bringing about the end of prophets. However, some believe the "perfect" to be the Millennium, heaven, or the end. If the later are right then of course there is no problem; prophets would still be legitimate.,[sic] However, in the case of prophets, it may not matter what the word "perfect" means. Did verse eight say that "prophets" or the gift of a prophet would cease? No, but literally "prophecies." The word "gift" is not even in the original texts. If the "perfect" refers to the Scriptures, as in 2 Peter 1:20. "prophecy of Scripture," such "prophecies" would indeed, and did in fact, cease with the completion of the Scriptures. However, this does not apply to prophets in a general sense.
We must realize that the word "prophecy" is used in many ways in the Bible, from revelation, to foretelling future events, to challenge, giving simple encouragement, etc. Prophets have always been used to speak God’s message but only a small percentage were ever used to give the cannon of Scripture. 1 Corinthians 13:8 would have to be understood one way or the other, since prophets were alive at the completion of the cannon (Revelation 22:9). Furthermore, we see John talking about the activity of prophets long into the future, long after the cannon of Scripture was completed, even past our age (Revelation 11:3,10; 16:6; 18:20,24).
1 Corinthians 13:8 is a touchy verse for some believers because they use it to "prove" that the gift of tongues does not exist today. Really this verse presents a weak argument. If they see the theme of 1 Corinthians 14:21,22 and how that theme is consistent throughout the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13:8 is not needed as a "proof" verse.
Why would Paul give so much New Testament admonishment to getting a gift if it was on its way out? Why would he exhort Christians to "earnestly desire the greater gifts" if, in fact, most of the greater gifts would not carry on? Why would the least of all the greater gifts remain and the ones most effective for building the church cease? In addition to that, Ephesians 4:11-13 indicates that these gifts are to be used to build up the body of Christ "until we all attain to the unity of the faith." That verse has not yet been completed.
Like the word "apostle," most of us have a stereotype of prophets, one that may be mystically nice, but far from reality. If Balaam were here today we might be shocked at how fallible this poor prophet was, always having a struggle with materialism (Numbers 22-24). Or the young prophet Elijah, always struggling with the lust of the flesh like so many other young men (James 5:17).
Too, we need to realize that prophets and prophesying were not always connected with supernatural revelation or supernatural foretelling. Of course, with the completion of the Scriptures there would be no more of this type of prophesying and no more need for it. Even in the days of old, most prophecy was not of this nature. W.E. Vine, in his Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words states, "Though much of Old Testament prophecy was purely predictive, prophecy is not necessarily, nor even primarily, foretelling." The word primarily means "forth telling" (pro — forth; phemi — to speak). It meant to effectively speak forth with God’s prophets, the things of God.
The word "prophet" was a common word which was also used to describe unbelievers who were well known or effective speakers (Titus 1:12). Also, Christian prophets were not automatically right in everything they said (1 Corinthians 14:29, 1 Thessalonians 5:20,21). They would have laid out the word of God like a pastor/teacher, yet usually with more effectiveness and directness. They would be able to most effectively communicate to a particular people, at a particular time, from a particular Scripture. They would have been the most mature and had the most effective gift for edifying the church.
We see the more mature men had these gifts (Acts 13:1; Acts 15:32, etc.). With the order of the gifts (1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11), and Paul’s repeated encouragement to desire the gift of prophecy (1 Corinthians 14: 1,39, etc.) it is clear that it is the greatest gift for building and edifying the church.
There are three verses that show the purpose of the gift of a prophet in this age: "And Judas and Silas, also being prophets themselves, encouraged and strengthened the brethren with a lengthy message," (Acts 15:32). "But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation," (1 Corinthians 14:3). "For you can all prophecy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted," (1 Corinthians 14:31). We see nothing of foretelling or revelation in these definitions of a New Testament prophet.
The threefold purpose of prophesying, then, is to edify, exhort and console. There can be no question but what the Church is in dire need of such prophets today!
Prophets are the highest gifted men for equipping and building the church today. In the list of gifts, only apostles are mentioned first, since that gift, in effect, moves the prophets across the globe for the greater advantage of building the body of Christ world wide.
In conclusion, there is much support for the fact that the gift of prophets exists
today. Many of the reasons to support the existence of apostles also apply to the
existence of prophets. In addition, the following list summarizes the specific reasons
the gift of prophets is currently in existence:
1. It’s one of the greater gifts we are exhorted to desire.
2. No verse indicates the gift has ceased.
3. Verses in the book of Revelation show the continued existence of such gifted men.
4. Ephesians 4:11-13 has not yet been completed.
Notice what Dillon says in his book, God is Work in God’s Way: AND SOME, PROPHETS (plural — transient)
1. The definition of a New Testament prophet is given in 1 Corinthians 14:3
a. BUT HE THAT PROPHESIETH SPEAKETH UNTO MEN TO (the "to" is not in the RV)
(1). There is no Scripture showing this office is temporary (Ephesians 4:11-13).
(2). 1 Corinthians 14:31 mentions two results of a New Testament prophet’s ministry: learning (edification) and comfort.
(3). The performance of this gift meets spiritual needs of the hour, the Spirit indicating what portions of the Word are to be used.
b. EDIFICATION (prophets speaking), AND
(1). To edify is to build up by confirming known truths and/or giving Scriptures that will aid in Christian living. This being true, women who prophesy (1 Corinthians 11:5a) do not act as teachers, as is forbidden in 1 Timothy 2:12a.
c. EXHORTATION, AND
(1). One who uses the Word of God to encourage particular Christians to greater spiritual activity, or arouse drowsy believers who are not doing their spiritual duties, is an exhorter.
d. COMFORT (RV — consolation).
(1). One who uses the Word of God to comfort, or console, certain believers, no matter what p their distress or trouble may be, speaks comfort, or consolation.
2. We see nothing of foretelling in this definition of a New Testament prophet. It is interesting to notice that only a small percentage of the 17 Old prophetic books is given to foretelling.
3. A Biblical prophet is a spokesman for another, one who gives out a message which is given to him by the Holy Spirit to suit particular needs at particular times of particular believers. The message is not his own and is based on the Word of God. The Holy Spirit reveals which Scripture is to be presented so as to edify, exhort, or comfort. This is a very practical ministry...
Christians who shy away from the thought of present day apostles usually have an emotional fear more than a theological basis. They’re afraid of the apostles’ authority, or the abuse of it. Why do we fear authority? Is it because we do not like to submit to others? Don’t we believe God has power over all authorities? Don’t we totally give ourselves to God without fear of what He might (through others) do to us or ask or us? We keep a small, self-protective distance. We think we’re freer and safer, but to the degree we’re not under God’s complete authority or His delegated authority, to that degree we are neither freer nor safer, but are under Satan’s authority. We’re slaves of God or of the devil. There’s no middle ground with God.
Many Christians cannot handle this principle because they either were taught an incorrect attitude toward authority or gained a bad perception of authority while growing up. However, note Jesus’ authority over Peter in John 13, "You will not have any part with me if I do not wash your feet." His awesome authority was used to wash Peter’s feet! A trusting attitude toward authority is needed to have any good relationships, whether they be family, husband/wife, or friends.
If we say we are not afraid of the authority of God, but afraid of the authority of man means either we are not being honest, or we are deceived. For God’s authority is exercised over us through people — parents, educational leaders, spiritual leaders, civil leaders, etc. Or, do we believe man is greater than our God? If Joseph would have had that attitude, he would have been so bitter after 13 years in Egypt and its dungeons that he would have "had a cow" instead of interpreted dreams about them. He would have been in no condition for all that God thrust upon him overnight.
We must always realize that God only uses His authority for our good. And, the odds are good that His spiritual delegates who want to imitate Him will do the same. They are not outside His control for better or worse. You say, "What if they do me in?" Remember Joseph! Also, remember 1 Peter 2:18-21. Don’t rob God of your chance, if you are so privileged, to be trained in a dungeon that you might be raised up to affect the world like Joseph.
Now, back to those who are afraid of apostles’ authority. A heathen judge could have you sentenced to death. Yet, most of us don’t leave the country to get away from heathen authority. A heathen could abuse his authority and would certainly be more likely to than a Christian. Nonetheless, some believers seem to fear God’s spiritual men with His delegated authority more than they do unregenerate men. Is it because the bent of the old nature is always there, faith is required to have peace, be thankful and do what is right in God’s eyes? Natural inclinations will tend to wrong thinking. Spiritual inclination will tend to faith. "And whoever believes in Him is never disappointed or put to shame" (Romans 10:11). If I can accept godless civil authority how much more should I be willing, if not delighted, to accept godly spiritual authority!
Well, now that you’re all prepared to accept apostolic authority, let’s look at what authority the apostles actually exercised. We have already seen that Jesus used His authority to wash His disciples' feet — He demanded that they let Him serve them. That’s the first point of authority — authority used to serve. We also see that Paul had authority to receive financial reimbursement for all the spiritual work he was doing (1 Thessalonians 2:7). Even heathen would expect no less than that. Yet, as we look closer, we discover Paul did not exercise that authority. In fact, he later said to the Corinthians, in somewhat a sarcastic way, "Please forgive me that wrong."
In another place the apostles’ authority is mentioned in relation to the power they had in their work to bring people joy (2 Corinthians 1:24). What a thing to exercise authority in! They did their work, not to lord over, but like the Lord Jesus, to serve.
Another area of authority was to reprove sin. Some Christians might respond, "Oh, no!" But who wouldn’t want that? Only those saints that are not walking in the light. "For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good" (Romans 13:3-4). If this principle is true for even heathen authority, how much more is it true for God’s spiritual order of authority (Hebrews 13:17)? "The doing of justice is a joy to the righteous, but to the workers of iniquity it is a calamity," Proverbs says.
Yet even in this good work, to maintain justice and holiness, Paul was patient in using such authority (2 Corinthians 1:23). when [sic] he did exercise it, he was humbled as much or more than the believers he showed his authority over (2 Corinthians 12:21).
No wonder the devil blinds the eyes of the Lord’s people about apostles. If true apostles rose up across the land, our nation would tremble from the fear of unholiness, the fear of God. People would melt as they saw the other aspect of the power of authority, the loving forgiveness of God (Psalm 130:4).
Some will say, "Well, that was Paul. If we could have men like him, no problem. It’s apostles today that I fear." What these people say about apostles today was said about the apostles in the first century, especially Paul (1 Corinthians 4:3,9). Every generation in its time gets abuses. The past generation gets the praises when it’s too late and does no good. And listen, do you think those men had any less of the old nature in them than men do today? Oh, the devil’s theology, to get the Christians thinking that the men of God before them were somehow different or innately better. If we could only resurrect Elijah to yell through the churches today, "I was a man with a nature just like yours!" (James 5:17).
So men today, by the grace of God, which is equally available, can be like those apostles of old. And let us not close the door, even if there is abuse...remember Joseph. We do not want to keep the Josephs of this generation from raising up. Sometimes elders may abuse their authority, too, but we should not cure the problem by eliminating elders. When a parent has misused their authority with a child that is no reason to become anti-parent advocates.
Remember that if an apostle, like any other saint, continues in sin, we are not without recourse. Matthew 18:15-17 is available to every Christian, not to use as a club, but to use to win a brother. Also, since 1 Timothy 5:19-22 is true in reference to elders, it certainly is no less applicable to apostles. According to our study, they would have been elders, also. They had problems in New Testament times with apostles which were handled (Galatians 2:11-21; Acts 15:36-41; 3 John 9-13), but they did not eliminate apostles as a result. The solution was, and is, good apostles! While some elders may not be good, overall it is far better to support elders than have no elders at all. This is no less true with apostles.
Apostles go into new locations, proclaim the Gospel of Christ, lay the foundation of churches and have authority over these churches, as any elders would. But their mission is to see the church mature and local elders raise up. In time, men the Holy Spirit has matured to be overseers should be recognized and appointed by the apostles of that church (Acts 14:21-23; Titus 1:5). Then the apostles could be free, as the Holy Spirit leads, to move on, leaving the authority over that church in the hands of the local appointed elders.
Sometimes for various reasons, the apostles moved on before elders were raised up. But, they still maintained their authority over that church until elders were raised up, and usually they returned to recognize such men (Acts 14:21-23; Titus 1:5). 2 Corinthians 10: 14-16 indicates that the apostles also had influence over those churches that were started by the churches they had seen started.
The apostles never undermined the elders’ authority in the local church. Quite the contrary, they established their authority (Titus 1:5). They were the continual support for their authority (1 Timothy 5:17, etc.). To remove the apostles’ authority is to weaken, if not remove, the elders’ authority. Like the authority of a classroom teacher and a principal — if we strip the authority of the principal, we inevitably strip the authority of the teacher.
Again, the most important ingredient for the church in any age is her apostles. They are the first order of gifts for the church — then and now. Technically, churches would never be founded if there were no apostles. Every age has had them, whether they were called apostles or not. If true apostles were properly understood and welcomed, there would be fewer man-made organizations attempting to do a God-ordained work. Is it possible that this may be one reason why we have fallen short 50 percent in reaching the world with the news of Jesus Christ, while in the first century they were "turning the world upside down"?
Under whose authority are apostles? Everyone should have someone they have to give account to. Whose authority are elders of a local church under? They are subject to the Lord and to their fellow elders. And, in a sense, they are subject to the whole flock. So, too, with apostles. They are subject to the Lord and to their fellow apostles, and to all the flock. In view of this, it is as important for apostles to be loyal and committed to one another as it is for local elders to stay together and work together. Just as it is perilous for one elder to work on his own, so it is for apostles. Apostles, too, must work as a team. We definitely see that example with the New Testament apostles. That is where elders get their example. In all God’s work, where there is "unity...there the Lord commands blessing" (Psalm 133).
How are apostles to be supported? Look at what Paul says:
"Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.
"This is my defense to those who sit in judgement on me. Don’t we have the right to food and drink? Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas? Or is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living?
Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk? Do I say this merely from a human point of view? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? For it is written in the Law of Moses, ‘Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain’ Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more?
But we did not use this right.
Don’t you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel." (1 Corinthians 9:2-12a, 13-14)
Since "God has appointed in the church first, apostles," we assume they should also have financial priority — priority over prophets, evangelists and pastor/teachers. Not only do 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11 indicate this, but New Testament example brings this out also. Look at the 12 apostles in Acts 6:2-6:
"So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.’ This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch a covert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them."
"It would not be right" for apostles to do physical work and neglect spiritual work if anyone else can do the job, even if they are other leaders. These seven men were some of the top men from the Grecian Jewish community, men "full of the Spirit and wisdom." Stephen’s leadership was so spiritually influential that he was the first Christian martyr. Philip, another one of the seven, was a noted evangelist (Acts 21:8). As important as these leading and gifted men were to the work of God, they were not, at least at this point, apostles. So it was better that they work to free the apostles for "prayer and the ministry of the word."
God seems to have honored this principle; it was better for everyone's concern. The very next verse states, "So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith." Nor did it seem to slow down the ministry of the "seven." Because of their humble attitude in putting the orders of the apostles first, even as God does (1 Corinthians 12:28), they became all the more powerful and spiritually influential (1 Timothy 3:13). The Scripture temporarily stops recording what the apostles did and switches to what the "seven" went on to do. Mighty were their deeds, shaking the foundation of Jerusalem.
Paul and his fellow apostles’ examples shed light on this subject of support. Churches that they started contributed to their financial support — Paul remained in Corinth for some time making tents before money finally came from Macedonia and he was again able to give himself full time to preaching (Acts 18:1-5).
Look at Philippians 4: 10-19:
"I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need. Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, and acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus."
It seems from these verses that when Paul "set out" to new territory, the churches he left should have followed him financially. But, at this time only the church in Philippi did. And, a blessed church they were! There will always be special need as apostles move into new areas. Hopefully in time the Christians in the new area would also share with them. However, apostles usually are pressing on the front lines, and may not be in areas very long after churches are completed. So they might not receive as much there as, hopefully, the elders would by being with the more mature church.
Nonetheless, the apostles’ financial support should not stop when they leave a church, any more than physical children should stop honoring their parents and grandparents by sharing with them (1 Timothy 5:4). Paul does not indicate that financial support should stop, even years later and countries away. The church in Philippi is one example of this. Dr. Dwight Pentecost writes, "When the Philippians had joined with other Macedonians in giving the first gift to the apostle Paul, they did not adopt the attitude, now we have discharged our obligation — that’s the end of it. They recognized their obligation to the apostle as a continuing obligation because of the sacrifice that Paul had endured to bring the gospel to them."
The principle is this: any who share the word are to receive from those with whom they share it (Galatians 6:60). This principle certainly would include apostles, unless we want to stop seeing more churches raise up. There is more than plenty to go around if all, or even most, of God’s people are living up to the Word: "Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain." Think about the analogy: If we muzzle the ox, in time, more grain will be lost than saved. Selah.
There is a saying, "Out of sight, out of mind." This could easily happen with apostles, who are usually leading out on the perimeters. For God’s sake, may it not be. For the saints’ sake, may it not be (Philippians 4:17). For the sake of reaching the whole world in this generation, may it never be!
A word in this area for apostles and future apostles, remember, Paul did not usually, if ever, use his right. If the saints did not give it, he did not demand it. He made tents. Sometimes that can be strategic; Aquila and Priscilla were key contacts Paul made while making tents. God works all things together for good.
And a word for all, "Who serves as a soldier at his own expense?" (l Corinthians 9:7). A rough, tough soldier would never think about food. That would be the least important logistic in warfare...until the soldiers run out of it. May God’s army be better organized than Napoleon’s, lest we meet our "Waterloo." To an apostle it was written, "The hard-working farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops. Reflect on what I am saying for the Lord will give you insight into all of this" (2 Timothy 2:6,7).
How does a person become an apostle?
First there must be desire. The same is true of an elder, "If any man desire the work of an overseer." In fact, the same principle is true for most anything you get spiritually, even salvation — "If any man is willing," "If you seek Him with all heart, then you will find Him," etc. 1 Corinthians 12:31 removes any question, ‘But eagerly desire the greater gifts." The gift of apostle was number one on the list. The Amplified says, "Zealously cultivate the greatest..." The Living says, "But try your best to have the more important of these gifts." The King James translation states, "But covet earnestly the best gifts." Mind you, this is no option. This is no suggestion. This is a command!
Now you have finally found something you can, in fact should, covet. In fact, God will give it to you only if you do covet it. From desire comes everything else.
Without question, character is a fundamental qualification for an apostle. I would say character is the second most important area. The best character list for any kind of Christian leadership is found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Paul wrote this to Timothy, who was also a fellow apostle (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2:7). He wrote it so Timothy would know how to recognize and appoint elders in various churches.
The notion that Timothy and Paul were not elders has no scriptural support. The Scripture suggests the contrary. It is incongruous to assume that the man who was charged with the training, recognizing and appointing of elders would not himself be qualified. Certainly he would have had to have these areas well refined in his life, or how could he be qualified to recognize them in others? Why would anyone respect his judgement?
The thinking that Timothy and Paul were not elders is less than spiritually rational. Some unqualified Israelite did not appoint Joshua, but rather Moses, who was certainly his equal, if not his superior, in the job. Moses had been where Joshua was heading. Elijah recognized Elisha. The scriptural pattern is that the individual who had been doing the job and was qualified in it would also do the appointing of another for the same job.
Paul often referred to human logic when the obvious might be missed. Let’s do that now. How many coaches are not qualified for the sport they coach? Can you imagine a doctor telling his patient before an operation not to worry, he was checked out and considered a qualified surgeon by a nice man but one who was never a qualified surgeon himself? Don’t worry?! No man in his right mind would stay on the table. It makes no sense, scriptural or otherwise, that men discipling, recognizing and appointing elders would not be qualified elders themselves.
Timothy is usually thought of as a spiritually younger brother in the Lord. However, there is no scriptural basis (unless someone has a bias against young men) to say he was not an elder, and no doubt a very gifted young man, probably a pastor/teacher, and maybe even an evangelist before Paul even picked him up. It’s hard to assume much less of a person who carried the spiritual reputation in the region that Timothy did (Acts 16:2). Now, as an apostle, he was helping the churches establish elders [(]1 Timothy 5:21,22). In fact, Paul and Barnabas were certainly functioning as elders in the mighty church of Antioch before they were sent out. Timothy was probably doing the same thing. The Twelve in Jerusalem were certainly functioning also as elders in the church there.
Don’t assume the Twelve weren’t elders because they were usually referred to as apostles. Of course they would be referred to by the highest gift, just like President Reagan would most often be referred to as the president even though he is (and sometimes might be referred to as) a public servant. Even though a general would usually be called a general that does not mean he is not a soldier. Apostles were usually referred to as apostles.
Only when Peter was challenging elders did he refer to himself as an elder (1 Peter 5:1). Had he not done this, some may have thought the Twelve apostles were not considered elders. There is no reason not to assume all were elders. In fact, Acts 1:20 removes all question, "...and his office (literally overseer) let another man take." An elder and overseer are the same (Titus 1:6,7). Yet in Acts 15 when both the elders and apostles were mentioned, none of the apostles were referred to as elders. The scriptural example seems to be that apostles were considered an elder and functioning as such (even Paul and Barnabas in Antioch) before ever being sent out as an apostle.
The character of an elder, and the active, real-life "school of eldering" with other elders in at least one or more local churches is certainly a preparatory prerequisite before an individual would be sent out as an apostle. That would also be consistent with the New Testament example. It is also interesting how consistent it is with the order in 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11 concerning the speaking gifts. For example, the gift of teaching is not considered as high as the gift of an apostle. An elder would need to be an able teacher. Later, he may be an apostle.
That leads to a third qualification. Apostles should have success spiritually, i.e. fruitfulness. "By their fruit you shall know them." This principle applies to good or bad fruit. Fruit is sure evidence. There should and will be evidence in their lives of multiplying of spiritual fruitfulness. Deacons are to be "tested" (1 Timothy 3:10). Elders are to have a track record that exceeds deacons. It doesn’t say elders should be tested. More is required of elders — a whole track record, many tests, not a novice. Apostles should have that much more of a fruitful track record.
One may ask, "Why isn’t there a clear list of qualifications for apostles like there is for elders?" There is not a clear list of qualifications for any of the gifts. But that certainly does not mean they do not exist. I believe there is a clear list of qualifications for elders because qualification for the work of overseeing is the bottom line for anyone having spiritual influence and rule. That would include apostles. Anyone regularly using speaking gifts definitely exercises and influences authority with God’s people. If you don’t think so, watch a church divide if the preacher/teacher goes a different direction than the elders that are supposedly ruling.
So the 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 lists would be the bottom line for all leaders. In fact, leaders have to be skilled in teaching before they may be considered qualified for overseeing (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:9). The gift in teaching is the lowest, or it could be considered the first, speaking gift acquired from God (1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11).
Note that in all appointments of elders, the ones doing the appointing always laid their hands on those they were appointing, even as they did to send ones out to the "work" that Paul and Barnabus did. It only makes sense that upon being appointed, or given responsibility for a work, the person would simultaneously get the gift necessary to successfully carry out that responsibility. This is God’s order.
We see hands laid on Timothy by his elders, and at such a time, God gave him the gift for the work (1 Timothy 4:14). Was it when he was appointed as an elder by his fellow elders that he received that gift from God for his new responsibility? Later, we see Timothy receiving another gift from God when Paul laid his hands on him (2 Timothy 1:6). Was the first gift for pastor/teaching when he was appointed an elder? Was the second the gift of apostleship, when Paul laid his hands on him and he was "sent" into Macedonia (1 Thessalonians 3:2)? It was then he was called an apostle for the first time (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2:7).
It’s interesting, as well as consistent, that the first time Paul was called an apostle was shortly after the leaders in Antioch laid their hands on him and "sent" him out to do the work of an apostle (Acts 13:2; 14:4).
The difference between a mature elder and an apostle is that one is still in his local area, while the other has spread geographically. Remember, that is the fundamental meaning of the word apostle. It’s too bad this simple truth has become obscured in the last 2000 years by layered theology. I think the brothers in the frst century, if asked to put it simply, would have said, "apostles are mainly mature elders that have been sent out."
The Scripture does not separate the top gifted men in the church from those who rule (i.e. elders) or those who rule from being the top gifted, any more than it separates bishops from elders from overseers. Note in Acts 20:28 that Paul assumes all the elders from Ephesus have the speaking gift mentioned in Ephesians 4:11, "pastor." In Acts 20:28, the word "feed" in the King James, or "shepherd" in the NIV, is from the same word in Ephesians 4:11 for the pastor gift. And Peter tells all elders to "shepherd (or pastor) the flock" (1 Peter 5:2).
Our parachurch mentality has divided things scripturally for the sake of justifying these non-biblical institutions. Are not elders to do all that is referred to in Ephesians 4:11? Look at the verses that follow. If elders do not or cannot do all that verses 12 and 13 say, what a tragedy for Paul to leave all the churches in Galatia in the hands of only elders! It is obvious that elders are these gifted men and these gifted men are elders! How sad and problematic it would be if those who rule are not the ones with the top gifts. Again, today’s parachurch groups would be in serious trouble if they supported such theology. But there is no danger of this theology getting out, since much of our theology comes out of the parachurches to begin with. I doubt if they will theologize themselves out of business by recommending that everything operate under a local church structure.
The same type of error results from separating elders, overseers, pastors, ministers, shepherds and bishops from one another. If we had time, we could show scripturally that these are referring to one and the same man. Just because the Spirit elects to refer to different aspects of one person with different words, we should not set up another bureaucratic level in the church or a parachurch organization. However, the longer history moves on, the more this will tend to happen. Eventually such unscriptural entities become "scriptural."
The fourth qualification for apostles is that they be recognized, appointed and sent as apostles by other leaders (Acts 13:2). The elders in Antioch did this with Paul and Barnabas. God the Father sent the Apostle Jesus Christ. The Apostle, Jesus Christ, appointed and sent the Twelve. The Twelve appointed some. The apostle Paul appointed some. Even as elders are appointed, so also should apostles be appointed.
If the appointing of some apostles is not done by already existing apostles, but rather by elders of a local church, it seems to be important that the already existing apostles confirm such recognition themselves. This is understandable, since in some way or another they would be working together. We see examples of this in the New Testament (Galatians 2:9, 1 Corinthians 3:4,9; 2 Peter 3:2, etc.).
Paul recognized and appointed apostles as well as elders, yet he said it was the Holy Spirit who made them such (Acts 20:28). God’s way is to have man acknowledge and recognize what He does.
Some might think that having the gift for the work of an elder was left out of the list of qualifications for elders. It was. That’s good. That way, we don’t have mystical judgments on the qualifications of an elder, but objective judgments — "able (i.e. skilled) to teach. "
A gift is something within a person. A skill is something outside, observable. However, because the "gift to teach" is not stated in the list of qualifications, (wisely so), that does not preclude God wanting to give that gift to all qualified elders, especially when He charges them to do such a work. Their skill to teach must have something to do with God’s grace. The lists in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 give outward qualifications that man can check out. "Able (i.e. skilled) to teach" is outward, no guess work. Gifted to teach is inward, subjective, and could be debatable.
It is safe to recognize and appoint apostles when they come from a company of existing, successful elders, because their character would have already demonstrated the basics of an elder.
In regard to gifts, that is God’s doing. God makes, gives gifts and empowers; recognizes and appoints. It’s just like a soldier who is learning how to fight — when his officers send him to war, they will give him a tank. He doesn’t need to worry about it. He doesn’t need to be concerned with the condition of the Department of the Army, but rather with his training. Even so, when a man learns to shepherd, and God’s spiritual "officers" appoint him to spiritual responsibility, surely God will empower him for his task. We can have faith God will keep His end in supplying the grace for the spiritual appointments. "He giveth more grace." Remember, "grace" is the root word for "gift." God will not miss in giving us the gift at the time it is needed for the task.
Even though it is God’s ideal to have His leaders recognized and appointed by other leaders, in this one area of qualification there could be a break down, since it relates to other men. There could be genuine apostles raised up and no one to recognize and appoint them. Even as the Scripture says, it is not who men commend, but "whom the Lord commends" (2 Corinthians 10:18). How good it is, however, to have men like Moses to appoint Joshuas. But if there is a break down, God will not be without leaders. He will still move forward. Who appointed Moses? "...God commends." However, it is God’s ideal to have existing leaders recognize and appoint others. That is His plan.
Appointment or no appointment, there is one final way of recognizing apostles. It’s not if they’re just doing a lot of talking, speaking, creating spiritual fanfare and "going" around. If they are an apostle, there will be the fruit of an apostle. This final point would not necessarily be called a qualification, but rather verification. Have they seen churches raise up? Have they started churches? If so, these are living diplomas verifying their qualification. "You are a living letter," Paul said to the Corinthians. Even for Paul, this was his bottom line for asserting and defending the fact that he was an apostle, since many contesed [sic] it. "Am I not an apostle?...Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. This is my defense to those who sit in judgement on me" (1 Corinthians 9:1-3)., [sic] Paul asked four questions in verse one, all of which were true of him, and gave him a more reputable position. But the real defense and evidence for his apostleship was the Corinthians themselves. In verse one, being free and seeing the Lord were not exclusive qualifications for his apostleship. All Christians are free. Thousands saw the Lord — even Pilate. Then there were apostles who never saw the Lord: Timothy, Silas, maybe Barnabas, etc. Paul is establishing his overall case from chapter eight and nine...doesn’t he have the right to eat, drink, marry, receive financial support, etc.? He’s free like others. Yet, he won’t offend in eating certain foods or take financial advantage in any area. He’s even an apostle. He’s even seen the Lord. He’s fruitful and successful, and they themselves are his evidence. Therefore, he deserves to be supported, etc. But he has not used any of his rights. Though his primary purpose in the context was not to prove his apostleship, we do see how he proved it. The fact of his apostleship he verifies by the church’s very existence. It is his "seal." If a man moves into a country and sees churches raise up, he’s definitely an apostle.
What is not necessary to qualify for being an apostle? One false stereotype is that an apostle must be an older man. An apostle may be physically older, but it is not a necessary qualification. Quite obviously Jesus was not very old in His apostleship, only 30. What about the 12 Apostles? He appointed the Twelve and certainly most, if not all, would have been younger than He. The apostle John could have been in his teens. Certainly he would have been very young since, he was still alive near the turn of the century when he wrote the book of Revelation. Timothy, who was called an apostle in 1 Thessalonians 1:1 and 2:7, was probably very young also. He may have been in his teens or certainly his early twenties. Remember, even ten years later when 1 Timothy was written, he was still considered a youth (1 Timothy 4:12). This is not trying to make a case against older men, but only trying, and justifiably, to support and challenge youth, the Timothies of our day. We need to remove the pagan stereotype picturing the apostles as being older.
Another stereotype which is not a qualification for apostles is the working of miracles. Some people feel that the apostles had to be "wonder workers." However, most apostles have no miracles at all recorded to their account. On the other hand, men that were definitely not apostles did profound miracles (Acts 6:8; 8:6). It is important to remember, these were the signs of the times for the Jews, not qualifications for apostles (1 Corinthians 1:22). Nowhere does it say performing miracles was one of the qualifications, not even for the Twelve (Acts 1:20-26). Certainly, however, miracles during that time were used by apostles (as they were by non-apostles in Mark 16:20, Acts 6:8 and 8:6) for being a sign to authenticate their message as they went around the world (Acts 14:3).
2 Corinthians 12:12 further reveals this to be true with Paul. The definite article in the literal reading of the verse may not, however, constitute miracles to be the mark for all apostles. It certainly was not exclusive for apostles or a qualification for apostles, as we have seen in the above verses. During the time period that the sign gifts were in use, apostles would certainly have had them, and these gifts would have helped validate them as apostles. However, in later years, Paul himself seems to have lost his gift for healing. In earlier years when the sign gifts were most definitely in use, no one would have been left unhealed, as they were later (compare Acts 19:11 with Philippians 2:26; 1 Timothy 5:23, 2 Timothy 4:20).
Did Paul then lose his apostleship? I rather doubt it. The purpose of the sign gifts had died. Apostles had not! They were going strong.
Another wrong stereotype of qualifications for apostles is that to be an apostle you had to see the Lord. Someone may think that is why Paul could qualify along with the Twelve. But that was not even the qualification for the Twelve. They had to be with the Lord from beginning to end (Acts 1:21,22). Paul wouldn’t have qualified to be one of the Twelve, even though he saw the Lord. Also, men were called apostles that had never seen, heard, nor even lived in the same part of the world as the Lord: Apollos, Timothy, Silas Andronicus, Junias, not to speak of the apostles referred to in 2 Peter 3:2, and the true apostles contrasted to the false ones in Corinth referred to in 2 Corinthians 11:13 and those in Ephesus referred to in Revelation 2:2.
Another stereotype: there must be some mystical "calling." They have to be called. Yes, and they have been called, time and again (1 Corinthians 12:31, etc.). It’s like salvation — Christ desires everyone to be saved. Those who respond, the Scripture says were called, even from eternity (2 Timothy 1:9). The same can be understood here. Yet it may be presumptuous to assume we need a calling. No Scripture indicates such. Calling or no calling, the Bible already charges us to go after the greater gifts (1 Corinthians 12:31; 14:1, etc.), The young martyr Jim Elloitt hit the heart of the matter when he said, "We don’t need a calling, we need a good kick in the pants!"
Another false stereotype is that apostles are next to being infallible. While they certainly would be mature, they were not and are not infallible. Galatians 2:11-14 and Acts 15:37-39a should be sufficient to remove any question.
Also a stereotype of apostles is that they received and gave or wrote revelation. A few did. Most did not.
Another stereotype is that they were all dynamic, powerful men. Actually, some apostles constantly struggled with being timid and cowardly (1 Corinthians 2:3; 1 Corinthians 16:10; 1 Timothy 4:12 and 2 Timothy 1:7,8; 2:1).
In review, the qualifications of an apostle are:
Not necessary for qualification:
1. Being old
2. Performing miracles
3. Seeing the Lord
4. Receiving a calling
5. Being infallible
6. Writing revelation
7. Being dynamic
What is the spirit of an apostle? What would it have been like to have known many of the New Testament apostles? Certainly all were different in many ways, each having his own unique personality, but I think there would have been some common feeling you would have had towards most all of them had you known them personally. Here I would like to try to remove the unnatural, ungrounded, untrue, unreal fear we tend to have when we think of apostles! The devil hopes we will continue to have a fearful distorted view of what an apostle would be or do today. The devil’s best strategy has been exploiting his apostles, false apostles. Sad to say, they seem to have more zeal and have gotten more attention than the Lord’s men. So we shy away from the terms and the similar lifestyle of radical action and total abandonment to a cause.
Might the image of true apostles be manifested and multiplied a thousand times over in our day. Only if we run more, not hide more, will their image and, thereby, His image be changed. Apostles — kind. Apostles — humble. Apostles — honest. Apostles — gentle. Apostles — compassionate. Apostles — entreatable. Apostles — friendly. Apostles — likeable. Apostles — servants. If this is not your image when you think of seeing apostles today, it only means we need to outrun, out-multiply false apostles, so much so until when we think of apostles, we think of Jesus.
Look at Peter, one of the chief apostles. 2 Peter 1:1, "Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ." He had the image of being a servant before an apostle. Look at Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:1, "So then men ought to regard (look upon) us as servants..." In Paul’s day, no less than today, Satan continually tried to give Paul and the other apostles a distorted image of lording over like a demagogue. Paul, in many places says the apostles are servants, and here, he is trying to have the church of God actually look upon and see him in this image, to regard him as such.
Today I think the problem of apostles being looked upon as servants may be as great or greater than the challenge of apostles actually doing the work of servants. Having a proper image and picture helps fulfill proper action and definitely gives the more appropriate reflections of the Saviour. Peter and Paul not only did the work of servants but also tried to have the Christians look upon apostles with that image. The devil continually distorts the image — if he cannot eliminate apostles altogether.
Jesus zeroes in on this idea of His apostles — not only doing the work, but also having the attitude and image of servants. In Luke 22:26, Jesus said, "The greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves." In the first phrase, Jesus seems to be referring to the apostles’ image and attitude. In the second phrase he is referring to their action and work. "Even so the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many."
Might the spirit of apostles be in reality as well as perception that of a servant. They are. View them as such. Apostles, servants. Apostles, servants. Apostles, servants. Say it a thousand times and if you are like me, it may just then sink in. This is the message of the apostles of the Lord Jesus: "For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake."
"He that is first shall be last and the last shall be first." First now, last then. Last now...first then. Everyone makes a choice. For sure in this world to be an apostle is not easy. It is not glorious. It losing, long and hard. In truth, it is the most unglamorous work in the world (1 Corinthians 4:9, 13). Only because there is a future, and a future there is, is it worth it at all. He thought we were worth the cross. He too is certainly worthy of a cross, this time carried by us. When He comes, you will not lose your reward. You will not be sorry then. "He who sows in tears shall doubtless come again rejoicing bringing his sheaves with him." Hallelujah!
In conclusion, might we no longer just use the New Testament word, "apostle." But, might we see New Testament apostles by the thousands raising up and spreading across the land around the world. Seeing New Testament apostles for this age, like Amos of old we will have the New Testament "plumb line" for God’s men today who are to be reaching the world and fulfilling the Great Commission in this generation. Then we can better see where we are off course, where we must get on course. This can give us direction and clarity. Only on course can He and will He do the impossible through us in this generation — disciples multiplying all over the world, to every single nation on the earth.
To see it in action builds faith. Being a part of movement involving thousands of men and women who desire these things has been itself life-transforming. If you are a Christian but not wholly involved in what God is doing in the world in this generation you can do more than read about it. You can join! All for His glory!
After being well into writing on this subject, I stumbled upon the book, God’s Work Done In God’s Way, by Dillon. I believe the timing of my seeing this book was from the Lord. To see how much his thinking concurred with our own scriptural understanding of the topic was encouraging. The following is an excerpt from the book:
When Christ returned to Heaven, the 12 apostles were left to carry out His new commands
for them (Acts 1:8). But who was to carry on where the Twelve left off?
a. The Father sent the Son (Hebrews 3:1) for a specific purpose (Acts 15:14); the Son sent the Twelve before His death and resurrection for a specific purpose (Matthew 10:6); the Spirit "sent" the Twelve and others after Christ’s death and resurrection, and is now sending other "sent ones" for a specific purpose (Acts 15:14).
b. The Twelve could not do Christ’s work as The Apostle (Hebrews 3:1); and the apostles appointed after the Twelve could not do the work of the Twelve as given in Matthew 10:5-11:1. The apostles later "sent" by the Holy Spirit could not do the work of those "sent" by the Son — although those sent by the Son were later sent by the Spirit, being commissioned to a different task than that given them by Christ in Matthew 10:5-11:1.
c. 1 Corinthians 4:9a (we see in this portion that Paul does not claim he and Apollos were the last apostles:
(1). FOR I THINK (it seems to me, i.e. Paul)
(a). Desiring that the times of reigning were come (1 Corinthians 4:8), so Paul, Apollos, and Cephas would be finished with their earthly trials.
(2). (It seems) THAT GOD HATH SET FORTH (publicly exhibited) US THE (church) APOSTLES (plural) LAST (lowest),
(a). Paul is not saying that he and Apollos (vs. 6) were the last apostles appointed. The context will not permit this interpretation.
(b). If Paul and Apollos were the last apostles, Ephesians 4:11 would be contradictory; for 1 Corinthians 4:9 was written about five years before Ephesians 4:11, and the Ephesians verse clearly states that Christ gave some to be apostles (plural), to continue through the fulfilling of Ephesians 4:13.
(c). "Last" means having the lowest place in men’s estimation.
(d). Connecting 1 Corinthians 4:9 with 1 Corinthians 4:10-15 shows clearly the writer is not indicating that he and Apollos were the last apostles, but that their social stature was considered to be lowly by men.
(3). (Apostles) AS IT WERE (convicts) APPOINTED TO DEATH.
(a). Not merely exposed to death (1 Corinthians 15:30,31; 2 Corinthians 1:8,9; 11:23), but treated as convicts to whom the rights of citizenship and the comforts of life were denied.
(b). This shows that an apostle was also chosen to suffer for Christ (Acts 9: 16).
The apostles referred to in Ephesians 4:11 and 1 Corinthians 12:28 were not exclusively the Twelve.
Were there other apostles than the Twelve?
a. Paul and Barnabas were apostles (Acts 13:43,46; 14:4,14; 1 Corinthians 9:5,6).
(1). Barnabas was not called an apostle in Acts 4:36,37; 9:27, and was not called one until the Holy Spirit called him and the church at Antioch ordained him (Acts 13:1-3).
(2). Paul, although a witness for the Lord immediately after public apostolic ministry until ordained at Antioch (Acts 13: 1-3).
b. Apollos was an apostle (1 Corinthians 4:6-9).
(1). Apollos is mentioned as being on the same level with Paul and Peter (1 Corinthians 1:12, 13; 3:4-6,22).
c. Andronicus and Junia were notable apostles (Romans 16:7).
(1). The words "of note" in this Scripture literally mean "bearing a mark," i.e., bearing the mark of apostles...
d. We see in 1 Corinthians 15:5-7 that there were evidently other apostles than the Twelve. The Twelve are mentioned in verse 5, but verse 7 seems to indicate still another group, for, instead of mentioning the Twelve, it mentions all the apostles.
e. The Ephesian church found false apostles (Revelation 2:2). If there were false apostles, on the one hand, there must have been real apostles, on the other.
f. Other apostles are mentioned in 2 Corinthians 8:23 (RV margine).
The above facts indicate that the apostles of today are certain missionaries or "sent ones" — sent for a specific purpose; sent to give the Gospel and plant New Testament churches, empowered by the Holy Spirit to carry out God’s plan which will lead to the evangelization of the world.
It is claimed by some that no man could be an apostle unless he had seen the resurrected
Christ. Acts 1:21,22 and 1 Corinthians 9:1 are given as their proof. The following
is an analysis of those Scripture postions disproving this claim:
a. Acts 1:21,22:
(1). WHEREFORE (therefore, because of Psalm 109:8).
The fact that Peter refers to the Old Testament prophecy, in this connection, would certainly show it God’s will to put someone in the place of Judas. The argument is weak that the choosing of Matthias was not according to God’s will because he is not named in the New Testament after Acts 1:26. True, he is not mentioned by name, but certainly by inference, in Acts 2:14; 6:2; 1 Corinthians 15:5. There were 12 apostles in each of these instances, one taking the place left vacant by Judas. Paul was not among this group.
(2). OF THESE MEN (Matthias and Barsabbas among them) WHICH (who) HAVE COMPANIED WITH US (the 120 — vs. 13) ALL THE TIME THAT THE LORD JESUS WENT IN AND OUT AMONG US, BEGINNING FROM THE BAPTISM OF JOHN (from His baptism by John — Wey.; Matthew 3:13), UNTO THAT SAME DAY THAT HE (Christ) WAS TAKEN UP FROM US (Acts 1:11), MUST ONE BE ORDAINED TO BE A WITNESS WITH US (the Eleven) OF HIS (Christ’s) RESURRECTION (covering a period of three years.)
(a). Paul, who was not even saved during Christ’s earthly ministry, could not meet these qualifications of being with the Eleven from Christ’s baptism until His ascension.
(b). The above verses (Acts 1:21,22) were not qualifications of an apostle in general, but for choosing of one man to take the place of Judas before Pentecost, which was necessary according to Luke 22:30, Revelation 21:14, and Psalms 69:25; 109:8.
(c). According to 1 Corinthians 15:5,6, Paul was not counted as being among the Twelve; and since "the Twelve" is mentioned in verse 5, Matthias must have been among the men referred to in these verses.
b. 1 Corinthians 9:1:
(1). AM I (Paul) NOT FREE?
This question comes before "Am I not an apostle?" in most versions. Paul is not here giving the qualifications of an apostle, but continuing the thought of chapter 8, and showing in chapter 9 that, even though he is an apostle, he has the right to eat, drink, marry, receive financial support, etc. (1 Corinthians 9:4-12). However, he did not take full advantage of his privileges.
(2). AM I NOT AN (a true) APOSTLE?
Paul is not only a believer but an apostle. If believers had so much liberty (1 Corinthians 8:9), so had Paul as an apostle.
(3). HAVE I NOT SEEN JESUS CHRIST OUR LORD?
In Acts 26:16-18 and 1 Corinthians 15:8 we have the written record of Paul having seen the glorified Christ. There is no suggestion in these Scriptures that seeing the resurrected-glorified Christ was one of Paul’s qualifications for the office of an apostle. He is showing his position as an apostle
(a). Those who make seeing the resurrected Christ a qualification for being an apostle, to be consistent, should also make "being free" a qualification. See (1) above.
(4). ARE NOT YE (Corinthian believers) MY WORK (workmanship) IN THE LORD?
In defending his apostleship Paul here points out the fact that the Corinthians being "born again" through his personal ministry is his and their proof (1 Corinthians 9:2).
(a). Paul as an apostle was the first one to give the Corinthians the Gospel. They were saved — a proof of God’s approval on Paul’s ministry.
In view of what we have already studied, the above claims cannot be wholly true,
a. We have no record of Barnabas, Apollos, Andronicus, or Junia having seen the resurrected and glorified Christ; yet they are called apostles.
b. We have no record of them having been called directly by Christ. We see in Acts 13:2 that the apostle Barnabas was chosen by the Holy Spirit; and, of course, the Holy Spirit has chosen others also in this Church Age, sending them out from local churches to minister throughout the world...Some of our modem missionaries are apostles sent by the Holy Spirit, but Christendom does not recognize them as such because of the ignorance of the New Testament plan for world evangelization.
It is interesting, in the light of 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11-16, to
examine the statements that there were no apostles after the Twelve and that the
apostle Paul was the last apostle.
a. Certainly, if the Twelve and Paul were the last of the apostles, the Holy Spirit would not mention as late as 64 A.D. that Christ gave some apostles and others for the perfecting (equipping) of the saints until the Body of Christ is completed (Ephesians 4:11-13).
b. The gifts of Ephesians 4:11, including apostles (plural), were made possible by the ascension of Christ, 33 A.D., but this fact was not recorded until about 59 A.D. in 1 Corinthians 12:28 and 64 A.D. in Ephesians 4:11.
c. It is also worth noting the order in which the offices are given in 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11. Apostles are listed first.
d. The fact that the contents of Ephesians 4:13 have not been fulfilled since the apostle Paul’s time indicates that the office of apostles is still in existence.
e. One of the main duties of an apostle is the founding of local New Testament churches. This is mentioned by several Bible commentators, yet they claim there are no apostles today. Are there no more New Testament churches to be established? What about the millions of this generation, among hundreds of tribes, who have never heard the message of salvation?
f. The apostle Paul did not go out merely to get individual converts; he went out to establish New Testament churches which propagated the salvation message to surrounding areas.
a. AND (you believers (Jews or Gentiles of local churches)) ARE BUILT (or are a building) UPON THE FOUNDATION OF (or laid by) THE APOSTLES
(1). The apostles and prophets cannot themselves be the foundation.
(2). The apostles and prophets are "living stones" in the building, just as all other believers (1 Peter 2:5).
(3). Christ is the only foundation (1 Corinthians 3:10, 11).
(4). The apostles can only be said to have been the foundation in that they gave out the way of salvation and started New Testament churches with believers, some meeting certain qualifications. See 1 Corinthians 4:14,15, where Paul calls himself the spiritual father of the Corinthians. In this sense, local churches are built upon the apostles, for they are the founders or lay the foundations. It is local New Testament churches that will bring about the completion of the universal Church.
(5). An apostle is an architect who lays a foundation for a local church, the Foundation being Christ. See 1 Corinthians 3:10,11.
(6). The Foundation of the universal Church was laid before Paul became an apostle, so the foundation in Ephesians 2:20 refers to local churches.
Apostles as such are not found in the Old Testament. Jesus is the first (Hebrews 3:1). The Father sent the Son (John 3:16). The Son sent the Twelve (John 20). The Holy Spirit sent others through the Twelve (Acts 11:22). And the Holy Spirit has continued to send others through existing leaders. To greater and lesser degrees, apostles have continued to be sent out up to this century. May it increase like never before.
Here we want to summarize UX[some] of the reasons why we believe apostles are for
1. Men can fulfill the qualifications for them today.
2. Many men after the Twelve were recognized as apostles, in the dispensation of the Church.
3. There is more example of apostles than any other group of men in the New Testament. We could not imitate much of the New Testament if apostles were not for today.
4. They were active even through the book of Revelation. True apostles were distinguished from the false apostles in Revelation 2:27. If prophets carried on, it lends support to apostles continuing also. The Book of Revelation talks about apostles and prophets in the church age and prophets right up through the tribulation.
5. They were listed in the gifts for us more than once (1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4).
6. We are under God’s charge to covet the greater gifts, apostles being first. (1 Corinthians 12:31). We are also charged to specifically desire the greater gift of a prophet time and again (1 Corinthians 14:1, etc.). The gift of apostles and prophets are in the same category, which gives support for pursuing the gift of apostles everytime Scripture encourages believers to pursue the gift of prophecy. Prophets are God’s number one spokesmen. When the Holy Spirit sends them out they are called apostles., [sic] 7. Of all the gifts, only the sign gifts have any Scripture narrowing them for the purpose of the Jews and thus suggesting that they are inactive today. Active or inactive, there is no scriptural basis for making the sign gifts synonymous with any of the other gifts. They are given separate categories in 1 Corinthians 12:28-29. Men that were called elders and evangelists also performed miracles. We assume we have not marked out elders and evangelists today. Again, sign gifts were not synonymous with apostles any more than they were synonymous with evangelists or any of the other gifts.
8. Ephesians 4:12 demands that apostles, along with the other gifted men in verse 11, need to be active to see the church "built up..." today, i.e. to see verses 12 and 13 fulfilled. "until we all attain to the unity" (Ephesians 4:13).
9. No verse says apostles have ceased to exist.
10. Jesus, speaking to apostles, said: "I will be with you always, to the very end of the age["] (Matthew 28:20). Who are the apostles He is with "to the very end of the age?"
Even if someone can argue with some of these points, it matters not. If only one is valid, then apostles are for today. The question is not really, "Should there be apostles today?" but "Would you be one?" Will you let God raise you up? Will you sell out for Him? He did for you. He was the first. The race is still on. It is time now for the anchor men; we’re on the last lap. If believers are ever going to run, they better run now. The race is about over!
Today’s missionaries are attempting to fulfill the role of the first century apostles, but have failed in total world evangelism. Let’s look briefly at the differences and see what we can learn, and apply, before we miss another generation — maybe the last generation.
"Missionary" is an old Latin word used by the Roman Catholics. The same word is "apostle" in Greek. "Apostle" is the Greek word that Christians used the first few centuries of church history before being corrupted by Roman Catholicism.
Missionaries often go out on their own, while apostles never went out on their own. At least two or more go together. Much greater power, encouragement and results come from a united team.
When missionaries are teamed with others they usually have not labored together before. They have to hope they will get along well together. Apostles are teamed with others that have labored together before. They knew they would get along well together because they were knit together through past labors before being sent out.
Missionaries are inexperienced. Often the locally proven, experienced, successful, mature believers are not sent out, but rather the young, excited rookie. Maybe they are the so-called theologically trained, but have not been God-trained. Spiritual maturity cannot be acquired like academic head knowledge. Spiritual maturity comes like raising children in a family — through obedience and time — the "school of hard knocks." We can go strong at the begimiing, but this does not constitute a basis for sending an individual out. Paul went strong from the beginning — witnessing, making disciples, etc. but he was not sent until years later. On the other hand, time in itself does not assure preparation, but reveals if spiritually qualified — has he seen lasting multiplying fruit? Paul and Barnabas had seen a good work raise up in Antioch before they were sent, and that wasn’t their only track record.
With New Testament apostles instead of the young zealots going, seasoned men from the top went. Certainly they were elders that were seasoned. This in no way is to hold young men back, but just the opposite. With the more seasoned going, greater opportunity opens up locally for the younger men that remain. They indeed will be genuinely equipped and proven for going. These are principles in the New Testament. The Holy Spirit will take these principles and give more exact direction if and as the leaders pray and fast. The Spirit of course may not necessarily follow an exact chronological order for which apostles to be sent out next. But He never sends ones that have no experience. For most missionary activity today we don’t need the Holy Spirit to fine tune it, but rather to change the station. Our "Station Guide," the Bible, says most of us are not even on the right network.
Missionaries are concerned with social service. Literally millions of dollars and thousands of laborers have been poured into social programs such as hospitals, doctors, nurses, teachers, linguists, food, clothing, farming, rural and urban needs; programs of every kind. While all of these may be good and have a place for certain Christians, none had any place with any New Testament missionaries, that is, apostles. What a commendable, clever, diversionary plan the devil has schemed in distracting whole armies of God’s men from striking where it hurts most.
Gospel, gospel, gospel is what New Testament apostles were given to exclusively everywhere day and night (Acts 6:2, 5:42). When people were saved the apostles were given to building, building, building everywhere day and night (Acts 20:31). Elders should do no less, which is what would be expected if they followed their first examples, the founders of their churches, that is, apostles (1 Timothy 5:17, 1 Peter 5:1,2). Physical areas for necessary services of the church should be handed over to deacons. All believers can and should serve. Apostles serve also in dishing out the Word.
Today’s missionaries usually go to one country and stay there the rest of their lives. One reason is because it often takes a lifetime to learn all they need spiritually before they see mighty things happen. This is a result of short-circuiting the New Testament apostolic plan. Missionaries, therefore, have the added disadvantage of having to learn the truly spiritual qualities in a foreign adverse environment. If they had truly experientially qualified in their home country, in most cases much more would have been leamed in a much, much shorter time. Experiential training would have taken less time in a more friendly, familiar environment.
Once Paul was truly an apostle, his average stay in countries was three years or less. He went when he was ready, however. The Holy Spirit had trained him, made him and finally sent him. It was not as a result of completing some theoretical study and/or a board’s desire to meet their goal or needs. Paul and Barnabas were sent when they and others were not even praying to go, but rather praising and worshipping the Lord in prayer and fasting (Acts 13:1-4). That standard practice among their unit as leaders certainly revealed their maturity.
Another reason most missionaries remain in one country is that they don’t have the foggiest idea that they can, should, or that God would even make it possible for them to move from country to country. If you don’t see something lived out you’ll never even come close to experiencing it yourself. Faith is what gives wheels, reality to the impossible — to a life like Paul’s. Faith comes from hearing and understanding.
The apostles did not spend their life in one country. They went from country to country (Galatians 2:11, 1 Corinthians 9:5, Acts 17:6). History records the Twelve going every direction of the compass. Paul ranged from three weeks in Thessalonica to three years in Ephesus. They were not like gypsies, yet, they would remain in a strategic area as long as it took to raise up a church with elders to carry on.
Preaching day and night and virtually doing nothing else will see the work of God move faster than most Christians can possibly imagine. What missionary do you know that preaches and teaches hours daily? ALL the New Testament apostles did. What would ordinarily take ten years with present missionary standard could take two following the New Testament apostolic standard.
It might encourage you to know this is not just theory. Even though far from the mark, we have seen definite beginning examples of this. Many new believers that are raising up I trust will exceed the meager beginnings of myself and some of my early fellow laborers. Paul would see a work raise up and then move to another distant region or to even another country. The implication of this is staggering for local growth and for nationals reproducing. It also gives the advantage of having your best men (i.e. apostles) spread their effect to the greatest part of the world.
Missionaries are sent out by mission boards. Much of the missionary world thrust today is from parachurch organizations.
The foundation and fountain head for world evangelization in the first century was the church. The church was the recruiting center, the training center, the launching center and the back up center.
Jim McCotter, Spiritual Gifts Conference, February 1984
Jim McCotter's Apostleship Re-Examined
E. Ray Moore, Jr. Th.M., May 17th, 1985
A Critique Of Leadership: Elders
Bob LaForge to Jim McCotter, With Response, 1985
A Response To Jim McCotter's Apostleship
John F. Toner, 1984
Prophets: Validating Modern Claims of Leadership
Craig W. Booth, 1985, 2003