I have spent the past four articles looking at a detailed defense for the gifting of apostle in the present day. Thus, the implication is that this gift of Christ was not just for a few special followers in the first century, but it has been a necessary gift for equipping Christ’s body in every generation. We looked at Paul’s great statement to the Ephesian church:
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. (4:11-13)
From this, we recognize that we have not reached that place of unity in the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, becoming a mature body. Hence, the need for all five of these gifts, including apostle. And we must also be encouraged that Christ is taking us to that place of unity and maturity. But one of the great ways Christ has chosen to do so is by giving the body of Christ all five of these gifts – apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher – to equip us until we reach this high calling as Christ’s body.
So, knowing that apostles still exist today is only the first step. We must still discuss the nature of the gifting, or what does this practically look like. In a previous article, we recognized that being gifted as an apostle does not chiefly mean that a person has been called to write Scripture, though some of the first apostles were called to do so. Rather, the word apostle simply means ‘sent one’. They were first and foremost sent with a mission to accomplish. Thus, they had their calling as apostles.
Because of this fuller understanding of the call of an apostle, we can, therefore, move away from allowing fear to dictate to us that the gift of apostle is not for today. For, as it was clearly stated, in claiming the existence of such a gift does not mean one is maintaining that we should write more Scripture in addition to the canon (such as in the case of the Mormons, etc). It was God’s providential guidance that led our fathers to affirm the closing of the canon of Scripture, all to have a full and final text by which we measure our faith and to guard against heresy. Thus, anything that a present-day apostle or prophet, or anyone for that matter, teaches must be consistent with the canon of Scripture.
But moving on to the finer detail, when discussing the nature of apostolic gifting, most people begin with Paul, seeing him as the greatest apostle in Scripture. But, as stated in my first article on this topic, I believe it is a misnomer to both start with Paul and believe he was the apex of such a gift. As with any gift or character quality, though it may sound super-spiritual, the best place to begin with is Jesus. And Jesus was the great apostle (Hebrews 3:1), for the Father sent Him into a world of darkness with the greatest mission ever known to mankind (see John 4:34; Luke 4:16-19). So, it is with this premise of Jesus being the great apostle that we delve into some specifics concerning the gift of apostle.
One of the greatest aspects of Jesus’ ministry is that He came to serve. God incarnate, God in the flesh, came to serve humanity. He did not fancy platforms, nor even great titles. But, rather, the washbasin became closest to His heart. One of the most moving Scriptures I have ever read is found in John 13:3-5:
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
This passage is revolutionary to our thinking. Jesus knew all things had been given into His hands – everything! So, what does He do? He pulls off His outer garment, places a towel around His waist and washed the feet of His closest friends. This is so utterly different from what we many times have in mind. I’m not speaking about CEO’s of corporate businesses. But I simply refer to the mindset of us as Christians in general, and even more, church leaders. Many times we miss this beautiful aspect of Christ’s ministry.
The Greek word for minister is diakonos (where we also get our word deacon), and it simply means ‘servant’. That is what it means to ‘minister’ or have a ‘ministry’. It simply, yet profoundly, points to the fact that we are called to serve.
But what does this have to do with apostles? Well, apostles might have a specific commission from Christ spoken to them by the Holy Spirit (even through a prophetic word), and that is just fine and dandy. But if an apostle does not know how to serve, if that person does not hold the washbasin close to their heart, then they really do not have much of an idea of the apostolic calling of Christ. For consider the greatest apostle to ever live and how He walked out life amongst others. He served, and even served to the point of giving up His life on the cross, suffering the death of a criminal. That was the greatest act of serving ever. Christ still accomplished that for which He was sent, thus, fulfilling His apostolic role. But He accomplished it through serving.
The next great aspect to highlight about apostolic ministry is that of teamwork. Again, we can simply start by looking at the life of Jesus. First, though He was God Himself, we see His reliance upon the other two members of the Trinity. In John 5:19, we see Jesus’ dependence on the Father:
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.
We must also consider His relationship with the Holy Spirit. John 16:7 shows Christ’s own desire to send the Holy Spirit so that His own mission might be finished:
Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.
Interestingly enough, this verse shows the apostolic nature of the Holy Spirit, for He would be sent by Christ. But keep in mind that this is God in the flesh. In a sense, He could have decided to do everything on His own. Yet, He saw the value and importance of working with and relying on the other two members of the Godhead.
Also, consider that, though He was the Son of God and could have done things just fine with the help of the Trinity, we see Jesus sharing the responsibility with the twelve (see Matthew 10:1-5; 13:14-21). And, if we were to consider Paul’s ministry, it would take little time in seeing his demonstration of teamwork when considering his partnership with people like Barnabas, Timothy, Titus, Epaphroditus, Priscilla and Acquila, Silas, Luke and on and on.
In the kingdom of God, there is absolutely no room for lone rangers. Even Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:11-13 point to the fact that the five ministry gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher are called to equip the saints together. We need all five of these ministries, and we need them to work together, for they each have important emphases for Christ’s body. Thus, if one is called as an apostle, they are called into relationship and accountability with other gifted ministries as well. This is an ‘apostolic team’.
Finally, though this last characteristic is necessary and good, I have saved it for last to make sure we began with the ‘more important’ matters of serving and teamwork. The final aspect I would like to highlight about apostolic gifting is their heart for the nations. What I mean by this is not that each apostle is called to reach every nation, or even to just pick up and head to any random nation. What this entails is that apostles tend to have the ‘bigger picture’ in mind. We might also call them visionaries.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.
However, it is not simply about going off to take the gospel to other nations. It is definitely a part of it, and a very exciting part of it as well. But an apostle’s heart for the nations highlights that God has broadened their vision. As I spoke of earlier, they have picked up the ‘bigger picture’. It is somewhat like a double-sided coin: one side emphasizes the practicality of reaching the nations, the other side underlines the reality of God’s big vision. And we keep that coin continually rotating so we can see both sides.
In reaching and training the nations, apostles will also recognize the importance of equipping those in the other nations all that the locals might be the ones to reach the people of their own nation. For consider this – Though God became flesh in His plan to redeem humanity, He also knew it was best to get other human beings involved in His mission. As a result, Jesus equipped, trained and then released twelve others to reach those in their ‘own land’. Thus, I believe this will be close to the heart of a true apostle. Instilled in their desire to reach the nations, they will certainly train people in other lands and cultures, but all with the goal of seeing the people of a particular land released to reach and train those in their nation. That’s visionary. That’s seeing the bigger picture of how the kingdom of God will expand.
To end out, I would also like to bring up the role of God’s people as an apostolic people. Why? Because, in one sense, we have all been given a mission by Christ – we all are to join in the call to make disciples of all nations, being salt and light in the world, testifying to the grace that God has shown in Christ Jesus. Even more, it is the whole body of Christ that has been called to serve, work as a team and understand the bigger vision in God’s heart. And it is those who are gifted as apostles that have been given to help equip us in being faithful to this apostolic call as the whole body of Christ.
In reality, we could go on and on highlighting important characteristics of apostolic gifting. But, suffice to say, we will conclude here summing up the role of apostles with these four qualities: 1) Start with Jesus, 2) Servant leadership, 3) Teamwork, and 4) Seeing the bigger picture.