Apostleship7 min read
But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man’s person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me: But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter; (For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:) And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision. Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do.
There are many today who would claim to be apostles, perhaps with some new teaching or a revolutionary idea, but the truth is, they do not understand the nature of apostleship. It is not just simply evangelism, though apostle does mean “sent” or “commissioned”; it actually refers only to those who saw Christ and were directly appointed by Him. Paul even admits that his being appointed was after the main commission of the apostles was given (1 Cor. 15:8), as “one of untimely birth.” However, he was an exception; because Judas was a traitor, the Lord Jesus specifically chose Paul instead. Therefore, if even the great apostle Paul was “born out of due time,” though he was sent in the first century, it is totally out of place for one to claim apostleship in today’s time. Those who claim this are simply false apostles, because there were only twelve, no more. For these twelve, there were specific characteristics about them that are distinct from those of a regular disciple, as we will see in our study.
The Authority of the Apostles
In Galatians 1:16, Paul makes it very clear that just as he counselled not with flesh and blood after he was saved, here he had nothing added to his message by the counsel of the leaders at Jerusalem. Why? Because it was already accurate, God-centred, and divinely approved. Despite the fact that he was an apostle born out of due time, Paul’s Gospel was the true Gospel. The reason this was so is because God had revealed that Truth to him directly, and such was the case with every apostle. When we look at the others, we know that they were taught by the Lord Jesus Himself; the same was true with Paul, but in a different sense. So then, as for the authority of the apostles, we understand that it was directly from God in a special way. This is why Paul could say “But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment” in 1 Corinthians 7; it was because he had authority from God to teach. This is the source of apostolic authority.
But as to the nature and fact of this authority, we see Peter, James, and John called “pillars,” for Paul as well as other recognized them as not only church leaders, but as foundations for the very future of the church. Of course, ultimately God is the foundation, since it is His authority which is behind it all. Consider the following verses regarding this subject. 2 Peter 3:2 “That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour:” Here we see the apostles placed on the same authority as the Old Testament prophets. Ephesians 2:20-21 “And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building (the Church) fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:” Here the apostles are seen as being of the same importance as the prophets of the Old Testament. Luke 11:49 “Therefore also said the wisdom of God, I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they shall slay and persecute:” Here the apostles are seen as having the same role as the prophets of the Old Testament.
So then, it is clear that apostleship was something very specific and very authoritative. Since these twelve men were placed on the same level as the prophets, since the Lord Jesus acknowledged the authority of the prophets, and since the prophets as well as the apostles showed their authority by miracles, we understand that for the early church these few yet foundational men were vital. Some were even used to bring us the New Testament. And because only they had such authority, we do not even consider the “other gospels” to be inspired; only the New Testament books, those written by or with the help of apostles, are those we accept to be Scripture.
The Fellowship of the Apostles
We notice with Paul and Barnabas that the apostles at Jerusalem only accepted them when they perceived the grace of God accompanied with them. This was grace that was proven by the power seen through the preaching of these men. They had fellowship with Paul and his ministry when he was proven in their eyes to be genuine. This was not just a game to these men; rather it was a solemn responsibility in their eyes to give their approval unto another man’s ministry. Why? Because had they not been a discerning group, they would have laid themselves open to false doctrine and false teachers. So many times do we see this careful attitude in their writings. An example of this is seen in 1 John 4:1 “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.”
So then, we must be careful who we fellowship with and whose ministries we commend. Though we are not apostles by any means (and none of us can be), we are still representatives of Christ and are responsible to respond when there is false doctrine and to discern amidst false teachers. A man with a ministry is not necessarily a man of God; we must see if this man is marked by God’s grace and God’s approval from the Truth of His Word.
The Compassion of the Apostles
There is also a practical side to apostleship. This office was not only about authority and doctrine, though both are absolutely essential, but their office was one reflective of the compassion of the Lord Jesus. It is interesting to notice this, because the apostles who desired that the poor be remembered were the same who were closest to Christ (Peter, James, and John). Now, no doubt the other apostles were warm and compassionate, but it is just nice to see that those who were closest to Christ are seen later caring for the same that Christ cared for. There is value in spending time with the Lord. It molds us, and it shapes our service for Him.
Also, we see in this the universal need for quality care. Both those who ministered to Jews and those who ministered to Gentiles were seen with a desire to care for the poor. While we might think of Gospel work as being the preaching of the cross – and essentially it is – it should also be complemented by service to the needs of man. It is said “People don’t care how much you know unless they know how much you care.” While we cannot minister to every need of every person we meet, let us not be closed to the idea of caring for their physical needs when the opportunity arises. This will show that we are not simply “doing our thing” in preaching the gospel, but that we put concentrated and careful effort into it. As Paul, we should be able to say “So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us.” Are you willing to work for the cause of the Gospel? The apostles were.