The Nature of True Apostleship
A Burden to Bear, not a Position to be Sought
It is Jesus Christ Himself, who calls certain people to be apostles. It’s His calling for His purposes. Ephesians 4:11-13 It is apostles who carry a weighty sense of purpose and responsibility. A comprehensive understanding of what it means to be an apostle can be drawn from 1 Corinthians 4, where the Apostle Paul outlines the core attributes and responsibilities of an apostle. This text serves as a foundational guide to understanding the nature of true apostleship.
Servants of Christ and Trustees of Mysteries
According to Paul, the first thing to understand about apostles is that they should be regarded as servants of Christ. They are not leaders in the conventional sense, where power and status are the primary indicators of leadership. Instead, their authority comes from their servitude to Jesus Christ. Moreover, they are entrusted with the revealed “mysteries of God.” This indicates that they are also keepers of sacred knowledge and wisdom, disseminating it responsibly.
Accountability and Judgment
An essential aspect of apostleship is accountability. As people entrusted with sacred mysteries, apostles must prove themselves faithful. However, this accountability is not as much to the human populace as it is to God. Paul states that he cares little for human judgment, adding that he doesn’t even judge himself. The implication here is that ultimate judgment belongs to the Lord. Therefore, Paul suggests that one should refrain from judgment until the Lord comes and exposes the motives of the heart. This again underscores the heavenly orientation of an apostle’s duties and accountability.
Spiritual Fatherhood in Apostleship
“Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore, I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.” 1 Corinthians 4:15-17
One of the most poignant elements of apostleship, as highlighted by Paul, is the role of the apostle as a spiritual father. In 1 Corinthians 4:15, Paul says, “Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.” This speaks volumes about the depth of relationship and responsibility that an apostle carries. Unlike a guardian, who may provide temporary guidance or protection, a spiritual father imparts enduring wisdom, moral guidance, and emotional support. This is evident in Paul’s relationship with Timothy and others to whom he provided spiritual guidance. He didn’t just disseminate knowledge or offer surface-level guidance; he nurtured, mentored, and invested in their spiritual growth. This dimension of spiritual fatherhood elevates the apostolic role to one of profound relational depth, underscoring the long-lasting impact that true apostles have on those they guide and mentor.
God’s Household: Built on the Foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, with Christ Himself as the Chief Cornerstone
Builders: Apostles Build
Apostleship has additional depth of responsibility as stated in Ephesians 2:19-21, which articulates that the faithful are “no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.” This beautifully illustrates how apostles serve as foundational elements in the spiritual architecture of God’s household. They are not merely servants and spiritual fathers, but also builders in collaboration with prophets, solidifying the structural integrity of the church.
The Danger of Factionalism
Paul warns against the divisive behavior that arises when people start to favor one apostle over another, saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” He cautions against being “puffed up” with pride for being a follower of a particular apostle. He argues that no one is fundamentally different from another in this context and that whatever gifts or wisdom one has are received from God. In doing so, he underlines the collective and united nature of the Christian community.
Apostles’ Authority: Your Own Field, Not Another’s Field
The role of an apostle is profound and encompassing in the body of Christ. The scriptures provide clarity on the scope of an apostle’s influence and jurisdiction. In Romans 15:20, Paul writes, “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.” This speaks to an apostle’s innate desire to evangelize and establish churches, ministries, and operate as an apostle but notably in areas where the foundation of Christ is yet to be laid.
The passage from 2 Corinthians 10:13-16 further underlines the apostle’s jurisdiction. Paul notes, “But we will not boast beyond limits, but will boast only with regard to the area of influence God assigned to us.” It’s evident that an apostle’s authority is designated by God to specific areas or groups. These groups can be thought of as their spiritual “tribe” or family – those born again through their ministry, discipled in their spiritual lineage, and those the Lord has led to relate to them apostolically, i.e., as a spiritual father in Christ Jesus.
An apostle’s tribe, then, serves as both their responsibility and testimony. As Paul puts it, “for you are my letter to others.” It is through the fruit of their ministry – the transformed lives and the growing faith of those related to them – that their apostolic authority is validated. But it is essential to note, echoing Paul’s sentiment, that this authority is not a blanket coverage over all believers. Apostles are stewards of specific fields. They are not called to exert authority or correction over another apostle’s designated territory unless explicitly invited, and even then, their role remains defined by the parameters of that invitation.
In their service, apostles might face rejection, even from those within their own sphere. Yet, this is not a testament against their calling. After all, even Jesus, the cornerstone of our faith, faced rejection, and apostles, in their service, walk in His footsteps. As servants of God, their primary duty is to remain submitted to Him, to nurture and guide their assigned tribe, and to avoid overstepping into another’s domain. For in the divine design, every apostle has a field, a tribe, which they are called to shepherd. Their responsibilities, some of which are outlined in this article, are firmly anchored within the boundaries of that field.
Fatherly Warnings: Apostle and Prophets
Ephesians 4:11-16 further refines our understanding of the apostle’s role in Christ’s architectural design of His Church of which He is the head. Christ gave us apostles to equip the saints for works of service and to build up the body of Christ. The objective is to grow believers from spiritual infancy to unified, mature adults who are impervious to deceit and division.
Blow in, Blow up, Blow out: Blown Here and There by Every Wind
“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.” Ephesians 4:14
Jesus clearly said, we’ll know a person by their fruit, especially focusing on those who “claim” to be His followers and doing “His will,” whose fruit doesn’t align with their profession of their claim.
Apostles act as spiritual architects who ward off the destructive impact of transient, divisive forces that can “blow in” and “blow up” communities with schisms and falsehoods. They help to identify those fly-by-night, shooting-star “ministers” who “blow in” to town with a big bang, “blow up” the family of God, bring division, and then “blow out” of town, leaving the household of God fragmented, divided, un-unified, split, with broken unity within the community, people filled with jealousy and envy among God’s household, who stoked His people to favor one minister over another leaving a trail of scattered sheep (people who Jesus died for) as their fruit. Apostles help the church to understand these “ministers” are held captive by satan to do his will of devouring, destroying, and dividing Jesus’ church, as Paul wrote to Timothy about in 2 Timothy 2:26 and 1 Timothy 6:6-10.
They help remind God’s household of how things were before those who caused division came among them. They recall how the Lord had blessed the community, and how members loved their brothers and sisters in Christ. They were united, thinking well of each other, rather than being led astray by divisive influences. They remind the church not to favor or be mesmerized by anyone’s gifts, especially if those gifts are being used to draw people away from God and from the teachings clearly stated in scripture. They encourage the church to pursue Jesus, assuring them that spiritual gifts and signs will follow all who believe, rather than having the believers chase after signs. This is in line with Mark 16:16-18 and Matthew 7:21-23, which emphasize the importance of genuine faith and obedience to God’s will.
“Remember where you were before you fell, turn from this sin, and do what you used to do before.” Revelation 2:5 (CJB)
They help to rebuild the broken parts of God’s household and restore relationships in the aftermath of the actions of such “ministers.” They remind the household of God that we all belong to the Lord and are called to walk in Christ-centered unity. This unity discourages favoring one member over another; instead, we collectively favor Christ and unify in our love for God and each other. By doing so, we affirm that our love and unity serves as our greatest witness to the world, demonstrating that God loves them as much as He loves His Son, Jesus. This aligns with John 17:23, which emphasizes the importance of divine love and unity as a testament to God’s love for humanity.
This doesn’t only apply to those who call themselves “ministers” of God, when in fact, they are “ministers of satan” disguised as “angels of light” and this is known to be true by the fruit they bear. “For Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.” 2 Corinthians 11:14-15 It also applies to those who rise up among us who do the very same thing as these “ministers of darkness.”
“I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.” Acts 20:29-31
Misleading God’s Household: Identifying False Teachers
Apostles help to identify false teachers who are drawing God’s household to themselves, and away from God. “I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols… I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.” Revelation 2:20, 22-23
Fruitless Wonders: True and False Prophets
Jesus tells us to “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”
True and False Disciples
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ Matthew 7:15-23
Identifying and Warning: Deceitful Schemes
The apostle nurtures and strengthens the community to reach “unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God,” so that they are not left as fragmented, vulnerable targets for the “deceitful schemes” mentioned in 2 Timothy 2:26. In this holistic view, the apostle’s role is not merely foundational but also continually active in the growth and unity of the Church, helping to safeguard it as a “holy temple in the Lord.”
The Reality of Apostolic Suffering
There’s no glamour in being an apostle. Paul describes apostles as those who have been made “a spectacle to the whole universe.” They are “fools for Christ,” often dishonored, hungry, thirsty, and brutally treated. This humbling description serves as a reality check against any illusions of grandeur that might be associated with apostleship. Paul insists that the nature of true apostleship involves hardship, self-sacrifice, and a daily cross to bear. This understanding is vital for the household of God; they need to be open to an apostle’s leadership in their lives and within their church. They should not “misjudge” the apostle, thinking they can’t be from God because of all they suffer. The truth is, apostles have a target on their backs. Satan comes against them in every way he can, “hard-pressing, perplexing, persecuting, and abandoning” them in attempts to disrupt the foundation of the church and wreak havoc. [2 Corinthians 4:7-9] The church—the household of God—must be able to see the anointing on an apostle’s life and accept them as such to receive the apostolic reward, which is the specific purpose for which God appointed them as apostles. Their very struggles and the public attacks they often endure could, paradoxically, serve as identifiers that they are who they claim to be. Sad to say, those who are held captive by satan to do his will of leading God’s people astray often use the attacks on the apostle as their wedge narrative to pry God’s people out of His household. This makes sense when you understand it is satan who is causing such suffering and they are satan’s captive to do his will. 2 Timothy 2:26
A Fatherly Appeal and Warning
Finally, Paul speaks from a place of paternal concern, urging his followers to imitate him. He doesn’t do this to shame them, but to guide them as his spiritual children. He warns them against arrogance and reminds them that the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. He even poses a stark question about how he should come to them—either with a rod of discipline or in love and with a gentle spirit.
The Apostle Paul’s discourse in 1 Corinthians 4 provides a compelling framework for understanding true apostleship. It’s a role steeped in divine responsibility, heavenly accountability, and earthly hardships. It calls for humility, wisdom, and a spirit of unity within the Christian community. At its core, apostleship is not a call to elevated status but to servant leadership, continual faithfulness, and enduring hardship for the sake of Christ.