So then, what is an apostle? How are the great apostles of the first century and the true apostles of today identical? A truly born-again, truly gifted, and truly called apostle has seven distinct traits:
(1) A leader of leaders…..
True apostles have a magnetic draw that turns leaders into followers. Leaders want to look, listen, and learn from them, even if from a silent distance. They have a presence that is impressionable and difficult to resist.
They are more than just disciplers, which any Christian can and should be. They were born to develop and superintend leaders as spiritual head coaches.
EX: Paul-Timothy, Paul-Titus, Peter-John Mark, Barnabas-John Mark, John-Polycarp; (Acts 14:23, 2Timothy 2:2, Titus 1:5, 1Peter 5:13)
Act 14:23 And when they had appointed and ordained elders for them in each church with prayer and fasting, they committed them to the Lord in Whom they had come to believe [being full of joyful trust that He is the Christ, the Messiah].
2Ti 2:2 And the [instructions] which you have heard from me along with many witnesses, transmit and entrust [as a deposit] to reliable and faithful men who will be competent and qualified to teach others also.
Tit 1:5 For this reason I left you [behind] in Crete, that you might set right what was defective and finish what was left undone, and that you might appoint elders and set them over the churches (assemblies) in every city as I directed you.
1Pe 5:13 She [your sister church here] in Babylon, [who is] elect (chosen) with [yourselves], sends you greetings, and [so does] my son (disciple) Mark.
(2) Church developers…..
True apostles father local churches, whether planting and establishing new ones (Ac 8:14, 11:22, Ro 15:20, 1Co 4:15, 9:1,2)
Act 8:14 Now when the apostles (special messengers) at Jerusalem heard that [the country of] Samaria had accepted and welcomed the Word of God, they sent Peter and John to them,
Act 11:22 The rumors of this came to the ears of the church (assembly) in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.
Rom 15:20 Thus my ambition has been to preach the Gospel, not where Christ’s name has already been known, lest I build on another man’s foundation;
1Co 4:15 After all, though you should have ten thousand teachers (guides to direct you) in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the glad tidings (the Gospel).
1Co 9:1 AM I not an apostle (a special messenger)? Am I not free (unrestrained and exempt from any obligation)? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you [yourselves] not [the product and proof of] my workmanship in the Lord? 1Co 9:2 Even if I am not considered an apostle (a special messenger) by others, at least I am one to you; for you are the seal (the certificate, the living evidence) of my apostleship in the Lord [confirming and authenticating it].
2 a) Doctor and mature existing ones (2Co 11:28, 1Pet 1:1)
2Co 11:28 And besides those things that are without, there is the daily [inescapable pressure] of my care and anxiety for all the churches!
1Pe 1:1 PETER, AN apostle (a special messenger) of Jesus Christ, [writing] to the elect exiles of the dispersion scattered (sowed) abroad in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,
2 b) They develop leadership (2Ti 2:2)
2Ti 2:2 And the [instructions] which you have heard from me along with many witnesses, transmit and entrust [as a deposit] to reliable and faithful men who will be competent and qualified to teach others also.
2 c) Establish protocol and order (1Co 14)
Entire chapter deals with various types of spiritual protocol in the local church
2 d) Establish lines of submission (Eph 5,6,)
Ephesians chapters 5 and 6 deals with different settings of submission in the church.
2 e) Safeguard doctrinal integrity (1Ti 1:3-11, 6:3, 2Pet 2, 2John)
1Ti 1:3 As I urged you when I was on my way to Macedonia, stay on where you are at Ephesus in order that you may warn and admonish and charge certain individuals not to teach any different doctrine, 1Ti 1:4 Nor to give importance to or occupy themselves with legends (fables, myths) and endless genealogies, which foster and promote useless speculations and questionings rather than acceptance in faith of God’s administration and the divine training that is in faith (in that leaning of the entire human personality on God in absolute trust and confidence)–1Ti 1:5 Whereas the object and purpose of our instruction and charge is love, which springs from a pure heart and a good (clear) conscience and sincere (unfeigned) faith.1Ti 1:6 But certain individuals have missed the mark on this very matter [and] have wandered away into vain arguments and discussions and purposeless talk.1Ti 1:7 They are ambitious to be doctors of the Law (teachers of the Mosaic ritual), but they have no understanding either of the words and terms they use or of the subjects about which they make [such] dogmatic assertions.1Ti 1:8 Now we recognize and know that the Law is good if anyone uses it lawfully [for the purpose for which it was designed],
1Ti 1:9 Knowing and understanding this: that the Law is not enacted for the righteous (the upright and just, who are in right standing with God), but for the lawless and unruly, for the ungodly and sinful, for the irreverent and profane, for those who strike and beat and [even] murder fathers and strike and beat and [even] murder mothers, for manslayers,1Ti 1:10 [For] impure and immoral persons, those who abuse themselves with men, kidnapers, liars, perjurers–and whatever else is opposed to wholesome teaching and sound doctrine 1Ti 1:11 As laid down by the glorious Gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted.
1Ti 6:3 But if anyone teaches otherwise and does not assent to the sound and wholesome messages of our Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah) and the teaching which is in agreement with godliness (piety toward God),
2 f) Resolve problems (Ac 15, 1Co 5-15)
Acts 15 deals extensively with the problem of the suggested circumcision of the gentile believers and the response of Paul and Barnabas and the eventual acceptance of the gentiles into the church on the basis of their faith in Christ.
Stimulate corporate growth and maturation (Ro 1:11,12, 1Pet 1,3,4, 1John)
Rom 1:11 For I am yearning to see you, that I may impart and share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen and establish you; Rom 1:12 That is, that we may be mutually strengthened and encouraged and comforted by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.
(3) Ministerial pioneers…..
True apostles innovate projects that supply what is lacking in a church, ministry, territory, or system (1Th 3:10, Ro 1:11, Ro 15:20,21). Their vision is panoramic and broad, quickly assessing the big picture and what is lacking or misplaced. Then, with originality and relevance, they pioneer strategies for spiritual optimization.
1Th 3:10 [And we] continue to pray especially and with most intense earnestness night and day that we may see you face to face and mend and make good whatever may be imperfect and lacking in your faith.
Rom 1:11 For I am yearning to see you, that I may impart and share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen and establish you;
Rom 15:20 Thus my ambition has been to preach the Gospel, not where Christ’s name has already been known, lest I build on another man’s foundation; Rom 15:21 But [instead I would act on the principle] as it is written, They shall see who have never been told of Him, and they shall understand who have never heard [of Him]. [Isa. 52:15.]
(4) Capable mobilizers…..
True apostles are skilled at mobilizing groups of people to fulfill ministerial initiatives (Ac 2:42-47, 6:1-6, ). They organize and inspire collective movement. Because their view is an overview, they are slightly more concerned about group movement than individual movement.
Act 2:42 And they steadfastly persevered, devoting themselves constantly to the instruction and fellowship of the apostles, to the breaking of bread [including the Lord’s Supper] and prayers. Act 2:43 And a sense of awe (reverential fear) came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were performed through the apostles (the special messengers). Act 2:44 And all who believed (who adhered to and trusted in and relied on Jesus Christ) were united and [together] they had everything in common; Act 2:45 And they sold their possessions (both their landed property and their movable goods) and distributed the price among all, according as any had need. Act 2:46 And day after day they regularly assembled in the temple with united purpose, and in their homes they broke bread [including the Lord’s Supper]. They partook of their food with gladness and simplicity and generous hearts, Act 2:47 Constantly praising God and being in favor and goodwill with all the people; and the Lord kept adding [to their number] daily those who were being saved [from spiritual death].
Act 6:1 NOW ABOUT this time, when the number of the disciples was greatly increasing, complaint was made by the Hellenists (the Greek-speaking Jews) against the [native] Hebrews because their widows were being overlooked and neglected in the daily ministration (distribution of relief). Act 6:2 So the Twelve [apostles] convened the multitude of the disciples and said, It is not seemly or desirable or right that we should have to give up or neglect [preaching] the Word of God in order to attend to serving at tables and superintending the distribution of food. Act 6:3 Therefore select out from among yourselves, brethren, seven men of good and attested character and repute, full of the [Holy] Spirit and wisdom, whom we may assign to look after this business and duty. Act 6:4 But we will continue to devote ourselves steadfastly to prayer and the ministry of the Word. Act 6:5 And the suggestion pleased the whole assembly, and they selected Stephen, a man full of faith (a strong and welcome belief that Jesus is the Messiah) and full of and controlled by the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte (convert) from Antioch. Act 6:6 These they presented to the apostles, who after prayer laid their hands on them.
(5) Translocal networkers…..
True apostles connect and unify churches, ministries, and leaders that would otherwise remain fragmented (Ac 11:29,30, 16:4, Ro 15:25-28, 1Co 4:17, 16:1-4,12, 2Co 8:1-6, 9:1-4, 1Pet 1:1). They are the relational and social bridges of the global church. Though they might not be natural extroverts, the charis apostolos within them graces their personality to effectively build bridges, deconstruct walls, and develop networks of love in the assorted church.
Here is where the super-apostles and adolescent apostles betray themselves. A genuine and mature apostle cares little about “denominations” and “movements” and “celebrity Christianity” (1Co 1:10-17, 3:3,4,21-23). They care about one thing: the kingdom of God (4:19,20).
Though they might have their own minor convictions and affiliations, they rise above these peripheral ideals to emphasize kingdom, “for the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking [or any other peripheral doctrine], but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Ro 14:17). They sincerely exude that “there is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to one hope when you were called–one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:4-6).
Super-apostles care nothing for such cross-denominational unity, and immature apostles are still vainly ambitious about “my” ministry, “my” promotion, “my” denomination, “my” movement.
Timothy, a functional apostle (1Th 2:6 w/1:1), was a true translocal unifier, Philippians 2:21,22 says: For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. I hope, therefore, to send him…
Epaphroditus, another functional apostle mentioned just verses later, was also a selfless unifier (Php 2:25-30): But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus…your messenger [Gk apostolos], whom you sent to take care of my needs…I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety. Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor men like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life…
(6) Supernatural dispensers…..
True apostles minister with remarkable power to accomplish their groundbreaking initiatives. Scripture highlights this explicitly as a mark of apostleship (Ro 15:19,20, 2Co 12:12, 1Co 4:19,20). The unusual voltage of their ministry is not for mere showmanship or mesmerism, as super-apostles and immature apostles convey. Such potency is necessary to penetrate new, and often difficult, spiritual or territorial frontiers
Rom 15:19 [Even as my preaching has been accompanied] with the power of signs and wonders, [and all of it] by the power of the Holy Spirit. [The result is] that starting from Jerusalem and as far round as Illyricum, I have fully preached the Gospel [faithfully executing, accomplishing, carrying out to the full the good news] of Christ (the Messiah) in its entirety. Rom 15:20 Thus my ambition has been to preach the Gospel, not where Christ’s name has already been known, lest I build on another man’s foundation;
2Co 12:12 Indeed, the signs that indicate a [genuine] apostle were performed among you fully and most patiently in miracles and wonders and mighty works.
1Co 4:19 But I will come to you [and] shortly, if the Lord is willing, and then I will perceive and understand not what the talk of these puffed up and arrogant spirits amount to, but their force (the moral power and excellence of soul they really possess).
(7) Good sufferers…..
Super and immature apostles listen up! True apostles possess a special grace to sustain unusual suffering to accomplish their apostolic goals (Ac 8:1, 1Co 4:9-13, 2Co 1:8-10, 7:5, 11:23-33). The New Testament writers never shrunk back from presenting this less tasty truth. Read the passages listed. Because apostolic initiatives are often lofty and groundbreaking, they battle highly exalted and deeply entrenched demonic powers.
Act 8:1 AND SAUL was [not only] consenting to [Stephen’s] death [he was pleased and entirely approving]. On that day a great and severe persecution broke out against the church which was in Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles (special messengers).
1Co 4:9 For it seems to me that God has made an exhibit of us apostles, exposing us to view last [of all, like men in a triumphal procession who are] sentenced to death [and displayed at the end of the line]. For we have become a spectacle to the world [a show in the world’s amphitheater] with both men and angels [as spectators]. 1Co 4:10 We are [looked upon as] fools on account of Christ and for His sake, but you are [supposedly] so amazingly wise and prudent in Christ! We are weak, but you are [so very] strong! You are highly esteemed, but we are in disrepute and contempt! 1Co 4:11 To this hour we have gone both hungry and thirsty; we [habitually] wear but one undergarment [and shiver in the cold]; we are roughly knocked about and wander around homeless. 1Co 4:12 And we still toil unto weariness [for our living], working hard with our own hands. When men revile us [wound us with an accursed sting], we bless them. When we are persecuted, we take it patiently and endure it. 1Co 4:13 When we are slandered and defamed, we [try to] answer softly and bring comfort. We have been made and are now the rubbish and filth of the world [the offscouring of all things, the scum of the earth].
2Co 1:8 For we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about the affliction and oppressing distress which befell us in [the province of] Asia, how we were so utterly and unbearably weighed down and crushed that we despaired even of life [itself]. 2Co 1:9 Indeed, we felt within ourselves that we had received the [very] sentence of death, but that was to keep us from trusting in and depending on ourselves instead of on God Who raises the dead. 2Co 1:10 [For it is He] Who rescued and saved us from such a perilous death, and He will still rescue and save us; in and on Him we have set our hope (our joyful and confident expectation) that He will again deliver us [from danger and destruction and draw us to Himself],
2Co 7:5 For even when we arrived in Macedonia, our bodies had no ease or rest, but we were oppressed in every way and afflicted at every turn–fighting and contentions without, dread and fears within [us].
2Co 11:23 Are they [ministering] servants of Christ (the Messiah)? I am talking like one beside himself, [but] I am more, with far more extensive and abundant labors, with far more imprisonments, [beaten] with countless stripes, and frequently [at the point of] death. 2Co 11:24 Five times I received from [the hands of] the Jews forty [lashes all] but one; [Deut. 25:3.] 2Co 11:25 Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been aboard a ship wrecked at sea; a [whole] night and a day I have spent [adrift] on the deep; 2Co 11:26 Many times on journeys, [exposed to] perils from rivers, perils from bandits, perils from [my own] nation, perils from the Gentiles, perils in the city, perils in the desert places, perils in the sea, perils from those posing as believers [but destitute of Christian knowledge and piety]; 2Co 11:27 In toil and hardship, watching often [through sleepless nights], in hunger and thirst, frequently driven to fasting by want, in cold and exposure and lack of clothing. 2Co 11:28 And besides those things that are without, there is the daily [inescapable pressure] of my care and anxiety for all the churches! 2Co 11:29 Who is weak, and I do not feel [his] weakness? Who is made to stumble and fall and have his faith hurt, and I am not on fire [with sorrow or indignation]? 2Co 11:30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that [show] my infirmity [of the things by which I am made weak and contemptible in the eyes of my opponents]. 2Co 11:31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ knows, He Who is blessed and to be praised forevermore, that I do not lie. 2Co 11:32 In Damascus, the city governor acting under King Aretas guarded the city of Damascus [on purpose] to arrest me, 2Co 11:33 And I was [actually] let down in a [rope] basket or hamper through a window (a small door) in the wall, and I escaped through his hands.
Proven apostles often provoke violent spirits (Ac 16:16-24, 17:5-8, 21:27-36, 1Co 15:32), political spirits (how often do we see the early apostles arrested or imprisoned? Mt 10:18), and religious spirits (2Co 11:3-5,13-15, 1Jn 4:1-6, Gal 1:8).
We need our unripe apostles to mature. We need them to progress beyond the spiritual “young men” stage into “fatherhood” (1Jn 2:13,14).
Here are three major issues.
Intimacy before ministry.
Spiritual adolescents are gifted and zealous for ministry, but inconsistent in their daily lovemaking to the Lord. Promising apostles self-destruct because they found their identity and emotional well-being on ministry. When daily intimacy with their First Love becomes their highest value and strongest habit, and ministry simply an overflowing consequence, they are entering true spiritual maturity. Mark 12:29,30, Luke 10:39-42, Revelation 2:4
Character before ability.
What does it profit you, me, us, or God to be apostolically proficient…yet angry? Or controlling? Or egotistical? Or hooked on porn? Or unable to have fulfilling and peaceful relationships? Or gluttonous? Or depressed? Or crippled by the past? Or codependent?
Skill without character is a ship with a hole in the floor. It might float for awhile, but oh will it sink and take everyone down with it. Depend on the Spirit’s presence, on Scripture, on trusted Christians, on good resources, and on providential circumstances to clean your gut and become truly Christlike. James 1:21, 1Peter 2:1-3
Relationships before achievements.
Congratulations…you can preach the church into the Spirit, you can pray and see unusual results, you can doctor a ministry, you can dislodge stubborn spirits, and you can penetrate a region. But can you have happy relationships? Can you love a woman? Can you keep good friends? Can you relax and be yourself without having to be “apostolic”? If you lost everything today, and made a disaster of your life and ministry, who would still be standing with you? Everyone likes a successful person. Grow past performance.
Let’s Declare war on the “super-apostles”
Scripture gives us two blinking lights on false apostles. My prayer is that we all slow down, back up, take a breath, and examine the apostolic waters we might be drinking from. Though some might be true streams muddied by immaturity, some are false streams altogether.
Conceit...”super-apostles” Paul labeled the false apostles of his day “super-apostles” (2Co 11:5,13-15, 12:11), sarcastically calling attention to their egotism, narcissism, and grandiosity. This should give us some direction in spotting the masquerading angels of light in our day and city. False apostles are more than just occasionally prideful, which anyone can stumble into. False apostles have a superman complex that is constant, overwhelming, and reeks for miles. They manifest the satanic vanity of Lucifer before and after his fall (Isa 14:12-14, Eze 28:17).
Control...”Nicolaitans” Jesus called the false apostles in Ephesus “Nicolaitans” (Rev 2:2,6), which means “to conquer and control the laity (common people)”. This happened in Ephesus, and there is nothing new under the sun. False apostles create a type of spiritual dictatorship, claiming canonical authority (directly or indirectly). They assume an illegitimate dominion over the personal choices of Christians, especially their relationships and finances.
Jim Jones, David Koresh, Warren Jeffs, and others are glaring examples of contemporary Nicolaitans, false apostles. Most, if not every, aspect of the laity’s lives were commandeered and domineered. The ends of these stories are tragic.
Put simply, false apostles are drunk on themselves and drunk on power. Their apostleship should be despised, blacklisted, and abandoned. Jesus honored the Ephesians for testing those who claimed to be apostles (Rev 2:2), the Bereans were commemorated as noble for testing the great apostle Paul (Ac 17:11), and we are told to test everything from prophecies (1Th 5:20,21) to spirits (1Jn 4:1-6) to evangelists (Gal 1:6-10)!
Don’t jump first and look later. Spiritual doesn’t mean stupid. If you are told to “not test” or “not question”, you might just be around a Nicolaitan or a Nicolaitan spirit.