So! Having laid a small foundation upon which to build our understanding of the “Ephesians 4” Ministry Gifts let’s now take a look at them in some further depth and in doing so I trust open our understanding to “Who and What” we may be and also “What that might look like” in our own specific roles.
The 12 apostles originally chosen by Jesus were witnesses of the resurrection “Acts 1: 15; 4: 33”; but there were many other true apostles, “Acts 14: 3-4; Romans 16: 7; 1 Corinthians 15: 5-7; Galatians 1: 1,19” which we shall look further at as we progress and also false ones “2 Corinthians 11:13-5; Revelation 2: 2”.
Originally, they had seen or been with Jesus Christ; witnesses of the resurrection, they were to be new ground breakers; ones chosen and sent with a special commission.
The Gift of Apostle would in my opinion normally have a measure of all the other five fold gifts, Prophet, Evangelist,Pastor and Teacher and the role would also carry with it a significant degree of “Leadership Authority”.
The Apostles role was distinctively to spread the gospel both locally and in faraway places where it had never been heard. It also appears that they would stay and nurture their new converts while they develop new Leaders in each location.
In some circles to state and believe that Apostles still exist, and are a vital ingredient to the Church today causes some problems. The Church has provided a “Rod for its own back” in this regard because over the years individuals have become “Icons” of ministry and the failures and extravagancies have allowed a sense of baggage to come to the forefront of people’s minds with such an assertion.
To declare that Apostles (and come to that Prophets) still are needed and likewise exist today, engenders a lot of questions to deal with, not to mention a lot of unhelpful and unbiblical practices (as I mentioned earlier) from those claiming to be Apostles and Prophets today.
However, there is a principle I think we should hold in respect of “misconceptions, misunderstandings misuses and abuses” of good and godly things, these should not lead to no use, rather it should lead to healthy and Biblical use.
The Apostle is referred to as “wise master builders” or “spiritual architects” “1 Corinthians 3: 10” and we truly need this in our day and generation.
I would contend that there are many designated as “missionaries” who are in reality Apostles, but prejudice against the Ministry Gifts of Apostle along with prejudice against women in the ministry has caused the gifts of these dedicated workers to go unrecognised.
When most people think of New Testament apostles, the usual thought that comes to mind is that there were only the twelve, (or at least this would be the general thought perhaps outside of the charismatic) Church’s, there might be a slight leeway in possibly remembering to include Paul
The fact is though in actuality, there were a few more apostles than just the twelve, or the thirteen (the twelve and Paul). Let’s look at the apostles from the first century, or at least those we can learn something about from the New Testament Scripture.
Before we do however, let’s remember the point is not for us to count how many apostles there were. But the purpose is to show that the Apostolic Ministry was not confined to the twelve and Paul in the first century. While those usually recognised as Apostles might have a greater measure of Apostleship than the others we will look at here Paul would always argue for apostolic teamwork.
Knowing there were many more apostles functioning in the New Testament era than the thirteen we usually think of, I think it calls for us to at least re-examine what an Apostle is, as well as re-think the passages we generally point to as proof that the ministry of Apostle is excluded outside of the usual thirteen and not to continue beyond the first century.
These twelve physically walked and talked with the Lord Jesus. Whereas the old covenant was established on the twelve tribes of Israel, the new covenant would be established under the leadership of the twelve apostles. Hence, their unique and foundational role. I guess we would all agree that these twelve were very important and foundational as Apostles.
But what of the following: –
- James the Brother of Jesus
These individuals performed and lived out the Apostolic Calling / Gifting within their lives.
It is true that Paul was not a part of the original twelve we all know this.
There have been ideas put around that Paul was actually God’s better choice to replace Judas Iscariot, rather than Matthias. Some would say that “Casting Lots” as an act was very unspiritual “Then they drew lots for these men, and the lot fell to Matthias, and thereafter he was considered equally an apostle with the eleven – Acts 1: 26” – “J.B. Phillips”and that Paul would have been the proper replacement if only they had waited for the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost.
The motives were right as they were seeking and trusting in the Lord’s guidance as we see from “Acts 1 24-25 – Then they prayed, “You, O God, know every one of us inside and out. Make plain which of these two men you choose to take the place in this ministry and leadership that Judas threw away in order to go his own way” – “The Message”.
Also, perhaps they were looking back to that which is declared in “Proverbs 16: 33” where it says – “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord – “The Message”. Whether they are right or not is a great topic of discussion and further thought.
The name Barnabas does not come immediately to mind when thinking of Apostles but never less he was declared to be so – “But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out – “Acts 14:14”
Barnabas and Paul made a formidable apostolic team for quite a while. Oddly enough, it seems Barnabas was functioning in some kind of apostolic role even before Paul. Interestingly, as I interpret “Acts 11: 19-26” it would appear that not only was Barnabas an Apostle before Paul but that he was also instrumental in the hands of the Holy Spirit in causing Paul to both recognise his gifting and to bring an enabling to his release in it – Now those who had been dispersed by the persecution which arose over Stephen travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, giving the message as they went to Jews only. However, among their number were natives of Cyprus and Cyrene, and these men, on their arrival at Antioch, proclaimed their message to the Greeks as well, telling them the good news of the Lord Jesus. The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord. News of these things came to the ears of the Church in Jerusalem and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw this working of God’s grace, he was delighted. He urged them all to be resolute in their faithfulness to the Lord, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. So it happened that a considerable number of people became followers of the Lord” – “J.B. Phillips”.
Later on, we see Paul and Barnabas’ apostolic commissioning together in the Syrian Antioch Church – “Now there were in the Church that was at Antioch certain prophets and Teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away – Acts 13: 1-3”.
Likewise in “Galatians 2: 9-10” we see James, Peter (Cephas) and John confirming Paul’s and Barnabas’ calling – “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” in the context it is clear that this was an Apostolic recognition and commissioning.
Note! They were sent out by the Spirit of God. And, of course, that’s what it means to be Apostolic. Of course, we should not take this too far, not every missionary or ‘sent one’ is an apostle. I have been sent out by my local fellowship on a number of occasions to teach and minister God’s Word, but I would not expect people to start declaring that I was an Apostle.
James, the brother of Jesus
James, the physical brother of Jesus, was also an apostle. We can see this from Paul’s words when he recounts his visit to Jerusalem in his letter to the Galatians:-
“But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother” – “Galatians 1: 19”.
You will remember earlier that I mentioned that Apostles were “Master Builders and Architects” in the Church and the role played by James appears to clearly bear this out in respect of him because of the prominent role he played in the Church in Jerusalem – “Acts 15: 13-19” – “ After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written, “After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old.” Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood”.
First off, who was Apollos? Why would someone ever consider Apollos as an apostle? The word never actually arises in association with his name.
We first read about him in “Acts 18:24-28” – “Now a Jew called Apollos, a native of Alexandria and a gifted speaker, well-versed in the scriptures, arrived at Ephesus. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with burning zeal, teaching the facts about Jesus faithfully, even though he only knew the baptism of John. This man began to speak with great boldness in the synagogue. but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him they took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more accurately. Then as he wanted to cross into Achaia, the brothers gave him every encouragement and wrote a letter to the disciples there, asking them to make him welcome. On his arrival he proved a source of great strength to those who believed through grace, for by his powerful arguments he publicly refuted the Jews, quoting from the scriptures to prove that Jesus is Christ” “J.B. Phillips”.
He was based in Ephesus at the time and had been instructed in the way of the Lord, was fervent in Spirit, taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, but only knew of John’s baptism at the time. It was Priscilla and Aquila that were used to explain the ways of God more accurately to him. He then went on to the province of Achaia and was used greatly in proving that Jesus was the Christ.
First off, keep in mind that after Priscilla and Aquila helped explain the things of God more accurately to Apollos, he then went on to Achaia. But what’s so important about Achaia?
Within Achaia we find the City of Corinth. It is there that we read about Apollos having a significant ministry role within that city.
We can conclude such after looking at two passages of Scripture in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.
The first being “1: Corinthians 1: 10–12” where it says “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarrelling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.”.
The second being “1 Corinthians 3: 5-11” where it says – “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labour. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ”.
The two scriptures show firstly that it was obvious that Apollos had a very significant ministry with the Corinthians; otherwise why would Paul mention that some were wanting to follow Apollos, of course in a very destructive way to the unity of Christ’s body. And this was also true with others wanting to follow Paul and others wanting follow Peter.
Paul’s main point, here, was that the body in Corinth should not be divided. But it is interesting to think this through more fully.
Paul and Peter had significant Apostolic ministries, easily identifiable as Apostles, maybe the two most significant Apostles in the early days of establishing the Church. In “1 Corinthians 1:12”, it seems obvious that Paul is stating that Apollos had a ministry quite equal with them. In the division mind-set of Corinth, some were wanting to equally follow Paul, Apollos and Peter.
Later in the “1 Corinthians 3:5-11” passage again; Paul is noting the significant ministry that both he and Apollos had amongst the Corinthians. Paul had planted and Apollos had watered. Then, Paul says two interesting statements:
- He who plants (Paul in this specific situation) and he who waters (Apollos in this specific situation) are one – “Verse 8”.
- For we are God’s fellow workers – “Verse 9”.
It seems so obvious to me in looking at the statements and accolades made by the Apostle Paul that Paul and Apollos shared an Apostolic Ministry within the Corinthian Church. Okay! Paul had in all probability a greater measure of Apostleship to this Church, which I am fine with. But this would not negate the calling of Apollos.
They both had given so much into this Church. They both had been party to establishing this Church in the faith. Even more, Paul seems to identify their ministry with the Corinthians as equal.
It might be concluded with further examination that Paul says he is the one who laid a foundation, all the while someone else (presumably Apollos) had built upon it “Verse 10” and knowing that intrinsically Apostles are foundation layers “And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” – “Ephesians 2:20”, this immediately excludes Apollos from having an Apostolic ministry. Therefore, the conclusion would be that Paul was the foundation layer and Apollos only built upon that foundation.
It is a worthy objection to be made but we should remember how Paul saw himself, Apollos and Peter on equal grounds. Also, in “1 Corinthians 3:5”, Paul established that it was both he and Apollos that were the servants through which the Church came to Christ, while also noting in “Verse 8” that the one who plants and the one who waters are “one” and “fellow workers”.
While Paul was first one to come into Corinth to proclaim the gospel and see a local Church expression established, Apollos had a foundation-building role as well. Apollos helped establish this Church in a very Apostolic manner.
Apollos never had the word Apostle next to his name in any text. But the fruit of his life – an establishing, foundation-building ministry – shines forth his Apostolic calling.
Silas and Timothy
Here are two others that likely had some sense of Apostolic ministry. But where would we see Silas and Timothy as having such a ministry?
At the beginning of the first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul briefly greets the Church from himself, Silas and Timothy: – “Paul, Silas, and Timothy, To the Church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace” – “1 Thessalonians 1:1”
Then, later on, we read this statement from Paul: – “For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed – God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” – “1 Thessalonians 2:1-8”.
The “we” in “Verse 6” in my opinion refers to the group of three – Paul, Silas and Timothy. And Paul connects all three of them as “Apostles of Christ”.
Of course, just as with Apollos that we looked at earlier; it’s true that Paul had the greater Apostolic gifting as compared with Timothy and Silas. But such should not keep us from recognising Silas’s and Timothy’s role within this Church (and even elsewhere).
Just as Jesus got on with the job and included a close group of twelve others with him, so Paul got on with his Apostolic call while also looking to include people like Silas and Timothy in helping to establish and strengthen Churches. “1 Thessalonians 2:3-8”, above, it seem to speak of the heart of all three for the believers in Thessalonica. Paul knew it was about teamwork, an Apostolic Teamwork.
Titus and others
Here is the passage for consideration:-
“Thank God Titus feels the same deep concern for you as we do! He accepts the suggestion outlined above, and in his enthusiasm comes to you personally at his own request. We are sending with him that brother whose services to the Gospel are universally praised in the churches. He has been unanimously chosen to travel with us in this work of administering the gifts of others. It is a task that brings glory to God and demonstrates also the willingness of us Christians to help each other. Naturally we want to avoid the slightest breath of criticism in the distribution of their gifts, and to be absolutely above-board not only in the sight of God but in the eyes of men. With these two we are also sending our brother, of whose keenness we have ample proof and whose interest is especially aroused on this occasion as he has such confidence in you. As for Titus, he is our colleague and partner in your affairs, and both the brothers are official messengers (apostoloi) of the Church and shining examples of their faith” – “2 Corinthians 8:16-24”.
It’s unfortunate that our English translations are not as helpful with “Verse 23”. The Greek word, apostoloi, plural of apostolos, is found in the verse, and our English versions usually translate the word as messenger. This is in all probability due to translators holding to the view that Apostles were mainly the authoritative New Testament Scripture writers. Thus, promoting the argument that the term can only be used to describe the twelve, Paul, and possibly a couple of others, namely Barnabas and James.
Therefore, it is argued that these three people spoken of in “2 Corinthians 8:16-23” are simply “general messengers”; I do not believe that the argument holds water. We first take note that, quite similarly to Apollos, Paul refers to Titus as “my partner and fellow worker” – “Verse 23”. However, when we re-read the text we discover what Paul says about Titus and these two other unnamed brothers.
One of the unnamed persons had a major preaching role and was “appointed by the Churches to travel with Paul” – “Verse 19”. The other seemed to have quite a reputable character “Verse 22”. Remembering that, in its core essence, an Apostle is a “sent one”, we then see how Titus and these two unnamed people fulfilled an Apostolic role.
Just as Jesus and the Holy Spirit had been sent with a specific mission and task to accomplish, so was Titus and the two others spoken of in “2 Corinthians 8”. They were as Jesus sent with a specific mission.
It seems obvious that these three had a very important and significant role with the Corinthians and even elsewhere. Paul continues to show his strong belief in Apostolic Teamwork, not the one-man-show.
Did they have as significant role as Peter or Paul or John? I guess not, but what if they had a similar role to a Thomas or Simon the Zealot? Clearly, those were Apostles; they had the word sitting next to their name in the Gospels. And we might even say that Titus and these two others did as well.
Epaphroditus is spoken of as an apostle in Paul’s letter to the “Philippians 2: 25 – 26” – “I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger (apostolos) and minister to my need, for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill”.
Paul calls him “your apostle” in “Verse 25”. Just as Apollos was having a significant role in Corinth, and Silas and Timothy were having such a role in Thessalonica, it is highly probable that Epaphroditus was to have a special role with the Philippian Church.
All of these people were being used in the early days to establish, strengthen and maintain local Churches. Again, we are fine to note that Paul would have had the more significant apostolic ministry in these Churches. But we must be willing to consider that God had called others to function in apostolic ministries as well.