“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,” 1:1
Don’t you love the detail of the text? Whilst this is a common greeting of the day, it is also a most weighty moment that leads us into the heart of this book. This truth wrapped in its historical context, draws us into the relationship between the apostles and the local church.
Let’s step back for a moment and address the matter of apostleship. I believe it is erroneous to dismiss this ascension gift given to men [Eph 4] with casual commentary that apostles ceased to exist after the scriptures were recorded. As if all that Jesus had in mind was apostles for one generation alone. Because of rash decisions concerning the gift of the apostle we find the church at large now speaking of missionaries or mega-church leaders as the replacements for the role of the apostle. These simplistic comments demean the most noble office, which the Father designed to be key and pivotal to the church until Christ’s returns.
May I suggest these major conversation points related to our text?
1. Ephesians 2:20 tells us that every church and believer need the foundations that were laid by apostles and prophets – this is not just within the writing of the Old and New Testament. These gifts (ie. Apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher) come in the form of men, earthly vessels, appointed “by the will of God”. We can only be who and what God has appointed us to be – not what men say we are or even what we would like to be!
2. Philippians 1:5 speaks of “your partnership in the gospel”. This is a most wonderful Kodak moment. It seems like the Father creates a most intimate relationship between local churches and apostles, proving its importance by beginning almost every epistle with the stating of that essential partnership. The structure of the partnership however is not meant to control local leaders and churches, or to create ongoing and complete dependence, and it is certainly not to establish organizations or denominations. Apostles are spoken of as being “first of all” in 1 Corinthians 12 but not “over all”. They come alongside church plants, or replants, yet like parents, their desire is that these churches would become more and more mature and in turn require them less and less. It seems like every local church in scripture worked with two or three apostles – great case studies for this can be found in Corinth and Thessalonica.
3. Ephesians 4 clearly announces to us that every local community needs all five of these gifts operating to become mature, lacking nothing, till we reach the unity of the faith.
Allow me to focus on the apostles for just a moment. I am so intrigued at how many leaders, who profess to be ‘Bible folk’, are blinded to the weighty role that apostles play in church life. These leaders or movements are so comfortable with either ‘abiblical’ or ‘unbiblcal’ leadership titles as if to suggest that the scripture is silent on these matters. So movements are led by ‘presidents’, ‘superintendents’, or ‘team leaders’ rather than revisiting the conversation and the scriptures that deal with these 5 fold giftings/roles. The Galatians 2 world of apostolic recognition has been replaced by election or succession, and we wonder why things go wrong.
Without going into a larger study on apostles at this time, an overview of an apo job description, seems to include around twelve elements. Some emphasize the power quotient of Paul’s writings to the Corinthians. Others place huge importance on his theology, and so on. Obviously these are important. However the most strategic part and yet most often forgotten, is that a true apostle is a “master builder” or “expert builder” as seen in 1 Cor 3:10-15. The notion here is of one person being both architect and engineer as was clear and evident in scripture. The entrepreneur, pioneer, strategic thinker, designer is a leader who can convert ‘the vision’ into measurable steps. He can also help recognize, train, and release leaders as part of the gift of the apostle.
It is not enough that they are fathers – all Eph 4 giftings should be that. It is not enough that they operate in the miraculous; all Eph 4 giftings should do that. It is not enough that they are solid in theology and truth – that is necessary for all the 5 fold offices. They are different in that God has empowered them with the unique anointing to think, talk, dream, decide with these building abilities that become evident in the churches they work with - Paul says of these churches that they are the “seal of our apostleship” 1 Cor 9:2. When you look over a leaders shoulder, what is seen in their wake will determine whether or not these men are apostles. Is evidence of wholeness, maturity and strategic impact?
Here are some ‘beware of’ bits and pieces that will hopefully trigger even more conversations concerning the gift of the apostle:
1. Beware of the danger of demeaning this great ascension gift by calling it a ‘missionary’, ‘special assignment’, ‘team leader’, and ‘entrepreneur’. The anointing and appointing of the apostle is still God’s prerogative.
2. Beware of believing that the body of Christ [personal or community] can get by without this master builder – this borders on raw arrogance.
3. Beware of identifying ‘apostles’ based on any ingredients other than a true biblical job description – it is never the size of the church, the amount of success, the type of profile, or being a father, in age or experience or even self appointment.
4. Beware of the drift to letting this most noble office become abused by becoming ‘dictators’, ‘CEO’s’, ‘top down leadership models’, ‘unilateral decision makers’. Biblically, apostles are not ‘over all’ but ‘first of all – scum of the earth”.
Lets see how this works out in this epistle…