Where in the world is an apostle?
One place where the gulf between what we read in the New Testament and what we see in the 21st Century that is worth looking into is in our understanding of and implementation of the “modern-day missionary”.
To begin with, let us note that the word missionary in not in the Bible.
The NT uses the word apostle to describe what we now know as a missionary. This is not a just a problem of semantics however or a case of a word changing over the years. In the NT we find only a small handful of apostolic bands (2-5 people) that entered a city on foot, carrying with them nothing but the bags on their shoulders. They gave nothing but themselves and the power of the Spirit and took nothing with them. Through hard work, often filled with bloody persecution, they left behind a small gathering of believers who had experienced the reality of the Risen Lord.
Take notice of Paul when he and Barnabas ministered in Lystra (in Asia Minor), where he was stoned and left for dead! The next day when Paul and Barnabas left for Derbe, they left behind a permanent impression on this band of “fresh” believers in Lystra that the road forward would be costly.
Call it what you want – I prefer apostle – but what is desperately needed on the unreached fields of the earth, including the ever-expanding Muslim world, is the restoration of the role and function of the apostle.
The Apostle Paul
To come to a better understanding of the role of an apostle, one must study the life of Paul. In doing so, we come across apostolic principles that will serve the church of Christ today just as they did in the year 50 A.D.
1. Firstly, Paul was called and chosen by God to be an apostle. He was literally knocked off his horse on his way to Damascus to bring destruction to the very church he would later build all over the Roman world.
“Paul, a called apostle of Jesus Christ, through the will of God” 1Co 1:1 (Ro 1:1, 2.Co 1:1, Eph 1:1, Col 1:1, I Tim 1:1, 2Ti 1:1, Tit 1:1)
2. Next, we see that the Spirit and the early church leaders led Paul, not to the pressing mission fields, but to the obscurity of the “hidden years” in Arabia and Tarsus – a total of about eight to nine years.
“The best years of Paul’s life were slipping away between the Tarsus mountains and the sea. It was the harder to bear because he cared so deeply that all men everywhere should hear and believe, yet during his later thirties, and into the early forties when a man approaches his prime, he drops out of history.” (The Apostle: A Life of Paul by John Pollock)
3. Paul was eventually brought out of this time of anonymity not by his own initiative but by Barnabas, whom he served alongside with for an entire year in Antioch.
“So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul; and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch.” Acts 11:25-26
4. The confirmation of Paul’s calling and the sending off through the body of Christ (at the prompting of the Holy Spirit ) becomes the beginning of his own ministry to the Gentiles.
“Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them. Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.” Acts 13:1-3
5. Finally, Paul and Barnabas are sent off as a team of apostles. In the next 30 years Paul will team up with over 20 more “fellow apostles” like Luke, Silas, Epaphras and Timothy to spread the gospel throughout the known world.
“In little more than ten years St Paul established the Church in four Provinces of the Empire, Galatia, Macedonai, Achaia and Asia. Before A.D. 47 there were no churches in these provinces; in A.D. 57 St Paul could speak as if his work there was done.” (Missionary Methods, Roland Allen)
Paul is an awesome example of an apostle!
He was truly a wise master builder who, more or less, single-handedly held the reigns on the apostolic movement as the fires of the gospel spread throughout Asia Minor and Europe in the First Century.
Paul’s life lays down “first principles” that we ignore to our own peril.
“Paul, an apostle (not sent from men, nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who did raise him out of the dead)” Gal 1:1
Yours for the least in the Kingdom,
Jeff and Maria Gilbertson