Ephesians 4:11-13 “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”
My wife and I were working through her woman’s Bible study together recently and she posed a question: What’s the difference between an apostle and a disciple?
I had always regarded the 12 disciples as apostles but quickly realized I wasn’t sure how to answer this question.
This is one reason I have found doing Bible studies with my wife can be so rewarding; she looks at the Bible through a lens that is different than mine. She helps me read the Word from a perspective that challenges my outlook and drives me deeper into the significance of God’s Truth.
With that being said, I realize there is much debate as to the ministry of the apostles in the early church and what that means for the church today. The first step is understanding what roles God has given His people and what those roles look like now.
Disciple / Apostle
While a disciple is a student or one who learns from a teacher, an apostle is sent to deliver those teachings to others. “Apostle” means messenger, or he who is sent.
An apostle is sent to deliver or spread those teachings to others. The word “apostle” has two meanings, the larger meaning of a messenger and the narrower meaning that denotes the twelve people directly linked to Jesus Christ.
We can say that all apostles were disciples but not all disciples are apostles. Jesus chose twelve Disciples and this inner circle of men came to be known as Apostles who were entrusted to spread the message of Jesus throughout the world so that eventually there would be many Disciples.
The term apostle came to be used after the Ascension of Jesus. Paul is also known as an apostle since he was awarded this title by Jesus himself.
The apostolic age came to an end when the last apostle died around 100AD. There are many disciples of Christianity spreading the words of Jesus even today. But there are no true apostles in the Christian church today.
When John was given his vision of the New Jerusalem, the city of God that will descend upon the new Earth after the church age, the symbolism of it’s foundation cannot be under appreciated.
Revelation 21:14 “And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.”
These 12 apostles were the original disciples except Judas Iscariot. After Judas betrayed Jesus, Matthias was substituted and was numbered among the 12(Acts 1:17).
The differentiation between apostles of the early church and those who call themselves apostles today was made clear and with the foundation of those apostles, Jesus was made the cornerstone.(Eph. 2:20)
The qualifications for the early apostles were made evident in scripture:
- Had to be a witness of the resurrected Christ. 1 Corinthians 9:1 “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord?”
- Had to be explicitly chosen by the Holy Spirit. Acts 9:15 “But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.”
- They were given the ability to perform signs and wonders. Acts 2:43 “And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.” (2 Cor. 12:12)
The responsibility for laying the foundation of the church fell upon these men and this foundation has been laid and advanced for the past 2000 years.
Today, the closest we have to an apostle is what we commonly refer to as a missionary. A missionary is an ambassador of Christ to people who have not heard the good news. However, to prevent confusion, it is likely best to not use the term apostle to refer to any position in the church today. The vast majority of occurrences of the word apostle or apostles in the New Testament refer to the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ.
For those who have attempted to resurrect the term apostle and continue that heritage, these people should be avoided. The warning from Paul against such practices of exalting oneself to a position is condemned before God.
2 Corinthians 11:12-15 “But what I do, I will also continue to do, that I may cut off the opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the things of which they boast. For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.”
The apostolic gifts are still evident in the church today, but they are manifest in a spectrum of people that hold titles as evangelists, pastors, teachers, missionaries, and servants of the Lord.
When we compare how God works among His people today, the continuation of God’s anointing is still evident.
- Eyewitnesses of Jesus’ resurrection have been substituted with people who are testimonies of Christ’s resurrection power in their lives today. The Spirit of God has made clear His presence in God’s people and those who walk in the Spirit show forth His attributes.
- The work of establishing churches is also evident today. Many missionaries go out and follow God’s leading in presenting the gospel throughout the earth. As people respond to the gospel, churches are formed and grow.
- The works of God are also evident in the church. From miracles of healing to prophecy, the Lord demonstrates His power at the right times and places it is called for.
- The special revelation of God through the apostles is now readily available through God’s Word. The administration of Old Testament truth into modern day understanding was eloquently displayed among those God ordained.
- The call of Jesus to the apostles is evident in the Holy Spirit’s call to saints today. The last of the apostles was Paul. None other has had this designation since God raised up this man to take the gospel to the gentiles. Self-proclaimed apostles will have never have God’s blessing, self-adulation is contrary to God’s Kingdom call.
In a sense, all followers of Jesus Christ are called to be apostles.
We are all to be His ambassadors (Matthew 28:18-20; 2 Corinthians 5:18-20). We are all to be “ones who are sent out” (Acts 1:8). We are all to be preachers of the good news (Romans 10:15).
It can be easy to try and relegate our own responsibility to others simply because we don’t carry a title.
- If the Lord gives us an opportunity to share the gospel with another, our first thought shouldn’t be taking them to the pastor of our church.
- If we see the Lord leading us in a direction of ministry, it typically comes by way of naturally seeking after God. Consulting with others can be good wisdom but if God is clearly calling you to ministry, don’t look for a way out, understand what the first step looks like. Wisdom is needed before any venture, but the gifts and calling of God are irrefutable.
- Know this…if God is leading you, He will supply you. He won’t call you into anything He doesn’t prepare you for first. You might feel unprepared but feelings can be deceptive. An outward expression of love toward Jesus always manifests itself in love for others.
Works of an Apostle
**Knowing that Jesus is the commander in chief is to remember who we ultimately report to. Our call today is initiated and directed by the Spirit of God.
Mark 6:30 “The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught.”
**Teaching the Word of God accurately is a key requirement for following Jesus.
Acts 15:6 “And both the apostles and the elders were gathered together to see about this matter.”
**It’s important to remember what the gifts and calling of God are upon your life. Not that any task is to menial, but if God has anointed you to do something, do it with all your heart.
Acts 6:2 “And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.”
**God’s anointed leaders should have the wisdom to know who else God is raising up. The prayer and encouragement given to those in service can be the anointing others need to carry on the work of the Lord.
Acts 6:2 “These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.”
What has God called you into today?
Are you being obedient to the call or has fear hindered your response?
Don’t delay…step out in faith and let Him prove His love once again in and through your life.