This is the final part of this particular article on the theme of ‘Apostolic ministry’. I realize that we have only scratched the surface of this theme. However, hopefully we have now begun to take a new look at the term ‘apostolic’, and may it help bring about a fresh move of the Spirit in the day in which we live. We have looked at Jesus, the sending of the 12, OT and NT theology of these ministries, but it would be a culpable omission if we did not take a brief look at Paul, who was a giant amoung apostles, and was ‘sent’ post the ascension of Jesus.
Part 4 – Paul, apostle to the Gentiles.
The great thing about Paul is that he never calls himself ‘the Apostle Paul’ but rather ‘Paul, an apostle…’ For him the name is descriptive of His ministry but never prescriptive, demanding an ecclesiastical credence.
Another, thing about him is that we not only see this apostolic function in his life and mission, but we read insights by virtue of his epistles. Due to the huge scope of His teaching, it is better for me to just state some of the key activities of his which are in keeping with the above, and also some key statements of his in relation to this ministry.
· Chosen / Sent. He was chosen by God from birth, to this ministry – Galatians 1: 11 – 24
· Recognised not promoted / Released not restricted. He was initially found by Barnabus probably with seeds of Apostolic gifting beginning to bare early on; then recognised and sent out by the local church at Antioch, then at a later time acknowledged by Jerusalem / Wider Church body. (Acts 12, 13 & Galatians 1) Therefore, he probably began manifesting this gift before full recognition came later on. Thus it is important that an apostolic ministry must be revealed to the man first with his immediate peers by the Holy Spirit. This enables him to function as part of a team in that ministry without restriction but with covering (Acts 12: 25.) As that ministry develops and widens, it is then recognised among the wider body of Christ, as with Paul at Jerusalem. NOTE: The later recognition should be recognition of what already exists in function. It is not to prescribe a promotion to higher office, which only then allows such ministry to take place. However, it is obvious that Paul’s initial freedom was borne out of an acceptance of his ministry in Antioch, and carried into the communities he planted rather than those he did not – i.e. Jerusalem. (See 1 Corinthians 9: 1 – 2) His wider recognition came later, and would have enabled other churches that had little to do with him or his ministry to accept him as such.
· Missions. The heart of his ministry was apostolic missionary (1 Timothy 2: 7), in proclamation to the Gentiles of the Good news, teaching, debating, demonstrating the power of the Kingdom of God, discipling believers, ordaining elders and church fatherly aftercare.
· Team. He worked in a team. Barnabus, Silas, John Mark, Timothy, Titus (Plus 20 others at least at different times) It is evident that as well as working in harmony with other 5 fold ministry gifting, he also saw and worked with other apostolic ministries beyond himself. (Romans 16: 7) No ‘apostle’ should display a ‘sanctified independence’. Whilst this distinct ministry is in its nature ‘first’ in function, it is not first in importance. (Romans 12) It is better to think of it ‘first’ in terms of its foundational nature, but rightly related to other ministry.
· He built with prophetic ministry in harmony with the apostolic ministry. His explanation of this in Ephesians 2 and 3, gives us theological understanding in light of the OT explanation in the previous installments. Also, we see His work with Silas, and Acts 16 highlighting such ministry. The prophets with the team would bring revelation of God’s purposes and strategy for mission.
· Fathers & Sons. He trained other apostolic ministries in Timothy and Titus, instructing them in Church aftercare and to ordain elders in every city.
· Builder. He worked as a wise master builder and foundation layer (1 Corinthians 3) after the pattern of His Lord and Saviour – Jesus. That which the Lord had demonstrated, Paul would have copied and put into practice through preaching and teaching.
· Suffering and authority. Due to the foundational nature of pioneering and missions for the Kingdom, great authority would have been manifest, yet for Paul death and the cross life was also a part of both Jesus and his own life. (1 Corinthians 4: 9& 2 Corinthians 10 & 11) For him, apostles were like those in the procession of death and persecution in their warfare type role. Jesus had foretold this. Kingdom authority – yes, but with Cross like sacrifice. Servant / slave was a word Paul often used about himself. Without death to self and suffering, he would not continue to rely only on God’s grace and power in ministry. The Cross was the source of authority for him.
· Apostolic revelation. Another dynamic aspect of Paul’s ministry (which we also see in the preaching and teaching of Jesus) is that of bringing apostolic revelation. The Word says that the revelation of the mystery of Christ has ‘now been made known’ by apostles and prophets (Eph 3: 4 &5). Part of the apostolic function is to bring out by the Spirit the deep revelatory truths of God, which will in turn build the people into Christ-likeness, and prepare them for works of service (Eph 4). The apostle as ‘sent one’ is actually bringing an incarnational ministry of Jesus to the people in a small way. When this happens it puts into the people an apostolic DNA which causes body growth, or an apostolic seed which bears fruit. Paul says, ‘Imitate me, as I imitate Christ..’ The more apostolic and prophetic revelation comes to a people, the more a community looks like their King in possession and practice. This kind of revelation is not weird or flaky but it is deep, and Christocentric in substance, nature and power. This then makes a mature body, which in turn prepares men for eldership, and people for service. Then God is glorified through His Son, by the Spirit in His Body!
It goes without saying that Paul won thousands to the Lord; transformed cities or regions; planted many churches by discipleship, laying on of hands for impartation and ordination. Yet, He also was a humble man, a servant, slave and a soldier not counting his life worth anything but obeying every command from Heaven. His one goal was to bring ALL men into the fellowship of the revelation of Jesus Christ. Jesus was Paul’s apostolic vision for the nations (Romans 1) Without claiming such a Pauline status ourselves, should we not be looking for similar hallmarks today in apostolic ministry?
In Conclusion, it is my conviction today many apostolic ministries are to be found in the unknown places on the front line on the mission field among the nations, although that is not exclusively so. Some are called to mission at home. These ministries often are breaking new ground in diverse Kingdom ways and building according to the pattern. There are those who administer with elders in building God’s people. Others having gone through the missional stage of ministry are now ‘fathers’. They have gone through the ‘giving birth to new works’ stage and now provide a fatherly role in care and counsel, as Paul to Timothy. Both ends of the apostolic ministry spectrum are different stages of the same apostolic gifting, but both equally as valid – sons and fathers. I believe there are different kinds of apostolic ministries, according to the variety that is in God’s heart. Some encouragers like Barnabus, some exhorters like Peter, some edifiers like Paul, but all apostles with the distinct features of apostolic commission, calling and fruitfulness.
Ultimately, Jesus Christ is the great Apostle. Let us do as the original 12, 70 and early church did – and make known the revelation of the Son of God until He comes! Amen
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