Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother. (1:1)
Paul is writing with tremendous spiritual authority. He is writing as an ‘apostle’, literally, ‘a sent one’ of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ actually sent Paul out by divine revelation. Paul has learned to know the voice of the Lord, and the Lord has entrusted Paul with a lot of responsibilty. Paul is not an apostle because he wanted to be, but because God chose him to be. It was the will of God. Its just like what Jesus said to his 11 apostles in John 15:16 “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain.”
Are there apostles today?
Today there are no more apostles in the class of Paul or the twelve – Scripture writing apostles. There are still apostles of the class mentioned in Ephesians 4:11, which are given, the Bible says, UNTIL we all come to “the unity of the faith, the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”. No one could seriously claim we have arrived to this place yet as the Universal church, so logic compels us to acknowledge that Christ is still giving such apostles. The question is: does the church receive them? We should not limit our vision of what Christ can form in a man. An apostle is trained and equipped to function to some extent in all of the five-fold ministry gifts, but not with the same degree of specialisation. An apostle of Jesus Christ must be able to go into new areas, do the work of an evangelist, pastor and teach the people, and raise up a prophetic generation of intecessors and leaders who will storm heaven and plunder hell for the glory of God. An apostle should be experienced in delivering the spiritual gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12 to people as the Lord leads. There should be outstanding miracles, signs and wonders and a humility and meekness which reflects the image of Christ, not the image of a big-time corporate CEO. An apostle knows how to prosper and how to get along with humble means. An apostle is a man of outstanding endurance and patience, who can rejoice in the midst of hardship.
Such apostles obviously do exist today, but probably don’t care if people think they are apostles or not. They might prefer to be called “Brother” rather than “Pastor” or some such title. What is important is the genuineness of the calling, and the faithfulness to be obedient to it and in the years of preparation and service that lead up to it.
But even these apostles, who cannot write Scripture, or speak with the authority as one such as Paul, can only be true apostles if they were chosen by the Lord to be apostles. The Lord does not choose everyone for this kind of role. There are many different callings and roles. But the church needs true apostles who will do apostolic work in founding many new churches in previously unreached areas. What a desperate need exists for true apostolic ministry today! Look at a map of the world and consider how many towns and villages have little credible witness of the reality of Jesus Christ. God’s plan is to send apostles in, or raise them up from within the local churches of these countries. May we understand the need for this, and align ourselves with the purposes of God for this generation!
In addition to having personal relationship and communication with Jesus Christ, an apostle, to function as such, must be a mature believer in Jesus Christ. It takes years of varied ministry experience to function as a true apostle. An apostle should be one who has learned to abide in Jesus Christ through thick and thin, who is not afraid to die either physically or soulishly. In his quest for the glory of God to be revealed and God to be honored, the apostle must take a fixed attitude of embracing personal suffering as required so the life of Jesus can be revealed and imparted to others (2 Corinthians 4:10,11). While some younger apostles may be somewhat prideful still at times, there is a way the Lord works to eliminate that characteristic to produce true meekness, brokenness and gentleness – in short, the genuine fruit of the Holy Spirit.
Apostolic Ministry and Money
Apostolic ministries usually have an outstanding call to the ministry, but this does not guarantee that they will be exempt from working for a living. Even though Paul had seen the Lord personally, he himself worked making tents, and so supplied not only himself but also his team with the material resources necessary to carry on the ministry. Paul said to the Ephesian elders, “I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me. I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” (Acts 20:33-35). Other apostles apparently had the right to refrain from working “Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working?” (1 Corinthians 9:6) but Paul did not use this right so that he could have an extra reward from the Lord.
Paul was happy to enter into financial partnership with churches, but it seems like only the Philippian church helped Paul himself financially – at least at the time of writing of the letter to the Philippians. We see this in Philippians 4:10-19. Paul knew that those who invested material resources towards his ministry would be abundantly supplied by God. Many try to claim the promise of abundant provision without investing in missions or in ministries like Paul’s.
The reality remains that many genuine apostolic ministries and evangelists which truly spearhead revivals are not able to live on what the church would give them. Sadly, the church is still made up of relatively carnal people who do not suffer thinking about lost souls or the honor of Jesus Christ. In our day, Christians are inclined to support ministries which excel in “packaging” a Christian product/image far more than apostolic leaders who put their lives on the line to rip open Satan’s kingdom and set the captives free. Many Christians prefer to give to things related to their own interests – (i.e. to their own church’s development and comfort) or to someone who promises that they will benefit materially if they give to them, and has the glossy brochures and expensive books and tapes to prove it. It has been proven that the Body of Christ is currently guided more by glossy packaging and clever copy writers than by the Holy Spirit in their giving. Many large ministries employ non-christian marketers to write copy for their begging letters, because they know how to use psychology to bring in the bucks, even if they don’t believe a word of it themselves.
However, I believe though as time goes on and the church matures we will be looking out for people to support who are genuinely putting their lives on the line for the Lord, whose ministry results in the formation of new and vibrant churches, whose messages and prayers shake the portals of hell. When I go to developing nations these are the people I am looking to help. I know what it is like to be out there on the front lines of evangelism in desperate need, while desiring perhaps even the crumbs that fall from the tables of well-packaged teaching ministries. That is why I like now to use the money I earn to give to people who are involved in genuine and not merely administrative apostolic function. I believe many others would feel this way if they went and got involved in church planting as I have done. It changes your perspective on things.
False Apostles and How to Recognise them
Paul had to deal with the problem of false apostles. After Paul’s departure, the Corinthian church had been infiltrated by false apostles who claimed to be better than Paul. These men claimed to be so good and so worthy, that unlike Paul, they required financial reward for their ministries. While Paul was meek and humble, these men seemed so powerful. They had the corporate CEO empire building attitude. They knew how to slap the believers into line. As Paul wrote: “For you put up with it if one brings you into bondage, if one devours you, if one takes from you, if one exalts himself, if one strikes you on the face. To our shame I say that we were too weak for that!” (2 Corinthians 11:20,21). Here we see some of the marks of false apostles.
They bring people into bondage. True apostolic ministry liberates people to be all they can be in Christ, but false apostles bring people into bondage. True apostles want to present the church perfect, fully equipped, and fruitful in Christ. False apostles just want their ego needs to be met by the church. So they set standards which originate in their own thinking or worse yet in demonic deception, and impose these standards on believers as conditions of belonging. In Paul’s day, some of the false apostles claimed to be sent by God and by the church in Jerusalem, but insisted on physical circumcision as a condition for salvation. Going on from there, they would emphasise things like special days to be observed, new moons, feasts, food laws and other such things. Adding law to law, they could get believers to a point where they felt so guilty, so unworthy and therefore so much more in need of the “great men” who could tell them what they had come to believe was the “narrow way” that leads to life. Rules were added, “do not touch, do not taste, do not handle”. In reality, it got down to so much ritual, and not a real dealing with the fleshly carnal nature, which is what is at work opposing the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
True apostles emphasise first and foremost obedience to the Holy Spirit, but false apostles tend to lay a lot of emphasis on people submitting to and obeying THEM. Now it is right to obey and respect church leaders set by God in authority, but church leaders must lead in the fear of God, and avoid a controlling spirit. False apostles may claim many revelations but these revelations do not set people free to rejoice in the Lord, but rather produce fear and bondage. “Revelations” such as “you must not eat pork” or “you must meet on the Sabbath” or the thousands of strange and bizarre unbiblical rules that some have accepted in the name of religion do not produce freedom, but rather, fear and bondage.
The word of false apostles becomes law to the poor believers who are enslaved by them. Such false apostles will introduce legalistic requirements outside of the Scriptures, and demand adherence. If not, well, its “my way or the highway!”. They tend to exclude people who do not bow and scrape to them, so that these people may be powerfully pressured to come into line, so that they can enjoy the acceptance of their friends in the church. In extreme cases, false apostles will claim that they and their group alone are the true heirs of the biblical covenants, so that all those who do not submit to their judgments are ipso facto “outside of Christ”, “lost”. Both Mormons and Jehovah’s witnesses (so-called) are examples of this kind of dangerous nonsense.
They exalt themselves. Anyone who attempts to step into the office of an apostle through self-will, ambitious striving or clever politicking is in line to become a false apostle. Such a person “transforms himself into a minister of righteousness”. “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ”.
A person may be a Christian, and very talented and impressive outwardly, but if they yield to the sin of pride and start to position themselves in order to draw disciples after themselves, they become false. Sometimes it seems we have a mixture of the true and the false in the same person. It is best to stay within the calling or office that really came from the Lord, and not strive for great titles or recognition. William Branham, a great prophetic ministry of the ’50s and ’60s, became a false teacher because he insisted on getting outside of his area of calling and function as a Teacher. He just wanted to be a teacher, even though his doctrine was really off the wall. He would not listen to associates and ministers who knew it was wrong. We become false when we seek to appoint ourselves to roles that neither Jesus nor the Spirit of Truth have assigned us.
They Take from You
I don’t believe for a moment that these false apostles to which Paul referred would literally break into people’s houses and rob them. But they used manipulative tactics to get the people to give them money. It amounts to the same thing. Another favorite tactic is to preach servanthood to others in order to get them primariy to serve THE PREACHER. Actually, Christian leaders, not just Christian followers, are called to be the servants of all. We are servants of one another, but only Christ is the master. It is wonderful when you see a man of God who looks for ways to humbly serve in whatever context he may be found. This is the way Jesus taught us to treat each other when He gave us that great example of washing the disciples’ feet (John 13). This was not meant to be merely an additional ritual to be performed after the Lord’s supper celebration, as wonderful as that may be, but an exhortation to take a completely different attitude than the leaders of this world, who focus mainly on what will benefit them and their own vision, rather than helping people for the sake of Christ. In Matthew 25, Jesus identified with the hungry, the naked, the sick and the ones in prison, and not with the pastors and church leaders. That is interesting. He did not include pastors in that list. The emphasis is not always shared today by pentecostal church leaders. When we serve needy Christians, that is when we are serving Christ the most. When we serve the powerful in order to advance in the hierarchy, we are still serving our own ambitions.
They Strike you on the Face
It is shameful how much hurt has been caused by abusive Christian leaders and false apostles. As leaders, we are called to be gentle among the believers, as a nursing mother. We are not called to whip the people into submission, by spiritual or emotional tactics of domination, with punishments and rewards.
They boast of being Apostles
“But what I do, I will 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…” (2 Corinthians 11:12,13).
False apostles will boast of things so that they may be regarded as being apostles (as Paul truly was). Just because someone says they are an apostle does not make them false (Paul said plainly he was an apostle), but there is a false boasting which is common to those who want to be regarded as apostles and simply don’t resemble or demonstrate Christ as a true apostle does.
There’s quite a lot of glamor in the ministry and nowhere is this more exaggerated than in the United States of America. Someone who truly loves the Lord will not revel in the glory and praises of men, but will seek to shed that glory and get on with the business of glorifying God and taking ground from the devil.
False Boasts of Church Planting
One of the psedo-apostolic things that goes on in the world today is when men claim to have planted churches by finding a group of Christians that someone else has labored to bring to Christ, and then putting their “apostolic” stamp on it and declaring it a church planted by themselves. It seems to be like some kind of board game in which the object is to take money from a missions budget and with it plant as many of the church’s flags on foreign works in exchange for the minimum amount of financial support necessary. God save us from this. That may be helping church planters somewhat but it is not “planting the church”. Sometimes its hard to know how many churches a person has really planted. There is a big difference between catalysing a church plant through evangelism and a three day seminar, and doing the hard yards month after month on the ground with baby Christians. The latter is not so glamourous, but it has to be done by someone. Both kinds of ministry are of value, but its very important I believe for us to be honest about what we did and not try to impress people in order to gain financial support. “Deceitful workers” is one description of false apostles. I can just imagine the false teachers who came to Corinth and Galatia claiming that they, not Paul, were the true fathers of the church, because of their supposed higher revelations, which were nothing but false and enslaving doctrines.
What True Apostles Need
True apostolic ministry needs above all your prayers. The great apostle Paul constantly asked for prayer support (Colossians 4:2-4 for example). The effectiveness of apostolic ministry depends much on the prayers of sending and supporting churches. Apostles need the saints to fight with them in the spiritual battle for souls and for the maturing of the church. It is a constant and often bitter struggle with many opposing forces. Look around your movement and beyond for missionaries and church planters who are doing this kind of work. Whether they are “apostles” or not in the fullest sense of the word is not the issue. Pray for them, that the Lord may give them strength, utterance courage and love.
True apostolic ministry needs times of fellowship. When church planters return to the home church, seek them out and arrange times of sharing with them. The churches in Antioch and Jerusalem listened eagerly to Paul relate how God worked through him and his team with mighty signs and wonders and in bringing people to Christ. There should be a giving and receiving of love. The apostle John praised his friend Gaius who was always looking out to bless travelling apostles and evangelists who were on the Lord’s business (see 3 John 2).
This article will be updated in the future, by the grace of God. I hope you have found it helpful in its present form.