In this series we have been looking at the gifts that Jesus gives to the Church as described by the apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:11.
Now let’s take a look at each of these fivefold functions in a little more detail. I’m going to take the next two posts to investigate Apostles.
The word apostle is borrowed from the vocabulary of the Roman Empire. In Greek culture an apostle was like an ambassador sent by the Emperor to represent and cultivate the culture of the Empire within the newly conquered province over which he presided.
The word literally means “sent one,” from the Greek word apostolos:
one who has been sent carrying the orders of another with the authority of the one who sent them.
You could imagine how important these imperial ambassadors would be in establishing the culture of the newly occupied Roman territory. They would carry great authority from the Emperor who sent them, and yet they remained under that same authority. A conquered territory would look to the apostle to re-shape the culture and bring people into alignment with the values and practices of the conquering kingdom.
So, in the Gospels we read that Jesus designated His 12 closest disciples as “apostles” and sent them out with His authority to bring the culture of the Kingdom to the places where they were sent:
And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. The names of the twelve apostles are these…” – Matt. 10:1-2
Here we have the basis of what Jesus meant when He used the word apostle with these particular disciples.
These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay.’” – Matt. 10:5-8
We later discover that there are others in the newly birthed churches who are referred to as apostles as well. They include people like Barnabas, Titus, Silas and others.
Thus, we see that while Jesus did indeed appoint 12 special disciples as apostles, the role of apostle is not limited to those 12 men. Indeed, we read of a woman apostle called Junia in Romans 16:7.
It appears that the broader group of New Testament apostles were involved in establishing and helping grow new churches. Many seem to travel geographically and are linked to church planting teams. Several apostles, including Paul, were involved in running their own business in the marketplace as one source of funding themselves.
The common thread seems to be that they were all establishing kingdom culture and had a keen sense of being sent under Christ’s authority.
I think this is the most basic understanding of what it means to be apostolic today:
to know that you are sent with a mission with the authority of the One who sends you and that you establish the culture of the Kingdom in the place where the King sends you.
Next week, we’ll continue the conversation about apostles and their role in the context of the fivefold functions.