As a continuation from last week’s blog, this week I want to dig a bit deeper into what it means to be an apostle.
In case you didn’t read last week’s blog, we looked at Ephesians 4:11-13 in light of every Christian growing in capacity of the gifts that God has given (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers). In light of some of your comments (which I love getting – keep sending me your thoughts!), God has indeed given these as gifts and for some, those gifts are very apparent and strong! Some of us are very gifted in one of the five, but I believe all of us have the capacity to grow in all of the five.
This is the goal! As a theologian reminded me this week, the purpose of these gifts is found in the very next verses, 14-16: 14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and glowing and full of love.
An equipped Christian understands that there are times when we need to be pastoral, when we need to be an evangelist, when we need to teach, and so on. There are actually five different lists in the New Testament of different giftings, each of which is different. As Christians, we are to be building capacity in ourselves in this UNTIL we reach unity in our faith (v.13). It’s a long process and we are all at different points in the journey, but that is the first destination. The second destination is maturity (v.14), as we seek to become a complete person, becoming more like Christ.
Paul is not concerned with church order in this text, as nothing is said about overseers or deacons. He is interested in the dissemination of wisdom and correct knowledge of the gospel to each believer, in addition to the gift of grace and the gift of Christ. In a commentary by Dr. Lynn Cohick, The Letter to the Ephesians, the gifts described are not an individual’s spiritual gifts but rather gifts to the church. She says, “The focus is not on how the Spirit gifts individuals for ministry but on the duty of such roles in helping the church mature” (pg. 267).
So what does it mean to be an apostle? Often we think of the twelve disciples whose term changed to apostles after Jesus’ death. But Paul refers to himself as an apostle throughout the New Testament in a different way than the Twelve, more generally as someone who was called after Christ’s earthly ministry, especially as a leader for doctrinal and moral guidance. Other men and women who were called apostles are James, Barnabas, Apollos, Andronicus and Junia. From this same commentary by Cohick, a third use of the term is for a person who is commissioned by a congregation for a specific duty.
I’m not advocating for titles here but challenging us to live into the idea that we have an apostolic calling as followers of Christ.
What does this mean to you?
What does it mean to me?
If I understand that I am an apostle, does it change the way I do my work at my workplace? In my home? In my community? What does maturity look like in this particular gift?
My goal in this series of writings is not to provide answers but rather to ask questions; questions that hopefully lead us to thinking thorough our own answers in our own context.
Next week, prophets!