In spite of the scriptural reminders to us about thinking too highly of ourselves, positions and titles have become increasingly more important in the charismatic and prophetic world as the desire for recognition of one’s ministry trumps the reality of what gift, if any may really be in operation. One of these designations is the title of “Apostle.” We certainly believe in the ministry of the apostle as Paul lists this as part of the 5-fold ministry gifts to the church in Ephesians 4. We would not want to be “Eisegetical” as some have done, and accept the ministries of pastors, teachers and evangelists and neglect prophets and especially apostles. This unfortunately has occurred as a result of misuse and misunderstanding of the 5-fold teaching from Paul.
Many different definitions abound regarding who or what can qualify as an apostle or one who is sent by the Lord. Rather than give personal opinion, the best way to define the term is to go directly to the word of God.
There are multiple references Paul makes to himself as an apostle that define the true gift for the church. 6 of these are specific to the true nature of this gift to the church.
Servants of Christ who endure hardship with grace.
"This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed…" 1 Corinthians 4:1
"To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment." 1 Corinthians 4-.11-13
This kind of description flies in the face of those in our age who require armor bearers to carry their bibles and wait on their every need. We are servants first. Everything else is secondary in our calling.
2. Spiritual Fathers
"I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children. Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore, I urge you to imitate me. For this reason, I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church." 1 Corinthians 4:14-17
Spiritual fathers ae those who have significant influence in the lives of new believers, young or old and have more than a casual relationship from the platform. To suggest I am a spiritual father and referring to “my sons and daughters” without continual relationship development does not fit the New Testament example of an apostle.
3. A personal, visible encounter with Christ.
"Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?" 1 Corinthians 9:1
Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born." 1 Corinthians 15:7
It would appear the strict definition of an apostle requires a personal visitation from Christ in addition to a salvation experience. Although in debate by some, to suggest apostleship without an encounter with Jesus is a loose use of the term.
4. The willingness to give up deserved rights and authority for the sake of relationships.
"This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. Don’t we have the right to food and drink? Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas? Or is it only I and Barnabas who lack the right to not work for a living?"
"Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk? Do I say this merely on human authority? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.”
"Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely, he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ." 1 Corinthians 9:3-12
There is much confusion regarding how Paul supported his ministry. By his own testimony, there were times he worked for a living as a tentmaker while planting churches and other times he relied solely on the support of the churches who supported him- much like missionaries do today (Acts 18:5). The heart of a true apostle is the willingness to give up certain privileges for the sake of the gospel. Paul further defined this to the Phillippian church telling them;
“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:11,12)
He told the Thessalonian church- "We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority."
(I Thessalonians 2:6).
Those who call themselves apostles and demand only the best hotels, transportation and service, making others sacrifice while they are unwilling to sacrifice themselves for the cause of Christ, have not caught the true essence of apostolic ministry.
5. A realistic view of one’s ministry in light of the grace received.
"For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God." 1 Corinthians 15:9
In spite of the many accomplishments of Paul, he never thought of himself as better than others and took a low view of his ministry. He never forgot where he had come from and refused to use his ministry credentials as a way to impress or manipulate others.
6. A clear evidence of supernatural power.
"I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles." 2 Corinthians 12:12
The apostles in the book of Acts also testified to visible, supernatural demonstrations (Acts 2:43; 4:33; 5:12).
In our desire for supernatural manifestations to validate our ministries, some have resorted to declarations that amount to nothing more than sorcery and charismatic magic. Spoken miracles that have no outward manifestations that cannot be proven, that excite a crowd for the moment but go away in silence after the lights are turned off and the doors are locked, bring nothing more than confusion and disappointment to a generation looking for real, spiritual power.
There was no doubt Paul could claim the authority of an apostle; the dead raised, the blind seeing, demons cast out, clear outward signs of healing and city-wide awakenings followed Paul wherever he went. May we not use the term apostle until we can genuinely report that these signs have followed us, wherever we go.
Jesus spoke in Revelation 2 about the influential church of Ephesus that had been founded on the supernatural by Paul in Acts 19 and said;
"I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false." Revelation 2:2
Indeed, this church was established on supernatural signs and wonders with a city-wide awakening that shook the entire region. There was no doubt the signs of an apostle had been done among them. Yet, after a number of years, this apostolic authority had been forgotten, along with the true definition of what an apostle looked and acted like. As in our day, some asserted apostolic authority who did not possess their claim. Ephesus tested those who said they were apostles, and based on accurate evaluation, found them false.
In a generation that desperately needs more than titles and positions, may we rise up as men and women of God, who understand the need of the hour for a demonstration of the Holy Spirit and power. May we not be concerned how we are labeled, be willing to call out the false and walk in the humility of Jesus and declare global awakening to the world in Jesus Name!