And He Himself gave some to be apostles….
— Ephesians 4:11 NKJV
The very nature of apostolic ministry lends itself to being relational, geographical, and territorial. Let me tell you what I mean — and then you can think about it !
The apostolic call is based on relationships. For instance, although Paul was universally respected in the Early Church as an apostle, he was not an apostle to every First Century church. He was an apostle only to those with whom he had an apostolic relationship.
Churches in other cities and regions acknowledged Paul’s apostleship, but he was not their apostle. Other believers respected Paul as an excellent minister, a beloved brother in the Lord, and an able leader. But he only had apostolic responsibility for the churches he had helped start and those for whom he served as mentor, teacher, and father in the faith.
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Thus, Paul’s apostleship was limited to those for whom he bore direct spiritual responsibility and with whom he had a unique relationship. This would have included the churches of Ephesus, Colossae, Corinth, Galatia, Hierapolis, Laodicea, Pergamum, Philadelphia, Philippi, Sardis, Smyrna, Thyatira, and others. Paul’s relationship with these churches is the reason we have the books of First and Second Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians. Paul wrote these letters because he was directly responsible for the spiritual well-being of these believers and because he had a unique apostolic relationship either with them or with their local leadership.
One example of Paul’s apostolic relationship with local leadership was the church in Colossae. Although there is no evidence that Paul personally founded the Colossian church, we know that he sent Epaphras as his personal emissary to fulfill that assignment. Under Paul’s orders and spiritual covering, Epaphras traveled to Colossae and started the church. Once the Colossian church was established, the congregation received Paul as the apostle to that church based on his relationship to Epaphras.
Paul was very aware that he wasn’t an apostle to everyone. That’s why he wrote, “Not boasting of things without our measure [or out of our territory]…not to boast in another man’s line of things made ready to our hand [for example, not to take credit for another person’s apostolic work]” (2 Corinthians 10:15,16). Paul was careful not to cross over into another man’s territory if it might produce confusion about who was supposed to give direction to certain churches or to whom those churches were accountable (see 2 Corinthians 10:13,14). This tells us that Paul not only possessed authority, but he also respected the authority and territory of others.
This also explains why Paul told the Corinthians, “If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you…” (1 Corinthians 9:2). The word “doubtless” is actually the Greek word gar, and it means indeed. It is an affirmation of his apostolic relationship to them. A better translation would be “indeed I am to you!” Paul knew that his apostleship was limited, geographical, and relational, so he concentrated on those with whom he knew he had this special, “indeed” God-given relationship.
Paul frequently had to defend his apostleship because of these deceitful workers who swarmed in, trying to exert authority over entire regions of churches that he and other apostles had established and to which they had imparted their lives. Apostleship was power, so those with impure motives sought to invade Paul’s territory and claim his fruit, seeing it as an effective way to exploit someone else’s work for themselves.
Those who coveted the apostolic position used every imaginable method to attract, tempt, lure, entice, and seduce the churches under the realm of authority of genuine apostles. In Paul’s case, the imposters couldn’t find a legitimate reason to accuse the apostle, so they used slanderous and even stupid accusations as they tried to persuade the churches to reject Paul and submit to their authority instead. For example, these false apostles:
- Accused Paul of being unimpressive in appearance and a poor public speaker (see 2 Corinthians 10:10; 11:6).
- Accused him of financially taking advantage of the churches (see 1 Corinthians 9:14,15).
- Endeavored to lure the churches back into the noose of legalism by accusing Paul of being loose in his doctrine of grace (see Galatians 1:6,7).
- Asserted that Paul’s revelations weren’t as deep as theirs, prompting Paul to remind his readers that he was the one who actually had a direct revelation of Jesus Himself (see 1 Corinthians 9:1).
These usurpers of apostolic authority were after Paul’s territory — and in order to get what they were after, they set out to discredit Paul. This is why Paul frequently started his letters by saying, “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ” (see 1 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1; Colossians 1:1).
Wherever Paul’s apostleship was being threatened by false apostles, he rose up like a spiritual father to defend his position. His children in the Lord were in jeopardy, and his relationship with them was at stake. Paul’s deep sense of responsibility and his love for the flock wouldn’t allow him to remain silent. Rather, it drove him to speak up and wage war, if needed, against the imposters who were trying to invade his geographic realm of influence. Paul was determined not to allow those deceivers to destroy his credibility so they could steal and ravage the sheep under his care.
It is sad to say, but there are people who misuse the ministry for their own personal gain of some type. Whether it’s for prestige or monetary reasons, it is innately wrong. When this kind of deceit occurred in Paul’s day, this Early Church apostle rose up to defend the churches, as well as his apostleship. Paul’s one desire was to protect the flock that God had placed under his charge against wolves that only sought to devour the sheep to gratify their self-absorbed lust for control.
In this, Paul revealed the power of the apostolic relationship that provides the foundational mortar for the “house” God has called an apostle to build. Whatever the assignment that particular apostle has been sent to fulfill, it will be defined by some form of divine boundaries, whether they are regional, geographical, or spiritual in nature. And within that marked-out territory assigned by the Lord, the true apostle will stand guard over the relationships he is called to steward within those boundaries. His heart’s fervent desire will be to protect, teach, and strengthen the people — ensuring that they become firmly established in God’s Word, not swayed by external forces or opposition — so they in turn can take their place and do their part in fulfilling the apostolic assignment.
Perhaps now you can see more clearly what was in God’s heart in giving the apostolic ministry gift to the Body of Christ. Certainly it is not more important than the other four ministry gifts, but it is crucial in its unique purpose and function. As we recognize and esteem this gift operating throughout the earth in this hour, we actually help the Body of Christ — and ourselves personally — receive the full benefits of the apostolic ministry, thus becoming more and more equipped to do all the Church is called to do before the return of our soon-coming King!
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Father, I ask You to help me use my head and not just react according to my emotions, when it comes to who is leading me spiritually. You have given me a mind that You expect me to use, and I pray for the wisdom to think carefully and clearly about those to whom I give the right to lead me spiritually. I thank You for my pastor and for my church. Nonetheless, I know that I must keep my eyes open and my heart in tune with Your Spirit about anyone to whom I yield oversight in my life.
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I confess that I have a good head on my shoulders! My heart is open to the Spirit of God, and my mind thinks soundly and clearly. I rely on God’s wisdom and counsel, and He causes my thoughts to be in agreement with His will. I have a strong foundation of God’s Word in my heart and mind; therefore, I am not easily misled because that Word illuminates my understanding. When something is wrong, an alert goes off inside me that warns me to be careful. I am not suspicious or quick to accuse, but I am sensitive to what is happening spiritually. I thank God that the Holy Spirit produces in me the mind of Christ, and the mind of Christ helps me to think soundly and accurately.
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
- I have been misled before because I was innocent and naïve, but those experiences have made me wiser and smarter. I am thankful for every experience I’ve had in my spiritual journey. What are some of the experiences you’ve had that have made you a little wiser?
- What advice would you give someone who was just starting his walk with the Lord and is very pure in his thinking about everything and everyone? Without poisoning him with bad stories, what helpful advice would you give him about whom to follow as a spiritual leader and how to guard himself against deception?
- As you’ve recalled the difficult experiences that became your occasion to gain wisdom, sift through your heart to determine if you detect a root of bitterness toward anyone who was a part of that experience. Release all who hurt you and let them go from the offense you’ve attached to them. You will be amazed by the way that act of obedience and love will propel you forward in the plan of God for your life.