What Is an Apostle?
And He Himself gave some to be apostles….
— Ephesians 4:11 NKJV
When I was growing up, I was told there was no such thing as a living apostle. Our denomination taught that all the apostles died at the end of the “Apostolic Age” — along with miracles, signs and wonders, and gifts of the Holy Spirit! To my young mind, the term “apostle” belonged to a group of 12 legendary men who walked with Jesus 2,000 years ago. Once they died, that was the end of that!
But over the past decades, we have learned that much denominational teaching was wrong. Miracles, signs, wonders, and gifts of the Holy Spirit are still “alive and well.” Prophets, also previously considered relics of the past, are recognized and honored. No one would argue that the Church is also blessed with fiery evangelists, powerful pastors, and profoundly God-gifted teachers. But now — at the end of the age — it is finally being recognized that the apostolic gift still exists.
The apostolic gift has always been around, but the theology I grew up hearing wouldn’t sanction someone being called an apostle. To call someone an apostle seemed ludicrous and arrogant. Everyone “just knew” there was no such thing as an apostle — and to call a person by this name was almost considered a blasphemous insult to the first 12 apostles.
So thanks to our scholarly ancestors who read and spoke Latin, we reverted to calling apostles by the Latin name missionaries. But “missionary” is not a correct term in this context. The only reason we called apostles missionaries was the fear of retribution for calling them apostles, as they often should have been called.
I am not implying that everyone who is a missionary is an apostle. Some people are called to be missionaries — people who sense a need to go on a mission to help the work of God. This work is very beneficial and needful, but it does not in itself constitute an apostolic call. Often these are truly missionaries and not apostles — people sent by the local church or their denomination to help in some way on the mission field.
An apostolic call originates in a divine revelation and encounter with Jesus Christ. As Paul said, his calling was “…not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ….” (Galatians 1:1). These precious apostolic gifts may not have always been recognized as apostles, but they have always been present in the Church throughout history, and they are present and active in the Church in this hour. Ephesians 4:11-13 says that all the fivefold ministry gifts — including the apostle — will be present and active “till we all come in the unity of the faith….”
The Church of Jesus Christ cannot reach full maturity unless all of these Christ-given gifts are imparting their unique portions to the Church. Like the other fivefold ministry gifts, the gift of apostleship is an essential element to carry the Church upward to her destiny as a “…glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing…” (Ephesians 5:27).
But before we go any further into this teaching about the role of apostles in today’s world, let’s back up and study where this word apostle comes from. Today we’ll look at the Greek meaning of the word, and tomorrow we’ll look at the various historical usages of this word “apostle” in New Testament times. You may be very surprised to see the various ways this word was used and how they all had application to a New Testament apostle.
The Greek word for “apostle” is apostolos, which is a compound of the words apo and stello. The preposition apo means away, and the word stello means to send. When the two words are combined, they form the word apostolos, meaning one who is sent away. This Greek word appears 79 times in the New Testament. The root of apostolos is the word apostello, a word that appears no less than 131 times in the New Testament and more than 700 times in the Old Testament Greek Septuagint.
At first, it may seem that the definition of this word apostolos — one who is sent away — denoted one who had been dismissed, set aside, or rejected. However, this word didn’t refer to a person sent away in dishonor or disgrace. Rather, the word apostolos was a term of great honor that referred to a person who was personally selected, commissioned, and sent on an assignment on behalf of a very powerful government or individual. This person wasn’t merely sent off; he was empowered, invested with authority, and then dispatched to accomplish a special task.
So when we talk about apostles, we are discussing individuals who are appointed, empowered, invested with authority by the Lord, and then dispatched to do a special task. And their task is the establishing of the Christian community in places where it had not existed heretofore.
There is a lot for us to see on this subject, so tomorrow we’ll look more deeply at the historical meaning of the word “apostle.” I pray these Sparkling Gems will open your eyes to a greater understanding of this gift and how desperately we need this gift to be active in the Body of Christ today!
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Father, I ask You to help me recognize those who are apostolic gifts — those who have apostolic callings — in the Body of Christ. We need all fivefold ministries — apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers — for the building up of the Church. If one of these is missing, there will be a certain portion of Christ’s impartation missing from the Church. I ask You to help me be open-minded to the reality of the apostolic ministry gifts and to honor them in our midst.
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I confess that apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers are all present and active in the Body of Christ. I am open to each of these impartations of Christ. Because I am open to them, I will be a recipient of the grace of God that is delivered through each of these. I will receive ministry from apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers — and it will contribute to my edification, growth, and to the building up of the Body of Christ!
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
- Do you personally know anyone who stands in an apostolic anointing? Who is that person? Why would you say he is apostolic? What is the evidence that makes you believe this person carries an apostolic calling?
- How will what you’ve learned in today’s Sparkling Gem influence the way you respond to and receive from the apostle’s ministry in the future?
- Are you clear about the distinction between missionary and an apostle or “sent one”? How would you describe that distinction?