Wednesday, March 7, 2012

So You Want to be an Apostle?

by Teresa Seputis

Apostles get to do some really neat things. They get to be leaders, establish doctrine, perform signs and wonders, teach and equip believers, impart spiritual anointings into others, preach, prophesy, etc. So it is not surprising that a lot of believers wish the Lord would appoint them as apostles. After all, we are all hungry for God, hungry to be close to Him, to hear His voice clearly, to move in His power and anointing. We desire to "be all that we can be" in Christ. So it is natural that many desire the "apostle" job description.

At least, it is natural for many to desire the "up side" of being an apostle. But did you know that there is a hefty down side as well? Someone once explained it to me this way: "You have to 'pay a price' to be anything significant in the Body of Christ." God is looking for those who are willing to count the cost and then pay the price. He can't use us until He refines us, and there is always a big price tag in being refined. The greater the call of God you desire on your life, the bigger the 'price tag' for it will be.

Let's look at some of the "costs" of being an apostle. There are many costs that we will not cover, but here are five worth noting:
  1. Many Apostles Work Hard And Are Never Recognized By Church At Large
  2. Some Apostles Are Called To Be Self-Supporting Instead Of Being Supported Financially By The Church
  3. Some Apostles Are Given "Obscure" Kingdom Work
  4. Most Apostles Are Persecuted Or Suffer For Their Faith
  5. Most Apostles Are Called To Become Martyrs
Many Apostles Work Hard And Are Never Recognized By Church At Large
The first thing most people think of when they hear the word apostle is "spiritual leader" or governing authority. But most of what the apostles in the Bible did was hard work. And, similar to the prophet who is not appreciated or honored in his home town, many apostles do not get respect and honor from those they serve. In fact, a lot of apostles are taken for granted.

Paul was one of the "greatest" apostles in the book of Acts. He probably accomplished more than any of the original "12" (really 11 because Judas killed himself and Mathias was elected as his replacement). Paul planted more churches, personally lead more people to Christ, wrote more scripture and established more doctrine than any of the others. God anointed him and used him very powerfully. Yet Paul was not recognized as one of "God's greats" in his day. In fact, he was seen by many as lower than the original 12. He was not widely respected. There were times when he had to spend time justifying the fact that he called himself an apostle.

Paul wrote 1 Cor. 9:1-27 to defend his Kingdom works because they were not very appreciated. He uses a bit of sarcasm in the first half of this chapter to make the point that people look down on him and his work. He went on to share that he humbled himself voluntarily to be able to preach the gospel, that people may be saved. The reason Paul wrote this section is because he did not have the recognition and respect that should accompany his God-appointed position. Paul was taken for granted, he was not appreciated, even though he may have very well been the most powerful and effective apostle who ever lived.

Again in 2 Cor. 12 we see Paul defending his ministry, giving his spiritual qualifications and also his demonstrations of God's authority. For instance, Paul reminded the church at Corinth of the signs, wonders and miracles he did among them in verse 12. He shared how he poured himself out for them, but they didn't seem to appreciate it. In verse 15, he cried out, "So I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well. If I love you more, will you love me less?" In other words, he was saying that all of his self-sacrifice and hard work was not appreciated.
In Gal. 2:8 we see Paul had to define himself as an apostle, because he was not automatically recognized as one, "For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles."

Some Apostles Are Called To Be Financially Self-Supporting
There were times where Paul worked a full-time secular job and then would spend his off hours preaching and evangelizing. He did this in Corinth. Acts 18:2-4 says, "And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla (because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome); and he came to them. So, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and worked; for by occupation they were tentmakers. And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks."
Technically, Paul should have been supported by the church because of the important Kingdom work he was doing. He even argued that point in 1 Cor. 9:6-12. But, for the sake of the gospel, Paul humbled himself and took a secular job so he might support his "real" job of doing Kingdom work.

Today, we find that God gives apostolic calls and mandates to some people. Once they have received this call, they do not let anything stop them from achieving it. If the funding (the finances) is not there, they go out and work a secular job to finance the ministry. Ideally they should be supported for the Kingdom work they do (see 1 Cor. 9:6-12). But if the support is not there -- and often it is not there -- they do not let that stop them. They go out and work a secular job to "pay the bills" and they also work a full-time ministry job to do what God has called them to do. In other words, they work hard to be able to do Kingdom work.
Some Apostles Are Given "Obscure" Kingdom Work
Jesus appointed 12 disciples, 11 of whom became apostles. Luke 3:13-16 records it as, "When morning came, He called His disciples to Him and chose 12 of them, whom He also designated apostles: Simon (whom He named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor."

The book of Acts talks a lot about Peter and even more about Paul (who was not one of the original 12). But it does not talk much about the other 10 disciples.

John does get mentioned in Acts 3 where the lame beggar is healed, he is arrested with Peter in Acts 4, and ministers impartation with Peter in Acts 8. Philip is mentioned multiple times, but we are not sure which Philip is being talked about. There is Philip the apostle and one of the original seven deacons was also named Philip. For the sake of this discussion, let's assume that it is the apostle Philip who is mentioned here preaching in Samaria (Acts 8:5-12), converting and baptizing the Ethiopian (Acts 8), and on a missionary preaching journey from Azotus to Caesarea (Acts 8:40). Judas, not Judas Iscariot but the other disciple named Judas, is mentioned only twice. The book of Acts briefly mentions the two James (one is martyred in Acts 12:2, and the other James receives a message in Acts 12:17, speaks in an assembly in Acts 15:13 and is visited by Paul and Luke in Acts 21:18).
Five (half) of the apostles are mentioned only in Acts 1:13 as being present at the day of Pentecost when they were baptized in the Holy Spirit: Andrew, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas and Simon.

Do you realize that the Bible gives more "press" to Stephen, one of the original deacons and first martyr, than it does to most of the apostles combined? Stephen first shows up in Acts 6 as one of the original deacons. A large portion of Acts chapter 6 (verses 8-15) and all of Acts chapter 7 are devoted to Stephen. His burial is mentioned in Acts 8:2. Did Stephen have more important work than 10 of the apostles? This is just speculation on my part, but I don't believe that he did. I believe these apostles probably each had as powerful and amazing stories as Stephan did, but God choose not to make the details of their lives public to us.

Jesus spent three years personally training these 10 men. He commissioned them as apostles. It follows that God had real and significant Kingdom work for them to do. Yet the Bible is strangely silent on what that work was. I am sure it was important and foundational for God's Kingdom. But their apostolic work was obscure in the eyes of the church. It will become known and rewarded at the time when we all stand before God's throne. The point is that not all apostolic work is visible to the church at large; much of it is done obscurely, away from the "public eye."

God advances His Kingdom through His apostles, but that advancement is not usually easy. A lot of times there is opposition from men and demons. That opposition brings us to the next two costs.

Most Apostles Are Persecuted Or Suffer For Their Faith
Suffering for Christ does not sound like very much fun, does it? The truth is that God can call on any of His servants, not just the apostles, to suffer for Him. History is full of examples.

However, God frequently does call on His apostles to suffer for Him. When God commissioned Paul as an apostle, suffering was part of that commission. We read of this in Acts 9:15-16, when God sent Ananias to pray for newly converted Paul to restore his sight. It says, "But the Lord said to Ananias, 'Go! This man is My chosen instrument to carry My name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for My name.'"

Paul was not the only apostle to suffer for the Lord, they all did. Acts 5:18 gives us one account. It says, "They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail." Acts 5 goes on to recount that God supernaturally delivered them from prison and sent them back out to the streets to preach. They were again arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin. They were commanded to stop preaching Jesus, refused, and were publicly beaten and released. God did not protect them from persecution and suffering, but He was with them in it. Their response is recorded in Acts 5:41. "The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name."
There are many other examples of the apostles suffering persecution, being arrested, beaten and even killed. Peter appears to have had many trips to prison. And so did the apostle Paul. In Romans 16:7, he writes, "Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was." The apostle John was imprisoned on the Island of Patmos because of his evangelistic activity (Rev 1:9). It was in that prison that John had an incredible vision of the last days, recorded in the book of Revelation.
What is the modern-day equivalent? Are the apostles of today persecuted and opposed for the Kingdom work they do? Of course they are. Physical persecution still happens in some parts of the world. Many stories have come out of China and the former Soviet Union about believers being thrown into prison, having their possessions confiscated, being beaten or sometimes killed. In other parts of the world the persecution takes other forms. Sometimes there are false rumors, slander and false accusations against them, because of the Kingdom work they are doing. Sometimes the persecution comes in the financial area. But it is my personal belief that we may once again see physical persecution (beatings, murders, arrests, etc) in the Western world in my natural lifetime. And if this occurs, it is very likely that the Lord will ask many of His apostles to suffer for His sake, that the gospel may go forth.

Most Apostles Are Called To Become Martyrs
Jesus said it Himself in Luke 11:49, "Because of this, God in His wisdom said, 'I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute'" (NIV). Paul commented on it in 1 Cor. 4:9, "For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men."

The Bible has many of examples of apostles laying down their lives for Christ. Tradition has it that most of the original 12 disciples were martyred for Christ. Right from the start of the church, the Jewish religious leaders wanted to exterminate those God was using to build His Kingdom. In Acts 5:27-33, we see that the Sanhedrin wanted to put all of the apostles to death.

There is the case of Stephen. Stephen was a deacon, not an apostle. He had received an impartation from the apostles through the laying on of hands (Acts 6:6) and began to do apostolic-type of works, preaching with power, working signs and wonders (Acts 6:8). Then Acts 6:9-13a says, "Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called) - Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia. These men began to argue with Stephen, but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke. Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, 'We have heard Stephen speak words of blasphemy against Moses and against God.' So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. They produced false witnesses, who testified" against him. This lead to Stephen being martyred in Acts 7. The result was that persecution came on the whole church. Acts 8:1 says, "On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria." Paul, known as Saul before his conversion, was given authority by the Sanhedrin to persecute believers. In Acts 22:4, Paul reflects on his pre-conversion persecution activities. He says, "I persecuted the followers of this way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison."

The apostles were not exempt from this persecution. King Herod executed apostle James (Acts 12:2). They were about to execute Peter, but God supernaturally rescued him (Acts 12:3-12). Tradition has it that at a later date, Peter really did lay down His life for the Lord.

Paul's life was constantly put at risk just because he was an apostle. The book of Acts chronicles many of the attacks on Paul's life. Here are just a few of them:
Acts 9:22-24
Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ. After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him, but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him.
Acts 21:30-34
The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut. While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar. He at once took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.
The commander came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. Then he asked who he was and what he had done. Some in the crowd shouted one thing and some another, and since the commander could not get at the truth because of the uproar, he ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks.
Acts 23:12
The next morning the Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul.
Despite some people's impressions to the contrary, being an apostle is no way to (as the saying goes) "make friends and influence people." It was high risk, high cost, and involved suffering, pain and death.

I believe that the reason the opposition against the apostles was so great was because the spiritual warfare surrounding them was so great. The apostles were actively building God's Kingdom. As a side effect of their activity, Satan's kingdom was being torn down and dismantled. Satan did not want to lose his territory and that is why he fought back so vehemently.

Not a whole lot has changed. God is using apostles today to build His Kingdom, just as He did in the early days of the church. Satan's kingdom is still being torn down as God's Kingdom advances, so Satan is still going to fight back.

I believe that the Lord will ask many of His current-day apostles to lay down their lives for the gospel and become martyrs.

Closing Remarks
When you look at all the things that are part of being an apostle, it becomes a bit less glamorous. If God has called a person as an apostle, there will be a supernatural grace for the times they are asked to die to their own desires, work hard to serve ungrateful others, to work hard and receive very little appreciation or recognition, to suffer persecution or even lay down their own lives for the gospel. If God has called you to be an apostle, there is nothing to be afraid of because His anointing and grace will be on you during those difficult times. He will always equip and enable you for anything He calls you to do.

But if He has not called you to be an apostle, then perhaps you should stay clear of this very costly and very risky calling. It is far better to find out what God has called you to do and be. Then you can fulfill your destiny in His power and anointing, being highly effective for God's kingdom.

By Teresa Seputis, Godspeak International



Cecelia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Theresa Williams said...

On point!

Theresa Williams said...

On point!