As I mentioned in my post “To equip the saints for the work of ministry,” for the next several posts I’m going to consider the work of the gifted individuals listed by Paul in Ephesians 4:11 in equipping Jesus’ followers for doing the hard work of serving others. Remember, in Ephesians 4:12, Paul wrote that this is one of the reasons that Jesus gave these spiritual gifted people.
So, to begin with the first gifted group in the list: How do apostles equip believers for the work of serving others?
Obviously, apostles can equip believers in many areas of unity, faith, and maturity. An apostle can help someone learn to love the unlovable or to care for someone who is in need. But, none of this is specifically related to the apostle being an apostle. However, Paul wrote Ephesians 4:11-12 in the context of those spiritual giftings.
What is special about the service of apostles – that is, what makes apostles be apostles? Believe it or not, this term is never defined in the New Testament (much like many of the other terms related to spiritual gifts and spiritual gifted persons). We can only go by the term itself along with what is written concerning various people identified as “apostles” in Scripture.
The term “apostle” literally means “one who is sent” from the verb that means “to send.” In contemporary (to the New Testament) literature, the term was used to refer to an ambassador or diplomat who was sent by someone else (usually a king or government) as a representative. In the New Testament, the common trait among all those who are named “apostles” is that they travel away from their homes. (For this reason, I like the more modern term “itinerant” as a parallel to “apostle.”)
Thus, one of the main traits of an apostle is that he or she travels from place to place with the intentions of continuing to travel to another place. (Note, this is slightly different than someone who travels from one place to a new place, but intends to stay in that new place indefinitely.)
Those gifted as apostles, then, can help others learn to live as those sent by God. Even those of us who do not travel from place to place can still live as sent by God – which we are – to our neighbors, friends, family, coworkers, etc. Apostles certainly can equip other apostles to travel more extensively, but they can also encourage and provide opportunities for “non-apostles” to travel occasionally. (Remember, teachers are not the only ones who teach… The same is true of apostles.)
There is a great example in Scripture of apostles equipping non-apostles:
And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. (1 Thessalonians 1:6-8 ESV)
While the believers in Thessaloniki did not continually travel around like Paul and others did, they did learn from the apostles and followed their example by living “sent” to the people of Macedonia and Achaia.
Are you gifted as an apostle? How are you equipping your brothers and sisters to serve others?