The words of the resurrected Christ to the church in Ephesus ought to hit home just as much in our generation as they did over 19 centuries ago:
“…you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perserverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary.” (Rev. 2.2b-3)
In our day there is a proliferation of men “who call themselves apostles, and they are not…”
We have men trotting the globe in three-piece suits and private jets, 6 or 7-figure salaries and all the earthly esteem a man could covet. They have organizational oversight of multiple congregations. Some even boast that they are the apostles over hundreds of assemblies. They shine on full-color conference advertisements and are skilled proclaimers of the “successful life.” My heart aches with concern for some of these men, particularly the ones living extremely lavished lifestyles, maintaining massively marketed ministries, and thinking they are doing God a service. As the saintly old Leonard Ravenhill once remarked, “There’s a lot of public ministry ‘in that Day’ that’s going to go down in ashes, my brother.”
There are other men who have been given the title of ‘apostle’, but who are not guilty of some of the overt abuses I’ve written about here. Yet I fear that there is yet too much of a mixture in most of what is presently called ‘apostolic’ in the western world, to the extent that in most cases I remain respectfully unconvinced when introduced to the men who are bearing these titles. I do not doubt their sincerity. Yet mere sincerity or good intentions are not the qualifications of the men whom God is wanting to send. Have we been willing to do things His way? Have we really been jealous for His glory?
There is something transcendent about the truly foundational servants the Lord is seeking in this last hour of history. They are not professionals, nor are their works the result of ingenuity, cleverness, or skill. They have been shattered by a vision of the Most High God, and have become like Jacob. They limp through life, knowing that they would not have become what they are but by the grace of an encounter with Him. They have an authority from another age. They have a compassion that is more than human sentiment. They have a faith that pierces the most disparaging and discouraging of situations. They have a joy that beams. They associate with the lowly. They have a fierce loyalty to the God of holiness. They abide in peace. They do not fear men.
They do not cease to pray. They have become, over time, men of God. They are reverent and faithful stewards of the abiding life of Christ.
There is something presumptuous and vain about much of what is called “prophetic” and “apostolic” in our day. There is a self-appointed premature about the movements bearing these names. I fear for our lightness in these areas, and this is especially flagrant in the charismatic fold of the Church.
“…those who CALL THEMSELVES APOSTLES, and they are not…” (Rev. 2.2)
“Jezebel, who CALLS HERSELF a prophetess…” (Rev. 2.20)
We can be sure that as this age draws to a close, we will see an increase in signs and wonders, both true and false. We can also be sure that there will be an increase in those who are considered apostles and prophets. The question is vital then,
“Who are we to receive as apostles and prophets?”
We may run the risk of rejecting the true on the one hand, or receiving and endorsing the false on the other. I believe the Scriptures have given us a framework for wisdom in this area, and it behooves us to obtain a radical jealousy for the glory of God, that we might pray and believe for the emergence of the same kinds of servants that He Himself is wanting to form and send.
(I am assuming that those who are reading this have already seen through the lie that apostles ceased to exist in the first century.)
CHARACTERISTICS OF TRUE APOSTLES IN PAUL’S LIFE AND TEACHING
1. A profound revelation of Jesus Christ, and an intimate walk with the Lord.
“For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
…God…was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him…” (Gal. 1.12, 15-16)
“…I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…”
True apostles will be secure in a revelation of Jesus. They will be impart peace and righteousness. They will walk in joy. They will also be sober men. This will all result from the depth and intensity of their walk with the Lord. It will be deep and intimate, and it will rub off on those who they spend time with.
2. A spirit of humility and love towards all men.
“Paul, a bond-servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the faith of those chosen of God…” (Tit. 1.1)
The False apostles “all seek after their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 2. 21)
“…I will not be a burden to you; for I do not seek what is yours, but you…”
“I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls…” (2 Cor. 12.14-15, seg.)
Apostles will be men of meekness. They will not throw around their names or boast in earthly influence. They will have a radical inward dependence upon the Lord, and will not be moved by the threats of opposers or the flattery of admirers. They will be servants in the reality of life among the saints. They will not be superstars or self-imposing figures. The fragrance of the crucified Lord will emanate from them.
3. Rejoicing in affliction and hardship as sacrificial servants.
“When they had struck them with many blows, they threw them into prison…
But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God…” (Acts 16.23a, 25)
“…rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation…” (Rom. 12.12a)
They will likely provoke opposition and persecution as the result of their living and preaching. They are conveyers of a Kingdom that runs completely against the grain of those whose lives they are addressing, and this will not be a ministry which is free from ramifications, for they are in conflict with the age. But they will not have a self-centered suffering complex. They will simply abide in the Lord and labor with Him, rejoicing even in the resulting sufferings, and teaching the churches to abide in joy in the midst of all trials. They will not be softies, whining and complaining when things don’t go their way.
4. Men of faith and of the Spirit, encouraging the saints to grow in the gifts and power of God.
“The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.” (2 Cor. 12.12)
“For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that…I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. And thus I aspired to preach the gospel…” (Rom. 15.18-20a)
They will be men of the Spirit. They will have a history in God, a fervent life of prayer, and the activity of Holy Spirit power will be evident in their labors. They will serve to stir others into faith for a Spirit-endued walk with God. They will not discourage the spirit of prophecy or other spiritual gifts. In fact, they will impart and help release them into the community. They will heal the sick and drive out demon spirits. They will be a presence in any locality they visit, posing a threat to the powers of darkness and introducing the Gospel of the Kingdom to those who encounter them.
5. They will be jealous for purity, holiness and the intimate knowledge of God.
“Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals.’ Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.” (1 Cor. 15.33-34)
“…so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.”
“For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification.” (1 Thess. 3.13, 4.7)
They will be men of holiness, seperate from the wisdom of this world. They will despise the immorality of their age, and passionately love the presence of God and the inbreaking of His mercies and judgments. They will preach repentance and mercy. They will challenge the churches to walk in righteousness and freedom. They will despise anything that does not issue from the life of God, whether it be an immoral issue or a religious doctrine or expression that is devoid of the power of God’s truth and love. They will breathe holiness, and impart the sense of God among the saints.
6. They will have lives and ministries that are formed through a communal experience of reality.
“and all those who had believed were together…”
“Now there were at Antioch…prophets and teachers…ministering to the Lord and fasting…” (Acts 2.44, 13)
They will not be loners or self-appointed leaders. They will have experienced life amidst a group of saints who know their faults and still love them. They will be raised up out of a true church experience- life together, in a setting that’s intimate enough for the confession of sin, personal encouragement, personal confrontation, and all the dynamics that come as we give ourselves to the Lord alongside other believers. They will be real men, not performers. They will delight in the fellowship of the saints, and will pursue the formation of healthy relatedness for the churches in which they labor. When they are appointed and sent, it will be by the Spirit of God, through a company of souls who know the Lord and who know them. They will never become relationally inert.
7. They will possess a burning consciousness of the mystery of Israel and the end of the age.
“I am standing trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers;”
“…I am wearing this chain for the sake of the hope of Israel.” (Acts 26.6; 28.20)
“For I do not want you, brethren, to be uniformed of this mystery- so that you will not be wise in your own estimation- that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in…” (Rom. 11.25)
They will not have an immature or unbiblical view towards Israel or the end of the age. They will not be ignorant of the prophetic testimony of Scripture, nor will they merely be educated or caught up in sentimental issues pertaining to Israel. They will have a revelation of the nature of God’s dealings with Israel [and thus mankind], and will be conscious of the words of the prophets pertaining to the end of the age. They will carry a fervent spirit of prayer, a burden and love for the people of Israel. They will have a jealousy for these foundations to be implemented in the heart of the Church. They will walk in a consciousness of coming judgment, inwardly aware of the redemption that will overtake the earth “in that day.” They will see their own labors as connected to that final revelation of Jesus, and will see the Church’s task to be nothing short of constituting a witness to Israel both now, and in the events leading up to the Day of the Lord.
8. Intensely involved in the preaching of the Gospel- to Jew and “Greek”.
“…woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.” (1 Cor. 9.16)
“I am eager to preach the gospel…For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Rom. 1.15, 16)
They will have an especial grace to invade localities with the Gospel, both in message and demonstration. Things will change where they preach. There will be an upsetting of “things as usual.” Culture will be affected. Paradigms will be challenged by the wisdom of the Cross. There will likely be opposition, but there will be great salvation for many. They will carry this burden and preach out of it- from the Synagogue to the Streets. Wherever souls are found in darkness, there they will be “eager to preach.” They will preach “Christ, and Him crucified.”
9. A radical concern for the churches- their family lives, and their doctrine.
“For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy;”
“But I am afraid that…your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.” (2 Cor. 11.2-3)
“Wives, be subject…Husbands, love…Children, be obedient…” (Eph. 5, Col. 3)
“Speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine.” (Tit. 2.1)
“…in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified…” (Tit. 2.7)
They will not be concerned for raising up impressive ministries. They will have a radical jealousy for the glory of God in the churches. They will not settle for all kinds of compromises or low views of God in the lives of the saints. They will pray and intercede for a fuller revelation of God to come to His Church. True apostles are seeking something holy. They are pursuing the revelation of God to His people. They are not satisfied with anything other than the fullness of Christ. Families saved and transformed. Lives made whole and complete in the Spirit and character of the Kingdom. They will labor for this. They long to see truth, righteousness, and joy prevail upon the earth, and while they are well aware that this will not transpire in the ultimate sense until the end of the age, they see the churches as a foretaste of that Millennial Kingdom. Therefore, they cannot be at peace with marital disorder, unbiblical doctrine, moral compromise, lovelessness, divisions, laziness or any such thing in the lives of the saints. In a fatherly way, and to the degree that they have time and grace for it, they will labor to remove all that hinders the demonstration of “the manifold wisdom of God” through the Church.
True apostles are being formed even as we speak. They are learning how to abide in the Lord in the secular work place, in unheralded ministries, in the raising of their children, or in other ways. They are learning to love fellow believers, and even enemies. They are being tried in ways that no mere Bible school could provide. They are searching the Scriptures. They are on the wheel of the great Potter. True apostles are being formed. And so is an apostolic church that will reveal God, even to the point of death. What about you, dear saint? Are you allowing the Potter to mold you, or have you sought to remove yourself from His wheel? You can trust Him. You can surrender your life to Him afresh. There is nothing greater than being a vital union with Him.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive statement on apostleship. But based on Scripture, I believe we can say that men who call themselves apostles and have not these qualities, can justifiably be questioned. Let’s not be duped by the false. Let’s give ourselves utterly to the Lord, and cry out for His mercy in this hour, that He might fashion and send these kinds of servants to the darkest corners of the world! Let us cry out for the emergence of a church of this kind. The Lord is jealous for His glory. He is jealous for us, saints.
Father, grant that Your Spirit may come upon the Church. Form and fashion the foundational servants You have always desired. Demonstrate Your wisdom to the powers of darkness. Give us grace to be willing vessels, pliable clay upon the wheel of the Potter. For Your Name’s sake, for the “Day of the Lord” salvation of Israel, and for the transformation of the nations. Amen.