A Different Style of Authority
Note at this point that Christ’s leadership and authority is expressed with a different spirit, and with different motives compared to the leadership and authority systems of this world. Jesus explained this to His apostles, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you.
Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave - just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28).
No one should think that these words of Jesus mean that leaders in the church do not have authority over the believers, or over the church as a whole. This would be to argue that Christ has no authority over the church or the believers, because in this teaching He gives Himself as the example of how those in church leadership are to lead.
Now Christ also referred to “whoever wants to be first”. The New Testament says that God has set the apostle “first” in the church (1 Corinthians 12:28), so this instruction applies then, first of all, to apostles. They are slaves to the church, but make this careful distinction. They are slaves to, but not slaves of the church. They are bond-slaves of Jesus Christ, and He sends them to serve the church. They will serve the church, as His slaves (and His friends), to provide leadership and government, and to exercise His authority on His behalf for the good of the church. The spirit of the apostles will reflect the nature of this arrangement, i.e. the nature of their relationship with Christ and His bride.
Apostles Give Freedom
Apostles are not controlling. This is not the purpose of their authority. The whole focus of the ministry of an apostle is to bring the believers and the churches into the liberty of the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:17) and the freedom of Christ (Galatians 5:1). This must be clearly understood or we will create great misunderstanding. Paul referred twice to “the authority the Lord gave us for building you up rather than pulling you down” (2 Corinthians 10:8, 13:10).
Christ does not send apostles to create bondage, nor to make the church subservient. The apostle will not make the church dependent on himself, nor keep the church in a place of weakness for his own benefit. This would be the work of a false apostle, or a ‘hireling’, or a leader who was insecure or motivated by fleshly ambition.
The true apostle comes to bring the church to maturity in Christ, to raise ‘sons’ to be ‘fathers’ in their own right, to commission others with authority for the work of Christ, to impart gifts, grace and opportunity to every believer whose heart is right before God. The apostle will lift up and honour; the apostle will release and give freedom. The apostle’s goal is the freedom and maturity in Christ of every believer, every minister, and every church, and to see each one clothed with apostolic anointing and power.
The apostle’s commission is to present every believer perfect in Christ, and to present the church mature and spotless to Christ (Colossians 1:22,24-25,28-29, Ephesians 5:26-27). For this purpose the apostle works to build up the strength and freedom of the believers, that they may stand. When a true apostle becomes the spiritual father of a pastor, and the principal apostle of a congregation, his purpose will be to bring them into better things. His heart’s desire is for that pastor and those people to succeed, and that as his own dear children they will have an even greater success than he himself has enjoyed.