This is part three of a series of blogs by John Alley, on the topic of the humanity of apostles. These blogs are taken from chapter 10 of the Apostolic Revelation. Part one of this blog series is available here.
Humanity and Grace Combined
In earlier chapters, we spoke at some length of the grace and sovereign power of God at work in apostles. We must now recognise that our humanity remains, and is ‘mixed in’ with the grace of God at every point of the life of the church. This is entirely and properly biblical, since “we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” (2 Corinthians 4:7-10).
Here I have an important word for every believer. Accept that apostles are human, yet at the same time anointed by God to provide leadership, spiritual covering and government for the church. Accept that they do have the authority of Christ as His apostles. Accept these truths – and co-operate with Jesus to establish the leadership He wants, to build the wineskin He wants, for the church.
Though apostles are human, they are chosen to do a job for Christ, and therefore are given the authority to represent Him and serve their commission. All the saints of the whole church need to accept this dynamic truth, and give to apostles acceptance, support, and honour.
Accept their authority — and allow them to make mistakes and be human — as long, of course, as they are what we expect every Christian to be, which is, open, honest, transparent, submitted in relationships, humble and penitent.
Support their purpose, helping them find the way ahead, the right way of Christ for the church. Offer much prayer on their behalf, give financially and with great generosity to establish their purpose, and yield the love of your heart to them. All these things we are exhorted to do for apostles by Holy Scripture.
Christ will bring them through, with or without you — but you should be part of the solution, not part of the problem — and you might as well share in an apostle’s reward, rather than hinder your own.
And give honour (1 Corinthians 12:24). We have spoken elsewhere of the honour that should be given to leaders and spiritual fathers. Very often apostles are treated badly, but they need not be treated badly by you. You, who know the way of Christ, should now walk in the way of Christ.
We now come to an entirely different matter. The genuine apostle, in his humanity, must not be confused with the false apostle. The church must accept, honour and follow true apostles, yet at the same time be discerning, so as to guard against and reject the false apostle.
The early church, it seemed, knew they were supposed to test, or assess, the claims of apostles so as to guard against false ministry. It was common in the early church to receive travelling ministers, and communication was not what it is today. Jesus commended the Ephesian church for testing and rejecting false apostles (Revelation 2:2), and Paul remonstrated with the Corinthian church for failing to do so, after having been deceived by boastful men with false motivation (2 Corinthians 11:13).
At the same time, it would be a grave mistake to assume that false apostles are as prevalent as true and genuine apostles of Christ. This is simply not so, and the New Testament gives us a right and healthy perspective. Biblical references that honour apostles abound, whereas false apostles are referred to in only two places, (2 Corinthians 11:13, and Revelation 2:2) and neither of these passages are actually a warning against future false apostles. In the first, Paul’s emotive appeal was bringing correction to a church after they had made serious mistakes, and in the second Jesus is commending another for having got it right.
In reality, the New Testament revelation is far more concerned about the danger of false prophets and false teacher/shepherds in the church, than with false apostles, although we should recognise that all these have similar characteristics. In a sense, the warning about one is a warning about all.
Jesus personally forewarned His apostles about false Christ’s and false prophets (Matthew 7:15, 24:11, 24:24, Mark 13:22), but in the later teaching of the apostles themselves there are numerous references to false prophets (1 John 4:1, Revelation 2:20, Revelation 16:13), false teachers (1 Tim 1:3-7, 1 Tim 6:3-4, 2 Peter 2:1), false shepherds (Jude 12), false brothers (2 Corinthians 11:26, Galatians 2:4), false preachers (Philippians 1:15-18), and future teacher/elders as ‘savage wolves (Acts 20:29). This is why I made the earlier comment that there seems to be far less concern over false apostles, than over false prophets, teachers and shepherds, but we should not make too fine a point of that. The fact remains, the enemy will attempt to counterfeit every aspect of the life of the church, each ministry anointing, and the teaching of the truth itself.