THE SPHERE OF THEIR WORK
The sphere of an apostle’s work is quite different from that of the other three special ministers. That prophets and teachers exercise their gifts in the local church is seen from the statement: “Now there were in Antioch, in the local church, prophets and teachers.” You can find prophets and teachers in the local church, but not apostles, because they have been called to minister in different places, while the ministry of prophets and teachers is confined to one locality (1 Cor. 14:26, 29).
As to evangelists, we do not know their special sphere, as very little is said of them in God’s Word, but the story of Philip, the evangelist, throws some light on this class of ministers. Philip left his own locality and preached in Samaria, but while he did good work there, the Spirit did not fall upon any of his converts. It was not till the apostles came from Jerusalem and laid hands on them that the Spirit was poured out. This seems to indicate that the local preaching of the gospel is the work of an evangelist, but the universal preaching of the gospel is the work of an apostle. This does not imply that the labors of an evangelist are necessarily confined to one place, but it does mean that that is their usual sphere. In the same way the prophet Agabus prophesied in another place, but his special sphere of work was his own locality.
THE EVIDENCE OF APOSTLESHIP
Is there any evidence that one is really commissioned of God to be an apostle? In 1 Corinthians 9:1-2, Paul is dealing with our question in writing to the Corinthian saints, and it is obvious from his argument that apostleship has its credentials. “For you in the Lord are the seal of my apostleship,” he writes, as if to say, “If God had not sent me to Corinth, then you would not be saved today, and there would be no church in your city.” If God has called a man to be an apostle, it will be manifest in the fruit of his labors. Wherever you have the commission of God, there you have the authority of God; wherever you have the authority of God, there you have the power of God; and wherever you have the power of God, there you have spiritual fruits. The fruit of our labors proves the validity of our commission. And yet it must be noted that Paul’s thought is not that apostleship implies numerous converts, but that it represents spiritual values to the Lord, for He could never send anyone forth for a lesser purpose. The Lord is out for spiritual values, and the object of apostleship is to secure them. In this case the Corinthians represent these values. But did not Paul say here, “Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” Then is it only those who have seen the Lord Jesus in His resurrection manifestations who are qualified to become apostles? Let us follow carefully the trend of Paul’s argument. In verse 1 he asks four questions: (1) “Am I not free?” (2) “Am I not an apostle?” (3) “Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” (4) “Are you not my work in the Lord?” An affirmative answer to all four questions was taken for granted, for Paul’s case demanded such an answer. Notice that in pursuing his argument in the second verse, Paul drops two of his questions and follows out the other two. He drops the first and third, and takes up the second and fourth, linking them together. For the purpose of his reasoning he sets aside, “Am I not free?” and, “Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” and replies to the question, “Am I not an apostle?” and, “Are you not my work in the Lord?” Paul was clearly seeking to demonstrate the genuineness of his commission from the blessing that attended his labors, not from his being free or from his having seen the Lord.
Of the four questions asked by Paul, three relate to his person and one to his work. These three are on the same plane, and are quite independent of one another. Paul was not arguing that because he was free and because he was an apostle, therefore he had seen the Lord. Nor was he reasoning that because he was an apostle and because he had seen the Lord, therefore he was free. Neither was he seeking to demonstrate that because he was free and had seen the Lord, therefore he was an apostle. The facts are he was free, he was an apostle, and he had seen the Lord. These facts had no essential connection one with the other, and it is absurd to connect them. It would be as reasonable to argue that Paul’s apostleship was based upon his being free, as that it was based upon his seeing the Lord. If he was not seeking to prove his apostleship from the fact of his freedom, neither was he seeking to prove it from his having seen the Lord. Apostleship is not based on having seen the Lord in His resurrection manifestations.
Then what is the meaning of 1 Corinthians 15:5-9? “He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve; then He appeared to over five hundred brothers at one time,…then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all He appeared to me also.” The object of this passage is not to produce evidence of apostleship, but evidence of the resurrection of the Lord. Paul is recording the different persons to whom the Lord appeared; he is not teaching what effect was produced upon these persons by His appearing. Cephas and James saw the Lord, but they were Cephas and James after they saw the Lord, just as they were Cephas and James before; they did not become Cephas and James by seeing Him. The same applies to the twelve apostles and the five hundred brethren. Seeing the Lord did not constitute them apostles. They were twelve apostles before they saw the Lord, and they were twelve apostles after they saw the Lord. The same argument applies in Paul’s case. The facts were that he had seen the Lord, and he was the least of the apostles; but it was not seeing the Lord that constituted him the least of the apostles. The five hundred brethren were not apostles before they saw the Lord, nor were they after. Seeing the Lord in His resurrection manifestations did not constitute them apostles. They were simply brethren before, and they were simply brethren after. The Word of God nowhere teaches that seeing the Lord is the qualification for apostleship.
But apostleship has its credentials. In 2 Corinthians 12:11-12, Paul writes, “In nothing am I inferior to the super-apostles.…Indeed the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all endurance by signs and wonders and works of power.” There was abundant evidence of the genuineness of Paul’s apostolic commission; and the signs of an apostle will never be lacking where there is truly an apostolic call. From the above passage we infer that the evidence of apostleship lies in a twofold power—spiritual and miraculous. Endurance is the greatest proof of spiritual power, and it is one of the signs of an apostle. It is the ability to endure steadfastly under continuous pressure that tests the reality of an apostolic call. A true apostle needs to be “empowered with all power, according to the might of His glory, unto all endurance and long-suffering with joy” (Col. 1:11). Yes, it takes nothing short of “all power, according to the might of His glory” to produce “all endurance and long-suffering with joy.” But the reality of Paul’s apostleship was not only attested by his patient endurance under intense and prolonged pressure; it was evidenced also by the miraculous power he possessed. Miraculous power to change situations in the physical world is a necessary manifestation of our knowledge of God in the spiritual realm, and this applies not to heathen lands only, but to every land. To profess to be sent ones of the omnipotent God, and yet stand helpless before situations that challenge His power, is a sad contradiction. Not all who can work wonders are apostles, for the gifts of healing and of miracle- working are given to members of the Body (1 Cor. 12:28) who have no special commission, but miraculous as well as spiritual power is part of the equipment of all who have a true apostolic commission.
Have women any place among the ranks of the apostles? Scripture indicates that they have. There were no women among the twelve sent forth by the Lord, but a woman is mentioned among the number of the apostles who were sent forth by the Spirit after the Lord’s ascension. Romans 16:7 speaks of two notable apostles, Andronicus and Junia, and good authorities agree that “Junia” is a woman’s name. So here we have a sister as an apostle and a notable apostle at that.
(The Normal Christian Church Life, Chapter 1, by Watchman Nee)