After the apostles were called by the Spirit and were separated for the work by the representative members of the Body, what did they do? We need to recall that those who separated them only expressed identification and sympathy by the laying on of hands; they had no authority to control the apostles. Those prophets and teachers at the base assumed no official responsibility in regard to their movements, their methods of work, or the supply of their financial needs. In Scripture we nowhere find that apostles are under the control of any individual or any organized company. They had no regulations to adhere to and no superiors to obey. The Holy Spirit called them, and they followed His leading and guidance; He alone was their Director.
In Acts 13 and 14 we find the first scriptural record of missionary movements. Though today the places we visit and the conditions we meet may be vastly different from those of the Scripture record, yet in principle the experience of the first apostles may well serve as our example. Let us glance for a moment at these two chapters.
“They then, having been sent out by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia; and from there they sailed away to Cyprus. And when they were in Salamis, they announced the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they also had John as their attendant. And when they had passed through the whole island as far as Paphos, they found a certain man, a magician” (13:4-6). From the very outset constant movement characterized those sent ones. A true apostle is a traveler, not a settler.
“And putting out to sea from Paphos, Paul and his companions came to Perga of Pamphylia; and John departed from them and returned to Jerusalem. And they passed through from Perga and arrived at Pisidian Antioch. And they went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and sat down” (13:13-14). (The Antioch mentioned here is not the same as the Antioch from which Barnabas and Saul set forth on their first missionary tour.) The apostles were constantly on the move, proclaiming the Word of God wherever they went, but until they reached Antioch in Pisidia we are not told anything of the result of their labors. From this point there is a definite development in the work.
“And when the synagogue gathering had been dismissed, many of the Jews and the devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who spoke to them and urged them to continue in the grace of God” (13:43). Here is the outcome of a short period of witness in Antioch of Pisidia—many of the Jews and religious proselytes believed. A week later almost the whole city gathered together to hear the Word (v. 44), but this enthusiastic response on the part of the people provoked the Jews to jealousy, and they opposed the apostles (v. 45). At this point the apostles turned to the Gentiles (v. 46), and “as many as were appointed to eternal life believed” (v. 48). On the previous Sabbath a number of Jews had received the Word of life. This Sabbath a number of Gentiles believed on the Lord. So not long after the arrival of the apostles in Antioch of Pisidia we find a church there.
But the apostles did not argue, “Now we have a group of believers here. We must stay awhile and shepherd them.” They founded a local church at Antioch of Pisidia, but they did not stay to build it up. On they went again, publishing the Word of the Lord “through the whole region” (v. 49). Their objective was not one city, but “all the region.” The modern custom of settling down in one place to shepherd a particular flock has no precedent in Scripture.
Persecution followed (v. 50). The opponents of the gospel message expelled the apostles from their coasts, and they answered by shaking the dust from their feet (v. 51). Many a present-day missionary has no dust to shake from his feet! But those who gather no dust lack the characteristic of an apostle. The early apostles never settled down in comfortable homes, nor did they stop for long to pastor the churches they founded. They were constantly traveling. To be an apostle means to be a sent one, that is, to be always going out. A stationary apostle is a contradiction in terms. A true apostle is one who in times of persecution will always have dust to shake off his feet.
(The Normal Christian Church Life, Chapter 2, by Watchman Nee)