Faithlife Sermons

The Gift of Apostle

We are now taking a pause in our expository series in 1 Corinthians, to allow for a topical series on the spiritual gifts. This is necessary because the Corinthians knew exactly what Paul meant by the various gifts, but unfortunately there has been so much misinformation concerning spiritual gifts in our day that as a preacher I cannot assume you understand what Paul is referring to when I speak of each of the gifts. Another advantage of a topical study is that it will provide me an opportunity to address many of the questions people have concerning spiritual gifts that are not directly addressed in 1 Corinthians.
We will begin today with the gift of Apostle. There are a number of lists of spiritual gifts in the New Testament and the gift of Apostle is listed first. For example in 1 Corinthians 12:28, we read, “God has appointed in the church first apostles...”.
There are three categories of Spiritual gifts: Foundational Gifts, Sign Gifts and Building Gifts. Our Scripture texts this morning are from Ephesians 2:18-22 and Ephesians 4:11-14. In these two passages, we see very clearly the fact that some gifts were given for laying the foundation of the church and others gifts are given for the ongoing work of building up the church until it reaches completion. Let us now look at those passages:
Ephesians 2:18–22 ESV
For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
Ephesians 4:11–14 ESV
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
May God now add his blessing to the reading of His holy and infallible Word.
We begin with exploring what is meant by saying...

The Gift of Apostle is a Foundational Gift

In chapter 2 of Ephesians, Paul compares the church to a building. Before we go any farther, I should probably clarify that when the New Testament speaks of the church it is not speaking of an actual building. We call the buildings we meet in to worship churches. I am not against that practice, but it can be confusing. In addition, the church is not just one individual local congregation or denomination, it is the assembly of all true believers in all locations and spanning all generations. This brings up another misunderstanding concerning the church; it is common for most people to think that the church is something unique to the New Testament. The Greek word we translate “church” simply means “assembly”. In the Old Testament, the gathering of God’s people together for worship was called a “sacred assembly”. There are important differences between the Old Testament Church and the New Testament Church, but these differences are not so great as to break the continuity of God’s people. When we confess that we believe in the “catholic church” we are not speaking about the Roman Catholic Church, but the universal church; and this universal church is built upon the foundation of “the apostles and prophets, [with] Christ himself being the cornerstone”.
In the great prophetic vision we call the book of Revelation, we read these words:
Revelation 21:14 ESV
And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
This vision is to remind us of the foundation ministry of the apostles. All revelation ceased with the death of the last Apostle John. The church builds upon the teaching of the Apostles, it does not add to it! This is what makes theological innovation so dangerous. Earlier in our study in the book of 1 Corinthians we read this warning:
1 Corinthians 3:10–11 ESV
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
Before I move on to the next point, I am sure that some of you noted in our Scripture reading that the gift of prophecy is a foundational gift as well. In addition, if you go on and read 1 Corinthians 14, you will discover that the gift of tongues, when interpreted is the functional equivalent of prophecy. Next week I will explain how prophecy plays a foundational role as well, but for now just tuck this away in your memory.
The next point I want to make about the gift of Apostle is that:

The Gift of Apostle Has Ceased

This is self-evident from the fact that it was a foundational ministry performed by a select few, the 12 plus Paul. When these 12 men died, the gift of Apostle died with them. The foundation had already been laid; there was no need for an addition.
This simple and undeniable fact has tremendous implications in the debate as to whether or not other spiritual gifts, namely prophecy, tongues and the miraculous sign gifts, has ceased. Many have objected to the idea that some spiritual gifts have ceased by saying something like this, “God is all powerful and can do whatever He wants, how dare you put limits on Him!” I agree that God is all powerful and is free to do whatever He desires, furthermore it is a great act of impiety to put limits on God; however, we must also be open to the fact that God is free to stop giving gifts if He so desires.
Returning to the fact that the foundation was masterfully laid by the Apostles, this has a tremendous application on how we study the Bible and what are our expectations for pastors and teachers. In our studies we must go back to the source, as helpful as commentaries and other books are, they are not where we will find the foundation; the foundation is recorded for us in the pages of the New Testament. In addition, the message that is taught or preached must be the message of Scripture.
Consider a building, if the builders do not remain true to the foundation, the whole building will be out of whack. This is where false teaching and heresy come from. Your Bibles are the plumb line by which you judge teaching and preaching. It is first and foremost the job of the Elders to judge, but it is also all of our responsibility. It might seem strange that I am inviting you to judge my teaching and preaching, but it really is not. With all my heart I desire to be true to the foundation the Apostles laid, if my teaching is not plumb to the foundation, I want to know!
Another aspect to the gift of Apostle we see in the pages of the New Testament is:

Other Gifts are Manifested in the Gift of Apostle

In the pages of the New Testament we see the Apostles call prophets, speaking in tongues, performing acts of healing and miraculous signs, serving as pastor/teachers, administering the affirms of the church and so on. This illustrates a point that is true of all spiritual gifts; the Holy Spirit distributes gifts according to the need of the church, not according to our desires:
1 Corinthians 12:4–11 ESV
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
Because of the unique responsibility Christ gave to the Apostles, it makes sense that we see so many of the other spiritual gifts at work in their lives; however, the same can be true for us. People often ask me, “How do I know what my spiritual gifts are?” My answer is always to same, start serving the Lord where you see needs. In time it will become apparent where your gifts are. All too often in the church, we approach spiritual gifts as we would a job search. There have been even “spiritual gift inventories” developed which are nothing more than spiritualized vocational tests. The problem with this approach is that the focus is upon us, rather than the Holy Spirit. Such tests evaluate our desires and strengths, rather than the Spirit desires and strengths.
This also explains why we tend to see the sign gifts more prominently in areas of the world where the church is in its infancy. Several years ago a prominent Chinese pastor was asked, “Why are there so few acts miraculous signs and healings in China compared to 50 or 60 years ago?” His answer was this, “They were needed at that time, but now that the church is established and mature, we no longer need them.” I will talk about this more later, but the sign gift of healing is not primarily for healing, but as a sign to unbelievers validating the Gospel. Let me be clear, God does supernaturally heal, but the normal way He does it is through prayer, repentance and the anointing of oil. James does not tell us to seek a “faith healer” or attend a revival when we are sick, but rather he says this:
James 5:14–16 ESV
Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
In closing, I hope you can see how helpful it is to begin with the gift of Apostle. Already many of the questions people have about spiritual gifts have been answered. We now know that there are different categories of gifts, that gifts can cease, that the Spirit gives gifts based on His agenda, not ours. In addition, gifts are given to meet the needs of the church and that the best way to discover your spiritual gifts is to be active in the church.
Next week we will look at the gift of prophecy and then we will turn to the gift of tongues.
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