Paul was both an “Apostle” and “apostle.” The big “A” Apostles are in a class all by themselves. They played a unique, God-chosen role in the expansion of the church in those early days following Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension. They had to have seen the risen Christ. Luke restricts this this to the Twelve. Paul’s use seems to be a bit broader. The Apostles played a key role in the preservation and formation of the sacred testimonial stories that became our New Testament scriptures.
Then there are the small “a” apostles. The word apostle comes from the Greek word which simply means “a sent out one.” This is the wide, vast company of “the summoned” I have mentioned. In the broadest sense of the word, all Christians are apostles since the Great Commission sends us all out into the world to be salt and light, ambassadors and witnesses of Christ.
Yet, we read elsewhere that apostleship is also one of the spiritual gifts that is distributed to those God so chooses. “In the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues” (1 Cor 12:27-28). The gift of apostleship is manifested in individuals who sense a call to be sent forth to new frontiers with the gospel, breaking new ground and exercising a degree of visionary leadership and bold faith.
The episode from Acts 16 quoted at the beginning of this chapter provides a glimpse into the wild and unpredictable life of an apostle. Paul is pictured as a man completely ‘out of control’ — that is, being utterly dependent upon the Spirit’s guidance for what comes next. This episode is potent with radical obedience on Paul’s part and the supernatural provision of God by the Spirit.
It seems too nice to say that Paul was being “led by the Spirit” in this episode. He appears to be getting yanked back and forth, up and down and all over the place by the Spirit. First, the Holy Spirit prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia. Next, the “Spirit of Jesus” would not allow them to enter Bithynia. Can you imagine the mood of some of their prayer gatherings?
Eventually they end up standing on the shore of the sea at Troas, scratching their head and puzzled where God was “leading” them. They had run out of real estate, as they can go no further west unless they crossed the sea and entered the brand new territory of Greece in Europe. Tired and confused, no doubt, they made camp for the night and decided to sleep on it and figure it out in the morning. Luke describes what happened next:
“During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them” (Acts 16:9-10).
Paul had a clear vision from God. The vision included a direct call to bring the gospel to a very particular geographical region. Without hesitation they “got ready at once to leave” since they concluded God was summoning them. They apparently didn’t even wait until morning.
Again, when you find yourself among the fellowship of the summoned, you have little choice in the matter. It’s just what apostles do.
Categories: Divine Summons