Apostles are humble, powerful men of God chosen to bring the gospel of light to places of darkness; enabling the success of those who accept God’s salvation.

The above artwork depicts Jesus and the twelve apostles, the artist is unknown.

Are there apostles today? Can women be apostles? Was there a woman apostle? Was Matthias really God’s chosen replacement for Judas, or was it Paul? What are the criteria for apostleship? Can a pastor be elevated to apostleship? Are missionaries modern-day apostles?

We’ll answer all these questions and more in this sermon.

What do apostles do?

The word apostle means sent one. Sent to do what? In Titus 1:1, apostle Paul says, “…I have been sent to proclaim faith to those God has chosen and to teach them to know the truth that shows them how to live godly lives. Paul also says in 2 Timothy 1:1, “I have been sent out to tell others about the life God has promised through faith in Christ Jesus” (NLT).

Along with preaching the gospel, apostles lay the foundation for the community of people who’ve accepted the Good News in an area that hasn’t heard the gospel before.

What so-called missionaries do today is, in part, what apostles do. However, I’d say most modern missionaries are not sent by God because they don’t meet the criteria and bear the fruit of a true apostle as we’ll see later.

Apostleship isn’t just about assembling a group of saints but laying a foundation for their success in Christ Jesus.

Apostles plant communities and set structure. “One plants, another waters, but God brings the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6).”

Apostles evangelize, prophesy, teach, and also shepherd the pastors, evangelists, and teachers they install. Ultimately, apostles equip the saints to do the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:11).

What are the criteria for apostleship?

Some scholars say the criteria were outlined in Acts 1:15-26 when the original twelve apostles (Matthew 10:2-4) chose Matthias to replace Judas who betrayed Jesus.

Among other things, the requirements were the man must have been with Jesus prior to death and seen Jesus after his resurrection. From these requirements, there can only be twelve apostles, and thus, none should exist today.

But then, other scholars say Paul was God’s choice for the replacement of Judas and not Matthias.

Some scholars are wrong.

Other passages of scripture

First off, just because Matthias wasn’t as prominent in the Bible compared to Paul doesn’t mean God didn’t choose Matthias.

The original eleven consulted God about Matthias and there’s no mention of God rejecting him.

Second, there were other apostles outside the original twelve like apostles Paul and apostle Barnabas in Acts 14:14, apostle Titus in 2 Corinthians 8:23, and apostle Epaphroditus in Philippians 2:25.

In the latter two verses, the word “messenger” comes from the same Greek word “apostolos” which is translated “apostle.”

Thirdly, Revelation 2:2 reveals that the church of Ephesus tested apostles. By this time, most of the original twelve were dead and so there would be no need to test anyone (if there were only to be twelve apostles). So, there were, and are, more apostles than the original twelve then and now. God didn’t discontinue this administrative office.

The real criteria for an apostle

The Bible doesn’t spell out the specific criteria as it does for a pastor or a deacon but we can get some sense of it through Paul’s defense of his apostleship in his letters to the churches.

Here they are:

1. Must be called by God, not men

Apostleship can’t be placed on a man by other men, nor can it be passed down as in Apostolic Succession (read Acts 1:1-2, Galatians 1:1, Romans 1:1, Titus 1:1, 1 Timothy 1:1, 2 Timothy 1:1).

2. Must be confirmed by other saints

God tells Ananias and later Barnabus about Paul’s conversion and apostleship in Acts 9:15, 27. We see others who supported Paul apostleship in 1 Corinthians 1:1 and Colossians 1:1.

3. Must be a man

But was there a female apostle? Some say Romans 16:7 suggests so, but a careful reading of the passage reveals that if Janius was a female, she was a fellow prisoner with the apostles and not one herself. There were no female apostles for the same reason Paul excludes them from teaching (1 Timothy 2:12-14).

4. Must have power (miraculous signs and wonders)

Acts 2:43, 5:12, 2 Corinthians 12:12, Romans 15:18-19, 1 Thessalonians 1:5

5. Must know the gospel and be able to defend it

2 Corinthians 11:6 (NLT) says, “I may be unskilled as a speaker, but I’m not lacking in knowledge. We have made this clear to you in every possible way.”

6. Must bear the fruit of a thriving church

1 Corinthians 9:1 (NLT) says, “Am I not as free as anyone else? Am I not an apostle? Haven’t I seen Jesus our Lord with my own eyes? Isn’t it because of my work that you belong to the Lord?”

7. Must have a sincere heart

2 Corinthians 5:11-12 (NLT) says, “Because we understand our fearful responsibility to the Lord, we work hard to persuade others. God knows we are sincere, and I hope you know this, too. Are we commending ourselves to you again? No, we are giving you a reason to be proud of us, so you can answer those who brag about having a spectacular ministry rather than having a sincere heart.”

8. Must be humble

Paul said, “I’m the least of the Apostles because I persecuted the saints” (1 Corinthians 15:9).

9. Must rely solely on the Holy Spirit

A true apostle doesn’t walk in his own strength, he declares his weakness and displays the power of God. See 1 Corinthians 2:4, 2 Corinthians 4:7-15 and 11:30-12:10.

10. Must be kind and selfless with money

Paul made it a goal not to be a financial burden to the Corinthian church (2 Corinthians 11:7-9). While apostles can accept financial support from the people they serve, a loving apostle doesn’t require money from the poor and especially from people who’ve had their money misused in the past by other leaders. Apostles rely on God to supply their needs.

More criteria

The apostles gave the criteria for pastors and deacons (1 Timothy 3:1-7, 1 Timothy 3:8-13). Certainly, many of those standards would apply to apostles as well.

Also, true apostles have endurance, purity, understanding, patience, kindness, sincere love, honesty and more as outlined in 2 Corinthians 6:4-10:

4 In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind. 5 We have been beaten, been put in prison, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, endured sleepless nights, and gone without food.

6 We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us, and by our sincere love. 7 We faithfully preach the truth. God’s power is working in us. We use the weapons of righteousness in the right hand for attack and the left hand for defense.

8 We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us. We are honest, but they call us impostors. 9 We are ignored, even though we are well known. We live close to death, but we are still alive.

We have been beaten, but we have not been killed. 10 Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything.

Overall, apostles are humble, common men, bringing a message of light to a place of darkness and enabling the success of the people who accept God’s salvation—it’s a very difficult job and there is no glamour in it.

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