In 1st Corinthians chapter eight, the apostle urged the mature to forgo their freedoms for the sake of the weaker brothers. Now he shows how he acts on that principle. Because he was an apostle he had all the rights of an apostle. His apostleship was evident since he had seen the resurrected Jesus and was personally sent by Him (Gal. 1:1, 12). His divine mission had been confirmed among the Corinthians because they were the seal of his apostleship (verses 1–3). Being an apostle, it is first demonstrated that he had the same right to be supported and to have his family supported, if he had chosen to marry, as Peter or any other apostle (verses 4–6). This right even lies at the foundation of society since a laborer is worthy of his wages (1 Corinthians 9:7). Secondly, this principle is recognized in the Old Testament, even in its application to animals (verses 8–10). Third, it is recognized from a principle of fairness (1 Corinthians 9:11). Fourth, Paul’s right to be supported comes from the fact that the Corinthians recognized this right in the case of other Bible teachers (1 Corinthians 9:12). Fifth, it is demonstrated from the universal recognition that those who served in the pagan temple were supported from the temple (1 Corinthians 9:13). Finally, from the express ordinance of Christ, who had ordained that those who preached the Gospel should live by the Gospel (1 Corinthians 9:14).
However, Paul chose not to make use of this right and he was determined, especially at
TEACHING & APPLICATION
“Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? 2 If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 9:1-2)
The Meaning of the word “Apostle”
The word “apostle” comes from the Greek word apostolos meaning “delegate, envoy, messenger.” The word “apostle” has not really been translated in our modern Bibles. Instead it has been transliterated; a process by which a new word is created by translating a Greek word letter for letter into English.
The Types of Apostles
The NT uses the word “apostle” primarily to refer to the following two types of church workers:
- Apostles of Christ: The word translated “apostles” in our Bibles primarily refers to the original twelve apostles that were chosen by Jesus plus Paul. They, along with the NT prophets, were used by God for the express purpose of (a) laying the doctrinal foundation of the church through preaching and teaching New Covenant truth about Jesus as its recorded in NT Scripture and (b) confirming the authenticity of their doctrine through miracles, signs, and wonders (Eph. 2:20; Eph. 3:5; 2 Cor. 12:12; Heb. 2:3-4). Because they were integral in teaching New Covenant truth that provided the doctrinal foundation for the Christian church, once that task was completed, this type of apostle ceased to exist because they served their God-ordained purpose (Eph. 2:20; 1 Cor. 15:7-8; Jude 3). Once the doctrinal foundation was complete, all other ministry work was to be built on top of that previously laid foundation of apostolic teaching. Thus, with the completion of the NT, there is no longer any need for Apostles of Christ.
- Apostles of the Church: These “apostles” are missionaries and church planters. They are men like Titus (2 Cor. 8:23), Barnabas (Acts 14:14), Silas, Timothy, Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25), and other church workers that were not part of the original twelve (Rom. 16:7). The word “apostle” is used of them in the sense that they are ambassadors of already revealed doctrinal truth. They proclaim, teach, and preach only that which was revealed to the twelve apostles specifically chosen by Jesus. Their job is not to give new doctrine but merely to preach, teach, and propagate only that doctrine that God had revealed through the original twelve apostles. The way that these men properly build up the church is by continuing to preach, teach, and propagate those foundational New Covenant doctrines revealed by the Apostles of Christ. They are not revealers of new truth but propagators of old truth. This type of “apostle” continues to exist in our day and we correctly refer to them as “missionaries” and “church planters”.
- Apostles of Christ were sent personally by Jesus (Gal. 1:1); apostles of the church were sent by the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:1-3; Barnabas) or by an Apostle of Christ (Timothy, Titus, Epaphroditus – cf. 2 Cor. 8:23; Phil. 2:25).
- Apostles of Christ actually wrote Scripture (1 Cor. 14:37; 2 Pet. 3:15-17). Apostles of the church merely preach, teach, and promote Scripture (1 Tim. 4:13; 2 Tim. 4:2).
- Apostles of Christ established New Covenant doctrinal standards (John 14:26 cf. Acts 2:42); the apostles of the church only followed, repeated, and propagated those standards (1 Tim. 3:15-17; 2 Tim. 2:2).
A Biblical Example of the Ministry of Different Types of Apostles
It’s likely that every church mentioned in the NT was started by an apostolic team. These church plants continued in their relationship with these teams for years after their founding. Let’s look at an example of this found in Acts 18-20:
- In Acts 18:18-21 we see that Paul teamed up with Priscilla and Aquila to evangelize
. Paul left them behind in Ephesus Ephesusto continue the work there so that he could go to Caesarea. Thus, the order of contact was (1) Paul, (2) Priscilla and Aquila.
- In verses 24-27, we see that Apollos showed up next to evangelize the area after Paul left.
- In Acts 19:1-2, 8 we see that Paul returned to
to evangelize the synagogue there for three months. Ephesus
- In verses 9-10, Paul went to the
schoolof Tyrannusand his total time in amounted to two years. According to verses 21-22, after these two years in Ephesus Ephesus, Paul went to Jerusalemvia and Achaia. Note in verse 22 that Paul sent Timothy and Erastus ahead of him to Macedonia before he arrived there (cf. 18:5). Macedonia
- In Acts 20:1 Paul went to
Macedoniaafter he left . Then, according to verse 2 he went to Ephesus Greecefor three months and then came back through . If you look carefully in 20:4, you’ll see that at times Paul had at least eight people traveling with him as a part of his apostolic team (eight including Luke! cf. 20:6). Macedonia
- Paul spent a week at Troas (20:6), then went to Assos (20:13), then Chios, Samos, and finally
- When in
, he called for the Ephesian elders to meet him there (20:17). It was at Miletus that Paul organized the first “Pastor’s Conference”! Miletus
- Important Question: So who had appointed these Ephesian elders in Acts 20:17? Apparently Paul or one of his missionaries did sometime in the past. We have examples of elders being appointed by Paul and Barnabas in Acts 14:23. Several years after his first Roman imprisonment (Acts 28:30), Paul wrote to Timothy and Titus instructing them to appoint elders, root out false doctrine, and warn the unruly in the churches (1 Tim. 1:1-3; 3:1ff; Titus 1:5-9; 10-16; 3:10-11). John MacArthur explains this situation well, “After being released from his first Roman imprisonment (cf. Acts 28:30), Paul revisited several of the cities in which he had ministered, including
. Leaving Timothy behind there to deal with problems that had arisen in the Ephesian church, such as false doctrine (1:3-7; 4:1-3; 6:3-5), disorder in worship (2:1-15), the need for qualified leaders (3:1-14), and materialism (6:6-19), Paul went on to Macedonia, from where he wrote Timothy this letter to help him carry out his task in the church (cf. 3:14-15).” Ephesus
An apostle of the church in the first century basically did the same things that an Apostle of Christ did, except lay the doctrinal foundation of the church through writing Scripture. A summary of the work of church apostles can be found in these passages: 2 Cor. 10:14; 2 Tim. 4:5; Eph. 6:21-22; 1 Tim. 1:3-4; 1 Tim. 2-3; 1 Tim. 4:6 (cf. 4:1-5); 4:11-13; 6:1-2b, 6:17-18; 2 Tim. 2:14a; 2:24-26; 4:1-3; 4:5; Tit. 1:5; 2:1-3, 6, 9, 15, 3:1; 2 Tim. 4:9-13; 19-21; Tit. 3:12-13.
The Main Point: Apostolic teams were essential to the spread of the gospel and the spiritual growth and doctrinal vitality of the early church. They evangelized, made disciples, taught, organized, and appointed elders. Is it possible to start a church without missionaries/church planters? Yes. Can an existing church function without the input of a missionary/church planter? Yes. Can a church choose its own leaders? If they are biblically qualified, yes. But all of this is much easier if you have seasoned missionaries/church planters around to help you get started off on a good foundation and provide continued input.
What Kind of Apostle Was Paul?
Look again at 1 Corinthians 9:1, “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord?” The Apostles of Christ were personally hand-picked by Him. Promises were given to them that were not given to others in the NT, namely; (1) that they would be Christ’s personal representatives [John 13:20; 15:16, 20], (2) They would be able to completely recall the teachings that Christ gave to them [John 14:25-26], and (3) They would get future revelation directly from Jesus that they didn’t get when He was here on earth [John 16:12-13].
Paul was clearly an Apostle of Christ. He met the three basic qualifications required of an apostle of Christ: (1) He was hand picked and taught personally by Christ [John 15:16; Gal. 1:1, 11-12], (2) He was an eye-witness of the resurrected Christ [Acts 1:15-22; 1 Cor. 9:1; 15:3-9], and (3) he worked miracles to authenticate his message [2 Cor. 12:11-12, Acts 5:12a, Romans 15:18-19].
An important note about the use of words:
- The above characteristics of the original twelve Apostles of Christ are why Christians today are rightly hesitant to call modern missionaries and church planters “apostles”.
- It’s right to be careful what you call a full-time church worker. I don’t think it’s wise to call our modern day missionaries and church planters “apostles” any more than I think it’s wise to call pastors “bishops”, even though both words are Biblical.
- In our modern theological climate, referring to someone as an “apostle” typically conjures up images of two things: (1) overdressed televangelists with bad hairdos telling wacky stories that involve crazy and heretical visions and discussions with Jesus over coffee, or (2) the implicit assumption that someone is regularly performing signs and wonders. Both are obvious misrepresentations of Christianity and the careful and precise use of language or taking the time to define your terms can avoid such misunderstandings. That is why it’s best to call them missionaries and church planters.
Marks of a True Apostle
“. . . Are you not my work in the Lord? 2 If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 9:1b-2)
- Since Apostles of Christ no longer exist, we can only use 1 Corinthians 9:1-2 to refer to apostles of the church. Paul says that a true apostle of the church will bear fruit in keeping with his calling: “Are you not my work in the Lord?” A true apostle of the church will be a faithful missionary that preaches the true gospel whether it’s convenient or inconvenient. He labors in the word, prays diligently, evangelizes the lost, plants churches, and faithfully teaches only what has been already revealed in the NT.
Marks of a False Apostle
- False apostles make audacious claims (i.e., physically seen Jesus, personally commissioned by Jesus, claims to have the power to do signs and wonders, personally received new doctrinal truth from Jesus).
- False apostles preach false doctrine for fortune, fame, and power with complete disregard for gospel truth and people’s souls (2 Cor. 2:17; 4:2; Tit. 1:10-11; 1 Peter 5:2-3).
- False apostles avoid true doctrine, true repentance, prolonged prayer, and sin-killing teaching and preaching (2 Tim. 4:2-4; Titus 1:15-16).
Biblical missionaries and church planters will be servants of the church, not lords over it (Col. 1:25; 2 Cor. 13:4). If missionaries and church planters are not already serving as an elder in a local church, they should strengthen the local eldership of the congregations that they are serving and not try to supplant or undermine that leadership unless it is dangerous and heretical (3 John 9-10). Missionaries and church planters are not to be financial leeches that feed on the churches that they serve. They have a Biblical right to financial support, but they must be willing to work a secular job if the churches cannot afford to support them or if there are extenuating circumstances that dictate they get their income through other lawful means (Acts 18:3; 1 Cor. 9:1-18). They have a right to be supported, but they do not have a right to charge a fee for their service to the churches; such is the mark of a hireling and constitutes peddling the word of God for profit (John 10:12-13; 2 Cor. 2:17; Titus 1:10; 1 Peter 5:2).
The Appropriate Ministry of Modern Missionaries and Church Planters
While it is true that the Apostles of Christ ceased to exist in the first century with the completion of the canon, it is also true that we still need missionaries and church planters (a.k.a., apostles of the church). According to the rest of 1 Corinthians 9, missionaries, church planters, and full-time elders have a right to get their living from the gospel and we ought to support them (9:14 cf. 1 Tim. 5:17-18), but how should they serve our churches today? Here are a few suggestions based upon some of the Scriptural examples we’ve already looked at:
- Helping in the work of evangelism (2 Tim. 4:5; 1 Thess. 3:2).
- To help the church(es) by providing an ongoing ministry of equipping and training elders, deacons, Bible teachers, and others in the areas of doctrine, pastoral work, effective teaching, and service (2 Tim. 2:2).
- To teach the saints how to correctly study the Bible, avoid heresies, Biblical parenting, and how to live sanctified lives that are pleasing to God (1 Tim. 3:15-17; 2 Tim. 2:15; 3:15-17).
- Helping already existing churches organize new church plants (1 Tim. 1:3; Tit. 1:5-9).
- Ideally, Biblical missionaries and church planters are like traveling, itinerant seminary professors that move from church to church as needed.
Some Final Questions:
- What is the difference between a missionary/church planter and an evangelist? Answer: Missionaries/church planters are evangelists but evangelists are not necessarily missionaries/church planters. Missionaries/church planters focus on evangelizing the lost and equipping the saved; evangelists focus primarily on preaching the gospel to the lost in a given area and are not as concerned about equipping the entire church, although they may teach evangelism classes. This means that if evangelists are present in an area, missionaries/church planters need to be present also since they have an important equipping ministry. The same concept applies with teachers that aren’t elders, missionaries, or evangelists.
- What can we learn from the leadership style of the apostles? Well, one thing is that the twelve apostles had leaders among leaders. Peter, James, and John were certainly in Christ’s inner circle of the twelve (Matt. 17:1); the twelve also had a unique leadership role among the church apostles. Barnabas, Titus, Timothy, and others submitted to Paul’s authority because he was one to whom Christ had directly and personally revealed divine, New Covenant truth. Secondly, since there are no more Apostles of Christ, missionaries/church planters must see themselves as servants of the elders they are working with, and all groups (whether elder, missionary, or evangelist) must subject themselves to the Lordship of Christ and His word (1 Peter 5:1-4).
In summary, there were originally two types of apostles: Apostles of Christ and apostles of the church. The ministry of the twelve Apostles of Christ is foundational and complete. The ministry of apostles of the church is seen today in missionaries and church planters. They help keep a church’s biblical priorities in focus by teaching and equipping the leadership and congregation so that maturity and harmony will develop within the church. We must be open to this type of ministry, looking for God to raise up people even within this body to do this important work.
 Hereafter referred to as NT.
 An exception to this is when Jesus is called “the Apostle and High Priest of our confession” in Hebrews 3:1. Jesus is also referred to as the “Chief Shepherd” when referring to pastors in 1 Peter 5:4.
 There is debate over whether Matthias legitimately replaced Judas through the eleven’s casting lots or whether Paul was the God-appointed man to replace Judas’ apostleship (Acts 1:26). The debate will rage on since Scripture never explicitly or implicitly states either way. We do know this: (1) Matthias was chosen by lots, an OT method of determining God’s will, and (2) the Apostle Paul was personally chosen by Christ [Gal. 1:1, 11-12] . My own view is that Paul took the place of Judas and is reckoned with the twelve although I can’t be dogmatic. Some apostles of Christ that were not part of the original twelve yet wrote Scripture were Luke and James and Jude the human brothers of the Lord Jesus, so equating "Apostles of Christ" with the original twelve isn't always a hard and fast rule.
 Also, Paul says that he was the “last of all” to see the resurrected Christ, indicating that there are no more Apostles of Christ.
 There is debate whether those mentioned in Romans 16:7 are considered “outstanding among the apostles” indicating that they were to be considered church apostles or whether they were simply “well known” to the apostolic band for their hard work but were not actually part of it.
 John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, (
 Jesus also told the original twelve apostles that they would have a special part to play in the coming Kingdom that others would not have (cf. Matt. 19:27-28; Rev. 21:9-14). This certainly is not speaking of all church planters and missionaries.