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As I speak in various countries, there is increasing concern about “apostles” who compete with each other in rival miracle claims, followings and income. They view apostleship as a high-status and lucrative office to which they may be promoted if successful in lower roles. The complaint is not about using the title “apostle” simply for overseers, the way some churches use “bishop” or “superintendent.” The complaint is about those who demand special recognition.
I do not deny the importance of genuine apostleship. Biblically, it is among the gifts that Christ’s church needs to bring us to maturity (Eph 4:11-13). Although the Twelve are no longer with us, Paul clearly uses the term “apostle” more broadly than that (Rom 11:13; 16:7; 1 Cor 15:5-7; Gal 1:19; 1 Thess 2:6). He probably applies it to those involved in cutting-edge, sacrificial, groundbreaking evangelism that lays foundations in new spheres (cf. Rom 15:20).
Paul - Apostle - Apostles - Cor - Jesus
Yet Paul, an apostle, denounced false apostles (2 Cor 11:13). Jesus commended an ancient church for testing those who claim to be apostles, and calling out those who were false (Rev 2:2). Similarly, Jeremiah, a true prophet, denounced false prophecy, clearly dissociating the true from the false. “For what has straw to do with grain?” declares the LORD (Jer 23:28, NIV).
What are some criteria that can help us distinguish true from false apostles?
Apostles - Honor - Jesus - Paul - Rivals
First, false apostles seek their own honor. They promote themselves more than Jesus. Paul’s rivals in Corinth boasted in themselves (2 Cor 10:17-18; 11:12), and indeed were flashier speakers than Paul (11:6). Yet Paul warns that these “super-apostles” (11:5) are false apostles (11:13), servants of Satan (11:14-15).
Paul also warned church elders that some of them would “arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:30 NIV; cf. Mark 3:19). That they draw disciples after themselves,...
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