While I’m happily married now, and have been for almost 20 years, I fielded all sorts of unusual questions when I was a single pastor, and dating. One in particular sticks in my mind. “Do you think I’m an apostle?”
Do I think you’re an apostle? This was a first. Honestly, I wasn’t sure how to answer this guy. To begin with, he was Catholic, and I didn’t think Catholics talked about apostles; it seemed like a word more connected to Pentecostals. Second, he was a mailman. It was the first time I had heard a regular person apply the word apostle to themselves.
The word apostle seems to be reserved for the select few, or as alter egos for the disciples. Or maybe as I said for Pentecostal leaders. But mail carriers? I wasn’t sure.
Its usage begs the question: What’s the difference between an apostle and a disciple? And is the word apostle even still to be used?
The word disciple comes from the Latin discipulus. It means scholar. A disciple is a student who learns from a master teacher. The disciple’s primary focus is the teacher, and their primary job is to learn from those teachings. All so that the disciples can live out the “way” or the path of the teacher.
(Recall Jesus saying: I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”) John the Baptist had disciples, the Pharisees had disciples, and Jesus had disciples. Of all three, we know the most about Jesus’ disciples. His disciples traveled extensively with him to observe and absorb all they could about his life and ethos.
An apostle, however, is an altogether different animal. Even though the word apostle sounds similar to the word disciple, it hails from the Greek, apostolos meaning envoy. While disciples are students, apostles are agents. They don’t follow the master. They’re sent out by the master.
They’re delegates, commissioned to act on behalf of another.
The Twelve functioned first as disciples and second as apostles. According to Mark: 3:13-15, Jesus went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.
The Twelve first learned from Jesus, then were sent out in his name. They were followed by many others who were also sent out in his name including Paul, Silas, Barnabas, and Junia.
In today’s language, we might say that disciples are followers and apostles are leaders. But there’s more to it than that.
Disciples and apostles have qualitatively different kinds of faith. Disciples have faith in Jesus while apostles have the faith of Jesus. Otherwise, there’s no way that apostles could do what Jesus did. And make no mistake—the apostles did.
Jesus first sent the 12 out, and later the 70, to do exactly what he did. Even while Jesus was alive, his apostles healed the sick, cast out demons, and preached the Kingdom. They had authority over unclean spirits. After Jesus ascends into heaven, Peter heals a paralyzed man. Paul and Silas sing in jail until the chains break. Mere shadows of the apostles cause people to heal.
Disciples have faith in Jesus. Apostles have the faith of Jesus. So what is the difference between the two?
Faith in Jesus: Faith in Jesus means trusting in his power, his love, his teachings, and his saving grace. This is the kind of faith we commonly teach in church—in songs and hymns, sermons and Bible studies, and children’s messages and youth curriculum. It is the focus of much teaching on salvation.
Faith of Jesus: Having the faith of Jesus takes things to a whole new level. It means trusting in what Jesus trusted in, abiding in a deep knowing that you are one with God and one with the Holy Spirit. Having the faith of Jesus means cultivating an unwavering trust in your life purpose, and entertaining a rock-solid knowledge that all things are possible. It means living with an ever-ready expectancy of miracles.
Most of all, it means living in constant communion with, and surrender to, God. In other words, having the faith of Jesus means operating in an elevated state of consciousness in which there is no separation between humanity and divinity, between us and God. This kind of faith is hinted at in church, but is often not emphasized, even though it is a big part of Jesus’ teachings (see for instance John 15). Is it any wonder that apostleship is so little known?
You may say: I’m a disciple; I can’t be an apostle. I challenge you to re-think that. You see, discipleship was always and only meant to be the first step in your relationship with Jesus. The end game was always apostleship. You’re called. Anointed. Appointed. Authorized. Accountable. You’re agents of the Kingdom.
If you’re ready to step into apostleship, then it’s time to pray the prayer of the apostles: “Lord, increase our faith.” (Luke 17:5). After all, if a small-town mailman can envision himself as an apostle, why not you?
By the way…back to that date some 21 years ago. After he asked me about apostleship, I had to question my own level of faith. After all, he was a mailman and I was a pastor. Where in the heck was my trust in God? Maybe this guy was an apostle. I prayed my own version of the apostle’s prayer: Lord, increase my faith, when the mailman eventually asked me another big question. This time on bended knee. With a ring. God showed me the right answer and I said yes.
When God speaks to you, what will your answer be to God?