1 For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, 2 If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: 3 How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, 4 Whereby, when ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) 5 Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; 6 That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: 7 Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. 8 Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; 9 And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: 10 To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, 11 According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord… Eph. 3:1-11
Who is the apostle, and who is the prophet?
May I start by saying that a true apostle or prophet is rarer than the rarest jewel. If you can find one such person, you will have found the greatest treasure you could possibly find under the sun.
But the Bible paints a frightening picture of the life that this best of the best of God’s array of vessels lives. First, the Chief Apostle, our Lord Jesus Christ, said of Himself:
“The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay down his head.” (Mat. 8:20)
This was in response to a scribe who came running to Him and who asked to be allowed to follow Jesus wherever He would go. Jesus was warning him: “Stay back! Desist! Unless you are willing to lose your life, you cannot follow me.”
They ended up crucifying Jesus Christ.
I once saw a video of some people slaughtering a man for being a Christian. They bound his hands and feet and slaughtered him the way you would slaughter a goat. Hardly something to go running to.
Likewise, the Apostle Paul says of the early apostles:
“For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.” (1 Cor. 4:9)
Notice the range of losses that the apostle has to endure. He is a man “appointed to death… a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.”
In other words, he is not a worldly celebrity.
“10 We are fools for Christ’s sake… we are weak… we are despised. 11 Even to this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace; 12 And labour, working with our hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it: 13 Being defamed, we entreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and we are the offscouring of all things unto this day.” (1 Cor. 10-13)
“Even to this present hour”.
Meaning, “Even as I write.” At the time of writing this letter to the Corinthians, Paul was undergoing these things. What a sobering thought.
“Unto this day.”
There is hardly any rest in the flesh for the apostle. Every day his body is pummeled. God uses everything in his power to bring down this man: hunger, thirst, nakedness, beatings. God goes further and attacks this man’s reputation. He casts it down. He has him defamed, and the apostle does not hire a lawyer. Instead he entreats. When he is beaten, he says, “Sorry.” Losing is the only right he has. He knows he is appointed to death.
In Colossians 1:24, Paul writes:
“Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church”.
Notice the all-important words, “in my flesh”. The word “flesh” here goes much deeper than just the flesh and bones. It talks of self. Paul gave up who he was. Paul’s life was given. He counted himself a dead man. His life was given as a sacrifice. It was given so the Church could be edified.
But more than that is the fact that Paul rejoiced in his sufferings for the Church’s sake. For most of us, the slightest inconvenience on account of the gospel can only be borne under duress! But the true servant of God goes to the slaughter rejoicing, for he knows what his death will bear in the Spirit.
The Church cannot be entrusted to just anyone. Jesus said,
“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven…” (Mat. 7:21)
In the same way, not everyone who calls themselves an apostle or prophet is truly one, and God will not entrust them His church. An apostle or prophet should measure themselves by how much they are willing to suffer for the sake of the gospel. God will entrust the Church to men whom He has shaped to love the church as Christ does. The apostles and prophets of God are men who carry the selfless, sacrificial heart of Jesus.
Christ is the supreme example of the kind of dying that his followers are called to, chief of them being the apostles and prophets. We read of His example in Philippians 2:5-9
“5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6 Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal to God: 7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”
Jesus started out as God, but He sank lower and lower in esteem till he became nothing.
This is hardly the kind of life anyone would desire. But this is what is needed to bring forth the best out of God’s utmost servants, the apostles and prophets.
[“For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” – Rom. 8:18]