The Gospel, Grace & Apostleship

Paul opens his letter to the Romans with a greeting that teaches us something about his apostleship:
Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead. Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:1-6).
Immediately he links his apostleship with the gospel — he was 'called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel'. These aren't two unrelated callings, as he goes on to talk about both — the gospel and apostleship — as the greeting proceeds, drawing the two together again in verse 5 when he writes of 'grace and apostleship' received through Jesus.

So, Paul's apostleship is connected with his call to preach the gospel. In fact, Paul's apostleship is meaningless in separation from his call to preach the gospel — to be called as an apostle is to be separated to the gospel.

And this gospel which is so linked to his apostleship isn't something vague — it's not simply any biblical teaching (as if we could somehow make it refer to 'church government by apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers, elders and deacons'), but rather some very specific good news. It is God's gospel. It is the good news He promised in the Old Testament. It's the good news all about 'His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord'. It's the good news that involves Christ's incarnation ('born of the seed of David according to the flesh') and His death, resurrection, and vindication (which is our justification — 1 Tim. 3:16; Rom. 4:25). In other words, apostles are separated to the biblical message of Christ, the Incarnate Son of God, who lived, died and rose for us and our salvation.

And this separation to the gospel is to be seen in proclamation of the gospel. 'Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name' (v.5).  Here we see that apostleship is empowered by the gospel — that's where its strength and capability comes from — for it is only 'through Him' — because of who Jesus, the true Apostle, is and what He has done, and because those whom He has called to share in His ministry of apostleship only truly minister as apostles in union with Him. Jesus is the source and strength of apostleship. All true apostleship is found only in Him and so it's only as He is at work through those who are united to Him that we see the ministry of apostleship. (And the same, of course, applies to prophets, teachers, pastors and evangelists too.) It's not the mere presence of apostles that brings about 'obedience to the faith among all nations', but rather, as Paul will tell us later in this epistle, 'faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ' (Rom. 10:17). So it's as the apostles (and others) proclaim the Gospel Word of Christ crucified and raised that people from all nations come to faith in Him and He builds up His Church.

Apostles are not the gospel. But apostles are called to proclaim, to teach, to defend, to contend for, and above all to believe the gospel. When we lose sight of the glorious grace of God, the apostles should be first in line to point us back to Jesus! We don't need apostles for their great ministries of what they can do or show us to do — we need apostles who find their ministry and identity in Christ and who point us to Christ as they proclaim the grace of God in Christ in the Gospel.

Grace and apostleship go together. The Gospel and apostleship go together. Thankfully, the Gospel and the grace of God don't depend upon apostles, so we can have gospel and grace without them. But it doesn't work the other way round. Sure, we can have titles; but we can't have true apostleship unless it is rooted in, grounded upon, permeated with, and always pointing to the Gospel of God's grace in Jesus. Apostleship isn't really about what we all too often think of as leadership, nor is it about administration — it's about Jesus.

May the Head of the Church graciously grant her more such apostles, who'll point us all back to Him.