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January 6, 2008
The Way to Encourage – Part 1
Series: Above All
Pastor Philip De Courcy
Colossians 1:1-2

Purchase the CD of this sermon.


Christ is Christianity and His preeminence above all things cannot be overstated. This sermon speaks about the significance of Jesus Christ, restoring the importance of His deity and supremacy in our lives. Pastor Philip looks at the city, church, controversy and correspondence as we gain a better understanding of why Christ must have preeminence in all aspects of life. We can realize that He is not just simply eminent but truly divine—the image of God Himself! Learn about the completeness and supremacy of Jesus Christ above all else.

More From This Series


We begin a new series in God’s Word this morning, Book of Colossians. This is a book singularly focused on exalting the sufficiency and the supremacy of the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s got to be good for us as those who profess to follow him and love him. I’ve called the series Above All, because this is what Paul wants us to see in the Book of Colossians that Christ is above all powers, above all things, above all nature, above all created things.
Well, let’s read the opening two verses, which is as far as we’ll get this morning, and it’ll spill over a little into tonight, Colossians 1:1-2. But we’ll just read on through to verse 8 to kind of set a wider context. “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy, our brother, to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are at Colossae, grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
“We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints, because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the Gospel, which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth, as you also learned from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, who also declared to us your love in the Spirit.”
Trust that God will bless his Word this morning as it is preached and received. Six weeks after September 11, the Reverend Robert Schuler, minister of the 10,000-member Crystal Cathedral in California and host of the Hour of Power, he sat in an Illinois mosque in the company of Louis Farrakhan and a Muslim imam by the name of Wallace Dean Muhammad. Schuler was on a tour to promote his new autobiography, My Journey. But after the tragic and terrible events of September 11th, he said, quote, “I wanted to have evenings of hope.” And so, he participated in an event that was interfaith in this particular mosque in Illinois. Muslims, Christians, Jews, and Sikhs were in attendance.
Now, listen to these words from a Chicago Tribune reporter as he sets the context and kind of lets us into Schuler’s perspective of the events in this interfaith gathering. For decades, Schuler said he was a proponent of the kind of proselytizing that pushed Muslims to become Christians, then he realized that asking people to change their faith was utterly ridiculous. Schuler’s first interaction with the Muslim group came four years ago when Muhammad invited him to give the opening sermon at the Muslim American Society’s New Jersey convention. And in 1999, he was asked by the Grand Mufti of Syria to preach in Damascus.
“When I met the Grand Mufti, I sensed the presence of God,” he wrote in his autobiography. “The two men,” he said, “focused on similarities, not differences. The purpose of religion is not to say, ‘I have all the answers and my job is to convert you.’ That road leads to the Twin Towers. That attitude is an invitation to extremists,” he said. After September 11, he said, “The emphasis should move from proselytizing to just trying to help everyone who hurts and hopes.” Bear that in mind.
We fast-forward now. We’re several months after the terrorist attacks in September 11, 2001. We’re now at the Georgetown University, where the former president Bill Clinton is addressing the student body and faculty. In his address, he partly blames the attacks on America on America’s arrogant self-righteousness. In fact, he suggests in the speech, “If only both sides could realize,” now listen to these words, “there is no such a thing as absolute truth.”
He goes on to make this statement I’m quoting, “Nobody’s got the truth. You’re at a university which basically believes that no one ever has the whole truth, ever. We are incapable of ever having the whole truth.” If you were listening carefully, these startling and troubling quotes, one from a faithless preacher and another from a former president, these quotes will alert you to the fact that you and I, as the Church of Jesus Christ, are living in a culture that scowls at the idea that one faith is superior to another.
Folks, if you don’t realize this, let me alert you to the fact that in a modern America, there is an increasing intolerance towards those who have any claim to truth. There is an intolerance towards the notion that there is a hierarchy of religions. There is an intolerance towards the idea that there is a single overarching source of reality. There is an intolerance towards the belief that there is any one way to God. This is the culture in which the church exists in modern America. There’s been a change of climate.
Any claim to superiority on the part of Christians is now portrayed as a form of religious racism, and any attempt to evangelize people of other faiths to bring them to a decision for Jesus Christ is wrongly criticized as a form of theological imperialism. To claim that the Bible alone is the Word of God and that Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven is simply unacceptable in a society that has redefined the concepts of pluralism and tolerance. What do I mean by that? Pluralism isn’t a bad thing. Pluralism is a celebration of diversity. Pluralism allow cultures to blend and live side by side. Pluralism celebrates diversity. Pluralism desires that everyone has equal rights before the law, and there’s not anything wrong with pluralism, but what’s going on in a modern America is that there is a new definition of pluralism.
It isn’t that there is diversity and equal rights. It is that everybody is equally right, regardless of the diversity, and the new definition of tolerance is acceptance. Diversity has been swapped for equality, and everyone’s individual belief and behavior is of equal value and equal virtue. Listen to these words from R. Kent Hughes, “Today’s pluralism holds that all religions are equally true. It sees the world as a religious garden through which we can wander, pluck the flowers that smells sweetest to us. The ultimate test of what is authentic is how it makes us feel. Religion is merely a preference, not unlike the choice of a meal or the color of your car.”
TIME magazine recently heralded this all-religions-are-the-same idea with a flag-draped “subscribe now” ad bearing the banner, “God, Allah, Krishna, Jehovah bless America.” Never mind that the names invoked represent monotheists, Trinitarian monotheists, polytheists. It’s all the same, as TIME sees it. And because all religions are equally true, any claim to the truth is absolutist and bigoted. Those who insist that they have the truth are divisive and imperialistic, the equivalent to intellectual fascists, un-American, even anti-American, and proselytizing is the worst of sin.
Folks, beloved, this is the world you walk in. This is the world you witness in. This is the culture in our day that frowns upon the doctrines of the sovereignty of God, the sufficiency of the Bible, and the supremacy of Jesus Christ. And I have reason to believe that in the days to come, if things don’t change, and I don’t see any reason why they will change, that it’s going to take greater courage and greater commitment to be a vocal and visible and viable witness to the completeness and supremacy of Jesus Christ in our day and in this age.
That’s what makes the Book of Colossians instructive and imperative. I say instructive because the historical context of this book is one of diversity and religious syncretism. What is was. The world of the New Testament was one marked by religious tolerance and pluralism. As far as the Romans were concerned, people could more or less follow any religion so long as they bowed the knee to Caesar and respected the pantheon of Roman gods and Greek deities.
But what irked and irritated the Romans more than anything was the early Christians’ refusal to compromise with other religions, and their obstinacy and evangelism which often disrupted the peace of Roman cities. Therefore, the context of this letter is a culture of religious syncretism and pluralism and tolerance. And Christians then, just as now, were under constant pressure to tone their message down and to tone their missions down, to make Christ the comparative savior, not a superlative savior. And the pressure was being felt at Colossae, because as we shall see before today is out, there was a doctrine infiltrating the church at Colossae that taught that Christ was eminent, but not preeminent, that Christ may be better, but not the best, that Christ may be more, but not all, that Christ was penultimate, but not ultimate.
And that’s the context of this book. That’s what makes it so instructive to us in a postmodern, pluralistic society that marks evangelical Protestants out as the new Taliban in America. But this book is not only instructive, it’s imperative, when you move from its historical context to its theological content. Why is it so imperative and necessary and compelling that you and I wrap our heads around this book? I’ll tell you why, because this book will teach us the completeness and the supremacy of Jesus Christ above all things. This is our message and this is our mission.
Look at what Paul says here in Colossians 1:15, “He, Jesus Christ, is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn overall creation. For by him, all things were created, that are in heaven, that are on the earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through him and for him. He is before all things. In him, all things consist. He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things, he may have the preeminence.”
What a message to us, the church, in a postmodern, pluralistic America. What was is. And this letter that was written to a church that’s now out of existence is written to us, a church in existence, and the message is that Jesus Christ is sufficient, and in him, we are complete. This is a book that exalts and extols the glory and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. It sets him up as man’s only hope, it promotes him as creation’s only source, and it sees him as God’s only son. This is a letter that refuses to diminish Christ in any way. It sees him as the essence of God, undivided in its fullness, dwelling in bodily form.
Look at Colossians 2:9-10, “For in Christ, in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, and you are complete in him, who is the head of all principality and power.” It sees him as truth incarnate, a single well of all wisdom and knowledge regarding man and God. Look at verse 3, “In him, or in whom, are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Absolute truth can be known, Mr. Clinton, because the absolute has become concrete in history in the person of Jesus Christ. The Book of Colossians also sees him as the single and solid ground of man’s reconciliation before God by means of his sin-bearing, law-satisfying, grace-exalting death upon the Cross.
Look at verse 19 of chapter 1, “For it please the Father that in him, all the fullness should dwell, and by him to reconcile all things, by him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of his Cross, and you, who were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now he has reconciled.” This book, and I’m excited to study it with you and preach it to you, is a book about the sufficiency of Christ and the completeness of the Christian in and through Christ. When a man or woman lays hold of the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul says, “They have all in one. They need nothing beyond him or beside him.” They need nothing beyond him or beside him. The Christian needs no other sacrifice for sin. The Christian needs no other source of reality. The Christian needs no other foundation of hope. The Christian needs no other deity for Christ is God and above all gods.
Angels bow to him, devils submit to him, creation finds its center in him, and the church owes him as its head. That’s the message of the Book of Colossians. Christ is not comparative. He is superlative. Christ is not penultimate. He is ultimate. I want you to realize this morning, beloved, that Christ cannot be improved upon. What Christ is and what Christ has done is enough for salvation. You and I need no extra mediator. We need no superfluous master. We need no more taboos or truth. We are complete in him. To invest the riches of the Gospel into a more diversified religious portfolio is not to enrich Christianity. It is to devalue it.
Arturo Toscanini was a great musical conductor. He was the conductor of both the Metropolitan Opera in New York City and the National Broadcasting Company Symphony Orchestra. One particular day, Toscanini put his orchestra through a rigorous rehearsal of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. As soon it was done, the second violinist leaned over and said to the first violinist, “If the old man scolds us today, I think I’ll push him off the platform.” He felt he had done something good. Toscanini was known as a perfectionist, but he didn’t scold.
With his long white mane falling down across his shoulders, the old maestro extended his arms, opened them as though he would embrace the whole orchestra, and then, speaking just above a whisper, he said, “Who am I? Who are you? I am nobody. You are nobody. Beethoven, he’s everything. He’s everything.” That’s the note that Paul strikes in the Book of Colossians. We’re nothing. Angels are nothing. Christ is everything. And that’s what makes this book so imperative and so instructive.
Well, let’s begin to look at the letter. Got to try and move through this. We want to frame our understanding of the text. I want us to look as much as we can today at the city, the church, the controversy, the correspondence. And when I talk about the correspondence, just the greeting that sits at the front door of this book. Let’s look at the city as quickly as we can. Colossae was no Jerusalem, no Rome, no Athens, no Corinth, no Ephesus. It was a mid-sized town that had peaked. It was situated about 100 miles east of Ephesus. It was part of a triangle of cities which included Laodicea and Hierapolis.
It was a meeting point and a melting point for West and East because an arterial trade route went through the city. But as I said, it was a mid-sized city that it peaked because during Roman times, either around the time of the writing of Colossians or shortly after it, the road to Pergamos was rerouted through Laodicea, therefore bypassing Colossae. That, coupled with the growing popularity and prosperity of Laodicea and Hierapolis, led to the ultimate decline and depopulation of the city.
So we’re reading about a city that’s in decline, commercially, financially. It’s not as important as it once was. Remember, it’s about 100 miles east of Ephesus. It’s part of a triangle of cities, Colossae, Laodicea, Hierapolis. That will become an important piece in the puzzle as we work our way through the letter. I want you to not only see the city, I want you to see the church. If you don’t know this already, Paul did not plant this church personally. Although he’s writing to them and he shows affection for them in this personal letter, he never himself visited Colossae.
If you’ll notice verse 4, he talks about hearing of their faith, not seeing their faith. That thought is repeated again in verse 9, where he hears about their spiritual state. Chapter 2 and verse 1 again, he hears about them and admits that he has not… They have not seen his face in the flesh and neither has he seen their faces in the flesh. Now, the church owes its origin to a fervent, fearful minister by the name of Epaphras. We’re introduced to him in verse 7 of chapter 1, where he’s described as Paul’s dear fellow servant and a faithful minister of Christ on the behalf of the Colossians.
It’s interesting that in the Book of Acts, this city and this church is never mentioned. And so, we’ve got to piece things together to try and come up with an understanding of its emergence, and what seems to be the most plausible answer to that question is that while Paul was in Ephesus ministering for three years, according to Acts 19:10, “While he was there carrying out that Ephesian ministry, the Gospel went out throughout Asia, and all in Asia heard the Word.” This city was in Asia. It was in the region of Phrygia in Asia Minor, probably part of modern Turkey today.
And so, Paul’s in Ephesus, the word’s going out from Ephesus, and we’re told by Luke that the Gospel was impacting the whole Asia Minor region. And what we conjecture is this, that Epaphras had come to Ephesus, made contact with Paul, had come to saving faith through Paul’s ministry, went back to his home city of Colossae, shared the Gospel, witnessed for Jesus Christ, and God, the Holy Spirit, used him as the catalyst to bring about this emerging church.
Listen to what S. Lewis Johnson says about that possibility, quote, “It must have been a notable conversion, for he became a zealous missionary in his own city of Colossae and out of his earnest evangelism arose the assembly which met in Philemon’s house.” What a story. Here’s a man who returned to his city and started a church. Here’s a life that became a compelling argument for Christ and his Gospel. Here’s a man whose life became a front door into the church, not a back door out of it, which reminds me, dear folks, that good leadership is important to a church’s health and progress, but so are great lives lived on the pavement of our city making an impact for the Lord Jesus Christ.
Are you an Epaphras? Am I an Epaphras? We have the city. We have the church. I want you to consider now the controversy that occasions this letter. Now, the purpose of the letter is many-sighted. Certainly, Paul wanted to exhort the Colossians to greater spiritual maturity and conformity to Christ. He encourages them in chapter 2 and verse 6, “Having received the Lord Jesus Christ, they were to walk in him.” He had prayed for their spiritual growth in chapter 1 and verses 9 through 14. That was certainly one of the purposes of the letter.
Another purpose would be to inform them about the state of play in his own life in ministry and to elicit their prayers. You see that in chapter 4 and verse 2, “Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving, meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open us a door for the Word.” There’s at least two purposes, but I think the primary purposes is a third purpose. It’s the reestablishment and reemphasis of the deity and supremacy of Christ in this church, and that is necessary in the light of an invading Colossian heresy that was demeaning the Lord Jesus Christ and diminishing the Lord Jesus Christ.
And so, Paul writes to remind them in verse 18 of chapter 1 that, “In all things, Christ must have the preeminence.” That’s the purpose of the letter. Primarily, it’s polemic. If you think about it, Christ is Christianity. And when he is lost, all is lost. If you read through this letter, you’ll see that the Colossians were being moved away, deceived, cheated, and judged. Those are some of the words that are used with regards to the simplicity of the Gospel and the supremacy of the Lord Jesus Christ.
We can’t be exactly sure as to the source and the form of the Colossian heresy. Our best guess is that it was an amalgam of Greek philosophy and Jewish ceremonialism, but for the sake of time, and so that you go away with the big picture, there is certainly a form of emerging Gnosticism that was troubling this church. Gnosticism would come into full bloom in the 2nd century, but here we have it emerging. Gnostics consider themselves to be people of superior knowledge who could help lesser Christians attain a deeper spirituality.
The word Gnosticism is rooted in the Greek word gnosis which means “to know”. So the gnostics were this group of elite spiritualists who were in the know, who would help you, through their insight and their instruction, to find redemption and salvation and a true encounter and experience of God. For the gnostics, there was a basic doctrinal perspective and it was this: Matter was evil and only the Spirit was good. They reasoned therefore that God could not be involved in creation. This is what they deduced based on their doctrine. If matter and material things are evil and Spirit alone is with God as Spirit, so he had nothing to do with the creation. God distanced himself from the material world.
Therefore, the world came into being through a complicated surrogate process as God put forth thousands of emanations which are lesser gods or lesser spiritual beings than himself, each of which was a little more distant from him, so that finally there was an emanation, a little god, a spiritual being, so distant from God that it could touch the material world. It could create the world. And of course, this lesser god of creation was so far removed from the ultimate God that it itself was evil. The emanation, the spiritual being that brought this world into existence was evil itself. God had nothing to do with this. There was this kind of chain of emanations from God, each one distancing God from the eventual end of the chain.
Now, where this touched upon Christianity was this: The gnostic then looked at Christ and Christian claims about Christ and said, “If he really was the Son of God, then he couldn’t have been in human bodily form because that’s evil. Christ could never have been incarnated.” Therefore, gnostics put forth this idea that Christ was a ghostlike phantom. He was one of these emanations. He was not the Creator, the incarnation was not real, and Christ was certainly not enough. He wasn’t God. He was an emanation. He’s somewhere down in that chain of command. And so, the gnostics built a system by which one could begin with Christ and work one’s way up the series of emanations to God.
Some form of this heresy, some form of this outlook on Christ and Christianity was troubling the church at Colossae. That’s the controversy. And Paul met it head-on because he understood that this threat could not be allowed to succeed because Gnosticism, in its early forms, as in its later form, was a full-frontal attack upon the uniqueness of the Gospel and the deity and supremacy of Jesus Christ. If Gnosticism triumphed, Christianity died. That’s what’s at stake here as Paul writes to the Colossians. And so, he sets out to present a cosmic Christ who is no emanation from God, but is God and Lord of all creation. He sets out to present a crucified Christ who, as the only mediator between God and man, has made full satisfaction for sin in the bloody offering of himself upon the Cross. He sets out to present a complete Christ by whom all things consist, and in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, and in whom dwells all the fullness of God.
You see how those phrases come alive, set against the background of the idea that Christ was not God in bodily form? Christ was an emanation of God. He was a creation of God. Christ didn’t create the world. He’s somewhere in the middle of this chain of emanations from God. And you can start with him, but you got to move beyond him. If you’re to know true knowledge and have a true experience of God, and Paul says, “No, no, never!” In all things, he must have the preeminence. He is the image of God. He is the sole repository of revealed truth. He is the one mediator and savior for mankind.
And this reminds me as we pass onto the correspondence that Christ, my friend, is ever the test of fellowship and cooperation with others for us as a church. He is the controversy. Listen to these words by Bishop Handley Moule of England in his comments on Colossians, quote, “No surer test, according to the Holy Scriptures, can be applied to anything claiming to be Christian teaching than this. Where does it put Christ? What does it make of Christ? Is he something in it, or is he all?” That’s what you want to find out when you encounter someone who claims to be a Christian. That’s what I want to find out when a letter crosses my desk inviting me to a ministerial meeting.
I want to know who is Christ to these men. I want to know where they put him. Is he something in faith or is he all concerning faith? Because the Book of Colossians teaches us of the absolute preeminence and permanence of Christ. He is ever the test. He is ever the controversy, which brings us to the correspondence. We’ll just make a start here. And considering this letter to the Colossians, I want you to know that scholars are pretty much unanimous in the belief that this letter was written from Rome during Paul’s first imprisonment when he was under house arrest. You can read about it in Acts 28:30-31. As best as we can make out, that would put the letter somewhere around AD 60, AD 61.
The letter was occasioned by the coming of Epaphras to Paul from Colossae and informing Paul of the goings-on in that church, Colossians 1:7. Interestingly, the letter was occasioned by Epaphras, but it was written by Timothy after it was dictated by Paul. The reason I say that is, go to the back of the book in chapter 4 and verse 18. We read interestingly concerning the final salutation or the final greeting. Here’s what we read, “This salutation by my own hand, Paul. Remember my chains. Grace be to you. Amen.” The implication seems to be that he wrote the final greeting by his own hand, but the rest of the letter was written by someone else for him. He’s certainly the author. You’ll see that as we go through the book.
And so, here’s what we have so far. The book was written from Rome to the church at Colossae somewhere around AD 60, 61. Paul’s in prison. It’s his first imprisonment. He will be released later on, only to be rearrested some time later in his second imprisonment where he eventually dies, where we read about that in 2 Timothy. The book was occasioned by Epaphras, dictated by Paul, written by Timothy, and interestingly delivered back to the church at Colossae, not by Epaphras, but by a man by the name of Tychicus.
Look at chapter 4 and verse 7. Chapter 4 and verse 7, “Tychicus, a beloved brother, faithful minister, and fellow servant in the Lord, will tell you all the news about me.” As we look at this correspondence, we’ve got to begin to look at the greeting itself. The first two verses of this letter forms a classic greeting that, in itself, serves to be Paul’s business card. There’s three things in these opening two verses. We’ll just begin one of them for a few moments now. I want you to see their leaders, their lives, and their locations.
Let’s just begin to look at their leaders. On the one hand, we have Paul the Apostle, and on the other hand, we have Timothy, the associate. Look at verse 1, “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy, our brother, to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are in Colossae.” Let’s just look at Paul the Apostle and be done. Paul introduces himself in terms of being an apostle. The word here means “a sent one”. An apostle was one sent on the authority of another to fulfill a certain commission, in this case, Christ. Christ had commissioned Paul to write this letter, a letter concerning his sufficiency, his sovereignty, and his supremacy.
Paul begins the letter with a tone of authority and a title of authority. Now, that wasn’t his usual custom. But where you find Paul in this letter is introducing himself as an apostle, you’ll usually find, if you study the background of the book, that there’s controversy or conflict involved in that church. And Paul, therefore, in addressing the conflict or addressing the controversy, usually reestablishes his authority as an apostle of Jesus Christ, as one sent to be Christ’s representative and spokesman. And it would seem appropriate in the context of this letter that Paul would introduce himself as such. One, they had never met him, and so he needed to remind them of who he was before God and before them.
And two, since he was about to straighten them out theologically, it was a good thing for them to understand that he was Christ’s mouthpiece, representative. He was someone sent and commissioned by Christ to speak his Word. Just in case they didn’t get it, he reinforces the thought by the phrase “by the will of God”. “I’m an apostle,” he says, “sent by Jesus Christ, appointed not by human committee, appointed not by a church council, I was sovereignly chosen by a sovereign God. That was my appointment.” And so, Paul here establishes a title and tone of authority, the purpose of which is to remind them that his words in the Book of Colossians, and by the way, to remind us as we read this letter, that his words are more than opinion. These words are the authoritative utterance of a divinely appointed mouthpiece of Christ.
Now, I want to pause and just clarify something. There is a sense in which we are all apostles. We have all been sent into the world by Christ and for Christ. But I think, in a day of charismatic confusion and in a day of charismatic chaos, that you and I need to remember that the primary use of this Greek term is a word that is used in a very restricted sense to speak of a select group of men who formed the foundation of the early church of which Paul was one lately born.
Did you notice that Timothy is not called an apostle? Because not everybody is an apostle in the truest, technical, restricted sense. Only Paul is an apostle. Paul, an apostle, and Timothy, our brother. And you and I need to make that distinction because I think as I looked at this word this week in my study and most of yesterday, it raised a question that I think you want me to answer. Are there apostles today? Well, to watch TBN or to listen to some of the local churches, you would believe there are. There are many in this city claiming to be apostles doing apostolic ministry. Some are men, some are women.
Are there apostles today? This is a study in itself, but I’m just going to run you down several reasons why this apostolic office is not for today. There is no apostle operating today in the Church of Jesus Christ in the restricted sense. Let me tell you why. And I took these from John MacArthur’s book, Charismatic Chaos, which I commend to you. Number one, the church was founded upon the apostles and that role was fulfilled by them and, by definition, can never be repeated. Ephesians 2:20 tells us that the apostles are in the foundation of the church. Their ministry was unique. They initiated the beginning of the church. They established churches, they founded them, and formed them. And when their work was done, it was done.
Number two, the apostles were eyewitnesses to the Resurrection. According to 1 Corinthians 9:1 and 1 Corinthians 15:7-8, anyone who claims to be an apostle also claims to have seen and encountered personally the risen Christ himself. Seems to me there is no trustworthy evidence that Christ has appeared to anyone since the close of the apostolic age. Number three, the apostles were directly and personally chosen by Christ in distinction to those who would be later commissioned by the church. In Luke 6 as in Matthew 10, we read that the Lord Jesus Christ personally handpicked and directly chose a group of 12 men.
Again, he directly intervened when we have the replacement of Matthias for Judas in Acts 1 with the casting of lots. With regards to Paul, an apostle lately born, we read about the fact that Paul encounters the risen Christ and is commissioned by the risen Christ personally and directly in Acts 9 as he encounters him on the road to Damascus. This is the mark of an apostle. They founded the church. They’re eyewitnesses to the resurrection. They were personally chosen by Christ. Interestingly, the word that’s used here for an apostle is used for all Christians in 2 Corinthians 8:23. It’s translated often messenger or appointee or representative, but you’ll read that they are the apostles of the church. They were commissioned by the church, not by Christ directly.
The original 12, plus Matthias and Paul, had a nontransferable commission to reveal doctrine and found the church. And as they passed off the scene of time, we read about their instruction in the Pastoral Epistles. You see that the baton is being handed off from the apostles to the elders. The elder is the primary position of leadership in the New Testament church, according to the Book of Acts and the Pastoral Epistles. In fact, we read that the apostles went everywhere in the Book of Acts, what, appointing elders. They knew that they had a ministry that was unique, limited to a certain age, and therefore they revealed God’s Word, they helped establish the church, they appointed their successors in that sense of leadership, and off they went to heaven. And their commission was non-transferable.
Number four, the apostles of Christ were authenticated by signs and wonders. In Acts 2:43, we read that signs and wonders accompanied the apostles. You read about that again in 1 Corinthians 12:12. You read about it in Hebrews 2:3-4. When you read the New Testament, I can assure you, study it for yourself, that when you read about miracles taking place, either an apostle is present or someone commissioned by an apostle. And if you read church history, you’re going to see that as the church emerges into the 2nd century, the situation regarding miracles has so changed that Alva McClain says, “We seem to be in another world.”
You see, God used miracles in the apostolic age to authenticate his mouthpieces. That’s often the case with miracles. You see it with Moses. You see it with Elijah. When God wants to speak through his prophets and his apostles, he authenticates his presence on them and in them through miracles. Neither we have a closed canon. Neither God’s Word has been revealed. We don’t need apostles and prophets in that restricted primary sense.
Fifthly and finally, the apostles have an eternal and unique place of honor. Did you notice that in Revelation 21:14 that when it comes to the New Jerusalem in the eternal state, that the 12 names of the apostles were then embossed on the walls? Is it 12? Is it 120? Is it 1,200? Is it 12,000? It’s 12. Folks, when it comes to the apostles, their names are unique, their office is unique, their ministry is unique, and their miracles were unique. And all this reminds us in a day of charismatic chaos and confusion to be wary of anyone who, in our day, continues to claim for themselves the office and ministry of apostle. Such men and such women are not to be trusted.