Signs of a True Apostle
Over the past few decades there has been much discussion about what identifies someone as an apostle. Much has been made about whether someone has seen Jesus, is a church planter, has signs and wonders following their ministries, works with a fivefold team, and has a network. But surely there is more to being a true apostle than these things....
Whenever God does something new, and there is fresh revelation, we seem to swing from one extreme to another before we find centre. This is the case with the emergence of a new generation of apostles across the globe over the past few decades. There have been many excesses and abuses, and many have been hesitant to embrace their calling, but I believe that many apostles are maturing, and an effective balance is emerging in some apostolic ministries.
The question is: What does this mature, effective balance look like? Here are 16 attributes of true apostles engaged in mature, effective apostleship.
 A True Apostle is Humble
Jesus, our great apostle and high priest, demonstrated humility in how he walked, related, taught, and ministered throughout His time on earth in the flesh. He is the Lord of glory, but in leaving heaven to come to earth, he presented Himself as a humble servant. The apostle Paul wrote that we should have the same mindset as Christ, and conduct ourselves in the same manner (Philippians 2:3).
The apostle Peter, seemingly a larger than life character in the New Testament church, demonstrated humility as an apostle when writing his first epistle to the churches across Asia Minor. When he addressed the elders of those churches he referred to himself as a fellow elder. While he doesn’t use the word ‘humility’, his exhortation to them outlines a humble approach to overseeing (1 Peter 4:1).
Apostles are not called to be celebrity ministries. Apostles are called to have the same heart, and mindset as Jesus and the original apostles. Mature, effective apostleship manifests humility in everything.
 A True Apostle is Christlike
To be Christlike we must consider Christ, our great example (Hebrews 3:1). To then become more like Him requires spending significant amounts of time with Him in the word, prayer, and meditation. Becoming like Him will manifest in permanent character change that will be evident to all.
What would this look like? Here are a few possibilities: Pride will go and humility will emerge; striving will cease and life will flow from a rest of soul; frustration and anger will be replaced by patience; competitiveness will disappear and apostles will honour and prefer one another.
The quest for apostles today is to grow to become so much like Jesus that people we oversee will know how to be Christlike because of our example. The apostle Paul, in great humility, encouraged those he covered to follow his example, just as he followed and demonstrated Christ’s example (1 Corinthians 11:1, 4:15-16).
 A True Apostle Understands the Grace God has Given
When Paul wrote to the church at Rome, his opening remarks spoke of receiving grace and apostleship from the Lord (Romans 1:5). Paul understood that he had received more than a calling, and even more than a gift from God. He understood that to be Christlike and fulfilling his calling was only possible because the Lord had bestowed grace to him.
Paul wrote to the Ephesian church telling them that he considered himself to be the least of all the apostles, but that God had given him the grace to fulfil the purpose to which the Lord had called him (Ephesians 3:8). Then, when writing to the church at Corinth he tells them that he is unworthy to be called an apostle, and that it is only by the grace given by the Lord that he could fulfil his apostolic calling (1 Corinthians 15:9).
When Paul returned to Jerusalem, having been away for 14 years because he was sent home by the apostles there, he says that the leading apostles received him because they could see the grace of God upon him (Galatians 2:9). I believe our world is not looking for star apostles, but instead to see the grace of God on His true apostles.
 A True Apostle is Secure in His Call
True Apostles are secure in who they are called to be, and in themselves, because their identity is found in their calling. Jesus, the Great Apostle, was so secure that he took the initiative to wash His disciples’ feet, even though Peter thought it was beneath him to do so (John 13:3-16). Jesus did this to demonstrate to them that they could be a blessing to anyone and everyone.
Paul spoke about three elements of the apostolic call that caused him to be secure (Ephesians 3:8-12). Firstly, Paul spoke of himself as being lowly and less than others (Ephesians 3:8, 1 Corinthians 15:9, Philippians 2:3). The apostle Paul understood that the King he served had humbled himself in every way, and he was committed to being like the One he served. He was secure enough to humble himself, and he maintained his security by remaining humble. When this humility was threatened, the Lord imposed a difficulty on him so he would remain humble (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
Secondly, Paul says that the King he served had bestowed favour upon him (Ephesians 3:8, Romans 1:5). He was secure because he understood that his call to be an Apostle was not just a job or responsibility, it was a grace given by God. And thirdly, true apostles are secure because their lives are focussed on the purpose for which the Lord has called them (Ephesians 3:8-12). They are not constantly thinking about their own leisure and pleasure. They are not focussed on what they have or don’t have. True apostles are consumed by the mandate of the King upon their lives.
 A True Apostle has a Fathers Heart
Because true apostles are Christlike, they come to serve. So then, mature, effective apostolic ministries do not surround themselves with servants who serve them. Instead they raise mature sons around them, and release these sons to become effective in whatever God has called them to be and do for His glory (1 Corinthians 4:15).
According to the apostle Paul, apostles who surround themselves with servants are instructors, but true apostles are those who birth something in others just as a father gives birth to sons. An apostle with a father’s heart will raise sons who are secure in their calling, and who will fulfil their calling in a God-glorifying way.
 A True Apostle Lives Amongst the People
The most effective fathers live with their family and spend as much time as possible with their children. So mature, effective apostleship flows from those with a father’s heart who live amongst those they oversee (Acts 20:18). This creates a family environment where our spiritual sons and daughters can grow to be mature and effective.
I have learnt that when I travel to various countries to minister with members of my network, the best thing I can do is to stay in their homes and live with them. It doesn’t matter if it’s a village hut in Papua New Guinea, a luxury apartment in India, or a family home in Germany, I prefer to become part of their family and they then become part of mine. This establishes a unique bond and becomes a catalyst for greater and more significant ministry to flow.
 A True Apostle Serves Those He is Amongst
Paul says that he served those he lived amongst in humility, through tough times, and even with tears (Acts 20:19). The apostle Paul’s example is in stark contrast to the demands of many in ‘ministry’ today. Paul didn’t demand comfort, or a certain standard of hotel, meals, and transport from those he was amongst. Paul served them, and at one point worked amongst them making tents with his hands (Acts 18:3).
Mature, effective apostleship is modelled by those who humbly serve God, and the people God has put them amongst. If the church is built on foundational ministries such as apostles and prophets, these ministries are serving ministries to the body of Christ. True apostles don’t impose themselves on others; they serve and bless wherever they go.
 A True Apostle Doesn’t Seek Personal Gain
The apostle Paul was very clear that he would not be a burden to those who received him as their apostle. He also made it clear that neither he nor any of his team members would take advantage of them. Paul never sought personal gain from those he ministered to and his team followed his example (2 Corinthians 12:16-18). He did encourage offerings to be given but not for his own gain (Philippians 4:10-19).
In recent decades we have seen the misuse of a statement in scripture in order to fund apostles and their organisations. Early in the development of the church we are told that people gave generously, even selling properties and placing the money at the feet of the apostles (Acts 4:33-35). The catalyst for this extreme giving was great grace on everyone. The purpose of this generosity was not for the apostles’ gain; it was because they had a grace to distribute it to meet the needs of others. This is evidence of mature, effective apostleship.
 A True Apostle Doesn’t Commend Himself
Apostles should not be self-proclaimed. They should not classify themselves in relationship to others, compare themselves with others, or commend themselves to others. The apostle Paul comments that some people need references and written testimonials of their ministry success for their own commendation (2 Corinthians 10:12-14). However, if we build relationally according to the Kingdom pattern, our ministries will grow because God is promoting us, not because we employ the world’s ways of promoting ourselves.
Paul tells the Corinthians that those who have been born into the Kingdom through him, and have Christ’s DNA, are his commendation (2 Corinthians 3:1-3). The early church pattern is that the fruit of our lives and ministry commends us. If we are bearing good fruit that remains people will see it, acknowledge it, and open doors for the grace on our lives to bear even more fruit.
Paul also taught that our sons commend us (2 Corinthians 5:12). If we only raise servants they will always be looking for the reward for their faithful service. If we raise sons in the faith, their lives will testify of our ministry. The Biblical concept is that sons are those who advance the family name. Servants will ultimately want to make a name for themselves but sons will carry the DNA of their father and want to acknowledge their father even as they fulfil their own call.
Finally, it is the Lord who commends us (2 Corinthians 10:18). If we are called to apostleship, and carry the grace of that office, the One who called us and bestowed the grace upon us will open the doors for the fulfilment of His calling on our lives.
 A True Apostle Empties Himself for Others
Mature, effective apostleship is not only characterised by selflessness, but is measured by how an apostle pours himself out. The apostle Paul says that he never held anything back. Instead he poured out everything within him that could be helpful to others (Acts 20:20). This is the standard set by Jesus who gave all of himself, not only at the cross, but in relationship to his disciples and to the crowds who followed Him (Philippians 2:5-8).
True apostles give their time to those they are mentoring. They give their listening ear to those who are hungry for insight. True apostles give their hearts and their full attention to their spiritual sons. They give their knowledge, wisdom, and encouragement without holding anything back. Paul wasn’t concerned about being spent. He knew how to replenish himself. Paul also wasn’t concerned about others using his material, in fact he encouraged it. Paul modelled a selfless, sacrificial life and ministry.
 A True Apostle is an Example of How to Respond to Adversity
At one point the apostle Paul spoke about the uncertainty of the future, and prophetic warnings about difficulties that lay ahead (Acts 20:22-24, 21:4 and 11-14). Because he was secure in his call, he wasn’t dissuaded from what might stand between where he was and where God had told him to go (Acts 19:21). Paul responded as Jesus did when confronted with the cross; he was implacable because he was secure in God’s calling and purposes.
Paul’s response wasn’t one of irresponsibility, denial, or bravado, when confronted with adversity. He acknowledged what had been prophesied, but remained focussed on what the Holy Spirit had directed him to do. He was immoveable, and undeterred by threats, violence, or even the possibility of death. He was absolutely committed to following the directives of the Governor of the Kingdom. True apostles model a faith- filled response to adversity.
 A True Apostle Edifies Others
When Paul wrote to the Corinthians and spoke of his apostolic authority, he assured them that the purpose of this authority was for their edification. Apostolic authority is not a destructive force; it is an edifying agent (2 Corinthians 10:8, 2 Corinthians 13:10). In fact the apostle Paul stated with conviction that everything he and his team members did was for the edification of the believers (2 Corinthians 12:19).
True apostles are not critical, negative, or slanderous. They are passionate about building people up to fulfil their calling and destiny. True apostles understand that the authority given by God will bring people to maturity and release them into effectiveness and fruitfulness.
 A True Apostle is Passionate about Promoting Others
As part of the foundation, being an apostle is about undergirding others (Galatians 2:20). Along with prophets, apostles are part of the foundation that enables something great to be built, and are able to support what is built on it (1 Corinthians 3:6-15).
Paul told the church at Corinth that he was a co-worker in the Kingdom with them. He explained that he had been like a wise master builder, and had laid a good foundation. He then encouraged them to build on it appropriately and effectively. He developed a powerful team around him, and promoted them for the sake of the King and His Kingdom. This is a pattern in the New Testament church, and true apostles follow this pattern.
 A True Apostle Operates within His God-given Sphere
True apostles understand the sphere of influence given to them by God, and engage in mature, effective apostleship within that sphere (2 Corinthians 10:13-15). The apostle Paul was very clear that he would function within his God-given sphere, and if it spilled over beyond those borders, it would be because of the fruit of his ministry within his sphere, not
because of self-promotion. Paul also determined that he wouldn’t build on the foundation laid by anyone else (Romans 15:20). He would not take the credit for what had been accomplished by others. He was also very explicit about the fact that he would not lay claim to anything that was outside his God-given sphere (2 Corinthians 10:15-16).
Paul taught that the purpose of apostolic authority is to grow big people. As our sons grow, and those under our authority in our God-given sphere grow, we become enlarged or increased (2 Corinthians 10:15). Our effectiveness grows, and our reach is enlarged as we grow big people. Our ministry is multiplied as we raise up and release others into their calling. Our stature is increased, and our authority becomes greater, as we focus on continually growing big people for Kingdom purpose.
Apostolic authority has an expansionist grace but not at the expense of others. It is not opportunistic, nor is it to capitalise on what others have accomplished. Kingdom expansion is the key, not the expansion of ‘my’ name, ministry, reputation, or image.
 A True Apostle is Unswerving
There was a time when every prophet Paul encountered foretold trouble for him if he continued in the direction he was going. Paul’s response was that nothing would dissuade him from what he believed God wanted him to do (Acts 20:24). In fact, he listed some difficult things he had encountered and declared that nothing could take him off his life path in God (Romans 8:31-39).
Paul also said he had completely fulfilled the vision God had given him (Acts 26:19), and that he had finished his race for the glory of God (2 Timothy 4:7-8). All of this was despite many harrowing experiences in the process of fulfilling his apostolic calling. True apostles are not moved by the difficulties. True apostles are constant, steadfast, and unswerving.
 A True Apostle Glorifies God
Finally, true apostles will always speak, conduct themselves, exercise their authority, and live in a way that brings glory to God (2 Corinthians 10:17). In a kingdom it’s all about the king, not about his subjects. In the Kingdom of God, the glory must go to Him and no one else. It can be so easy for our hearts to deceive us in this, unless we apply the cross to our lives every day (1 Corinthians 1:29). Mature, effective apostleship doesn’t draw attention to itself but instead places sign posts on the journey that point people to the King. ______________________________________
Phil Spence was commissioned as an apostle in 2010 as a recognition of the grace, function, and fruit of his life and ministry over many years. He leads Jabez International Mission, a relational network spanning eighteen nations, and is based in Kingdom Life Church, Brisbane, Australia. Phil may be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.