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In our last lesson, we identified five "costs" of being an apostle:
Lesson 3 examined the first three costs. If we had to summarize those costs, perhaps the best summary would be "laying down your life" or "dying to self." We see that they had to trade their own goals and ambitions for God's goal/ambition of advancing His kingdom. We saw that there is not always honor, recognition, respect or rewards for apostles in their natural life time. They may not receive support from the church and may be forced to work a secular job to finance their ministry. And, even though they are doing real and significant Kingdom work, they may be obscure or unknown apostles follow Jesus' example. Just as Jesus laid down His life for the church, so apostles must lay down their lives for the church - figuratively and sometimes literally.
God advances His Kingdom through His apostles, but that advancement is not usually easy. A lot of times there is opposition from men and demons. That opposition brings us to the next two costs.
Most Apostles Are Persecuted Or Suffer For Their Faith
Suffering for Christ does not sound like very much fun, does it? The truth is that God can call on any of His servants, not just the apostles, to suffer for Him. History is full of examples.
However, God frequently does call on His apostles to suffer for Him. When God commissioned Paul as an apostle, suffering was part of that commission. We read of this in Acts 9:15-16, when God sent Ananias to pray for newly converted Paul to restore his sight. It says, "But the Lord said to Ananias, 'Go! This man is My chosen instrument to carry My name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for My name.'"
Paul was not the only apostle to suffer for the Lord, they all did. Acts 5:18 gives us one account. It says, "They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail." Acts 5 goes on to recount that God supernaturally delivered them from prison and sent them back out to the streets to preach. They were again arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin. They were commanded to stop preaching Jesus, refused, and were publicly beaten and released. God did not protect them from persecution and suffering, but He was with them in it. Their response is recorded in Acts 5:41. "The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name."
There are many other examples of the apostles suffering persecution, being arrested, beaten and even killed. Peter appears to have had many trips to prison. And so did the apostle Paul. In Romans 16:7, he writes, "Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was." The apostle John was imprisoned on the Island of Patmos because of his evangelistic activity (Rev 1:9). It was in that prison that John had an incredible vision of the last days, recorded in the book of Revelation.
What is the modern-day equivalent? Are the apostles of today persecuted and opposed for the Kingdom work they do? Of course they are. Physical persecution still happens in some parts of the world. Many stories have come out of China and the former Soviet Union about believers being thrown into prison, having their possessions confiscated, being beaten or sometimes killed. In other parts of the world the persecution takes other forms. Sometimes there are false rumors, slander and false accusations against them, because of the Kingdom work they are doing. Sometimes the persecution comes in the financial area. But it is my personal belief that we may once again see physical persecution (beatings, murders, arrests, etc) in the Western world in my natural lifetime. And if this occurs, it is very likely that the Lord will ask many of His apostles to suffer for His sake, that the gospel may go forth.
Most Apostles Are Called To Become Martyrs
Jesus said it Himself in Luke 11:49, "Because of this, God in His wisdom said, 'I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute'" (NIV). Paul commented on it in 1 Cor. 4:9, "For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men."
The Bible has many of examples of apostles laying down their lives for Christ. Tradition has it that most of the original 12 disciples were martyred for Christ. Right from the start of the church, the Jewish religious leaders wanted to exterminate those God was using to build His Kingdom. In Acts 5:27-33, we see that the Sanhedrin wanted to put all of the apostles to death.
There is the case of Stephen. Stephen was a deacon, not an apostle. He had received an impartation from the apostles through the laying on of hands (Acts 6:6) and began to do apostolic-type of works, preaching with power, working signs and wonders (Acts 6:8). Then Acts 6:9-13a says, "Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called) - Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia. These men began to argue with Stephen, but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke. Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, 'We have heard Stephen speak words of blasphemy against Moses and against God.' So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. They produced false witnesses, who testified" against him. This lead to Stephen being martyred in Acts 7. The result was that persecution came on the whole church. Acts 8:1 says, "On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria." Paul, known as Saul before his conversion, was given authority by the Sanhedrin to persecute believers. In Acts 22:4, Paul reflects on his pre-conversion persecution activities. He says, "I persecuted the followers of this way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison."
The apostles were not exempt from this persecution. King Herod executed apostle James (Acts 12:2). They were about to execute Peter, but God supernaturally rescued him (Acts 12:3-12). Tradition has it that at a later date, Peter really did lay down His life for the Lord.
Paul's life was constantly put at risk just because he was an apostle. The book of Acts chronicles many of the attacks on Paul's life. Here are just a few of them:
Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ. After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him, but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him.
The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut. While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar. He at once took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.
The commander came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. Then he asked who he was and what he had done. Some in the crowd shouted one thing and some another, and since the commander could not get at the truth because of the uproar, he ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks.
The next morning the Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul.
Despite some people's impressions to the contrary, being an apostle is no way to (as the saying goes) "make friends and influence people." It was high risk, high cost, and involved suffering, pain and death.
I believe that the reason the opposition against the apostles was so great was because the spiritual warfare surrounding them was so great. The apostles were actively building God's Kingdom. As a side effect of their activity, Satan's kingdom was being torn down and dismantled. Satan did not want to lose his territory and that is why he fought back so vehemently.
Not a whole lot has changed. God is using apostles today to build His Kingdom, just as He did in the early days of the church. Satan's kingdom is still being torn down as God's Kingdom advances, so Satan is still going to fight back.
I believe that the Lord will ask many of His current-day apostles to lay down their lives for the gospel and become martyrs.
When you look at all the things that are part of being an apostle, it becomes a bit less glamorous. If God has called a person as an apostle, there will be a supernatural grace for the times they are asked to die to their own desires, work hard to serve ungrateful others, to work hard and receive very little appreciation or recognition, to suffer persecution or even lay down their own lives for the gospel. If God has called you to be an apostle, there is nothing to be afraid of because His anointing and grace will be on you during those difficult times. He will always equip and enable you for anything He calls you to do.
But if He has not called you to be an apostle, then perhaps you should stay clear of this very costly and very risky calling. It is far better to find out what God has called you to do and be. Then you can fulfill your destiny in His power and anointing, being highly effective for God's kingdom.