Territories: The Apostolic Wedge
Apostolic Foundations and Apostolic Patterns - Part 6
Territories: A Living Relationship
“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22).
Christ is the chief cornerstone and no man can lay any Foundation other than Christ. We know that much is true. And, according to Paul, that Foundation is built on the apostles and prophets. Now, is Christ, our chief cornerstone, just a dead teacher who left some morals for us to try to obey and a certain pattern of behavior that will make us good little Christians who will die and go to heaven? If so, if our relationship is with a dead Jesus who was a good teacher, then it makes sense that dead apostles would be our Foundation.
But if Christ is the cornerstone because of our living relationship with Him, then how can we have a Foundation of dead apostles and prophets? The ekklesia (Church) of God is built on the Foundation of apostles and prophets who are as alive as the Chief Cornerstone Himself! If a historical Jesus isn’t enough to sustain the building, then neither are historical apostles and prophets. You can’t have a dead foundation built on a Living Cornerstone.
Jesus is the Cornerstone of my life, right now, not just a historical figure who impacted me by the life He lived way back then. My fellowship (the Greek word meant “having all things in common”) is with Him and I abide in Him now. “They won’t see him any longer, but you will” (Jn.14:19). If it’s a Living Cornerstone, it had better be a Living Foundation. And as I see more and more in the Scriptures, I testify to you that everything in me is crying out that we must have a relationship—a living relationship—with living apostolic and prophetic men.
That doesn’t mean that they have to be everywhere. They weren’t in every city in the New Testament Church. But we need somehow to be in relationship with all the Gifts of the Body if we really are going to grow up into the Head and attain to the full measure of the stature of Christ. And don’t think that you can have it by just reading what they wrote. We don’t need a dead apostolic teaching any more than we need a dead Jesus. A dead Jesus who taught moral things is of no real value to us. We can only bear much fruit to the extent that we abide (make our home) in Him, and we need that same kind of Fellowship with the Gifted men He sends to us. It must be a current, moment-by-moment relationship with real live people.
Now that we’ve established the fact that a living relationship with apostolic men is important, you need to know that the relationship is everything. It was on the basis of relationships, not an office, that Paul had authority where he did. “Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord” (1Cor.9:2). Paul was not an apostle to everyone, and certainly not in Judea, where he was “personally unknown.” Paul’s tone with the Romans, whom he described as “another man’s foundation,” was more like that of a teacher than like that of an apostle. So authority is bound up in giftedness and flows through living relationships with gifted men.
Territories: Not Always Geographic
“Neither do we go beyond our limits by boasting of work done by others. Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our area of activity among you will greatly expand, so that we can proclaim the gospel in the regions beyond you. For we do not want to boast about work done in another man’s territory” (2 Corinthians 10:15-16).
“Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, greets you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. For I bear him witness that he has a great zeal for you, and those who are in Laodicea, and those in Hierapolis” (Colossians 4:12-13).
Sometimes the boundaries of apostolic authority are determined geographically. Paul expressed a desire for his area of activity to spread beyond Corinth to the surrounding regions. And in reference to Epaphras, Paul specifically mentioned three cities where he was called to be a laborer. Paul could have said, “He labors over all the saints everywhere.” But, instead, he specified three cities.
However, geography is only one way that God sets limits on apostolic authority. For example, Paul was called to be “an apostle to the Gentiles” just as Peter was “an apostle to the Jews” (Gal.2:8). The boundaries can also be determined based on culture, area of a specific assigned task, area of life, a particular group of people, or even a sphere of understanding.
Before we continue with this idea of territories, I need to emphasize something. While not talked about very much in the New Testament, apostolic boundaries are very important. God only has to mention something once for it to be meaningful. I challenge you to dig into it. God leaves a lot of hidden treasure for those who are willing to work the hardest to find it.
One thing you don’t see in Paul’s life is a loose association of men strung out across the miles. Rather, men stood behind the Apostolic Gift of Paul, corporately, as a “wedge” supporting him in his Work. An apostolic company of men traveled with Paul from city to city establishing Churches, strengthening and reinforcing the disciples, and then appointing elders and putting things in order. In the New Testament a total of between 50 and 53 men traveled with Paul in this capacity at one time or another. Paul would send two here and two there, meeting others elsewhere by boat.
This mind-boggling beehive of activity we see in the book of Acts was very much a part of the Apostolic Pattern. But we can’t mimic it by hopping in the car, and traveling all over the place. Do you see the difference? The Apostolic is a dynamic that’s always moving, but which is initiated, maintained, and geared by the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t always the same men who traveled each time, and there was no predictable itinerary planned year by year. Paul traveled as God directed from place to place and drew different men with him, adding some and dropping others off along the way. Sometimes, when Paul was unable to go himself, he sent men to represent him. And, in those cases, he urged the Churches, “Receive them as you would receive me.”
Some of the “apostolic companies”:
Peter and John sent to Samaria to Philip the “evangelist” (Acts 8:14)
Barnabas, Saul and Mark (Apostles and helper) (Acts 13-15)
Paul and Silas (Apostle and Prophet) (Acts 15:40)
Barnabas and Mark (Apostle and helper) (Acts 15:37-39).
Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke (Apostle, Prophet, co-Worker /helper, physician/co-Worker) (Acts 16:9).
Paul, Silas, Timothy, Luke, Aquila, Priscilla and Apollos (Apostle, Prophet, co-Workers, physician, Teachers) (Acts 18:2-24).
Paul, Silas, Timothy, Luke, Erastus, Gaius, Aristarchus (Apostle, Prophet, co-Workers, physician) (Acts 19).
Paul, Silas, Timothy, Luke, Sopater, Aristarchus, Secundus, Gaius, Tychicus and Trophimus (Apostle, Prophet, physician, etc.) (Acts 24).
Judas and Silas, as prophets, sent with the Letter (Acts 15:27).
Barnabas and Saul bring relief money to Jerusalem (Acts 11:30).
Demas, Epaphras, Luke, Tychicus, Onesimus, Aristarchus, Mark, “many co-workers” etc... (Col.4:7-14)
Over and over again, Paul spoke of men who were behind his apostolic wedge. These were multinational, multicultural, cream-of-the-crop men, properly gifted for extra-local work. They came from different nations—even from different continents! Economic status, culture, and color all varied within this apostolic wedge of men. Yet Paul never set out to have just the right mixture of cultural and economic backgrounds in his apostolic company. Somehow, it was God’s desire to have that spread of people from differing backgrounds.
Nor did Paul hunt around for each “gift” in Ephesians 4 and stick them all together into a nice, neat package of people with all the right titles. This is not a card game where you try to get some kind of royal flush by finding one apostle, one prophet, one evangelist, one shepherd, and one teacher. “Hi, I’m the apostle” “Hi, I’m the prophet”…That’s not it at all! Rather, it’s a dynamic and flexible group that doesn’t come with a prepackaged set of rules. As you look at it Biblically, you won’t be able to put a nametag on everything.
Epaphras in Colosse
For example, what would you call Epaphras as you look at his relationship to the Church in Colosse? They initially heard the gospel from him. Yet Paul, who had never even been to Colosse, took great authority in his letter to the Colossians. And it appears that Epaphras was reporting to Paul what was going on in the Church.Could Epaphras have been an extension of Paul’s apostolic territory? Epaphras seemed to think so, as he gave Paul an open door and allowed him to write to them in the authoritative manner that he did. There were other Churches where Paul never exercised that kind of authority (see Gal.1:22).
Epaphras stood behind Paul’s apostolic wedge and made it possible for Paul to write as one who was “present in spirit” though “absent in body.” Could you write a letter to a Church that you had never visited and spell out detailed instructions about things you expected them to do? How presumptuous that would seem to us! We have this idea today that we call “autonomous congregations,” and that mentality leaves no room for someone like Paul to write with such authority to another Church.
But Epaphras seemed to consider Paul the apostle of the Church in Colosse. Paul wrote, “After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the Church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.” He spoke with an authority that you wouldn’t expect from a man who had never been there—unless, of course, you considered the idea of territories, boundaries, and an apostolic wedge. Epaphras was clearly an extension of Paul, going back to Paul and reporting what was going on.
Does that mean he was Paul’s slave or a “yes man”? Certainly not! No more than Timothy or Titus, who served as extensions of Paul in Corinth. These men simply recognized and submitted to Paul’s giftedness, and there was a relationship between them based on his apostolic wedge, territories, and boundaries. “I will not build on another man’s foundation,” Paul wrote to the Church in Rome. So while he took a position of authority in Colosse, having never been there, Paul’s only authority in Judea was on a personal level.
Paul in Judea
Paul was “personally unknown to the churches of Judea.” Even after 15 years of turning the world upside down, they didn’t know him! They only knew his face and that he used to be a persecutor of the saints, but “now he’s a brother.” Paul goes on to say in his letter to the Galatians (chapter 2) that the leaders in Jerusalem recognized him as an apostle to the Gentiles, just as Peter was an apostle to the Jews. So while he was an apostle to the Colossians, there was a sense in which Paul was not an apostle in Judea. The gift was not an office, and there are many examples in the New Testament that point to the fact that apostolic authority was localized within boundaries.
Barnabas in Antioch
The Church in Jerusalem felt free to send Barnabas to Antioch. That’s really interesting because the disciples in Antioch never invited anyone to come. Those in Jerusalem just heard that good things were happening in Antioch and decided to send Barnabas. The authority crossed city boundaries in an apostolic kind of way. Nobody invited a “guest preacher” from Jerusalem. That wasn’t the attitude at all. God was genuinely moving in Antioch, and the leaders in Jerusalem acknowledged that and so sent Barnabas to them.
Philip in Samaria
“When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them” (Acts 8:14). They didn’t ask permission, nor did Philip invite them to come. Peter and John were sent. There is an authority based on territorial boundaries which doesn’t keep a man’s hands tied according to how much he is liked, or whether he’s “invited back.” Inside of apostolic boundaries, a man can walk in with authority, even uninvited. That’s the Biblical pattern. A little bizarre to our twenty-first century understanding of church, but true! There is an authority there. If someone is sent, they can walk in and seem to take over; that can’t happen in the denominational parachurch world where everything is so sterile and controlled.
Titus in Corinth
Paul sent Titus to Corinth, partly to find out how they had reacted to his first letter. While he was there, he acted in the same spirit and followed the same course that Paul had taken with the Corinthians. And they responded in obedience, receiving Titus with fear and trembling.
Timothy in Many Places
Timothy, whom Paul described as “our brother” and “God’s fellow worker,” seems to have represented Paul in more than one city. Several of the letters were written from Paul and Timothy. And Paul urged the Corinthians to accept Timothy as they would Paul, since he would remind them of Paul’s way of life in Christ, as well as his teachings.
Paul among the Gentiles
When it came to the Gentile churches, to whom Paul was sent by God (see Gal.2:9), he was pretty bold about making decisions. Concerning the collection for the saints in Judea, Paul told the Corinthians, “When I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me” (1Cor.16:3-4). They will accompany me. These men were already planning to go, yet Paul said that if he went also, they would accompany him!
Was Paul arrogant and boastful? Was he trying to prove something by running the whole show? No, he was simply operating in his Apostolic Gifting and exercising Authority as one who saw God’s heart concerning people, places, and Foundations. This wasn’t just a bunch of good-buddy brothers going from place to place. Rather, Paul had Authority from Heaven to make decisions about who would go, as well as where and when they would go.
Careful How They Build
Without a doubt, God’s way of building His Kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven” has always been, and will always be, to use mere men to do His work, so that satan is humiliated and principalities and powers are in awe. Paul refused to build on “another man’s foundation.” Obviously, the very basis of this whole business is somehow related to men. It takes more than good intentions, sincerity, and a bunch of nice people who believe in God to build the Church!
The quality, type, and substance of the building materials will determine the quality and substance of the Foundation. The depth of footings (how deep you dig) will determine how tall your building can be. The mixture of the concrete, and the dimensions of the base have everything to do with how high and wide a building can be. You can’t let a building hang 30 feet over the edge of the Foundation.
“By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds…using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work” (1 Corinthians 3:10, 12-13).
The substance that a building is made of will determine if that building will stand the test of time and will be able to weather the elements. In a foundation, the aggregate mixture greatly affects the strength, stability, and character of the foundation, which in turn affects the nature of the building. If the mixture is too fine or too coarse, then the compression strength of the building will only be a few hundred pounds per square inch, instead of well over 10,000! And if the mixture is right, the concrete will only get stronger and stronger over the years as it hardens and solidifies. How does that apply when you’re building people together into a Habitation of God by the Spirit?
The nature and substance of the Foundation will determine whether the Church can stand the storms and pressures over time. If the Foundation is pure, no matter what may come, the House will stand.
Foundations are hidden after the building is finished. But if you have a building with a faulty foundation, you will be forever trying to square up the corners—replastering the cracks and planing the doors so they will close. And as storms come, the house, which looks so great from the outside, will erode and crumble. That is a picture of fading glory. What is of man has a fading glory, but what is of God has an ever-increasing Glory.
Jesus said that the storms will come, and when they do, the foundation will be shown for its true worth. Foundations are invisible and the building can look great for a time. But, ultimately, the storms of life will reveal whether the foundation is a good one, built on the Rock, or whether it was built on sand. Oh, cry out to the Lord of the Harvest to send forth those who can lay foundations that will stand!
56Col.4:7-17; Acts 20:4-6; Rom.16:1-24. Back
57There was a reason for that. God wanted to demonstrate that the wisdom of men is foolishness to God. In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. Race, culture, background, and color are of little significance. Just as the Father, Son, and Spirit are One, so shall we be One. The men in the apostolic wedge, along with all their differences, form a miniature representation of the Godhead. Jesus, the Father, and the Holy Spirit are so one that they can’t be separated. And Jesus said, “As the Father is in me and I am in him, so you will be in each other.” We will be so intertwined that you can’t separate us. There will be no difference—black, white, yellow, red, old, young, street person, engineer, bank president, or secretary. You won’t be able to separate us. Back
As in heaven, so on earth. The Kingdom of God will share such a oneness, walking in the Deity of the Godhead, that it can’t be separated. That’s a pronouncement from heaven. Jesus said that the world will know us because we are one, just as He and the Father are one. Those men were pulled from various regions, not because Paul was trying to do something special, but because he watched for gifted people and God decided to raise men up from every conceivable walk of life. That is what God, who is no respecter of persons, chose to do, perhaps as a testimony to the oneness of lives that aren’t built on prejudice but on love.
58Col.1:7, 9. Back
602Cor.10:13-18; 1Cor.16:10. Back
61The idea of autonomous congregations doesn’t exist in the Bible. Yes, the church in one city is certainly separate from the church in another city. But in the light of apostolic truths, we begin to see clearly that there is to be a degree of relatedness, of being joined and knit together as one body, between churches. A lot of things in the Bible (the nature of the church, the book of Acts, the letters, etc.) start to come alive and make more sense as we return to God’s way of doing things. The apostolic of God is the glue that holds everything together and builds it up. And if you can hear it, let it be known that churches never planted churches—apostolic men planted churches (but more about that later). Back
62A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Lk.6:40). You become like your teacher. There is a substance about the student, a certain representation of the teacher. “He will remind you of me in all his ways.” A substance and character will mark the person, and he will be a product of the one who teaches him. People who were part of an apostolic wedge, as well as those who were affected by it, were marked by the substance and character of the life of Christ. Back
65Acts 11:19-22. Back
662Cor.7:15-16, 12:18. Back
671Thes.3:2; 2Cor.1:1; Col.1:1; Php.1:1; 1Cor.4:17, 16:10. Back
68Read verses 5 and 6 as well. You might be surprised by the way Paul just takes over the situation. Back