For the next few days, I’m going to publish a short series on the connection between mutuality and various forms of serving for the sake of the gospel. I’m planning to stick to commands, exhortations, and examples that we find in Scripture relating to mutual service and servants. There is a danger in sole-ministry, expert-ministry, and professional-ministry. In Scripture, service (of any kind) was performed mutually – both with others and for the sake of others.
In this post, I look at the service of apostles or itinerant servants. I’m defining apostles as those who travel from place to place in order to proclaim the gospel to unbelievers and in order to strengthen believers.
Yes, in Scripture, even “apostleship” was a mutual form of service. The best place to begin in Scripture is in the Gospels.
Though he would probably be the only person to not need mutuality, Jesus usually traveled with, taught with, and served with others. After Jesus surrounded himself with others, he then sent them out (i.e., as apostles) together:
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. (Luke 10:1 ESV)
When we get to Book of Acts, we often see people traveling together: Paul and Barnabas, Barnabas and Mark, Paul and Silas, Silas and Timothy, etc. In fact, though we often focus on Paul, he was not “called” to travel alone. He was sent by God and by the church in Antioch together with Barnabas as a team:
Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. (Acts 13:1-3 ESV)
And, while it is also easy to overlook, apparently Peter was traveling with others as well:
So he [Peter] invited them [the men from Cornelius' household] in to be his guests. The next day he rose and went away with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied him. (Acts 10:23 ESV)
Now, certainly, there were times when people traveled alone. For example, it seems that Philip was alone when he was traveling around proclaiming the gospel in Acts 8. And, at least once, Paul was forced to travel alone to Athens. But, even in that instance, he asked for Timothy and Silas to join him as soon as possible. (Acts 17:14-15)
However, I think that Paul’s attitude when preparing to travel to Rome can help us understand that even when traveling alone (potentially), Paul still had mutuality in mind. He told the Roman believers:
For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you — that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. (Romans 1:11-12 ESV)
God created us to need him and to need one another. Even apostles need others to travel with them, to serve with them, and to encourage them even as they encourage and build up others.