In the Christian faith, apostles were those entrusted by Jesus to help organize the church and spread the message of His teachings. The word apostle comes from the Greek word, apostelló, meaning a messenger or one sent on a mission.
Although not used much in common language today except when speaking of Christian principles, in ancient times the word was used to describe someone who was commissioned by another person to represent him in some way.
Are Apostles Different from Disciples?
Though the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, there is a difference between a disciple and an apostle.
Before I became a Christian, one of my biggest arguments against the faith was all the rules I’d have to follow. From the tiny bits and pieces I’d learned about Christianity, read in random Bible searches, and been lectured to by well-meaning Christians, there were a LOT of rules they lived by.
Rules about how they talked
Rules about who they associated with
Rules about alcohol
Rules about sex
Rules about money
Rules about jealousy
Rules about forgiveness
Rules about hate
Rules about love
Rules about what they could read
Rules about what they could watch on tv
Rules about movies
Rules about music
Rules about clothes
Rules about how to speak
Rules about how not to speak
Rules about food
Rules about marriage
Rules about parenting
Rules about rules about rules about rules
That’s not even all of them, friends.
It seemed to me that there were lots of rules, but not so many rule followers amongst them.
In fact, it was the one thing I could hold up to God and say,
“See there, God, all these people of yours are no better than I am. None of them follow all your rules. Some don’t follow any. So, why should I get on board only to be a hypocrite, when I know I can’t follow all of this stuff?”
Can you relate?
It wasn’t until many years later, as I was deep into studying the faith, that I began to realize the mistake was mine. The truth, in fact, shocked me:
Christians aren’t rule followers.
They are rule breakers.
Seem counter to what you’ve always believed? It’s confusing to be sure, because while some may dip their toes in the rule following from time to time, the truth is that God calls us away from that.
In fact, Jesus broke ALL the rules, all the regulations that were burdening people and keeping them from the faith. Rules that had turned so far from their original intention, that no one could keep them. His death on the cross set us free from having to constantly make amends with God based on rules. He set us right with God once and for all.
Still, not all Christians understand this about their faith. They return again and again to the history of faith before Jesus. In fact, jumping in and out of those rules is a struggle that Christians have had from the very beginning. Paul wrote to the church in Galatia with hopes to correct their misdirection. After he left from telling them about Jesus, they fell away from what he taught and started going back to the law of Moses, trying to win favor with God.
But by doing so, they–like many, many Christians today–were not only missing the point of Jesus’ death, but suggesting the power of it wasn’t sufficient. As if what they could do on their own was somehow more effective.
But the truth is, freedom isn’t found through following a set of strict faith rules, but through what Jesus did for us on the cross. Because He took on all of our sins–past, present, and future–we live in freedom from them. There is no rule we can follow or not follow to gain favor with God. God accepts us despite our faults, when we choose to let Him.
That doesn’t mean we’re free to wreck our lives and the lives of others with bad behavior. We can understand His heart behind trying to protect us from ourselves with sets of rules (just like we, as parents, do for our own children), and honor Him by living as best we can because of our great love for Him.
Will we get it right? Nope. Not a chance.
But that shouldn’t keep us from trying to live lives that please and honor Him. It also means that we shouldn’t fall back into old habits of trying to please God by following rules when He clearly has shown us a new way. Paul warns us that doing so gives more power to sin, than to God.
“It was sin that made death so frightening and law-code guilt that gave sin its leverage, its destructive power. But now in a single victorious stroke of Life, all three–sin, guilt, death–are gone, the gift of our Master, Jesus Christ. Thank God!” 1 Corinthians 15:56-57 MSG
So don’t be put off by all the rules. The truth is, we struggle with them as well. Not to follow them, but to remember that it’s no longer about the rules. It’s hard for any of us to fully accept that God will take us just as we are. No matter how many times we remind ourselves.
The truth is, it’s an amazing gift we’re given. One so big and unexpected that it blows most of us completely out of the water when we finally come to an understanding of what God has done. It seems unattainable, and yet we have it. Unbelievable, and yet it’s true.
It’s no wonder then, when we try to turn to another who is struggling to find it and pull them closer to understanding that we get all glitchy about it.
We typically panic in the moment because we realize the gravity of what’s at stake, while the person with us may not. We KNOW. And the knowledge that what we say or what we do next may make the difference–good or bad–in this person’s life, can paralyze us.
It’s in those moments that most Christians become weirdos.
We wrack our brains and pull from things we’ve seen others do in our lives that didn’t really work.
We remember what that televangelist said about how to be saved and we do our best to speak as eloquently as they did so that the process is appealing.
We might even get all fancy and start quoting Bible verses verbatim. Bible verses, mind you, that mean nothing to a non-believer because they don’t understand or even see the relevance of the Bible yet.
Again, Team Weirdo from their perspective.
It’s not that complicated, church.
In 1 Corinthians 2: 10-13, Paul speaks about how simple God makes it, in the midst of the Corinthians trying to make it as complicated and as much about themselves as humanly possible:
“God offers a full report on the gifts of life and salvation that he is giving us. We don’t have to rely on the world’s guesses and opinions. We didn’t learn this by reading books or going to school; we learned it from God, who taught us person-to-person through Jesus, and we’re passing it on to you in the same firsthand, personal way.”
We’ve got to stop making it so hard, friends. So. Weird. Putting ourselves out there like we are experts to all the hidden secrets in life when the truth is, we are only an inch ahead of non-believers. Still sinning. Still working our way through understanding. Still struggling at times to fully accept what’s been given to us.
Because more than a “good example” of what our faith looks like, new seekers to the faith need to see that Christians are just average, normal people, who serve an amazing God. A God who loves them, cares for them, and protects them–despite their many shortfalls.
Instead, we need to be talking to others person-to-person. Getting real about how we got to where we are in our faith. In other words, telling the truth.
The truth like:
The struggle we faced to take that first leap of faith
The past mistakes and huge life fails we had along our path to finding Jesus
Our continued mistakes that make us still rely on His grace every single day
The way we still struggle to find understanding about the same problems in the world that non-believers struggle to understand
The things in our lives that we had to remove–not because Jesus looked down on them–but because we personally couldn’t handle them properly
The struggle we still face, like Paul, to do the right thing in difficult situations
The pride we struggle with on a daily basis
The joy that growing closer to God can give you
The intimate friendship that is possible with God when you let your guard down
The unbelievable love we tangibly get from Him
The family you can find through the church and other Christians when you do the hard work of getting to know strangers you thought were weird in the beginning
At the end of the day, we can’t save other people. We can only serve as a glimpse into the lifestyle of a Christian. If we misrepresent ourselves, our struggles, and our actual lives, we make them feel as if the lifestyle is not attainable to everyone. The exact opposite of God’s heart.
Let God lead the situation. Let Him lead you through the conversation. Then point them back to Him, with the best gift you can give them: an honest friend to help them figure it all out.
I’ve never been a soft-spoken Christian. Maybe that’s because I didn’t become one until I was thirty. When you go through that much life and then find Jesus, it kind of feels like you’re a little late to the party. I didn’t know the lingo. I didn’t act the same as other women. I was just happy to be there, you know?
Because of that, I’ve sometimes struggled with feelings of not really being Christian enough. And . . . truth be told, I’ve been called out for it online by someone who was in a ministry she felt competed with mine. (Um, that’s not a thing in the church–there’s room and need for everyone.) I didn’t flower up my story when I told it. I didn’t guard my words when I talked about my past. And I didn’t hide things I did in my life as if they were suddenly unacceptable.
I just started living from a new point of view, living with a new purpose, and figured that was a very good thing for others to witness.
But there have been times in my nearly 18 years as a Christian that I’ve noticed the difference between me and them and became a little wobbly in my urge to live my faith honestly. It comes across when I’m around other believers who seem to be doing things so much better:
Maybe they pray more often, or more eloquently
Maybe they do more Bible studies or can quote Bible verses like a champ
Maybe they talk in the language of Christians so flawlessly that it makes me pause to translate my own thoughts into the same before I speak them outloud
Maybe their family of origin, their children, and everyone around them is also a Christian
Or maybe they just look at me as if I have a third eye when I say things about my life as if being normal and a Christian is, you know, normal
The truth is, our faith is a very personal thing. Personal, because it’s between us and God. There’s literally no one else involved.
Now, we can draw others in to our faith experience through the church, group gatherings, and the like. But at the end of the day–at the end of our life–it will be us and the Lord face to face. No one else will matter.
My grandmother use to have a saying that I’ve come to realize is one of the most profound truths in life:
What someone else thinks of you is none of your business.
We can’t get caught up in worrying about other Christians, or comparing our strengths and weaknesses as a Christian to them, when we are clearly called to something else. We can’t let the things about us that might cause the hairs to raise on the back of another Christian’s neck keep us from living our faith authentically..
God made you the way you are, brought you to the faith the way He did, and put you exactly where He intended for you to be–all for a reason. The way you are when you are being your truest self is a process, and if God is in that process, He can use every single bit of it. Not at the end of your life–when you are suddenly complete–but every single moment throughout.
When you are imperfect
When you don’t say or do the right thing
When you don’t handle your faith the same as others
When you don’t dress or look like the average Christian
When you don’t speak eloquently enough for some
When you show others the truth of your life and your messy process in faith
When you are the worst, rawest, version of yourself–and it’s not pretty
When you live your faith honestly, you’re not an outcast, you’re actually among good company:
In 1 Corinthians 1:26-31, Paul reminds us:
“Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of “the brightest and the best” among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God CHOSE men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these ‘nobodies’ to expose the hollow-pretentions of the ‘somebodies’?
Maybe your imperfections, or rawness, or plain old weirdness is exactly what He is planning to use in the life of someone who is trying to understand the faith but can’t relate to other Christians. Maybe you are exactly what one person needs to come to Christ. If so, isn’t that serving Him well? Exactly as you are?
Christians that live transparently–in every aspect of their lives–have the most opportunity to share Christ with others in my opinion. They show the world that you don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to talk the talk. And you can totally crash at walking the walk–and still be not only deeply loved by God, but used for His purposes. It doesn’t mean that you grow complacent in your faith and allow things in that God clearly is trying to remove. But, you don’t have to cover up that process as if you are ashamed of it either. I mean, really, if the disciples had suddenly put themselves on a pedestal for the simple fact that they understood more than those who didn’t walk with Jesus, would they have brought as many to the faith?
So, if you get the feeling that other Christians are judging your walk, be glad! As followers, there’s nothing we can do or say to save or unsave another believer. Nothing we can do to hurt or help their salvation. That work has already been done.
But as we continue to grow in our faith and show our vulnerability and imperfections along the way, when we don’t pretend to have all the answers or act as if we are suddenly the MVP on Team Jesus, we have the possibility of actually doing what Jesus has called us to do: love others in such a way that they wonder about the role He plays in our life.
And that is the sign of a beautiful walk of faith with Jesus.
Have you ever gotten stuck in one part of the Bible?
Over the last months, I’ve set up camp in some of the letters Paul wrote to the early church. Specifically 1 and 2 Corinthians.
Apparently, Corinthians were a terrible group of people. They were the real people of those days seeking to find the Truth. The rough crowd. The gossipers. The unruly. The heavy drinkers. The sexually promiscuous. The average person, in other words. And as they joined in the church, they brought their many issues with them. Just like today’s church.
They didn’t become believers one day and then pillars of the faith the next. Any more than believers do today.
Before I became a Christian, I used to hold up this truth as one of the reasons why I would never become a Christian. They were a bunch of hypocrites, right? People who said one thing and did another. Told me to live my life one way, but led theirs another. I mean, half of them weren’t even nice people. It seems like nice would be one of the bare minimum requirements for a follower of Jesus, right?
It really doesn’t work that way.
Think about this:
Let’s say you came into a large sum of money. So large, in fact, that it was beyond your ability to know what would be best to do with it. So, you found yourself a financial planner to help you understand the best way to go. You’d heard from everyone in your community about this person. How amazing they were with financial planning. How they’d tripled someone’s savings somehow. By all accounts they were the best person you could possibly learn from.
After a few months of them managing your money, you’d set up a lunch date to discuss how things were going. As the check was brought to the table, the planner insisted on paying the bill. But, after taking her credit card, the waiter returned to notify her discreetly that the card had been declined.
Your heart would fill with both panic and anger. How could this person be everything everyone said when they couldn’t even manage their own money? What a liar. You’d been duped! You needed to take all of your money, stick it under your mattress and never trust another person with it again! That would show them! I mean, even the people who told you about this planner were in on it! No one can be trusted!
The truth is, the financial planner could actually be very good at understanding money. They could know all of the right things to do with it that would cause you great success. They could in fact, be the very best resource you would ever find. But that doesn’t mean they always follow their own advice or what they know to be right. Maybe they simply struggle in some areas. Maybe others in their family are draining them.
Real faith is very similar.
Just because we know the right things to do, doesn’t mean we always do them.
Paul himself lamented, “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.” Romans 7:15 NLT.
Can I get an Amen on that one? Our world is quite the mess, and we don’t always react like we mean to, or want to, or know is best.
So was the world of Paul back when these letters were written by him. It’s striking, in fact, how similar they are to today. Striking how much his heart aches for the hypocritical issues compounding the church. Striking how it grieves him just as it grieves so many of us.
And so, I’m setting up camp in those chapters. I’m reading them again and again. Because I know that God has something He wants to show me there.
The Corinthians were essentially failing at this thing called Christianity. They’d given their hearts and then backtracked. Just like the rest of us, when we’re honest about what our faith truly looks like.
Yes, the pressure to suddenly “play the part” is massive. But, Jesus isn’t asking us to audition for a part in the world’s largest scam.
He’s asking for our honesty. The baring of our souls. The really, dirty, embarrassing, disgusting, truth of who we are at our cores.
Because He loves that we long for more than that in our lives. He loves that we are continually reaching toward Him. Even if it’s for the second or third (or more) time.
Linger where He leads you. Discover a new translation. But, make an effort to get to know God through the Bible. It’s one of the most effective ways that He’ll speak to you, direct your steps, and teach you the things you long to know about life.
No, we can’t always rely on other Christians to do the right things, or teach us the right things. We weren’t meant to rely on them. Rely on Christ as He teaches you through His Word. Discover it for yourself.
Don’t know where to start? Set up camp with me in 1 and 2 Corinthians and let’s chat about it.