The Church and the Work

The Holy Spirit’s Call for Apostles

The origin of the work of the apostles begins in the book of Acts with the Holy Spirit’s call. (The Greek meaning of the word “apostle” denotes a person who is sent.) The call for apostles by the Holy Spirit was issued to Barnabas and Saul in the book of Acts (13:2). Barnabas and Saul (who was also Paul—Acts 13:9) were not occupied with any outward activity, but instead were fully devoted to the Lord Himself. Probably, they were ones who were already bearing responsibility in their local church. Then in Acts 13 they were called out from among their fellow prophets and teachers. (Prophets are those who speak for God and speak forth God, and teachers are persons who function to speak and teach in a local church meeting.) In the following excerpts, Watchman Nee describes this event in the following way:

In the first two verses of Acts 13 we read, “Now there were in Antioch, in the local church, prophets and teachers: Barnabas and Simeon, who was called Niger, and Lucius the Cyrenian, and Manaen, the foster brother of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. And as they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, Set apart for Me now Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Let us note a few facts here. There was a local church in Antioch, there were certain prophets and teachers who were ministers in that church, and it was from among those that the Holy Spirit separated two for another sphere of service. Barnabas and Saul were two ministers of the Lord already engaged in the ministry when the call of the Spirit came. The Holy Spirit only sends to other parts such as are already equipped for the work and are bearing responsibility where they are, not those who are burying their talents and neglecting local needs while they dream of some future day when the call will come to special service. Barnabas and Saul were bearing the burden of the local situation when the Spirit put the burden of other parts upon them. Their hands were full of local work when He thrust them out to work further afield. Let us note first that the Holy Spirit chooses apostles from among the prophets and teachers.
“And as they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, Set apart for Me now Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” These prophets and teachers ministered so wholeheartedly to the Lord that when occasion demanded they even ignored the legitimate claims of their physical being and fasted. What filled the thoughts of those prophets and teachers at Antioch was ministry to the Lord, not work for Him. Their devotion was to the Lord Himself, not to His service. No one can truly work for the Lord who has not first learned to minister to Him. It was while Barnabas and Saul ministered to the Lord that the voice of the Spirit was heard calling them to special service.
It was to the divine call they responded, not to the call of human need. They had heard no reports of man-eaters or head-hunting savages; their compassions had not been stirred by doleful tales of child-marriage or foot-binding or opium-smoking. They had heard no voice but the voice of the Spirit; they had seen no claims but the claims of Christ. No appeal had been made to their natural heroism or love of adventure. They knew only one appeal—the appeal of their Lord. It was the lordship of Christ that claimed their service, and it was on His authority alone that they went forth. Their call was a spiritual call. No natural factor entered into it. It was the Holy Spirit who said, “Set apart for Me now Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” All spiritual work must begin with the Spirit’s call. All divine work must be divinely initiated. The plan conceived for the work may be splendid, the reason adequate, the need urgent, and the man chosen to carry it out may be eminently suitable; but if the Holy Spirit has not said, “Set apart that man for the work to which I have called him,” he can never be an apostle. He may be a prophet or a teacher, but he is no apostle. Of old all true apostles were separated by the Holy Spirit for the work to which He called them, and today all true apostles must just as surely be set apart for the work by Him. God desires the service of His children, but He makes conscripts; He wants no volunteers. The work is His, and He is its only legitimate Originator. Human intention, however good, can never take the place of divine initiation. Earnest desires for the salvation of sinners or for the edification of saints will never qualify a man for God’s work. One qualification, and only one, is necessary—God must send him.

(Watchman Nee, Collected Works, Set 2, Vol. 30, 20-21)

As Watchman Nee explains, the unique qualification for apostleship is to be sent by God. The very source of apostleship must be God Himself so that all the glory will go to Him alone. There is then no room left for the soulish or natural man (1 Cor. 2:14) to boast in such a status. Rather, it is man's response to God's calling that manifests a genuine apostle.
















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