“The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch” (Acts 11: 26) but it was Jesus who called them disciples. In the gospels it is the word most commonly used for a follower of Jesus. Jesus also called them apostles. Luke in the third gospel says “Jesus called his disciples to him and chose twelve whom he named apostles” (6: 13). In the New Testament, one of the qualifications for becoming an apostle was that the person had witnessed the resurrection. In time, however, every follower of Jesus was equally recognised as an apostle and the New Testament word for apostle refers to an envoy, an ambassador.
A young boy received a lesson about the disciples of Jesus in Sunday School. When he got home he told his mother the lesson was about Jesus’ samples! He may not have got the word right but he was as close to the truth as anyone could be. An apostle, an ambassador, represents Jesus; he or she – Christ’s samples. And the world’s opinion of Jesus may be influenced by the kind of sample we are. There is one feature of the life of an ambassador we ought to note. An ambassador can be an alien in a foreign land. When an ambassador comes to Britain to represent an African country, or the USA or Russia, he or she brings with them a different tradition, a different way of life and often a different language. They may be resident in this country but the UK is not their home and they will continue to follow their native life-styles. If they eat their dinner in a restaurant without using a knife – well, what is to stop them? They are probably American and not conditioned to our cultural code which insists by way of good manners on us eating with knife and fork!
It is a bit like that for the Christian. The environment in which we operate falls short of the picture the New Testament gives of the Kingdom of God. It is a world in which we may feel out-of-place and ill at ease as we take our stand for Christian values. There is much that gives rise to anger within us because it is contrary to the biblical concept of justice, of right and wrong. Christianity is fast becoming a minority in this country and what we stand for is increasingly opposed and challenged. If we are honest and bold enough to confess it, there are times when the grass looks greener on the other side and there is the temptation to have the best of both worlds; the temptation to compromise. Sometimes in our kind of world (not all will agree) compromise may be inevitable. It is naïve and an illusion to imagine the possibility of all and everything ever being absolutely crystal clear. Possibly the only way to avoid the conflict is to escape to the seclusion of the closed monastic life. If all of us went for that, who would work for God’s kingdom on earth? It would not be enough even if the pattern of life was to be one of intensive and consistent prayer. But an apostle is more than one who is sent as an envoy; the apostle is commissioned for a special task. And however great or humble the task we are given, it is for us personally to do something special in the interests of the kingdom of God. If we are Christ’s representatives we are commissioned to save the world from wreck and ruin. To be recognised as one of those Christ people, because our life carries with it the authority of the one who calls us and sends us to represent Him in our day-to-day life, work and witness and to be counted with the apostles…..is an honour and a privilege.
Christ has many services to be done;
Some are easy, others difficult,
Some bring honour others bring reproach
Some are suitable to our natural interests,
Others are contrary to both;
In some we may please Christ and please ourselves;
In others we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves,
Yet the power to do all these things is given to us in Christ,
Who strengthens us.
Extracts from the Methodist Covenant service