1 Corinthians 12:28: “And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.”
On first reading this appears to be a statement about hierarchy and I am sure that it has at times been interpreted in that way. We could probably discuss the effect of that but I would rather focus on what the benefits are of putting the apostle first in terms of the influence, perspective, and assignment that they bring.
As I read it and in conjunction with the order of Ephesians 4:11 I prefer to see it as the primary expression of all of the five-fold and I would say therefore of of all believers.
It is the principle and purpose of the apostle which must be first. When something is first it becomes a foundation upon which everything else can be built. That principle was given to us in the prayer which Jesus taught us to pray: “On earth as it is in heaven.”
The Apostle Paul gives us the lens to see through first, the lens of the sent ones, after all we are seated in heavenly places, then makes the apostle and the prophet the foundation of the church.
I love the principles of first things, especially summed up by CS Lewis: If we put second things first we get neither first nor second. But if we put first things first, then we will get first and second things. I suspect that CS Lewis was influenced by Jesus’s own words: “Seek first and all these things will be added unto you.”
Apostles or apostolic first will give us the all things of Jesus expression.
Apostles first is to say that every other gift, not just the ‘five-fold’ must carry the apostolic DNA. that DNA was established by Jesus with the 12. He called them disciples and apostles. They were apostles before he was crucified, resurrected or left us the Holy Spirit! Jesus called them, modelled the Jesus way to them, all with the intention of sending them.
The pastor must be an ‘apostolic’ pastor as must the teacher, prophet, & evangelist have the same relationship to the apostolic. So too must every follower of Jesus be equipped to know that they are apostolic first. As we will see with culture the first lens through which we view determines what we see and therefore how we behave. To be apostolic first means that we know who we are, that we are sent, resourced and assigned. When that awareness is placed before everything else it adds to the expression, beliefs, and behaviour of every believer.
I am not at all concerned that Paul was creating hierarchy as we see elsewhere the posture of Paul in that he considered himself the least. A progressive journey of greater humility seen when we read his letters in order of being written. We also read of the apostles and prophets as being the foundation of the church. A beautiful picture showing us that it is on their principles and expressions that all else fits into place and is established. Humility & foundations do not lend themselves to hierarchy, they lend themselves to laying down personal agendas in order to serve the whole.
The principle of our faith is that it starts in our minds. Changing the way we think is the beginning of faith. “Apostles first” is amongst other things just that for me, changing the way I think. There may have been abuses before, the title has perhaps been assumed without the full expression, the name has been limited, people self appoint and so on.
I encourage you to put the apostolic first, this is not about a person with a title, it is about taking the words of Jesus that we are all the sent ones, sent with heavens perspective, which will affect everything we do. There are Apostles, but I urge you, don’t wait until you find one that meets your needs or expectations, embrace the apostolic assignment of Jesus and see the world through the lens of being sent.