What are the marks of the genuine apostle? “Signs and wonder?” Visions, dreams, and eloquent speech? Such things are wonderful and have their place, but are they the criteria by which we can judge someone’s claim of apostolic authority? The Apostle Paul provided insight into this issue in his second letter to the Corinthians, when certain critics from Jerusalem challenge his credentials.
His opponents derided him. “His bodily presence is weak and his speech of no account.” Unlike Paul, they had letters of recommendation from Jerusalem. They could point to the abundance of their visions and miracles, and to their Jewish pedigrees. Nevertheless, Paul labeled them “false apostles,” men who were preaching “another Jesus” and a “different gospel.”
In contrast, Paul, the genuine “apostle to the Gentiles, pointed to the things he had suffered for the gospel’s sake to validate his authority:
- “Are they ministers of Christ? So am I. In labors more abundantly, in prisons more abundantly, in stripes above measure, in deaths often. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods. Once was I stoned. Thrice I suffered shipwreck. A night and a day have I been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of rivers, in perils of robbers, in perils from my countrymen, in perils from the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in labor and travail, in watchings, frequently, in hunger and thirst, in fasting often, in cold and nakedness… Who is weak, and I am not weak? If I must glory, I will glory of the things that concern my weakness.”
Yes, miracles occurred in his ministry. Yes, he had visions and revelations. Yes, once he received a vision of the “third heaven.” Nevertheless, those things did NOT validate his apostleship. What mattered, and what Paul learned through suffering, is that the grace of God is sufficient, especially in our human weaknesses:
- “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made complete in weakness. Most gladly, therefore, will I rather glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Wherefore, I take pleasure in weaknesses, in injuries, in necessities, IN PERSECUTIONS, in distresses, for the sake of Jesus; for when I am weak, then am I strong.”
Paul’s “credentials” stand in stark contrast to many of today’s “apostles” and “prophets,” who point to their “signs and wonders,” visions, multiple visits to the “third heaven,” abilities to raise the dead, and communications with angels to validate their apostolic and prophetic authority.
Does this mean that a person must suffer like Paul did to be a legitimate apostle? No! However, if any alleged apostle claims that God only wants to prosper his people, or that suffering for the faith is not His will, or points to “mighty signs and wonders,” visions, dreams, angelic interactions, and trips to the “third heaven” to legitimize his or her apostolic authority, grab your wallet and RUN!