Have you ever wondered what the difference is between being a disciple for Christ and being an apostle for Christ? Is it something all Christians are called to be? Or is just the names considered for Jesus’ twelve disciples?
What are the differences between discipleship and apostleship? Being a disciple means being a follower of Jesus. Being an apostle means being a messenger; one who is sent. An apostle is one to deliver those teachings to others, and a disciple is a learner under others, whereas, discipleship is learning under another Christian who has been on their walk with God longer than you have.
To start, let’s look to see the characteristics and definition of an apostle back in Jesus’ time.
The Definition Of Apostle
Apostle is first defined in the Bible.
Acts 1:21-22 states that for someone to be an apostle, the would have to be a member of Jesus’ disciples from the beginning, as well as eyewitnesses of the resurrection of Christ.
[An apostle is] One sent on a mission, such as, one of an authoritative New Testament group sent out to preach the gospel and made up especially of Christ’s 12 original disciples and PaulMerriam Webster
Later on, when Jesus called Paul to be an apostle also, these qualifications were modified.
In Biblical terms, we see an apostle as a representative or plenipotentiary of his master. The apostle would be one who speaks with the authority of his master, the one who he represents.
Paul said no other later so-called “apostle” could have: Paul had the direct and visible approval of the other apostles.
God established a group of men he used to lay the foundation of the church and ensure the writing of the New Testament.
Pastors and teachers in the church today have authority but not to the same degree of authority as the original apostles.
If we look back to when Judas passed and committed suicide in the New Testament, we see the apostles met to see if they could find a replacement for him.
And they prayed and said, ‘You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place. And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.Acts 1:24-26
In verse 20 in Acts 1, Peter quoted from the Psalms, “May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it,” Psalms 69. As well as in Psalm 109, “May another take his place of leadership.” And also in verse 24, the apostles said that Judas had “left his ministry.”
What we can glean from this is that the Apostles did not replace Judas just because he passed, but because he had left his responsibility.
In the New Testament it doesn’t talk about replacing the apostles as they died, rather when they left their position of following Christ that they were replaced.
The Definition Of Discipleship
A disciple means being a follower of Jesus. Being a disciple also means being a student of the Word of God and a learner under Christ.
Discipleship can look like other Christians coming alongside a new believer leading them to a life of service to Christ.
Being discipled by another Christian could look like meeting together regularly, and planning out how the new believer is going to study the Bible, where the new believer might go to church, and answer questions a new believer might have about God, theology, or prayer life.
Discipleship could look like gathering together to pray with one another and laying your burdens down before Christ, uplifting praise, and sharing your cares, concerns, and requests to Jesus together.
Discipleship could also be staying accountable with another believer having goals of creating habits that would strengthen ones’ walk with God. Or if one struggles with a certain sin, one could ask their mentor to check up on them from time to time.
God calls believers of him to make disciples of others bringing people to Him. When one comes to faith in Jesus, we can come alongside them and disciple them.
All of Scripture testifies to the goal of God’s creation of man: namely, that man would have fellowship with God. When we become children of God, we are a new creation now a member apart of God’s family. God created the ability for humans to fellowship with him out of his perfect grace.
Friendship with Christ as our teacher belongs to all those who follow and trust him. We can know him more deeply the longer we walk with him.
Those who by faith live a life of communion with God cannot but know more of his mind than other people. They have a better insight than others into what is present, and a better foresight of what is to come.Matthew Henry
Being a disciple of his is learning under the Word of God and letting Jesus speak through his truth. Discipleship is letting someone help in this process of knowing God more. Or it is you coming alongside being an encouragement to someone else in their journey with God.
What Is The Difference Between An Disciple & Apostle?
A disciple is one being taught. Apostleship is one teaching. A disciple is considered anyone who is a born-again believer, and an apostle was one who had a specific role in establishing the early church.
I believe in a general sense we are called to do and be both; learn and teach.
However, apostleship specifically was designed for the very first followers, assigned by Christ, to be in office in building the foundation of the church.
Built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,Ephesians 2:20
Here are some differences I have found between apostleship and discipleship:
- Apostleship was a specific role given to some of the early disciples and Christians during Jesus’ time.
- It seems clear that there can be no apostles today except in the general sense that all believers are “sent.”
- The foundations that were laid for the church, do not need to be laid again. This role has been done. It was designated to the twelve followers of Jesus, and to Paul, James, and a few others.
- When one chose to leave the role of apostleship, one could leave (this happened when Judas left his ministry).
- The apostles who left didn’t leave because they were killed but left because they chose to no longer be apart of the ministry.
- Nowhere in Scriptures does it command that all Christians be apostles.
- Once one becomes a disciple (follower of Jesus) they cannot be replaced. They are forever apart of the family of God.
- Anyone can be a disciple (follower/learner/student) of Jesus.
- Discipleship is not designated to one people group at one time and place in history, it is for all people.
- One can be both a disciple themselves, as well as make disciples of others. This is discipleship; they go hand in hand.
- Discipleship is being a follower yourself and making disciples of others.
- In fact, in Scripture, God clearly commands all Christians to make disciples of Jesus. This was his last commandment he left with believers to do.
- The role of discipleship should be continued for the entirety of our lives and doesn’t stop until Christ returns.
Just because we don’t share the same role as Jesus’ apostles doesn’t mean we shouldn’t study them in Scripture. All Jesus’ apostles were also disciples and we should share similar characteristics, just different roles.
We are to study how Jesus, his disciples, and apostles lived in Scripture because they set great examples of how all Christians are to seek God in the midst of a sinful and suffering world.
Once all have heard the name of Jesus, and all prophesies have been fulfilled, Jesus can return for all those who have believed and become followers of him. Until then, God commands that we be apart of the work he is doing in the world right now.
We are to make disciples of people in our hometowns, and in all nations around the world, and that is the call for all believers/disciples of his.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,Matthew 28:19
Passages for Further Study
Paul distinguishes true apostleship from counterfeit.
Paul shows what distinguishes from true apostles and false; what sets them apart from one another. Paul defends not just himself, but his fellow-apostles as seen by his use of the plural pronoun “we”, rather than the singular pronoun “I”.
In 1 Corinthians 4:6-13 it talking about what false apostleship is.
Now, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other. For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?1 Corinthians 4:6-7
As apostles for Christ, they were called to first receive Christ to do his will, and to be different; set apart from the world to do his will.
This passage is talking about those acting as though they did receive Christ and boasting as though they did, when in all reality they were acting no different from the world.
Further down in this passage it defines what true apostleship looks like.
…For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.1 Corinthians 4:9-12
In this passage it is saying that if you go beyond what is written in the Word of God (adding to it or simply not listening to what it says), you will be puffed up, you will be overly prideful, going against other Christians. This then makes you no different from any other person in the world.
In this passage we see the characteristics and aspects of true apostleship which is being on display for our Creator in persecution, being fools for Christ (doing what the Bible says often looks crazy to the world), working diligently, blessing others when they curse or hate us, enduring when it is hard, and always answering kindly when we are standard (spoken of falsely).
This things can and should also be applied to all believers to know those who are truly Christian. But this specific passage seems to be talking about defining the Apostles in that time.
When doing something for Christ, we will suffer persecution and it is very possible and likely that the world accuse us of something we are not doing.
All throughout the New Testament, Jesus’ followers and apostles were being a witness for him. They were accused of being reckless and doing harm in the cities they were in, even being put in jail, and ending with horrible deaths years later.
The apostles of Christ suffered greatly for the sake of the gospel being hated by the worldly people in charge.
Another passage defining apostleship, is being an ambassador for Christ.
We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain… but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise.
We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.2 Corinthians 5:20
The principle statement of this passage as an apostle is being an ambassador for Christ. This entails:
- Begging lost men to be reconciled to God (5:20-21)
- Urging saints not to receive the grace of God in vain (6:1-2)
- Not giving cause for offense, but commending oneself as a servant of God (6:3-10)
Christ’s ministry started as him as the “chief cornerstone” and used the apostles and prophets to help build the foundation for his ministry (Ephesians 2:20, Luke 11:49-51, 2 Timothy 4:1-2).
Mighty signs and wonders were done through the apostles, Christ himself in the flesh designated them to apostleship (Acts 2:43, Acts 14:14, Luke 6:13).
We can learn much from Jesus’ designated apostles, and how Christ would have us act in a world that is against Christ. We can also be reminded that God’s work on earth is not done yet and won’t be until Christ returns a second time to bring all believers back with him creating new heaven and new earth.
Know that if you are believer and have put your faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, you are a disciple. You are called to proclaim the Gospel to others, and make disciples of all people.
Start today and look for ways you can be a light and bring others to Christ.