EXCEPT THEY BE SENT

T. PIERCE BROWN

The word “send” is translated by at least 10 different words in the New Testament. The most common is “apostello” with and without prepositional prefixes. Because the word “apostello” is defined as “send in an official way,” and is the same word God used when he sent His Son, some may have assumed that it always involves a divine call and sending as when Jesus “sent” his Apostles.

Although the word was the normal one used for an official sending, it did not necessarily involve either divine or miraculous activity. It is the word used when Pilate’s wife sent a message to him. It is the word used when Herod sent and seized John. When the church sent Judas and Silas toAntiochthe word was used. Barnabas as well as Paul was called an apostle apparently because they were sent by the church inAntioch, and had previously been sent by the church inJerusalem.

After having read the more than 700 times the word “apostello” is used in the Septuagint, and the more than 400 times the various forms of the word “send” are used in the New Testament, I am convinced of the following things: 1. Paul was not in Romans 10:15, teaching anything at all about the necessity of a local congregation sending or supporting anyone before he is authorized or able to preach. His emphasis here was upon the original proclamation of the gospel, which he calls “the word of faith, which we preach.”  His point is thatIsraelhad no excuse for not being saved, for the “word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth,” since the Apostle had been sent to them with a divine message, properly authenticated. They could not have believed without having heard, but they had heard. They could not have heard if there had been no preaching, but there had been preaching. He could not have preached if he had not had authority to say what he said, but he had it. Therefore they were without excuse. 2. The general principle is: NO ONE can proclaim an authoritative and saving message unless he is sent with an authoritative commission to proclaim it. Although his SPECIFIC application had to do with Israelites and their culpability for not receiving the gospel that had been proven to be authoritative by the signs, wonders and miracles which accompanied it, and by other things, it still had a general application. 3. The general application for today is that NO ONE can preach an authoritative message without an authoritative commission that both reveals the content of the message and authorizes its proclamation. But we have it. Jesus gave it to the Apostles in Matthew 28:18-20 and authorized them to pass it on to us. We have authority for both the message of the gospel and the mission.

The question may then be raised, “If we have been sent with a specific commission (apostello) are we apostles (apostolos)?” If so, do we have Apostolic authority and power, and if not, why not?

To be AN apostle is to be sent with a commission. This is the GENERAL use of the term. If a CHURCH sends out a person like Barnabas or Saul (Acts 13) he is AN apostle of the church. If Joseph Smith sends out a person with special authority, he is AN apostle of Joseph Smith. But when we speak in a SPECIFIC Biblical sense of THE Apostles of Christ, we cease to use the term in a GENERAL sense, and refer to those of his disciples (mathetes) whom he called and made them his Apostles (Luke 6:13). AN apostle was one who was sent with a commission. THE Apostles were those who had to be eye witnesses of Christ and His resurrection (Acts1:21-25) who were given a SPECIAL commission and SPECIAL powers to witness to and confirm that testimony.

So, although it might be linguistically or etymologically correct to say that we could be called apostles, it would be imprecise, improper and generally unwise because of the special meaning that the word now has. In the same way, it might be etymologically accurate to speak of ANY assembly, such as the city council of Acts 19:32, as a “church,” for the word is “ekklesia,” translated “church” elsewhere. The same is true with the Israelites in the wilderness (Acts7:38). But if one does not make a clear distinction between THE church of the Lord, and AN assembly of some other kind, he may be linguistically accurate, but not exegetically sound.

But the question may still be raised: “May a man preach without being sent?”  If not, who does the sending and how?  If we answer the question in the context of Romans10:15, we may say, “No, a man can not preach the gospel if he has not had it revealed to him and been authorized to preach it.”  But every person who has obeyed the gospel through the word of the twelve Apostles of Christ HAS had it revealed to him and HAS been authorized (yea, COMMANDED) to teach it to others.

But how does the question and the implied answer, “A man cannot preach if he is not sent” relate to the desirability or necessity of churches sending a preacher and supporting him? Does THAT PASSAGE authorize the plea of a church to say, “Help us put Brother X in the field, for Paul says, `How can he preach except he be sent?'” No, THAT passage does not deal with that, but other passages authorize it.

In no sense does that deny the expediency of a congregation approving a man and letting it be known that he is an official representative of that congregation. It is shown to be appropriate and even necessary in some cases by 1 Corinthians 16:3 and 2 Corinthians 3:1. But that truth is not the one proved by Romans 10:15. The fact that God has ordained that “those that preach the gospel should live of the gospel” (1 Corinthians9:14) and we know that those being trained must live while they are doing it is authority to send help. They may preach whether WE send them or not, but if they are following the commission of Christ, he sent them, and it is a glorious thing for us to cooperate with him in the greatest task on earth!

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