“Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother” (Colossians 1:1).
Paul began his letter to the Colossian church with an important designation: “apostle.” An apostle is a “commissioned representative,” much like an ambassador or spokesperson. This reference served to introduce several of Paul’s New Testament letters…
“Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle…” (Romans 1:1).
“Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God…” (1 Corinthians 1:1).
“Paul, an apostle– sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father…” (Galatians 1:1 NIV).
While every follower of Jesus is an “apostle” in the sense that he or she is an ambassador for Christ, its crucial to recognize that the Biblical apostles held several important qualifications that set them apart from all who followed. For example…
- They were first-century eyewitnesses of Jesus following His resurrection (1 Corinthians 9:1).
- They were personally selected by Jesus to serve as apostles (Matthew 10:1-4, Acts 9:10-16).
- They possessed the God-given ability to perform miracles (Acts 2:43).
These qualifications are important to remember if we should encounter someone who identifies as an apostle today. For instance, consider the following statement from Jesus to the first-century church that met in Ephesus, a city that was located just 100 miles (160 km) away from Colossae: “…you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars” (Revelation 2:2). If counterfeit apostles were active in the Biblical era, then we should be equally alert to their presence today.
So Paul was not only speaking for himself in this letter to the Colossian church- he was speaking as a representative of Christ. While no one holds the title of “apostle” in the sense it was held by the Biblical apostles, our shared position as representatives of Christ should guide and direct our interaction with others in a similar manner.
The book of Colossians is also one of two Biblical letters that Paul wrote to churches he had not yet visited (the New Testament book of Romans is the other). With this in mind, we can say that Paul’s statement of apostolic authority established the foundation for everything he will go on to say throughout this letter. That authority originated in the will of God and the wisdom contained within this brief epistle continues to offer insight and direction for those who are willing to to read it with a desire to learn.