the weblog of Alan Knox

Equipped by Itinerant Servants of God

Posted by on May 9, 2012 in community, discipleship, edification, scripture, spirit/holy spirit, spiritual gifts | 13 comments

One of my favorite passages of Scripture is Ephesians 4:7-16. After focusing on our unity in Christ in Ephesians 4:1-6, Paul turns to the great diversity among the body of Christ – all worked out by the Holy Spirit according to the grace of God.

But, as he comes to the end of that passage (Ephesians 4:16), Paul stresses that the diversity is not simply a demonstration of the myriad grace of God, it is also through all of the different (diverse) parts of the body of Christ that the Spirit works to build us all up – when we are all working together as God directs us and provides for us.

In Ephesians 4:11, Paul focuses on a few of the ways that God works through his children: as apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers. These people who have been gifted by the Holy Spirit and given by Jesus Christ equip the church for works of service. The evangelist, then, proclaims the gospel of Jesus Christ, but also equips other believers to do the work of service of proclaiming the gospel, even those who are not gifted as evangelists. Those gifted at teaching and shepherding not only teach and shepherd others, they also equip other believers to do the work of service of teaching and shepherding as well.

But, what about the apostle? How does the apostle equip the church? Usually, I’ve heard it suggested that apostles equip the body of Christ by proclaiming the gospel, revealing the word of God, and teaching and shepherding. But, these are actually including in the work of the evangelist, the prophet, and the teacher and shepherd. What is distinctive enough about those gifted as apostles that would cause Paul to list them separately?

There is one distinction of those gifted as apostles: they are specifically gifted to travel from place to place serving God. In other words, while they may do many other things, the gifting of apostle is primarily to do the work of the itinerant servant.

So, how does the apostle – the itinerant servant of God – given to the body of Christ by Jesus to equip the church – actually equip the church as Paul instructs in Ephesians 4:12-13? What is the work of service that the apostles equip others to do?

Just as the evangelist equips others to evangelize, and the teacher equips others to teach, the itinerant servant (apostle) equips others to travel from place to place just as the itinerant servant does. I think we see a beautiful picture of how this kind of equipping (to be itinerant servants) worked itself out in the life of some believers in this passage:

And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. (1 Thessalonians 1:6-8 ESV)

While the believers in Thessalonica (a city where Paul only stayed a few weeks) did not travel as far and as wide and as often as Paul and others gifted as apostles, they did travel enough to proclaim the word of God around their region and into neighboring regions. Paul – gifted as an apostle to travel from place to place as an itinerant servant of God – had equipped them (even in a short period of time) such that they were also traveling from place to place to proclaim the word of God.

How could you see itinerant servants working today to equip the body of Christ? What are some ways that others (not gifted as itinerant servants) could serve when equipped by itinerant servants?


Addendum: Yesterday, on Facebook and Twitter, I linked to an older post that I wrote about itinerant servants. Several new comments were pertinent to this post, so I thought I would include a couple of excerpts here:

Eric writes: What I should have said is, “I would call those people ‘Christians’ or ‘Christ Followers.’ In one way or another I think it is what we’re all called to do and by making a distinction dismisses it to the role of a few.

Mark writes: Eric suggests that Christians should be itinerant in general, and I absolutely agree, but I hesitate to make that an absolute. I’m guessing there are many Christians around the world who never leave their village/town, and certainly the duration that someone feels led to stay/go will vary widely. But I think Eric brings up a great point that in general, Christians should be less tied to some tangible thing (house/job/preference) and be more tied to the leading of the Spirit, wherever and to whomever that might lead.

Greg writes: Looking over 2 millenia of the church, we also have a really messy macro trajectory, with very little scripture to back up anything we have done or built. And yet, histories pages are filled with the love and leading of Gods people, and His blessing on all of us.
And today, I’m genuinely jealous of my children who I suspect are going to see the glory of God like few generations in history.
Itinerant indeed!


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 5-9-2012

    Alan, In my circle of friends there is a view of apostles that I am unsure of. They speak of them being Master Bulders and Fathers, strategist to implement building/furthering the Kingdom. The father aspect is emphasised greatly. They are one who initiates and establishes things within a gathering of believers. I have seen abuse(not in this group) where the apostle is elevated to an unhealthy status. We see in the Jerusalem church the devotion to the apostles
    and fear of them that I wish we wouldn’t consider as a healthy model,
    not everything the early church did was correct.
    I agree with the itinerant aspect of apostles, but doesn’t the word actually mean “sent one”, implying that they are sent out from the Ekklesia to other areas to establish a “church”, rather than a “lone ranger” type who has no relationship to which he is accountable-a recipe for disaster.
    I’d appreciate your take on this. Thanks.

  2. 5-9-2012

    All i see is that Paul and others that received the message of grace equaling LOVE God’s. kept passing that onward. For the end of the commandment is love, and when one receives this love beyond measure it becomes them and is no longer a commandment; for the love of God has been worked out in you and thus as one goes in this world, one carries this love of God with them ready to give an account of their joy in God in season or out of, it makes no differance. The message is to come to the faith of Christ Jesus as Christ so wonderfully showed to us fallen mad men. there is still much blindness of heart in this world through ignorance of God’s pure love that we all do not deserve to receive, yet God poured it out for all to receive, Mercy. Just receive and live here and now, and forever in him. So the answer is receiving god’s love first in you and then pouring it out to the others. Before one can be equipped to serve others in truth God’s love first fills your cup and thus it flows over to the body and others see and come to belief, and the chain reaction continues onward, as the mystery has been revealed from generation to generation now and only through God’s love. The mystery was not or had not been revealed until the new covenant took place and Christ hung around for 40 days after he rose from the dead, explaining this all to the apostles, how and why all this had to take place
    Thanks Howard

  3. 5-9-2012


    No, I don’t think the apostles were “lone ranger” types. If you’re interested, I wrote about this in a post called “Mutuality and Itinerant Service for the Gospel.”


    I would appreciate it if you would keep on topic with your comments. You didn’t deal with the Scripture or the questions in this post. If you prefer to not deal with a certain topic, then please do not comment on that particular post. Thanks.

    Now, do you have anything to add to our discussion of Paul’s statement in Ephesians 4:7-16 and the role of apostles (itinerant servants) in equipping the church for works of service?


  4. 5-9-2012

    Thanks Alan, would you please address the other questions I had about apostles or if you have other resources available, I’d appreciate it.
    I know this is hotly debated subject and can be divisive. If you wish to just email my those comments rather than post it publically, that’s fine. Thanks again.

  5. 5-9-2012


    Oh! Yes, I got sidetracked by your question about “lone ranger” types. Sorry.

    The term “apostle” is similar to our English terms “emissary” or “ambassador.” It designates someone who is sent away from home to carry out some service. In the case of the Scripture, we see examples of apostles both proclaiming the gospel to unbelievers and also helping those who are already believers. So, they both help people gather as the church and help people who are already gathered as the church.

    Authority in Scripture is never found in a person, but in God. So, when apostles (itinerant servants) speak or act according to the will of God, then they are speaking or acting in God’s authority. But, that’s true of any believer. If apostles speak or act outside of the will of God, then they are not speaking or acting in God’s authority. But, that’s also true of any believer.

    Requiring someone else to submit to your authority because of a gifting, role, or position is not the way we see apostles or the Spirit of God working in the New Testament.

    If this doesn’t answer your questions, let me know.


  6. 5-9-2012

    just that 4:17 has a lot of truth to it, in everyone, lets therefore be wise as serphents and harmless as doves
    THanks Howard

  7. 5-9-2012

    There is a quite a pattern of churches we typically know of in Acts planting many daughter churches in the region.

    During the Corinthian work, Paul relates that they are presently glorying about the Thessalonians “in the churches (plural) of God” (II Thess 1:1-4). Paul makes mention of a church in Cenchrea (Rom 16:1), a nearby port city to the capital Corinth.

    From Paul’s statement about the firstfruits of Achaia, not just of Corinth, in I Cor 16:15 and his mention of the dedication to the ministry of the saints demonstrated by Stephanus, it seems quite likely that Paul and his team, along with workers from Corinth, were busily planting several other churches in the region during this 18 month period. This inference is also supported by II Cor 1:1 “unto the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in all Achaia” and Rom 15:26 “it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints.”

    Also, during their work in Ephesus over a couple of years, “all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greek,” Acts 19:10. We also learn from the trouble with Demetrius the silversmith, that Paul and his team had widely spread the gospel in Asia, “not alone at Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people, saying that they be no gods, which are made with hands.” Philemon with his slave Onesimus is one of these converts from Colosse, as is Epaphras. Converts following Paul’s example of itinerant work are likely responsible for the works in Colosse, Laodicea and Hierapolis (Col 1:6,7; 4:11-13; Philemon 1:22-24).

    The churches of Rev 2 & 3 are the likely result of Paul’s work and workers in Ephesus. It is also likely that because of Paul’s concerns for Rome (Acts 19:20-22) that he may have sent Pricscilla and Acquila there as he sent Timothy, Erastus and others into Macedonia. Priscilla and Acquila had fled Rome under persecution, and had worked alongside Paul in Corinth and Ephesus. Paul greets them preferentially in Rom 16:3-5.

  8. 5-9-2012

    Wow, great comments.
    I haven’t spent much time trying to understand the different gifts or ministry’s and am in fact one of those who doesn’t have scholarly ability.
    So, Ive got questions instead of comments.
    1.Am I correct in thinking that you (Alan) think that the chief characteristic of itinerants were that they were/are Apostles?
    2.Is it clear in scripture that all the Apostles, including Paul, saw Jesus in the flesh and/or risen?
    If so, might that be the feature that gifted them as Apostles, as well of course as their training and walk with the Lord?
    3.In all of our surmising’s about unclear subject matter with respect to
    ministries and church life/structure, I confess I don’t have much faith in scholarly experts ability to re-create a clear picture of them.
    And given that the ministries clearly operating in the early church were birthed without the scholarly musings we employ, maybe we are getting ahead of ourselves and should simply get our churchlife in line with what we do know, and maybe those ministries will re-emerge out of our midst again?

  9. 5-9-2012


    I agree that the pattern is common. I picked the Thessalonians pattern because Paul specifically says that they were imitating him and that through them their region and the ones around them had heard the world of God proclaimed. Thanks for the additional examples!


    I would say that the gifting of apostlesship is itinerant in nature. Some apostles saw Jesus in the flesh, but some did not as far as we know (i.e., Timothy, Barnabas, Silas, Apollos). Also, many people saw Jesus in the flesh and were great servants of God, but were not apostles (i.e., James, Jude). So, I don’t think seeing Jesus in the flesh is a prerequisite for being an apostle, nor does it designate someone as an apostle. Remember, the Twelve were called “apostles” because Jesus sent them (see Matthew 10).


  10. 5-9-2012

    Greg wrote:
    And given that the ministries clearly operating in the early church were birthed without the scholarly musings we employ, maybe we are getting ahead of ourselves and should simply get our churchlife in line with what we do know, and maybe those ministries will re-emerge out of our midst again?
    Greg I agree, for they were birthed out of pure love, God’s, made perfect through belief and belief alone there was no more for them to do. and then came, and so Paul writes to them to straighten out this error Ex: the whole Book of Galatians, and others

  11. 5-9-2012

    I’m not itinerant, so I claim no relevant expertise. But we are seeing churches planted from folks who are now going out from churches that we’ve planted, similar to your point in your blog.

    You referenced this link on my blog in the past, so I think it would be OK to post it again, on church planting in the local jail:

    What is relevant is the update at the end, posted on today (May 9th).

  12. 5-9-2012

    thanks Alan.Id forgotten about Timothy etc.
    So, I guess then the proof they were sent was the effectiveness of their work, which, if I understand correctly, Paul says was his apprehension of the mystery of Godliness and his drive and ability to impart that to others?


  13. 5-10-2012


    Thanks for the comment and the update. I love the line in your update about prisoners “going out” to other units within the prison.


    In the case of Paul and Barnabas, when the Holy Spirit sent them, the church prayed and agreed. For others, we don’t necessarily have any indication how people knew they were sent as apostles (itinerant servants). In some cases, there were miracles to verify the truthfulness of the message and that the message was from God. But, that doesn’t seem to happen all the time, and not only for apostles (itinerants). Is that what you were asking?