But how are people to call upon Him Whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of Whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? And how can men [be expected to] preach unless they are sent? – Romans 10:14-15b AMP
I was recently reading a section in Apostolic Foundations when the verses above simply jumped off the page. I believe the key to the whole passage is found in the last sentence that begins verse 15. The critical word here is sent. Now, this sort of passage is most typically used to support missions and other administration issues that revolve around the practical issues of sending men to preach the gospel. I certainly have no problem with this as there are financial and logistic tasks involved in the sending of men to preach the gospel, but I do not believe this is the heart of what God is trying to convey here.
The issue of sending and of being sent is critical if we are to recover the life that pulsated through the New Testament church. The word sent that is used here in verse 15 is the word “apostello” and it is from this word that we get the word apostle or “sent one.” If we are going to recover the reality and power of the first century church, we have to recover an accurate understanding of the word apostello and just what it means for men to be sent to preach the gospel. We desperately need to understand just who is doing the sending and how men are to be sent. To recover the reality and power of these words we need look no farther than the church at Antioch.
Now in the church at Antioch there were prohpets and teachers; Barnabas, Symeon who was called Niger, Lucuis of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, Separate now for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them. Then after fasting and praying, they put their hands on them and sent them away. – Acts 13:1-3 AMP
The church at Antioch is one of the best examples of a thriving New Testament church. It was a blend of Jewish and Gentile believers and it had a great influence on the spread of the gospel in the first century. This church has rightly been called a “sending center” and so it was. Notice here though exactly who was doing the sending of Paul and Barnabas. Paul and Barnabas were not sent by the missions committee. They were not selected because of their excellent communication skills or great understanding of the Scriptures. They were not selected by men, but rather sent by the Holy Spirit.
I fear we have many preachers in our day but few sent ones. We tend to operate in such a vacuum of the manifest reality of the Spirit of God that we tend to send men here and there to preach that are not sent by the Spirit of God. By pure definition, being apostolic means being sent and unless our preachers are sent from heaven, people were never hear the message they must hear that leads to the believing faith Paul is describing in Romans 10. To be sure a message that is religious and is aimed at salvation may be communicated, but the message that is itself alive and contains power to transform a pagan into a new creature simply from the hearing of it can only come through men that are sent.
It is not the church’s responsibility to send men. The responsibility of the church is to facilitate the sending of men that heaven has already sent. Lest you think that is merely a play on words, it is not. It is a very significant difference that we must understand if we are going to be apostolic. Apostolic reality requires sending and that sending does not have its origin in an earthly committee operating within the context of a church.. The issue of a sending from heaven is intrinsic in the very definition of the word apostolic. This is not a part of being an apostolic church, but rather this is the very essence of what it means to be an apostolic church. Only those that are heaven sent are apostolic.
Where does this leave the ministry of preaching? Are ministers then to simply sit in inactivity hoping that heaven will unexpectedly knock on their door some day announcing travel plans? Not at all. Consider the activity that was transpiring in Antioch. They were waiting before the Lord in prayer, worship, and fasting. Rather than waiting in a lifestyle of inactivity, it is the responsibility of ministers to be presenting themselves before the Lord and ministering before Him as priests that they might receive something from heaven and be sent.
Without this ministry before the Lord, one will never receive anything from Him that will necessitate a sending. God desires to send men into the world that the lost can call upon Him, but He is also jealous that the message preached be the kind of message that effects a living, believing faith and that type of word only comes from the lips and heart of a man that is sent, and the man that would be sent must first learn the place of ministry unto the Lord that he might receive something heavenly that contains such life and power that the Lord must send it out to bring life to those that are ignorant, doomed, and damned.
I fear that far too many of our messages have their origins in our own ability and produce decisions and responses from the lost that are rooted in emotional and mental consent to the religious principles presented. Rather than presenting mere religious principles, we are should be delivering a message that intrinsically contains the power to spontaneously create living faith, and subsequently divine life, in the hearers and this sort of message only comes from a sent one.
Notice also the seriousness of the sending. After the Holy Spirit spoke, they laid hands on Paul and Barnabas and sent them only after continuing in fasting and prayer. Being sent is not a trivial thing. Just the fact that there are so many occupations and distractions in the church that prevent an authentic sending reveals how much the enemy opposes sending. If we break through that opposition to obtain the place of sending before the Lord, how much more will the enemy oppose the sent ones in order to steal or nullify the message born by those being sent?
A sending is a holy thing because it originates with a holy God and it is the cradle and womb of a holy message that contains in itself the power to make dead men alive in Jesus. The sent one carries the very power of resurrection in his words. You can be sure that the sent one and the message being sent will be opposed with all the fury of hell. The gravity of the situation demands that the sending be covered in the ministry of fasting in prayer. It is not enough to minister before the Lord simply to obtain a sending; there must also be ministry before the Lord to protect and preserve the the sending that it may have the effect for which the Lord initiated it in the the first place.
We must recover the ministry of preachers that are sent from heaven. We desperately need ministers that have a coal from the altar and not simply a degree from an institution. If we want to see the return of the power and purity that graced the New Testament church then we must embrace this issue of sending both in our own personal ministry and in the approach to ministry that we take as a corporate body in the local church.