It is not uncommon for words to be used interchangeably in Christian culture (or just in life in general, but we’re sticking to the Christian world right now). For example:
Lord and Savior
Holy, righteous, and pure
God’s will and God’s plan
There are numerous other examples of words that we take to mean the same thing as one another, but in reality, when you take a closer look into the meanings, words that are used interchangeably, often times do not mean the exact same things. Another common example is disciple and apostle. Both of these words are used throughout the New Testament and most people just assume they both mean the same thing. And although they are closely related, there is certainly a difference.
Let’s take a look at the two definitions. To be a disciple means to be a student, a learner. House Church Network Association states: “In ancient times, there were few higher learning institutions. Instead, those who wanted to learn a skill or a philosophy attached themselves to a journeyman or a teacher and spent significant time with them to learn the trade. For instance, in the trade fields, an apprentice would devote literally years to assisting the master. In the case of those learning a philosophy, the student would follow the teacher for years, traveling wherever they would go, and the teacher would expound as they walked, teaching the intricacies of the faith.” This is exactly what occurred when Jesus lived on the earth. His 12 disciples went with Him pretty much wherever He went. He taught them on a daily basis. Being His disciple meant being very close to Him and spending a lot of time with Him. And those two things remain the same today. In order to be a disciple of Jesus today, you must be close to Him and spend a lot of time with Him in order to learn from Him and learn how He wants you to live.
An apostle is someone who is sent out with a message. For example, Paul is called the “Apostle Paul” because once converted, he went out with the message of the gospel and traveled all over. Once he encountered Jesus, he not only became a disciple and learned about Him, but he then became an apostle and took the message everywhere he could. He went from Antioch, to Lystra, to Corinth, to Ephesus, to Rome, and many places in between, with the main purpose of taking the good news of Jesus and the resurrection and sharing it with all those he crossed paths with.
But isn’t that what we are all called to do as believers? Shouldn’t we naturally progress from disciple to apostle? Yet so often Christians know a lot about Jesus. They spend a lot of time learning His teachings by reading the Word. They study it in Bible studies. They talk about it in small groups. They are, by definition, disciples of Jesus. But that’s where they stop. They keep the message to themselves, instead of taking it out and boldly sharing it with their neighbors across the street, people across the globe, and everyone in between that God divinely causes their paths to cross with. But friends, this is not what we are called to. God has called us to a greater plan – a plan that involves us bringing others into the plan. And in order for that to happen, we absolutely must step out of our comfort zone of just being a disciple (a learner), and instead be a disciple and an apostle.
So what are you? Are you solely a disciple of Jesus? Or are you a disciple who is also an apostle, boldly carrying and proclaiming the message of the gospel to other people?