It takes only a cursory study of the New Testament to realize the centrality of apostleship. The Greek term that we translate as “apostle,” apostolos, essentially means “one who is sent” and has two basic uses. First, it can refer to one who is sent by God and Christ with the authority to deliver divine special revelation and to speak infallibly in the name of our Savior. When used this way, we are talking about an Apostle with a capital A, a specific office given in the early days of the new covenant church to lay the foundation of the church (see Eph. 2:19–22). Apostle in this sense includes people such as Peter, Paul, James, John, and so forth, and this office passed away at the end of the first century with the death of the final eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry. Once the foundation of the church was laid, the Apostolic office had no need to continue.
However, since apostle means “one who is sent,” the term can be applied in a lesser sense to all Christians because all believers have been sent by Christ to bear witness to Him (Acts 1:8; 11:19–21; Rom. 10:14–15; 1 Peter 3:15–16). In that lesser sense, we are all apostles with a lowercase a, sent to proclaim the good news of the gospel, though not infallibly and not with the same authority as the Apostles whose teaching laid the foundation of the church. Nevertheless, because we are apostles in that lesser sense, we should expect that what Paul says characterizes the life of an Apostle also characterizes the lives of all believers.
Thus, just as sufferings of various kinds and increasing conformity to Christ validated the Apostolic call of the Apostles who laid the foundation of the church, so do such things validate that we who are not Apostles have been redeemed and sent by the Lord to be His witnesses in this world. Furthermore, the Christian experience is marked by a series of antitheses, as Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 6:8b–10. The Apostle draws a series of contrasts between what believers appear to be and what they are in reality. What these contrasts have in common is the distinction between what the world sees about us and what is true about us in Christ Jesus. In the world’s eyes, the things that we give up to follow Christ and the consequences of our discipleship make us poor, sorrowful, and deceived. In truth, however, we are rich, joyful, and awakened to what is good, true, and beautiful. In Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:1–3), and by faith we have them in part now and will possess them in their fullness in the age to come.