To my surprise, Philippians 1:1-11 turned out to be not simply about partnering with one another in the gospel but partnering with Apostles. But what do Apostles do? Here’s what I think they do:
First they lay foundations for local churches.
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. (ESV) 1 Cor 3:10
What are the foundations they lay? Well it’s more a question of “who is the foundation?” as the next verse of 1 Cor 3 tells us:
no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. (ESV) 1 Cor 3:11
So, apostles lay the foundation of who Jesus is and what he has done (I guess that’s what Jesus meant when he said to Peter “On this rock I will built my church” -ie a foundation of the revelation of who Jesus).
You can turn up to a plot of land, make some bricks and start putting them on top of each other but sooner or later, you are going to hit problems if you have not dug the right foundations. Apostles do not just preach the gospel and see individuals saved, they set in place foundational truths upon which a church can be established. They do that through the preaching of the gospel but it’s not quite the same thing as an evangelist like Philip. Part of the gift of an apostle is laying those foundations in different settings.
Let me give you an example from a slightly different arena. Once people in this country thought there was nothing wrong with slavery. Some even defended its barbaric practices from the bible. Now we think it is obviously a bad thing. It doesn’t take much effort to explain why it’s wrong to someone. But it took people like William Wilberforce to see that truth and lay it as a foundation in the life of this country. He saw the truth and then set about establishing it. He met great opposition, invested his life and paid a high price but he did it. And now, the fact that slavery is wrong, is so foundational in our thinking we don’t question it. That’s the kind of thing Apostles do in terms of carving out a context of truth upon which the church, and in practice local churches, can be built.
So what foundations do they lay? What truths about Jesus need putting in place if a local church is to grow healthy and strong? I tried to look at the first part of Paul’s letter to the Philippians to get a feel for what was important to him. It’s not strictly speaking a strongly exegetical approach, but if I keep the whole of the New Testament in mind as I look at it, its at least a good first place to start.