At last week’s men’s book club meeting I posed a simple scenario followed by an equally simple question. I told the guys I wanted to play a little hypothetical game.
“Let’s pretend that I promise to give you a gift card. Now imagine on Sunday, a member of our congregation approaches me to say, ‘On Thursday night you promised to give gift cards. I’m a disciple just like them, so I would like a gift card too please.'”
Here’s the question I asked them. “If you were me, how would you respond to this request?”
When I proposed this scenario to the Thursday night group, one of the guys offered his own question. “What I would like to know is, were you promising just us gift cards or everyone in our congregation?” That is an excellent question and exactly on point! After all, the member’s request on Sunday is unexpected.
The most natural interpretation of my intention would be to understand I promised gift cards to the Thursday night crew. While it is possible I might have also intended to distribute gift cards to our congregation or even several different zip codes, it is not possible to reliably conclude this from what I said. The cards were for the book club participants.
Why present this hypothetical scenario to the book club? We are reading a book that conflates Jesus’ promises to the apostles with what is promised to all disciples. The author repeatedly refers to the apostles as disciples and then affirms disciples receive those promises.
During the last supper, Jesus told his apostles:
“I have spoken these things while staying with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and will cause you to remember everything I said to you.” John 14:25,26
I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.” John 16:12,13
If Jesus did offer these promises to all disciples throughout time, we cannot reasonably deduce it from these statements. These are embedded in the context of the last supper to those whom Jesus had chosen and who had observed him in his earthly ministry.
Furthermore, the apostles were given a distinct function to perform. To be a disciple is not equivalent to being an apostle. Paul referred to the apostles’ distinctiveness when he described the church being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20).
While all of the apostles were indeed disciples, not all disciples were apostles. We should not assume that if Jesus promised something to the apostles, it is intended for us too.
Scripture promises all disciples receive many wonderful blessings related to the Spirit. We would deceive ourselves, however, if we assumed that all of the promises made to the apostles were also for us.