In regard to the universal Church, God first brought it into being, and thereafter set apostles to minister to it (1 Cor. 12:28); but in regard to the local churches, the order was quite otherwise. The appointment of apostles preceded the founding of local churches. Our Lord first commissioned the twelve apostles, and thereafter the church in Jerusalem came into existence. The Holy Spirit first called two apostles— Paul and Barnabas—to the work, and thereafter a number of churches sprang into being in different places. So it is clear that the apostolic ministry precedes the existence of the local churches, and consequently, it is obvious that the work of apostles does not belong to the local churches.
As we have already observed, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me now Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” The service that followed the apostles’ separation, which we generally refer to as their missionary campaigns, the Holy Spirit referred to as “the work.” “The work” was the object of the Spirit’s call, and all that was accomplished by Paul and his associates in the days and years that followed, all that for which they were responsible, was included in this one term, “the work.” (The term “the work” is used in a specific sense in this book, and relates to all that is included in the missionary efforts of the apostles
Since churches are the result of the work, they cannot possibly include it. If we are to understand the mind of God concerning His work, then we must differentiate clearly between the work and the churches. These two are quite distinct in Scripture, and we must avoid confusing them; otherwise we shall make serious mistakes, and the outworking of God’s purposes will be hindered. The word “churches” appears frequently in Scripture, so it has been easy for us to arrive at a clear understanding of its meaning and content, but the word “work” is not often used in the specific sense in which it is employed here, with the result that we have paid little heed to it. But the Spirit has used the expression in an inclusive way to cover all that related to the purpose of the apostolic call. Let us then abide by the term which the Spirit has chosen to employ.READ MORE