May 5 – The Priority of Spiritual Unity

“The names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax-gatherer; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him” (Matt. 10:2–4).

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Unity in the Spirit is the key to a church’s overall effectiveness.

Unity is a crucial element in the life of the church—especially among its leadership. A unified church can accomplish great things for Christ, but disunity can cripple or destroy it. Even the most orthodox churches aren’t immune to disunity’s subtle attack because it often arises from personality clashes or pride rather than doctrinal issues.

God often brings together in congregations and ministry teams people of vastly different backgrounds and temperaments. That mix produces a variety of skills and ministries, but it also produces the potential for disunity and strife. That was certainly true of the disciples, which included an impetuous fisherman (Peter), two passionate and ambitious “sons of thunder” (James and John), an analytical, pragmatic, and pessimistic man (Philip), a racially prejudiced man (Bartholomew), a despised tax collector (Matthew), a political Zealot (Simon), and a traitor (Judas, who was in it only for the money and eventually sold out for thirty pieces of silver).

Imagine the potential for disaster in a group like that! Yet their common purpose transcended their individual differences, and by His grace the Lord accomplished through them what they never could have accomplished on their own. That’s the power of spiritual unity!

As a Christian, you’re part of a select team that is accomplishing the world’s greatest task: finishing the work Jesus began. That requires unity of purpose and effort. Satan will try to sow seeds of discord, but you must do everything possible to heed Paul’s admonition to be “of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose” (Phil. 2:2).

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Suggestions for Prayer:  Pray daily for unity among the leaders and congregation of your church.

For Further Study: Read 1 Corinthians 3:1–9, noting how Paul addressed the issue of disunity in the Corinthian church.[1]


Twelve Disciples Called (10:1–4)

10:1 In the last verse of chapter 9, the Lord instructed His disciples to pray for more laborers. To make that request sincerely, believers must be willing to go themselves. So here we find the Lord calling His twelve disciples. He had previously chosen them, but now He calls them to a special evangelistic mission to the nation of Israel. With the call went authority to cast out unclean spirits and to heal all kinds of diseases. The uniqueness of Jesus is seen here. Other men had performed miracles, but no other man ever conferred the power on others.

10:2–4 The twelve apostles were:

  1. Simon, who is called Peter. Impetuous, generous-hearted, affectionate man that he was, he was a born leader.
  2. Andrew, his brother. He was introduced to Jesus by John the Baptist (John 1:36, 40), then brought his brother Peter to Him. He made it his business thereafter to bring men to Jesus.
  3. James, the son of Zebedee, who was later killed by Herod (Acts 12:2)—the first of the twelve to die as a martyr.
  4. John, his brother. Also a son of Zebedee, he was the disciple whom Jesus loved. We are indebted to him for the Fourth Gospel, three Epistles, and Revelation.
  5. Philip. A citizen of Bethsaida, he brought Nathanael to Jesus. He is not to be confused with Philip the Evangelist, in the book of Acts.
  6. Bartholomew. Believed to be the same as Nathanael, the Israelite in whom Jesus found no guile (John 1:47).
  7. Thomas, also called Didymus, meaning “twin.” Commonly known as “Doubting Thomas,” his doubts gave way to a magnificent confession of Christ (John 20:28).
  8. Matthew. The former tax-collector who wrote this Gospel.
  9. James, the son of Alphaeus. Little else is definitely known about him.
  10. Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus. He is also known as Judas the son of James (Luke 6:16). His only recorded utterance is found in John 14:22.
  11. Simon, the Canaanite, whom Luke calls the Zealot (6:15).
  12. Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of our Lord.

The disciples were probably in their twenties at this time. Taken from varied walks of life and probably young men of average ability, their true greatness lay in their association with Jesus.[2]


2–4 For the first and only time in Matthew, the Twelve are called “apostles.” Apostolos (“apostle,” GK 693), cognate with apostellō (“send,” GK 690), is not a technical term in the background literature. This largely accounts for the fact that as used in NT documents it has narrower and wider meanings (cf. NIDNTT, 1:126–37). Luke 6:13 explicitly affirms that Jesus himself called the Twelve “apostles”; certainly Luke shows more interest in this question than the other three, partly in preparation for his work on the Acts of the Apostles. But in the NT, the term can mean merely “messenger” (Jn 13:16) or refer to Jesus (“the apostle and high priest whom we confess,” Heb 3:1) or elsewhere (esp. in Paul) denote “missionaries” or “representatives”—i.e., a group larger than the Twelve and Paul (Ro 16:7; 2 Co 8:23). Nevertheless, the most natural reading of 1 Corinthians 9:1–5; 15:7; Galatians 1:17, 19 et al. is that even Paul could use the term in a narrow sense to refer to the Twelve plus himself (by special dispensation, 1 Co 15:8–10).

Lists of the Twelve are found here and in three other places in the NT:

Matthew 10:2–4

 

Mark 3:16–19

 

Luke 6:13–16

 

Acts 1:13

 

1.

 

Simon Peter

 

Simon Peter

 

Simon Peter

 

Peter

 

2.

 

Andrew

 

James

 

Andrew

 

John

 

3.

 

James

 

John

 

James

 

James

 

4.

 

John

 

Andrew

 

John

 

Andrew

 

5.

 

Philip

 

Philip

 

Philip

 

Philip

 

6.

 

Bartholomew

 

Bartholomew

 

Bartholomew

 

Thomas

 

7.

 

Thomas

 

Matthew

 

Matthew

 

Bartholomew

 

8.

 

Matthew

 

Thomas

 

Thomas

 

Matthew

 

9.

 

James son of Alphaeus

 

James son of Alphaeus

 

James son of Alphaeus

 

James son of Alphaeus

 

10.

 

Thaddaeus

 

Thaddaeus

 

Simon the Zealot

 

Simon the Zealot

 

11.

 

Simon the Cananaean (NRSV)

 

Simon the Cananaean (NRSV)

 

Judas brother of (or son of) James

 

Judas brother of (or son of) James

 

12.

 

Judas Iscariot

 

Judas Iscariot

 

Judas Iscariot

 

[vacant]

 

Many significant things arise from comparing these lists.

  1. Peter is always first, Judas Iscariot always last. Matthew uses “first” in connection with Peter. The word cannot mean he was the first convert (Andrew or perhaps John was) and probably does not simply mean “first on the list,” which would be a trifling comment (cf. 1 Co 12:28). More likely it means primus inter pares (“first among equals”; see comments at 16:13–20).
  2. The first four names of all four lists are those of two pairs of brothers whose call is mentioned first (cf. 4:18–22).
  3. In each list, there are three groups of four, each group headed by Peter, Philip (not to be confused with the evangelist), and James son of Alphaeus respectively. But within each group the order varies (even from Luke to Acts!) except that Judas is always last. This suggests, if it does not prove, that the Twelve were organizationally divided into smaller groups, each with a leader.
  4. The commission in Mark 6:7 sent the men out two by two; perhaps this accounts for the pairing in the Greek text of Matthew 10:2–4.
  5. Some variations in order can be accounted for with a high degree of probability. For the first four names, Mark lists Peter, James, John, and appends Andrew, doubtless because the first three were an inner core privileged to witness the raising of Jairus’s daughter and the transfiguration and invited to be close to Jesus in his Gethsemane agony. Matthew preserves the order suggested by sibling relationships. He not only puts himself last in his group but mentions his less-than-savory past. Is this a sign of Christian humility?
  6. Apparently Simon the Cananaean (Matthew, Mark) is the same person as Simon the Zealot (Luke, Acts). If so, then apparently Thaddaeus is another name for Judas the brother of (or son of) James (see comments below).

Not much is known concerning most of these men (see Reflections below). For interesting but mostly incredible legends about them, see Hennecke (New Testament Apocrypha, 2:167–531).[3]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1993). Drawing Near—Daily Readings for a Deeper Faith (p. 138). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1238). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, pp. 276–277). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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