One of my favourite passages in all of Scripture is found in Ephesians. Actually, Ephesians is probably one of my favourite books in the whole of the Bible. As one of Paul’s final letters, he packs so much wisdom and revelation in this short yet amazing book.
The Ephesians text is filled with multiple great passages: from Paul’s beginning words in 1:3-14; to the all-important words of our salvation by grace through faith in 2:8-9 (not to mention his words about walking out that salvation in 2:10); on to the goal of the one body in 2:11-22; his prayer in 3:14-21; the words on how to live our new life in Christ at the end of ch. 4 and beginning of ch. 5; his words of how to live out godly relationships in marriage, parenting, etc; and the charge about the armour of God in his final words in ch. 6. This letter stands as maybe the pique of Paul’s writings (uh oh, the reformed people are getting stirred because I didn’t say it was Romans).
But one passage I really enjoy pondering is found in 4:11-16. It, too, is filled with great wisdom and revelation into the purposes and plans of God in this new covenant era. Here are the words from the NIV:
11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
From these words, we find out that the goal for the body of Christ is both unity and maturity. Both of those are important. No, they are very important! I find that somehow we don’t realise this. It took me a while to understand that the goal was to see the bride of Christ prepare for our marriage to Christ. This calls for movement towards unity and maturity. We cannot miss that if we are to fulfil the purposes of God.
But, there is another reason I like this specific passage.
Here, in these words of Paul, we are told that, when Christ ascended back to the Father to reign over all, He gave specific gifts to the church to help us move towards this unity and maturity. What are those gifts. They are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. These five gifts (or four, as some see pastor and teacher as one gift, as in pastor-teacher) are known as the Ephesians 4 ministry (service) gifts, though many refer to them with various other names such as the ascension gifts (since they were given at His ascensions – see vs8) or the five-fold ministry gifts (or four-fold, if one believes pastor-teacher are a combination gift).
Now, for the most part, many Christians in general, both in the past and in the present, have seen only three of these gifts still necessary and functioning today. Those three are evangelist, pastor and teacher.
Of course, with the rise of Pentecostal and charismatic churches in the last 100+ years, one will definitely find many churches that still believe prophets (and prophecy) are still functioning today. And with a massive 500 million Christians who would count themselves as part of such Pentecostal, charismatic and neo-Pentecostal church groups, such a belief is not outside of orthodoxy.
But, most all Christians would not venture down the path that would allow for apostles to still exist. They were the ones called to write Scripture (kind of receiving the baton from the Old Testament prophets). They were the select few who were given Christ’s special authority to help the church transition into this new covenant gospel. Once their foundational revelation and message was recorded (as found in our New Testament today), there would no longer be a need for such a ministry.
Now, before considering various views on which of these gifts are actually still in function today, I think it important to first ask this question: What is the purpose of these ministry gifts?
Hey, this is an important question. Because we get so caught up in debating whether prophets and apostles could still exist today, we can actually forget why Jesus gave such gifts to the church.
Paul does make it quite clear in this passage as to the purpose of these ministry gifts:
- To prepare and equip God’s people for works of service, or ministry, since the Greek word could be translated either way (vs12).
- So that the body of Christ might be built up (vs12).
- To help Christ’s body reach unity in the faith and knowledge of Christ, becoming mature and grown up into the fullness of Christ (vs13).
Jesus desired to gift people in these ministries so that the body of Christ could be prepared, equipped, built up, unified and mature! That sounds awesome (though Christ really doesn’t need my thoughts here).
But, though we can see these five gifted ministries were given to help the church move towards such a high calling in Christ, there are still questions as to why these gifts are practically needed. I mean, really, why do we need these gifts? What’s this all about? Couldn’t we just get on without them?
Well, to that, I give an answer that isn’t found specifically in Ephesians 4. Rather, I have come to a conclusion as to why these gifts are practically important to the body of Christ and the world today through my overall consideration of the New Testament text. For such, I give three more bullet points:
- Jesus, Himself, functioned in all five of these ministries.
- The body of Christ is now called to be all of Christ in all of the earth.
- Therefore, Christ’s desire is to continue to gift people in such ministry roles.
Now, I know those three statements are loaded. The comments could begin to flood in challenging my flow of thought. But I can only say I hope to spend quite a few articles showing why I believe those three points are the logical conclusion from reading the New Testament text.
Of course, one may not have ever realised that Christ functioned in all five of these ministries, but He did. I mean, some realise Christ was a teacher or a prophet. But was Christ an apostle?
Yes, He was an apostle. And we must take note that Christ functioned in all five of these ministries. Actually, He was the greatest apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher that ever existed. Forget Paul, Peter, John or any of the others. Simply stated, there was no other that walked out these five ministries like the divine Son in the flesh. Of course, we would not expect less, right?
And here we are today, even 2,000 years post-incarnation, looking to be all of Christ to all of the world. For this, I believe the best way would be to function in all that Christ Himself did. If Christ walked it out, I think He desires His body to emulate the same. If Christ functioned in something, I believe He desires that His body similarly practice such. Of course, I am not trying to equate us with the Son of God. But I do believe that, as sons and daughters of the King, we are called to participate in that which Christ lived in the flesh.
So let me take some time in my next post to look at how Christ was an apostle. Hopefully it will be of interest to you.