Eph 4:11-16 – The Five Ministries

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Eph 4:11

  1. In 1 Corinthians 12:4, Paul writes that “there are different kinds of grace”. So there is a great variety in how the Spirit equips us with spiritual gifts and spiritual services.
    1. As with all spiritual gifts, all Christians can be used by God in all gifts in general, while God also wants to use some people more specifically. For example, all Christians can pray for the sick and see healings, but some are chosen by God to function more specifically in the gift of healing the sick.
  2. Now Paul goes on to mention five (or four, depending on how you look at shepherd/teacher) “gifts of service”:
    1. Apostles
      1. The word “apostle” (“apostolos” in Greek) means “sent”, and can have several different meanings:
        1. In a sense, all Christians are apostles, i.e. “sent” by Jesus into the world to preach the gospel in word and deed.
        2. A second meaning of the word is the twelve apostles of Jesus, his closest circle who wrote the New Testament and were the first leaders of the early church. One criterion for being such an apostle was to have been with Jesus from the beginning, and to have been sent by Jesus (John 20:21) as a “witness to Jesus’ resurrection” (Acts 1:21-22). Apostles of this kind do not exist today but are reserved for the time of the early church in order to lay the foundations of Christianity (Eph 2:20, Acts 2:42).
        3. A third meaning of the word “apostle”, and the kind of apostle I think Paul means in this verse, is “a pioneer church leader”, “church planter” or “missionary”. For example, we see that the pioneer church leaders Paul (1 Cor 9:1-2), Barnabas (Acts 14:14), James (Gal 1:19), Andronicus, and Junias (Rom 16:7) are all called “apostles,” even though they were not among the original twelve apostles.
          1. An apostle of this kind works with the gospel, lays the foundations for churches or church activities, builds up and takes new initiatives in new places. When the work is self-sustaining, the apostle moves on to new unreached areas to build up the kingdom of God there as well.
            1. Because an apostle is often a pioneer who breaks new ground and builds a church from the ground up, apostles are often gifted with more or less all five of these ministry gifts. An apostle must be an evangelist to reach new people, and a shepherd to care for those who are saved. An apostle must also be able to prophesy in order to supernaturally touch people’s insides, and must also be able to preach Scripture in a way that people understand.
    1. Prophet
      1. In the Old Testament, a prophet was a “mouthpiece” for God and conveyed God’s word to God’s people.
        1. In Joel 2:28-29, the prophet Joel prophesies that in the end times God will pour out his Spirit on both men and women so that they will prophesy. This was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-21).
      1. In the New Testament, to “prophesy” or to be a “prophet” (“prophetes” in Greek) usually means to communicate in one’s own words what God has revealed to the prophet.
        1. Prophetic words give people “edification, encouragement and comfort” (1 Corinthians 14:3) to the whole church (1 Corinthians 14:4-5) and, for evangelistic purposes, can reveal a person’s inner “secrets” so that they are led to salvation and worship (1 Corinthians 14:24-25).
        2. Since the prophetic message is from God but delivered through a human being, prophetic greetings can sometimes contain errors, or be “colored” by the person who has experienced the message. Therefore, it is important that all prophetic words be “tested” by those who hear the message, so that they are consistent with God’s word and will (1 Cor 14:29, 1 Thess 5:20-21).
        3. Some examples of New Testament prophets are Agabus, who predicted a severe famine (Acts 11:28), Judas and Silas, who encouraged and strengthened the brothers (Acts 15:32), and the evangelist Philip’s four unmarried daughters who all had prophetic gifts (Acts 21:8-9).
    1. Evangelists
      1. A New Testament “evangelist” (“euangelistes” in Greek) is a person who proclaims the “gospel” (=good news) of Jesus.
        1. The Greek word “evangelion” is a combination of the two words “eu” (= good) and “angelos” (= messenger).
        2. Roman heralds used to stand in city squares and proclaim “good news” when, for example, a military victory or the accession of a new emperor.
      1. Examples of evangelists in the New Testament are Timothy (2 Timothy 4:5) and Philip (Acts 21:8), who preached Christ to the people of Samaria (Acts 8:4-5), and who preached the gospel of Jesus to the Ethiopian courtier (Acts 8:26-40), based on Scripture.
      1. If a shepherd reaches out to his own congregation and cares for those who are already Christians, the evangelist reaches out to new people who have not yet heard the good news of salvation in Jesus.
        1. While all Christians are generally commissioned to spread the gospel (Matthew 28:18-20), God equips some more specifically. Evangelists have a special ability to reach new people and lead them to salvation.
    1. Shepherds
      1. The word “shepherd” (“poimen” in Greek and “pastor” in Latin) is taken from “sheepherder” and simply means to be a shepherd over a “flock” of believers.
        1. In the Old Testament, God is described as “the shepherd of Israel” (Psalm 80:1) and in the New Testament, Jesus is described as “the good shepherd” (John 10:11). In a conversation with Peter, Jesus urges Peter to be a shepherd of Jesus’ sheep and lead them in the pasture (John 21:15-17).
        2. Just as a shepherd leads his sheep to grass and water and protects them from wolves, so a shepherd leads his members to the Bible and prayer and protects them from stray teachers.
      1. Theologians disagree about whether shepherds and teachers are two different ministries or whether they belong together. In the original Greek text, it seems that Paul is lumping them together. However, in my experience, they are two different ministries that do not necessarily always go together. Certainly a shepherd must be able to teach the word of God, but that is not necessarily his or her primary gift. Nor is it always certain that a good Bible teacher is also a gifted shepherd and pastor.
        1. In Acts, Paul calls the elders of the church in Ephesus to be “shepherds” of the flock over which the Holy Spirit has placed them (Acts 20:28). But while all elders are to be shepherds, Paul does not seem to think that all elders should be engaged in “preaching and teaching” (1 Tim 5:17).
    1. Teachers
      1. A “teacher” (“didaskalos” in Greek) teaches the Word of God (Romans 12:7). So do evangelists and shepherds, of course, but teachers have a special gift for opening up the Scriptures (Luke 24:25-32), sharing the “word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15), teaching the “sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1), passing on the apostles’ teaching (2 Timothy 2:2) so that people understand and embrace the message at a deeper level.
  3. An interesting “detail” to ponder is the fact that when Paul describes the five ministries, he mentions neither bishop, priest nor deacon. These three ministries have been established in the historical churches in post-biblical times. My understanding is that the hierarchical way these three ministries function in today’s historic churches is not consistent with the way they are described in the Bible, where they are rather described almost synonymously (1 Peter 5:1-2), and that we find a more biblically accurate governance in these five ministries.
    1. In fact, it was not until the 100th century AD that apostles and prophets became bishops and priests. Instead of the five ministries being a collegial leadership with different gifts complementing each other, ecclesiastical leadership became hierarchical. Perhaps this development was due to a loss of contact with the Holy Spirit and compensated for this with hierarchical structures.

Eph 4:12-13

  1. It is not God’s intention that a pastor or church leader alone should do all the work of the church while the members of the congregation silently watch. Part of the church leader’s responsibility is to help church members participate in the work of the church. This is done as a church leader by “equipping the saints” to do two things in particular: 1) “to carry out their ministry” and 2) “to build up the body of Christ”.
    1. The Greek word translated as “equip” is “katartismos” and was sometimes used to describe the “mending” of fish nets or broken bones.
      • The work of a church leader in equipping the church can be as painstaking and long-term as sitting down to mend a fishing net or someone’s broken bones. It takes time and requires patience and hard work.
      • The goal of discipleship is to grow in faith and become like Jesus (Luke 6:40), “well equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17).
    2. The body of Christ, the church, is compared two chapters earlier to a “holy temple” that is joined together and grows (Ephesians 2:21). The church is being “built up” in the same way that, stone by stone, all the parts are put in their proper place. Peter makes a similar comparison, saying that we are “living stones” in a “spiritual house” (1 Pet 2:5).
      • A church leader is thus a good builder who helps church members to find their place and purpose in the spiritual building of the church.
  2. One result of building the spiritual church is 1) unity in faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, 2) male maturity and 3) being fully filled with Christ.
    1. Through the care of a Bible teacher, the church can grow in its knowledge of Jesus and gain a unified understanding of who he is.
    2. By growing in your faith, you will eventually reach a maturity of faith that will prevent you from being tossed about like a ship on a stormy sea.
      • The word “male” maturity is not used as a contrast to “female” maturity, but as a contrast to a “childlike” maturity in verse 14.
        • In the Bible, we see that the term “man” often includes both men and women as a kind of collective term. In Hebrew, the word for “man” is the same as the first man’s name: “adam” (Gen 1:27). Just as the word “man” can mean “humanity”, the word “brothers” can also mean “siblings” and include both “brothers and sisters”.
    3. By finding one’s place in the spiritual building of the church and serving God according to the gifts and calling one has, one grows in faith, matures and becomes more and more like Jesus. This is true both individually for the individual disciple, but also collectively for the whole congregation together.

Eph 4:14-16

  1. A mature faith, a faith built on the New Testament with Jesus as its cornerstone (Eph 2:20), is not tossed back and forth between different doctrines like a ship on a stormy sea. The mature in faith builds his faith on what is written about Jesus in the New Testament and is not deceived by unbiblical teachings here and there.
    • Paul compares the deceptions of the false teachers to “false gambling”, i.e. cheating at cards, for example. Just as a cheating card player uses cheating and lying to cheat his fellow players out of money, so a false teacher uses his unbiblical teachings to deceive church members for personal gain.
    • To discourage false teaching and resist false teachers, Paul urges the church to “hold fast to the truth”.
      • It is said that the old preacher Charles Spurgeon used to say “Chapter and Verse, please!” when someone was presenting some new doctrine or teaching. For the mature Christian, it is important to always ask the person teaching something new to ground it in the Bible and ask for “Chapter and verse, please!”
  2. Is the church a “pyramid” with an archbishop at the top? Or a bus where the pastor drives and the members sit quietly and safely in their pews? No, the church is a “body” where all parts have their place and help each other in the way they were made to do.
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