“Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do His work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.”
Ephesians 4:11-13 NLT
This is an important part of Paul’s letter, both to his readers in Ephesus and to Christians today. The first thing is that Christ, through His love and concern for His followers, gave important “gifts” to resource His future Bride, the church. These “gifts” for the Ephesian church were Spirit-filled men who each had a specific job to do in building up the church. The job titles listed – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers – dovetailed together to form a support and training function, not just a leadership structure, for the health and development of this body of believers. But these “gifts” are timeless. They were not just for the early Church but instead portrayed a model for all the churches that were to follow in the ages to come. And so we Christians, regardless of where we are in our spiritual pilgrimage, should prick up our spiritual ears. We should look out for these special people, who Christ, in His divine wisdom, could see would be required. And while we are looking around us, we should take careful note of verse 12. These five “gifts” – the men and women who were and are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers – were not supposed to do the work of the church themselves while the punters sat in the pews. Their role was to train up the church members to do the work God was asking them to do. You see, we each have a role to play in building up the church, “the body of Christ”. We cannot abdicate our own responsibilities and expect the minister to do everything.
So what is our role in building up the church? It is the same for us today as it was for the Ephesian church all those years ago. We all have a job description, which involves outward-looking responsibilities for evangelism and making disciples (Matthew 28:19), and also involves being unified with our fellow believers and the Christian community as a whole, as we can see from several verses in this Epistle. We must spend time reading the Word and praying, for our own spiritual health. Spending time with our wonderful Heavenly Father, sharing and communicating. Enjoying His presence in our lives.
But why do we need these “gifts” of men and women, the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers? Paul suggested they are there for “equipping” and “building”. Their individual Holy Spirit – led giftings are necessary to train us well for our roles. These men and women are pilgrims with a specific calling. Men and women who are further down the road of life than us, and who have many things to share for our benefit. We’ll look at their particular roles on another day. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people by giving them the tools and training they need “to do His work”. Our responsibility is to gain, through them, maturity, measuring up to Christ’s standards.
It is sad that after two years of lockdowns and social restrictions, many churches, at least in the UK, have become much smaller, dwindling in membership. Some people in these congregations have become used to attending virtual meetings on-line, or have decided that they prefer to spend their Sabbaths doing something else. But we cannot be Christians in splendid isolation; Jesus’ plan was for His followers to meet together. “They worshipped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—” (Acts 2:46). Two key words here in this verse are “together” and “shared”. Through meeting together we encourage one another, but we can also enjoy the input from Christ’s “gifts”, training and helping us. Cheering us on as Christ’s representatives for the work of His service.
God in His love and wisdom gave gifts to the church. We need them to equip and encourage us in our spiritual pilgrimage. And as we do God’s work in this sad, sinful and war-torn world we bring our messages of hope to the hopeless, communicating Christ’s concern for the lost all the better because of His gifts. Worth a big “thank You, Jesus”?