“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
Who or what is an Apostle? One thing for sure – it is not a stone effigy located in a dusty corner in a church building somewhere. Or a memorial encased in a reliquary containing a piece of bone or cloth, reputed to have at one time come from one of the original Apostles that we read about in the New Testament. Somewhere in a drawer I have some “apostle spoons” – spoons with a figure engraved or cast into the handle – an apostle isn’t that either. The apostles Christ gave to the church are alive and well and walking amongst us Christian pilgrims. According to Mr Google, the definition of the word “apostle” is “someone who is sent out”. So perhaps an apostle is sent out for the purpose of planting a new church. Or as a missionary to another land. Perhaps an apostle is responsible for the spiritual oversight of a number of independent churches, being each pastor’s pastor. And according to our verse today, apostles are a gift to the church.
Similarly, the word “pastor” refers to someone who is in overall charge of a body of believers, a church somewhere. In some denominations they are referred to as “ministers”. A pastor cares for his congregation, listens to their problems, offers advice, visits and prays for the sick. A pastor usually combines his caring role with that of a teacher, and is responsibility for weekly sermons or messages, and perhaps Bible studies. A pastor administers the other church requirements such as taking funerals, or officiating at weddings. He looks after his “flock”, a role Christ knew would be needed as He builds His church.
We also have the prophets. We perhaps have a mental picture of an elderly man, stooping over a staff, dressed in something that resembles a sack with holes, and with a beard reaching his waist. But this can’t be further from the truth. Prophets are people who have a gift of bringing a message from God to His people. They dispense God-truths. They bring guidance and correction. They often disturb the status quo and bring fresh spiritual insights. Some even can see into the future, warning of world or church events to come. Sadly the prophet is often resented or misunderstood, because he or she advocates change, disturbing people who would prefer to stay in a place of spiritual comfort.
The evangelist. Another important role mentioned by Paul in this Epistle. An evangelist brings good news. He or she preaches the Gospel at every opportunity. But in this role to the church, they train and enthuse others to join them. As Christians, we all have our messages. Our testimonies. Our stories of all that God has done for us. Evangelists help and encourage us to share what we have with others.
So in these “gifts”, often called the “five-fold ministries”, we see a picture of why Christ gave such gifts to the church. Where would we be without the men and women who perform these roles? No doubt, an undisciplined group of people who would soon stray to a place of spiritual danger. We thank God for these people, grateful for their diligence in helping us “be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.”
But what do these “gifts” matter to us, in our pilgrimage through life? Surely, we might think, we could do just as well sat at home. Watching the God Channel or TBN. Looking up YouTube videos uploaded by famous preachers. Logging into Sunday church livestreams. We might even think that we don’t need input from such people, telling ourselves that we just need the Holy Spirit and our Bibles. It is true that there are Christians who try to live out their faith in this way. There are even Christians who have no choice, being imprisoned for being Christians in countries such as North Korea, without even a Bible. But none of this is God’s model for His church. If that wasn’t the case, Christ would not have needed to give these gifts to His church. In these verses there is the implicit message that God’s people were being equipped as a people together, a church or fellowship.
There is a verse relevant to today’s theme in Hebrews 10:25. “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His return is drawing near”. Oh, by the way, we must be obedient to our “gifts”. It says in Hebrews 13:17 that we must, “Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow…”. Hmmm…