Ephesians 4: 7, 11
Were you ever given a gift, whether it be at Christmas, your birthday or for no particular occasion? You didn’t do anything to earn it, certainly – unless it’s a gift from your boss or for a job well done, like a monetary tip to your meal server at a restaurant in the United States for good service. Some gifts are just for fun. Other gifts are given to help you do what you want to do even better, such as a new table saw or a new sewing machine.
Beyond giving his one and only Son Jesus Christ to humanity, God gives other gifts – gifts that help his people (believers) to serve him and others in the church and through the church. Paul speaks of spiritual gifts that God gives to individuals in his earliest letter that we have today in I Corinthians. These gifts are nothing mysterious or hyper-special. Instead, these are abilities that God gives to the people in his church to carry out the in-reach and out-reach functions of the church as well as its fellowship. How can we tell that an ability is God-given? It’s when the exercise of that ability results in spiritual and emotional maturity among believers along with the growth of the local church in which they serve. Paul says it this way:
“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. Now to each one the manifestation [or “display”] of the Spirit is given for the common good.” [I Corinthians 12: 4-7. NIV]
While spiritual gifts or abilities are given to individuals, the church itself is given gifts in the form of persons who are called by God to serve in certain roles in the church.
“But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.” [Ephesians 4: 7. NIV]
The term “grace” is used here as a gift coming from God – and it is given to people in a way that only he determines. This term “grace” was also used in Paul’s rendition of his assignment by God to people on this earth:
“I became a servant of this gospel [“good news”] by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given to me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ . . . .” [Ephesians 3: 7-8. NIV]
The irony is that Paul was an up-and-coming Jewish leader who trained under the leadership of the renown rabbi of his time, Gamaliel, and was a fervent instigator in the persecution of the early Christians – even in the stoning death of the first Christian martyr, Stephen. Paul was as Jewish as could be. Yet, God saw the need, and with Paul’s training in scriptures, God assigned him to reach out to those who were not Jews – the Gentiles. What irony. Soon after the passage in Ephesians 4: 7 above, what does the scripture say?
“It was he [“Christ”] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers . . . .” [Ephesians 4: 11. NIV]
Four classifications of leaders who are assigned to the church and given as gifts to the church to help the church grow spiritually and in number are:
- Apostles. Initially, these were the twelve disciples of Jesus who were with Jesus as he began his earthly ministry. One of the requirements of being an apostle was that they were with Jesus throughout his ministry. However, one was assigned later after the betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot and Judas’ subsequent suicide took him out of the picture. Further, Paul referred to himself as an apostle but as “one abnormally born” as he wasn’t with Jesus during Jesus’ ministry. After the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the apostles became the leaders of this new group called “The Way.” Some of those apostles stayed in Jerusalem to head this new movement and others went out to proclaim the Good News [the Gospel] of Jesus Christ to the world – Jews and Gentiles.
There are no apostles today, of course, as those original apostles died long ago. But wait. What does “apostle” mean? It is a Greek term meaning “to send out.” Let’s look at the same meaning but in Latin. That term is “missionary.” I propose that the term apostle now applies to modern day missionaries. Much like the apostles of the early church, missionaries are individuals who can reach out across cultural barriers, whether it be in the person’s own country of birth or a different country. They are gifted to be able to communicate the Good News of Jesus Christ with people who are often not of the same culture as their own.
- Prophets. These are people who are not “foretellers” as much as they are “forthtellers.” These are individuals whom God has given a message that is special for a particular group of people for a particular time or need. We can see by reading about the prophets in what Christians call the Old Testament, or Jews call Scriptures, that they were not well-received. They often presented a message that was not popular for people who were comfortable in their life or culture but were not following God’s guidance.
- Evangelists. There are people who are able to present to non-believing individuals or groups of people – or those who are no longer active in following God – the Good News of Christ in such a way that people believe the message and begin to follow the way of God through Jesus Christ. If you look at the English word, it is much the same as the original Greek word. Do you see the word “angel” in there? An angel is a messenger. “Euangelion” means, then, “good message” or “good news” which translates to an old English word “Godspell” (good story) which translates to “Gospel.” Now you know how those words connect.
- Pastors and Teachers (or Pastor-Teachers). The Greek language construct seems to put these two roles together as “some” seems to address both whereby it doesn’t say, “some to be pastors and some to be teachers” as one would expect if they were separate. The word “pastor” literally means a “shepherd.” A shepherd takes care of, guides and protects his/her flock. A church’s pastor does the same. A teacher feeds the flock on God’s word, The Holy Bible. Whenever I think of the role of the pastor, I always think back to the first half of Psalm 23 that illustrates what a pastor-teacher does. Please forgive me as I will quote this from the New International Version (NIV) rather than the more familiar (to some) the King James Version (KJV):
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
This is where I will end today. In the next blog, I will discuss the purpose of these individuals who are given as gifts to the church. In doing so, I will also discuss the purpose of a church.
Take care and keep your eyes on Him, who watches over you.
Categories: How Can the Bible Relate to Us Today?