7But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.” … 11It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until 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.
14Then 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. 15Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16From 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. Eph. 4:7-16 (NIV)
All of us are shaped, to some extent, by the culture in which we live. This can be a good thing, of course, but it can also be bad, especially if we are not even aware that we are being influenced.
I believe that Christ’s church has been unknowingly but adversely influenced by our culture in our concept of “professional” ministers. Yielding to the current reliance upon “experts” to fix everything from our cars and computers to our children, we’ve now developed a tendency to look upon pastors as professionals who specialize in ministry. Someone goes off to seminary, receives academic training, and then enters “the ministry.” People in the congregation think of him as “the minister.” Soon, this is how he thinks of himself. He is “the minister” and he does “the ministry.”
This formula is a recipe for disappointment from a congregation with unmet expectations and the disaster of burnout from pastors who try to meet them. But did you know that this concept is completely foreign to God’s word? In fact, it is precisely the opposite of the design which God lays out for us.
Last week, as we considered Christian unity, we looked at Eph. 4:1-6. That passage focuses on Christian unity. It tells us that together we must strive, work diligently, to maintain a spirit of unity in the bond of peace. To do that requires complete humility, gentleness, and patience, bound together by love. And we have every reason to be unified. After all, there is only One God, though the passage points out He is Father and Son and Spirit (three persons who do life together in perfect harmony). And just as there are three persons yet only One God, so it is with us—there are many people yet only one body, one faith, one hope, one baptism.
So the point of the first seven verses is that we can have unity even in our diversity.
Ephesians 4:7-16 flips the coin and looks at the opposite side. That is why it begins with the word, “But.” It makes this point: Just as unity in our diversity is a gift from God, so diversity in our unity is God’s gift.
I. SPIRITUAL GIFTS (vv. 7-8)
7But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.” …
Normally, when we think of spiritual gifts, we think of certain abilities which we do not have naturally. I have known people who are naturally shy and timid to be able to stand before others and boldly proclaim God’s word. I have known some who naturally incline toward crowds. They are the life of the party wherever they go. And yet their spiritual gift may be quiet and behind the scenes, like generosity or encouragement.
This passage touches on this concept of spiritual gifts, saying that everyone who truly belongs to Christ has been given some measure of grace (i.e., something he did not deserve). Both the particular grace that is given and the measure of that grace are determined by the Sovereign Lord. So, our normal idea of “spiritual gifts” is in play. But it is not the only or even the primary focus. Look at the shift that occurs in v. 11:
11It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers,
Notice in this verse that the “gifts” are not certain traits or abilities that people possess, but the people themselves:
- APOSTLES – Those who met directly with Jesus and were sent out by Him as witnesses to the world;
- PROPHETS – Those whom God gives a an unusual ability to proclaim His word, which sometimes has included insight into the future (forth-telling and foretelling);
- EVANGELISTS – Those whom God gives unusual ability and winsomeness to tell others the good news about Jesus. Acts 21:8 identifies Philip as such, and Paul tells Timothy to make this a part of his work (2 Tim. 4:5)
- PASTORS AND TEACHERS – Two aspects of one calling:
- PASTOR – One who tends sheep, leading them, nurturing them, raising them, rounding them up, protecting them, seeking them when they go astray, binding up their wounds;
- TEACHER – This specifically focuses on one job of a pastor, to feed the sheep by communicating to them the entire counsel of God;
I believe that this verse specifically refers to those who have a special call from God into vocational ministry (that is, they do their work for the benefit of the church and thus have a right to earn their living from such labors).
And this is where some people have looked at those who received such a particular call from God and thought of them as “spiritual experts” or “ministers.” But look at the passage more closely. These are Christ’s gifts to His church, but …
II. WHY ARE THEY GIVEN? (vv. 12-15)
A. EQUIP HIS PEOPLE FOR IMMEDIATE MISSION (v. 12)
12to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up
This passage makes clear that those who have been called to serve in a vocation are not “the ministers” called to do “the ministry.” Instead, they are the ones who “prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Eph. 4:12). In other words, they are not there to do the ministry, but to equip and empower others to do it. They are, in some respects, like coaches, who train others to take the field and carry out the game strategy.
When we think in these terms, we see that this is exactly how Jesus operated. While he healed and taught and preached, he did not do all of this himself. He trained twelve men, whose job was to train others, who could in turn train even more.
Consider the beauty of this design. If “the minister” does “the ministry,” then what is accomplished can never be bigger than one person. If his function is instead to train others for the work of the ministry, then what is accomplished is unlimited. We will accomplish the second purpose of Christ.
B. GROW HIS PEOPLE FOR ULTIMATE MATURITY (vv. 13-14)
13until 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. 14Then 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. 15Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.
Mutual edification is the process by which God is accomplishing the purpose for which we were predestined, to conform us to the pattern of His Son.
So what about you? Are you sitting on the sideline, expecting a paid professional to do the work that, in reality, God expects you to do? Who can you visit, or call, or encourage? Who do you know who needs to hear the good news about Jesus? Are you telling them, or waiting for “the minister?”