Yesterday we talked a bit about Jesus’ resounding and humiliating victory over the Enemy and some of how that victory affects us personally. Our Lord conquered sin, death, all the forces of Hell, and the Enemy of our souls. He ascended up to the highest heavens to the ultimate hero’s welcome, and sat down at the right hand of the Father. Then came the celebration, in which he handed out gifts to his loyal followers. Let’s see what today’s passage has to say about these gifts.
It lists five (or four, but we’ll get to that in a moment) gifts which through his Spirit he’s distributed to the Church. They aren’t just gifts that Paul’s decided to list at random: The ones in today’s passage been called “edifying” gifts. These are gifts which are specifically designed to build up the Church. Of course, in a sense every gift (mercy, administration, etc.) is given in order to build up the Church and not to advance ourselves. But the Lord has used these in ways that he hasn’t with others, which we’ll address in a moment.
Another thing we need to note is that the Lord didn’t just give gifts. He gave gifted people: “He gave some to be apostles. . .” In a very real sense, your spiritual gift is God’s way of giving you to the Church.
The first listed here is that of apostle. Literally an apostle is a “sent one,” or “emissary.” There were twelve apostles whom Jesus specifically appointed to be his direct representatives (the original Twelve, minus Judas, plus Paul). They had authority which no other person possessed. Their writings were preserved and accorded equal authority with Scripture. All of the books of the New Testament were written either by an apostle or a direct protégé of one (like Mark and Luke). Granted, there were others listed as “apostles” besides these twelve men (like Barnabas and Timothy), but there’s a huge difference here. The Twelve were called “apostles of Christ,” while the other “apostles” were called “apostles of the church,” never apostles of Christ. The apostles of Christ had authority which was not passed on, and they had no successors.
The second gift (or gifted person) is prophet. These are people whom God chose to speak direct words of revelation, like here. Near the beginning of the church, God gifted men and women to submit direct revelation to believers. Does this gift still exist today? Well, if by this gift you mean the Lord speaking through people with the same authority as Paul’s letters or the writings of Isaiah or Moses, then the answer to that question is no. God’s word--the canon of Scripture--is closed. But this is a gift which the Lord used in building up his church.
The third gift is that of evangelism. These are people specially gifted in presenting the Good News of Jesus in a persuasive way to people who don’t know him. Obviously the most famous person with this gift in the latter half of the 20th century has been Billy Graham, but there’ve been countless others.
Fourth is that of “pastor,” which could also be translated as “shepherd.” However, the Greek links this with that of the (supposed) fifth, which is “teacher.” I’ve heard it said that actually you should translate the last part of vs. 11 as “pastors/teachers.” This might be overstating it a bit: Not every teacher is a pastor. The best explanation I’ve heard is that not all teachers are pastors, but a pastor is to be the head teacher of the flock that the Head Shepherd has placed in his care.
But here’s where we get uncomfortable applications for all believers. Remember when I said these are “edifying” gifts? That’s because of Paul’s description in vs. 12. Why did Paul gives us these people? “. . . to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” Let’s be clear here. Let’s apply this to the gift of evangelism. The picture of an evangelist going out to win souls for Christ is great, but that’s only part of his gift. His gift is meant to equip you to do the same. Or take a Bible teacher. He’s there to teach you God’s word, obviously. But his main job is to equip you to serve. You know the stereotypical manager, the one who says it’s his job to make sure you do your job? That’s what we’re talking about here.
The point I’m trying to make here is that the common image of “professional” clergy doing the main work of the church is not biblical. The pastors, the teachers, the evangelists are there to help you to serve more effectively.
And what’s the goal here, the end game? The goal here is to build up the Body of Christ. That means we add people by sharing the Good News with them and urging them to repent and believe. But it also means we grow spiritually. It means we grow in unity, working together towards a common goal. It means we grow closer to him, gaining both head knowledge and personal knowledge of our Savior. It means we strive towards “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ,” which means we’re full of him and that bleeds over into how we think, talk, and act.
That’s what it’s all about, right?
Lord Jesus, I want to have a part in this. Fill me to the whole measure of your fullness, so that I can equip others for works of service, so that your Body might be built up. To your glory, by your grace, and in your name.