To Equip the Saints
When our Lord ascended, he did not leave us orphans. He sent his Holy Spirit to comfort us and lead us into the truth (John 14:18, 25-26; 16:12-15). But even more than that, through the Spirit, our Lord has given us gifts for ministry and for the building up of the body of Christ. Indeed, the passage reads that the gifts are the persons themselves who possess these gifts. May the Lord bless us with such people who are so absorbed in the gift and ministry that God has given them to perform on behalf of the Church that they become the gifts themselves.
In this passage, Paul mentions just a few of the gifts of the Spirit when compared to 1 Corinthians 12:27-28, but both passages agree on those gifts which head the list. The gifts Paul cites in Ephesians are: apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds (pastors), and teachers. We sometimes call these “official” gifts in that they are tied to an office of the Church that exercises a particular function and that requires both respect and submission from the members. First, the apostles. These were the ones especially commissioned by the risen Lord (having seen him) to preach the gospel. Moreover, these (or their immediate listeners) wrote the books that comprise our New Testament. The prophets were those next to the apostles to whom revelations were given, sometimes in the form of predictions (Acts 21:10-12). We must understand that these gifts have passed as we now have the word of God in the New Testament. The canon is closed and we have all the, “Thus saith the Lord,” we need. I have known those who will say that prophecy continues, but their definition is closer to insight or perception into various situations. I call that wisdom, but I will not debate them on such an understanding of contemporary “prophecy” if that is how they will define it.
The next three (evangelists, shepherds, teachers) are the gifts today which we associate with the office of “pastor,” sometimes called “elder” or “bishop.” And what is their function? As the words indicate, to preach the eternal gospel, exhort and care for the flock, and expound upon the word of God. To what purpose? To build up the body of Christ, that as we grow in the knowledge of God, we may grow in the unity of the faith as the body of Christ into mature manhood (and womanhood). And the goal? The measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. That’s a tall order, but if we would focus our attention on growing in godliness and seeking the Kingdom, we just might make a beginning in this life. And God has given us everything to make that beginning—above all, His Spirit.