(Please note that some Greek New Testament words are also used in these articles as a help to many readers of these blogs who live in Greece and in other Greek speaking areas.)
In this passage Paul shows that God has given all His people His grace [verses 4-7]. He has also given them ‘graced’ people to help them work together to fulfil His purpose of filling them with His presence [or the fulness of Christ.] Eph 4:7. ‘But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8. Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” 9. (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10. He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)’
What did Christ give?4:7. He gave grace to all believers. We need to remember that grace is used in at least 2 ways in the New Testament. It can mean “God’s unmerited favour” which stresses His love towards all His people. As believers they are all equally accepted in His sight. But grace is also used to denote God’s enabling. That is seen in 2 Cor 12:9 where Paul records that he had asked the Lord for relief from a stressful situation. However, he writes that the Lord answered his request in this manner, ‘But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.’ God graces His people not only with His favour but also with His resources to cope in difficult situations.
It is interesting to note that when Paul writes that grace was “given,” the word for “given” is from the Greek word [didōmi; δίδωμι]. It is the word used in the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gaveHis only Son …”. Any gift from God stems from His love for His people and is a mark of His amazing grace to them. But Paul adds to that in the same verse where he writes that this grace was given ’according to the measure of Christ’s gift’ where “gift” is [dōrea; δωρεά]. This word emphasises the gratuitous character of the gift. His gifts cannot be earned or dserved. They are always a free gift stemming from His grace and love.
When did Jesus give this grace?After His death, resurrection and ascension. At Pentecost when He poured out the Holy Spirit on all His followers at that time. As Peter explained in Acts 2:38, “Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.” As Eph 4:8 describes “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” Again the word for ‘gave’ is the word we saw above, [didōmi; δίδωμι.]
What was the content of His grace? He gave people to help fulfil His purposes. Verse 11.“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers.” [“Gave” here is the same word [didōmi; δίδωμι.]
This was His sovereign act. The church couldn’t fashion such people. They could only recognise and affirm God’s gifting of each individual to be used by God for particular functions of ministry.]
- Christ gave Apostles. From [apostolos; ἀπόστολος.] It can mean someone who is sent, such as a messenger, a delegate, an ambassador. Christ chose the original 12 apostles but there were others known as apostles in the New Testament, including St Paul. Opinions vary as to whether there are apostles in the church today. If they do exist, they certainly would not have the same authority as the 12 chosen by Jesus.
- Even in New Testament times there were false apostles. Paul wrote of such people in 2Cor 11:13, “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.” John recorded the words of the risen Christ to the church in Ephesus, commending their ability to recognise false prophets, “‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false.” Rev 2:2.
- Christ gave Prophets. [prophētēs; προφήτης.] It seems that the main function of prophets was to declare the will and the word of God for the people of God [mainly] in various generations. It was like getting God’s perspective on situations or foretelling the predicted future if a present course of action was to be followed. Again it is debated whether prophets exist as an office in the church today to exercise this same function. However it has to be remembered that all believers are meant to be open to the Spirit of God to be used in prophecy. Paul expressed his desire that all believers prophesy in 1 Cor 14:5, “Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.”
Paul understood that prophecy needed to be tested. In 1 Thessalonians he urged his readers thus, 1Th 5:19 “Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.”
Jesus had warned against false prophets who could deceive believers, in Mat 7:15, 24:11, 24, Mark 13:22 whilst Peter and John also did so, Peter in 2Pe 2:1 “But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you” and John in1Jn 4:1 “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” All prophecy has to be tested by the word of God. If it can’t proved to fit in with Biblical principles, then it is not true prophecy.
Sam Storms recently gave this wise counsel in his blogsite on Revelation 2:20, “Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.” He warned, “Some of you may be unaware of how mesmerizing and enticing the prospect of supernatural activity can be. When one witnesses what one believes is a genuine supernatural or miraculous event, otherwise normal theological defense mechanisms often fail to operate. Discernment is cast aside, lest it be viewed as a critical spirit or the response of a cynic. No one wants to be perceived as stiff-necked and resistant to the voice of God or the manifestation of his power. So, it is hard for some to resist and challenge the “ministry” of a recognized (or “alleged”) prophet in the church. … The “spirit” of “Jezebel” was not unique to the church in Thyatira. It is alive and well in the body of Christ today.” [See Note 1]
Having had to minister to many folk over the years who had received damaging “prophecies” and having also been the recipient of a few doubtful “prophecies,” this is very wise counsel indeed! Prophecies are meant to build people up, not to shame people or to have condemnation and judgment poured out on them. As Paul wrote in 1 Cor 14:3, “On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation”.
- Christ gave Evangelists. “Evangelist” is [euaggelistēs; εὐαγγελιστής.] It is made up of two words [eu meaning good or well] and [aggelistēs is derived from angelos, ἄγγελος meaning a messenger.] So an “evangelist” is one who shares good news [euangelion; εὐαγγέλιον the gospel.] It was a role in the early church, but all believers were meant to share the gospel. It has always been part of the Great Commission for the people of God, “And He said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.”’ Mark 16:15.
Paul gave his reasons why he preached the gospel, “That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome. 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” Rom 1:15-16. There was nothing to be ashamed about in the gospel message. In fact it could bring salvation to all those who heard it and responded to it.
Every believer should be willing to share the good news about Jesus, for as He Himself said, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Luke 6:45. If one’s heart is filled with love for Jesus, then from that fulness, one’s heart will speak of Him to others.
- Christ gave Shepherds and Teachers. Some have taken these two terms as indicating the one role in ministry calling them “pastor-teachers.” It is helpful to look at them separately. In practice it often happens that if a gifted teacher lacks love, compassion or empathy towards those he or she is teaching, then believers may be tempted to drift to a more caring environment where the pastoral aspect of the ministry appears to be more evident. People want to be cared for, as well as well taught.
“Shepherds” [poimēn; ποιμήν] is derived from a similar word [poimnion; ποίμνιον meaning a flock [of sheep]. The shepherd [pastor] cares for his flock. The true pattern for such ministry is Jesus Himself. He said so, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Jn 10:11.
“Teachers.” [didaskalos; διδάσκαλος] can mean a teacher or an instructor. Their function is to make the word of God come alive to the people of God so that they in turn can instruct others in Christian truths [or share truths about Jesus with others.]
What is humbling for teachers is to recognise that the Holy Spirit Himself is the real teacher in teaching situations as Paul wrote, “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.” 1 Cor 2:13. True teachers are those who are open to the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth to them that they can then impart to others.
What was His purpose in giving all these different people to perform different forms of ministry?12.“to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”
- Equipping His people for the work of ministry. We note that it is the ‘saints’ [all God’s people] who are to be equipped. People of every age in every age. The word for “equipping” [katartismós; καταρτισμός] is used only here in the whole of the New Testament. It means making fully ready. But ready for what? Paul gives us the answer, “for the work of ministry.” So it is the whole body of Christ that is to be equipped for ministry; not just the middle aged people, nor just the older mature saints, but the young of all ages as well. No matter what age believers may be, they are all indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God and can be used by Him to minister to others.
[I well remember a little girl aged about six who had a big impression on me as a 20 year old unbeliever. She was visiting our home after paying a visit with her parents to an institution for severely handicapped young children. Her older brother was a resident there and would never leave that institution or similar ones, such was the severity of his condition. Her words were something like this as she spoke of her brother, “Timmy is different but Jesus loves him.” She obviously loved him but it made me wonder what sort of person was this Jesus, who had any sort of concern for a young child who was virtually a vegetable [as people once used to say]. Her words made me begin to think very seriously about this Jesus. Perhaps she never knew how deeply her words that day affected me. I still remember them vividly 60 plus years after I heard her speak on our open verandah at our home in Ipswich! Children can be used by the Lord to witness to others of His love! But they can be taught and encouraged to do so more widely.
- What is this “work of ministry?” for which that believers need to be equipped? Derivatives of the words are used in English today. “Work” is [ergon; ἔργον from which we get our English word “erg”.] It is a word used to describe the unit of energy or work in Physics. Likewise the word “ministry” is derived from [diakonia; διακονία] meaning service to others. Those who do so are called “deacons” belonging to a “diaconate.”
We get some idea of the immensity of this work or ministry when we consider what Paul wrote in Philippians 2:12-13, “…..work out [katergazomai] your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works [energeō] in you, both to will and to work [energeō] for his good pleasure.” (Notice the underlined ‘erg’in each of these verbs in the text!) Believers of all ages have to work out in practical living what God is inwardly working in them.
- What is the function of this ministry? To build up the body of Christ. [4:12, “for building up the body of Christ.”]
The work of ministry is a building work. It is the building up of the body of Christ. But what does that involve? Again the NT words help us. “Building” is the translation from the Greek noun [oikodomē; οἰκοδομή]. The word can mean a building or it can also mean “edification” [the building up of knowledge and understanding.] Paul wrote later in the chapter using the same word, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” 4:29. What all ministers deeply long for, is a building up numerically in the place where they minister so that more people are brought into the kingdom. They also long for them to be built up spiritually so that they have a greater understanding of the faith and become more equipped to serve the Lord themselves.
That leads us to finding out what is the ultimate purpose of God in using people in ministry or service to one another! That will be the exciting and challenging focus in our next article!
NOTE 1]. https://www.samstorms.com/enjoying-god-blog/post/10-things-you-should-know-about-the–jezebel-spirit-
Blog No.321. Posted on www.jimholbeck.blog on Sunday 11thAugust 2019