Sometimes in studying God’s Word you find a nugget of truth that really speaks to you. I found such a nugget in our passage. It is this: I am God’s gift to you! Now, before you take me to Walmart for a gift exchange, let’s go through this passage together and see if you’ll keep me.
Verse 11 reads: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers…” Who is the giver? Christ. Along with giving grace to each of us to serve, he gave persons filling particular roles in the church.
I understand “the apostles” to refer to the eleven disciples, Matthias who was added to replace Judas, Paul, and I am comfortable including references to other “apostles” such as Barnabas, James the Lord’s brother and possibly others of the New Testament time period. If others differ on this point about the number of apostles back then, I have no great quarrel with that. What lies in the distinction of these apostles is that they were eye witnesses of Christ and possessed authority in the establishment of the church.
James Boice describes prophets as “those who received God’s message (as had the prophets of old) and recorded it in the pages of what we call the New Testament. Prophet may also refer to those specially inspired individuals such as Agabus who functioned while the New Testament was being written.”
In both cases of apostles and prophets, it is evident that Paul is speaking of offices that bear the special responsibility of establishing the foundation of the church. Consider these other verses:
“…you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets…” (2:19-20)
“assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. 4 When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (3:2-5)
The first passage is clear about the foundation laying. In the second passage, Paul is attributing to himself, his fellow apostles and prophets as being the special recipients of new revelation. These offices of apostle and prophet – as carried out then – ended with what is known as the “Apostolic Age,” this period of the New Testament.
We have an analogy in church practice today. In our denomination, a presbytery can appoint an “Evangelist” to plant a church and give him special authority reserved only for church Sessions and for presbyteries. He can organize churches; he can ordain elders and deacons; he can receive or dismiss members. In our denomination those are powers reserved for a church court. After he lays the foundation of a church or a presbytery, that position of Evangelist ends. The ordinary role of elders come in to play to build on that foundation.
This makes sense to me – the idea of special offices and gifts that served to establish the church and which then ends. That authority unique to these bearers still lives on, not by being passed down to successors, but by their teachings passing down through the pages of the New Testament. Maybe I am just stodgy about this, but I would rather put my trust in the Scriptures – both Old and New Testaments – than in any man or woman today who purports to have new revelation or God-given authority to tell me what the Scriptures leave out. It is one thing to say, “I think the Lord is telling me,” and another to move to “the Lord told me.” I can buy that from the apostles and prophets at the beginning of the church, but not now.
Speaking of evangelists, there are two other references to evangelists in the New Testament. Philip is titled “the evangelist” in Acts 21:8. The Apostle Paul charges his ministry companion Timothy to do the work of an evangelist.
Philip was one of the original seven deacons in the Jerusalem church, but when persecutions began – ironically under Paul – he traveled and proclaimed the gospel with success. He brought the gospel to Samaria and led an Ethiopian court official to saving faith, before settling down in Caesarea.
Timothy was Paul’s ministry companion. He assisted Paul in his evangelistic work, and Paul would at times have Timothy stay in a city to keep up the work while he, Paul, traveled on, or he would send Timothy to other places in his stead. Both of these men did similar work as the apostles, yet under their authority. The Jerusalem church sent Peter and John to follow up on Philip’s work, and Timothy worked under the authority of Paul.
It is evident that both of these men not only had the gift of evangelism, but that they fulfilled a recognized office in the church. Do we have such persons today? There are, of course, public evangelists today – some who bear that name with honor, some who do not. I have already referred to the office of Evangelist, and you know one – Jonathan Olsen. He officially is appointed by our presbytery to be an Evangelist with the charge to plant a church in S. Philly. There is another Evangelist on our staff – Philip (an appropriate name) Krkld. Philip, who is the Director of Tenth International Fellowship, was recently ordained in a service here by his presbytery with the charge to proclaim the gospel in the country he will be serving in.
Pastors and Teachers
Finally, we have pastors and teachers. Those are two distinct gifts, but it seems that Paul is combining them here to speak of a single office. Who are pastors-teachers? The Greek word for “pastor” is that for “shepherd.” The shepherds abiding in the fields at night are “pastors.” When Jesus speaks of himself as the “good shepherd,” the same word is being used. And so the concept of shepherding is carried over into the church. Jesus tells Peter to tend his sheep. Peter in turn tells elders to shepherd the flock of God. Paul speaks to the Ephesian elders about their “flock.” Even so, no one is specifically called a shepherd or pastor, except in this verse, and then it is linked to “teacher.”
What are teachers? Just what we think of – individuals who teach, who instruct. In the church, teachers teach Scripture. They instruct church members in the doctrines of the faith. They present the commands and promises of God by which to live that are found in Scripture. They help others make application of Scripture in order to grow in spiritual maturity. Unlike “pastor,” there are other references to the office of “teacher.” The list of gifts and offices in 1 Corinthians 12 includes teacher. In both letters to Timothy, Paul says that he, Paul, was appointed an apostle, a preacher, and a teacher. Acts 13:1 informs us that in the Antioch church there were prophets and teachers.
Now put these two words together – Pastor (or Shepherd)-Teacher. What do you get? You have someone who uses his gift for teaching to shepherd his people. You take him out of the classroom or lecture hall, and put him among his people to care for them. And when he is teaching, he is thinking not only about the information he is presenting but even more about how that information is going to touch the lives of his flock. He sees teaching as the means by which he nourishes the hungry soul and binds up the wounds of the broken soul. He is rewarded, not so much by how well his people are able to recall the information he gives, but rather by how strong their faith is growing and by the transformation taking place in their lives.
So, to summarize verse 11: Christ gave to his church some who are apostles and prophets. Upon the authoritative teaching and revelation of them, the church is founded. Furthermore, there are evangelists, who take the gospel to new places and start churches. Then there are the pastors-teachers of those churches who shepherd their flocks.
Paul has a reason for listing these offices, all of which have to do with teaching of some kind. He tells us in verse 12: to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.
Follow the progression. The variety of teaching officers are to equip the saints. They are to use their gifts of passing on the revelation of God, of proclaiming the gospel, of teaching their flock to equip the members of their flocks. Again, as I’ve already noted, they are not interested merely in passing on information but that imparting of knowledge is intended to make a difference in the lives of the hearers. It is to equip them.
Equip them for what? For work. Paul had said earlier in 2:10 that we are “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” If then, we are created for good works, if God has prepared these works for us to do, then our teachers should be equipping us to fulfill our calling.
What kind of work are we to do? The work of ministry. The Greek word used here is diakonia. You might recognize the term from which we get “deacon.” So the work is that of service. Don’t move too quickly, though, at narrowing service as limited to what the office of deacon performs. The apostles created that office so that they could “devote [them]selves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” But “service” is not the distinction between their functions. They wanted to be freed from the diaconal service of providing for the physical needs of church members so that they could be freed up to do the diaconal service of praying and teaching. Both functions are forms of diakonia, of what is translated as “ministry.”
So, again, these teaching church officers are using their gifts to equip the church members to do works of service. “Service” then indicates that the work is intended to “serve” someone. Who? The body of Christ. Specifically, aim of the work of service is to “build up the body of Christ,” which is still going on.
Turn with me to 2:19-22:
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
Before we knew Christ, we were strangers and aliens to God and his family. Now, in Christ, we are brought into the “household of God.” That household is built on what foundation? The teachings of the apostles and prophets. Is the building project complete? The foundation may be laid; the building material may be supplied; but the work for putting together a complete building continues. We are being built together. Anyone who has entered into a family by marriage or adoption knows that though you may become a member of the household, the work of bonding still must go on.
Our good works, our work of ministry, is given to us to build up the body of which we are now members. The instruction we receive is given to equip us toward that end. This is how this larger passage on unity ends. Verse 16: “from whom [Christ] the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
Before we move on to application, you should know that there is an alternate reading of verse 12. You will find it in the King James Bible, which reads, “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” Such a reading keeps the focus on the work of the officers in verse 11. It is saying that there are three ways they use their gifts: one, to perfect (or make complete) each church member; two, to carry out their ministry service; and three, to build up the church body. I think the translation and interpretation we have gone with is correct because the focus of the whole passage, verses 1-16, is on the united work we are doing. Even if one goes with the latter interpretation, however, it does not remove the obligation we each have to work properly, making the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
What then are you to take away from these verses? Hopefully you are willing to accept me and the other pastors at Tenth as gifts to benefit you. You are to benefit from our ministry of the Word. But how?
Be “equip-able.” Take opportunity to learn from us and from others in the church who teach. But learn as one who is being equipped to do something with that learning. Sometimes we learn just for the sake of learning. We watch the Discovery or History channels, or read National Geographic because we simply are interested in their subjects. We can take the same attitude with Scripture and doctrine. Some people are just fascinated with biblical history and prophecy; others with the intricacies of theology. Some love church history and others get into word studies.
Those are good interests. But what are you doing with the information? How is that information equipping you? You should think about that. How are youallowing those interests change you, equip you? Let me give an example of the equipping mindset from a sermon James Boice once gave from this pulpit when he preached Psalm 67. The psalm reads:
1 May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us, Selah
2 that your way may be known on earth,
your saving power among all nations.
3 Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you!
4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide the nations upon earth. Selah
5 Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you!
6 The earth has yielded its increase;
God, our God, shall bless us.
7 God shall bless us;
let all the ends of the earth fear him!
It is a great psalm speaking of God’s blessing on his people. It is also a great missionary psalm. Did you pick up on that? God’s people are to be blessed so that his saving power is made known among the nations. Dr. Boice speaks about this, but then adds further implication. How does that power go forth? Through evangelism, through taking the gospel to others. He then takes time to explain the biblical mandate for us all to share the good news. He takes biblical knowledge and applies it in such a way as to equip his people.
Do the Work of Ministry
What are you to be equipped for? To serve; to do the work of ministry, i. e. of service. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul says there are “varieties of gifts,” “varieties of service,” and “varieties of activities.” Start matching all these categories and we find that the ways to serve the body of Christ are unlimited.
What can you do? You can teach. We need now teachers and teaching assistants for our children in Bible school. You can play with children in the nursery; you can help lead worship at a nearby nursing home or simply sit with a resident as a friend during worship. You can be a buddy for a special needs child in church or a table host for our monthly dinner for the homeless. You can lead a Bible study in prison or help an international learn English at Friday night tutoring. You can help the congregation worship by serving in the sound booth, singing in choir, or serving as an usher. You can do administrative tasks or minister directly to people. You can serve on the IT committee. You can do your own thing, like taking the initiative to greet fellow worshippers around you, inviting someone out to a meal or to your home, taking a meal to someone or driving someone to the doctor. You can lead a Bible study or host a Bible study; you can make calls to church members on behalf of your elders. You can send a card to someone who needs an encouraging word or take a young person to a ball game.
But before you can do one act of service, you must be service minded. You must desire to serve. You must, again, be consciously thinking how you will take all that good knowledge you are learning and turn it into service.
Build Up the Body
Finally, keep the goal in mind. All this service work has an aim other than to keep you busy. It is for building up the body of Christ. Being busy means nothing, and, indeed, can hurt the body. Busy churches often have stressed servers and the recipients of the service feel more like victims. Many people are busy to meet their own needs, to feel needed and to gain recognition. They become angry when their service is not recognized, frustrated when the work is not going well. They serve needs that are not real needs; help people who don’t want their help; rope in fellow workers and hold them by guilt. The end result is that the body is being torn down, discouraged.
The purpose of service is to build up. That is the purpose of every act of service – from preaching to teaching to setting up chairs to cleaning up in the kitchen. We exist in the body to build up the body, to build up one another. We will see in the next verses what the building up is leading to, but for now understand the movement – it is up, it is positive, it is leading forward.
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). Those are the plans that you, a servant of the Lord, are to use for your building work in the body of Christ.
© 2021 Tenth Presbyterian Church.
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in its entirety or in unaltered excerpts, as long as you do not charge a fee. For Internet posting, please use only unaltered excerpts (not the content in its entirety) and provide a hyperlink to this page. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Tenth Presbyterian Church.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By D. Marion Clark. © 2021 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org