But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. – Ephesians 4:7-14 ESV
Paul has stressed that the believers in Ephesus live together in unity, recognizing their shared faith and common bond in Christ. They had each been called by God. They had been placed in the body of Christ by God. And together, they were to live their lives in such a way as to bring glory and honor to God. And to make that possible, Paul reminded them that God had given them gifts. Paraphrasing from Psalm 68:18, Paul emphasized that when Jesus ascended back to heaven, He gave gifts to men. This happened as a result of the coming of the Holy Spirit, and was first made evident at Pentecost. When the Holy Spirit indwells a believer at their salvation, He gives them a gift – a supernatural enablement designed to build up the body of Christ. Paul described the nature of the gifts in his letter to the Corinthians.
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. – 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 ESV
The gifts of the Spirit are God-given, Spirit-empowered, and not man-made. They are not talents or natural capabilities. You are not born with these gifts.
Here in his letter to the believers in Ephesus, Paul talks about God’s gift of individuals to the church. These are divinely appointed and equipped leaders whom God has chosen for the task of leading His people. Just as God chose and appointed Moses to lead the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt and just as He chose David to provide the people of Israel with leadership as they moved from a kingdom of former slaves to prominence as one of the greatest nations in the world. God provided the church with leaders. Paul describes them as apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers. An apostle was literally a “sent one” or messenger. The original 11 disciples had been commissioned and sent by Jesus to take the gospel message to the world. Paul, though not one of the twelve disciples who had been chosen by Jesus, viewed himself as an apostle because he had been commissioned by the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus. The primary role of the apostles was to spread the gospel and establish churches throughout the known world.
Prophets were “forth-tellers.” They had the divinely enabled ability to speak forth truth as based on the Word of God. They seemed to be responsible for building up the body of Christ, especially the local churches. Paul provides us with some insight into their role in his letter to the Corinthian believers: “the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (1 Corinthians 14:3 ESV).
Evangelists were “heralds of salvation.” They were gifted by the Spirit to share the gospel. Their role was essential, in that they played a significant part in leading others to Christ. It seems that some evangelists stayed close to home, ministering in their local communities, while others itinerant, traveling from city to city in order to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.
When Paul refers to pastors and teachers, it is believed that he is speaking of one function, not two. It could be translated as “pastor-teacher” – referring to a single role within the church. Regardless of whether Paul speaking of one or two gifts, these individuals were essential in shepherding and teaching the body of Christ. The term “pastor” literally means “shepherd.” His role was to minister to the needs of the flock of Jesus Christ. He was to care for them, protect them, guide and feed them. A teacher was given the responsibility to teach the people of God. He was to instruct them in the Word of God and ensure that they understood sound doctrine. This particular role was essential to the well-being of the church because of the growing problem of false teaching and errant doctrine.
Together, these gifted individuals were to minister to God’s people, equipping them for the work of the ministry. It seems quite clear that Paul did not have in mind a professional clergy who did all the work of the ministry on behalf of the people of God. They were to be equippers and trainers, ensuring that the believers under their care were able to do the work of ministry within the local congregation. It was as individual believers were properly taught, trained, and equipped, that they were able to minister to one another and build up the body of Christ. Just a few verses later in this chapter, Paul describes the outcome of a well-equipped church: “when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:16 ESV).
The goal is growth. The objective is spiritual health and doctrinal soundness. Jesus did not leave His flock defenseless or alone. He provided us with the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit has given the church gifted individuals to lead, guide and equip the body of Christ. Paul has in mind spiritual maturity. There was no place for spiritual stagnation or immaturity. God expected His people to grow and so did Paul. But it was a team effort. Each was expected to do his or her job, selflessly and sacrificially. For how long? “…until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13 ESV).