Summary: 30th in a series from Ephesians. Every believer is to be a minister.
Last Saturday, Mary and I went to the U of A football game. And as we watched that game, it reminded me of how someone once described a football game:
Eleven men down on the field, desperately in need of rest, and fifty thousand people in the stands desperately in need of exercise.
Unfortunately, in many cases, that’s also a pretty accurate description of what the church has become. But God never intended for Christianity to be a spectator sport. I think that’s the main point Paul is making as we continue our journey through the book of Ephesians. Let’s read our passage for this morning out loud together. I’m using the NASB translation today since it is the most accurate translation of what Paul wrote.
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service...
Ephesians 4:11-12a (NASB)
You’ll remember that two weeks ago we saw that Jesus Christ has taken a people unto Himself, given them gifts and then turned around and given them back to the church for the purpose of serving among His people. In verse 11, he now goes on to describe four specific groups of people that He has given to the church as a gift – apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor-teachers.
1. THE PEOPLE OF THE GIFT
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers...
• Apostles and prophets
I’m grouping these first two groups together since Paul has already made a clear connection between apostles and prophets in two different places earlier in his letter:
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.
Ephesians 2:19, 20 (NIV)
In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.
Ephesians 3:4, 5 (NIV)
As we saw in those verses, when Paul used the word apostle in his letter, he uses it in a very specific sense to refer to himself and the eleven that Jesus had specifically called as apostles and Matthias, who was chosen to replace Judas Iscariot. These were men who were commissioned by Jesus to authoritatively proclaim the gospel and who had been witnesses of the resurrected Jesus.
The prophets that Paul refers to are men who worked alongside the apostles to interpret and explain the authoritative words of the apostles. Men such as Mark, Luke, James, and Jude were not themselves apostles but they were associated with the apostles in the writing of the New Testament.
As they were led by the Holy Spirit, these apostles and prophets produced writings which we now have today as the New Testament. So, at least in the sense in which Paul writes about them here, there is no need for apostles and prophets in the church today. These apostles and prophets, enabled and guided by the Holy Spirit, produced the foundation of God’s Word on which the next two groups that Paul mentions are still building today. In fact, the one thing that all four of these groups that Paul writes about have in common is that their work is centered on the word of God. The apostles and prophets produced that Word and it is the main tool used by both the evangelist and the pastor/teacher.
While all believers are commanded by Jesus to be witnesses for Him, He also gifts certain people with the special gift of being able to communicate the gospel effectively to unbelievers. In Paul’s day these were travelling missionaries who preached the gospel and called people to repentance. These were the people who were primarily responsible for the numerical growth of the church.
A New Testament example of an evangelist is Philip. In Acts 8, we read how he effectively preached the gospel in Samaria and how the people responded to his preaching. And then he is directed by God to the road from Jerusalem to Gaza, where he encounters an Ethiopian eunuch. Philip uses the Scriptures to explain the gospel and the man becomes a believer. Then God takes Philip away so that he can continue preaching the gospel as he travels from town to town.
In our day, God has certainly used men like Billy Graham and Luis Palau as evangelists in large gatherings. But I’m convinced that God also raises up men and women to be evangelists within each local body of believers.