Summary: Presents the offices of the church and the roles of the members.
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.