God’s Gifted Men
I would like to invite attention this morning to the 4th chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and specifically verses 11-13. The Apostle writes
“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,” (Ephesians 4:11–13, ESV)
Some commentators believe that the first 16 verses of Ephesians 4 are the heart of Paul’s letter. When I first encountered that assertion frankly I didn’t know what to think. I wondered how that could be considering all the rich deep truths that Paul has laid before us.
For instance, Paul has shown us that those who are in Christ were chosen before the foundation of the world, and the believer has been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. The believer has been predestined for adoption to the Father. The believer has been redeemed, the believer has been forgiven, the Father has lavished the riches of his grace on the believer. The believer has obtained an inheritance. That’s just chapter one.
In chapter two we who were dead in the trespasses and sins have now been made alive! Why? Because in His great love the Father showered us with mercy and saved us by His grace. But that’s not all not only has he saved us he has raised us up with Christ and we have been seated in the heavenly places with Christ. But wait there’s more, for all of eternity he has determined to show us the immeasurable riches of his grace.
We who were once far off have been brought near, the dividing wall of hostility has been removed. Now not only do we have peace with God we can have peace with one another. And we are being built into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. We now have access through the Spirit to the Father. We are no longer strangers and aliens, but we are fellow citizens. We are members of the household of God. This household of God is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone!
Considering all these truths, how could these 16 verses be the heart of the letter?
But now that I have studied this chapter for over a month I’m beginning to understand why some believe that this is the heart of the letter.
Here is why I’m warming to that perspective. The reason God has done all the wonderful things that Paul has described. God has executed each one of them so that we – the church – the visible body of Christ – would live with unity and thereby show the unbelieving world the power of the gospel and the glory of God.
Beloved therefore the church matters. Therefore, if you profess to be a believer the church must matter to you. If you are a believer then you should do everything within your power to help the church, to serve the church to build up the body of Christ so that through and by your efforts God is glorified.
HOW DOES THIS HAPPEN?
But for the body to be built up those who are members of the body must be equipped to do, to carry out the work of the ministry. So, what is God’s plan to equip the saints?
Before we examine the specifics of God’s plan let me say this. God’s plan for equipping the saints for the work of ministry has not changed since it was given. The same plan has been in place for over 2,000 years. God has not altered the plan, nor has he revised the plan and He has steadfastly continues to execute the plan.
If the church is not being built up, if the church is failing to maintain the unity of the Holy Spirit that is not God’s fault. The problem is not the plan. If the plan is not the problem What is? The problem lies in our execution of the plan. God’s plan always works when we follow his instructions.
When we foolishly think that we have a better plan or that we can tweak God’s plan to improve the plan we are setting ourselves up for failure.
We don’t need a new plan, we don’t need a better plan. We don’t need to revise the plan. We simply need to work the plan that God has given to us.
WHAT IS THE PLAN?
Our assignment is to understand God’s plan and to execute His plan. As we execute God’s plan the body, the church will grow into maturity and build itself up. That leaves us with the responsibility of understanding our task, of understanding and implementing the plan.
The Lord’s plan begins with the gifted men that he gave to the church. They are the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers.
The believer is equipped through the ministry of these men to whom the Lord Jesus has gifted and given to the church.
MINISTRY OF THE WORD
Let’s begin with this, they are all word gifts, meaning that they center on the proclamation of the Scriptures. If we think about our Lord’s prayer to His Father in John 17 what does Jesus say? “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” What is it that sanctifies the believer? The Word of God. What is it that teaches us how we are to live now that we are in Christ? The Word of God. We’ll see that developed beginning in verse 17.
So, the Lord Jesus has given to the church the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists and the shepherds and teachers to teach and preach the Word. This reality demonstrates the importance of the Word of God and the priority that the Word of God must have in the life of the church and in the life of individual believers.
WHO ARE THESE GIFTED MEN?
1. THE APOSTLES
The first of the gifted men that the Lord Jesus gave to the church were the apostles. Paul is referring to a very specific and narrow group of men who had been handpicked by the Lord Jesus. These men were temporary as they died they were not replaced.
The apostles were given by the Lord three basic responsibilities.
First, they were to lay the foundation of the church. We read that in Ephesians 2:20
“built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,” (Ephesians 2:20, ESV)
Second, they received revelation from God and they were to declare the revelation of God.
“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.” (Ephesians 3:5, ESV)
Third, to give confirmation of God’s Word through “signs and wonders”
“The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.” (2 Corinthians 12:12, ESV)
“how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” (Hebrews 2:3–4, ESV)
The apostles were a specific group of men, who were given a specific set tasks and who operated for a specific period of time.
The basic meaning of an apostle is one who has been sent out, one who has been sent on a mission. That is the primary meaning of an apostle in the New Testament and refers to the 12 including Matthias who replaced Judas and Paul who was chosen by the Lord Jesus to be the apostle to the Gentiles. To be an apostle, two things had to be true:
(1) they had to be chosen by the Lord Jesus himself and
(2) they had to be an eyewitness of the resurrected Christ.
Paul was the last of the apostles to meet those qualifications so therefore by New Testament standards there cannot be any New Testament apostles today. When the New Testament was completed there was no longer any need for the apostles and as they died they were not replaced.
I realize that there are some men who refer to themselves as apostles today and we can only hope that the call themselves apostles in the same way that Barnabas and Silas were called apostles and not the way that Peter and Paul were called apostles.
Now it is true that we find the word apostle used in the New Testament being applied to other men who did not meet the qualifications that the 12 plus Paul met. Barnabas, Silas and Timothy were all called apostles. So, in what sense were they apostles? They were apostles in the sense that they had been sent out on mission. They were sent ones, sent out to preach the gospel. Here is a helpful way to separate the two:
· These men (Barnabas, Silas and Timothy) were the messengers (apostles) of the church to build on the foundation and
· the other 13 apostles were the apostles of Christ to lay the foundation of the church
2. THE PROPHETS
The second group of gifted men were the prophets. We should not confuse them with those who have the spiritual gift of prophecy. This group of men were focused on local congregations, the local body of believers. Like the apostles they spoke for God, and there were times when they did give new revelation from God and we find an example of this in Acts 11.
“And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius).” (Acts 11:21–28, ESV)
Clearly there were times that they did reveal a new message from God. But that was not always the case. Primarily they would take the message of the apostles and preach and teach it to the church to the local body of believers of which they were a part.
Keep in mind the church did not yet have a copy of the completed New Testament. So, they would relay the message of the apostles, they would help their local congregation understand and apply the message of the apostles. They would take the doctrine of the apostles and show its practical implications. Remember Paul includes these men as part of those who built the foundation of the church.
Just like the apostles their office ceased with the completion of the New Testament. But that is not to say that there are not those today who have a prophetic ministry.
Here is what I mean. There have been throughout the history of the church men who were gifted expositors, gifted teachers of God’s Word while at the same time they possessed a unique ability to apply the Scriptures to the current climate in which they ministered.
If you would like an example or two I think I can give them to you. One would be A.W. Tozer if you have not read Tozer I would encourage you to do so. He had great insight into the Scriptures and he great insight into the deplorable condition of the modern church and foresaw many of the things that have happened and are happening in the church today.
Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones certainly had a prophetic ministry. God raised him up at the perfect time to not only preach the Bible with great insight and skill but also Dr. Jones was able to take the Bible and shine the light of God’s truth on the current spiritual condition of Britain during a period of great unrest and uncertainty.
A more modern-day example would be Dr. John MacArthur. Another gifted expositor of the Scriptures and like Tozer and Jones he has at times been a singular voice crying out as to the condition of the church in our day. We could add Charles Spurgeon and others to the list.
3. THE EVANGELISTS
The third group of gifted men were the evangelists. The word evangelist is only used three times in the New Testament. We find it in Acts 21 where Philip is sent to the Ethiopian Eunuch. We find it here in Ephesians and we find in Paul instructions to Timothy to do the work of the evangelist.
Like the apostles and the prophets these men were specially gifted in bearing witness to Jesus Christ. The evangelist was one who would share the good news. MacArthur writes: “The work of the evangelist is to preach and explain the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ to those who have not yet believed. He is a proclaimer of salvation by grace through faith in the Son of God.”
These men were uniquely gifted so their efforts in evangelism were uniquely effective When they evangelized, they met with greater than average success.
There are some who believe that like the offices of the apostle and the prophets the evangelists were temporary and like the apostles and prophets ceased to exist with the completion of the New Testament.
Regardless of whether there exist today the same kind of gifted evangelists the Scriptures are clear that all believers have been given the responsibility to bear witness to Christ and to share the gospel. We see this in Paul’s words to Timothy to do the work of an evangelist. From what we can glean from the Scriptures it appears that Timothy was timid and that is why Paul had to encourage him to do the work of the evangelist. “Timothy even though you are not a gifted evangelist, even though you do not have an outgoing personality and you may not be a people person you still need to do the work of evangelism.”
Timothy is like many of us. We couldn’t sell a glass of water to a man dying of thirst, but regardless we still have the responsibility to do the work of evangelism.
I’m going to save the last category of gifted men for next week. But let’s finish by asking…
WHY WERE THESE GIFTED MEN GIVEN?
Why did the Lord Jesus give these gifted men to the church? Paul makes it very clear in verse 12
“to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,” (Ephesians 4:12, ESV)
These gifted men were necessary even though they were temporary. These gifted men had a lasting impact on the church even though they were limited in their duration. They were the foundation of the church – they were the foundation of the body of Christ.
When the body of Christ functions as it should it is a powerful testimony to the world. Beloved that’s why we as a church need to be radically different from the world. Alistair Begg says that “The uniqueness of the church leads to the impact of the church”.
As your Pastor I don’t want you to be part of a church that has capitulated to the ways of the world and has now become like the world which results in losing all credibility to the world. I want you to be part of a unique church that dramatically impacts the world around us. What say you?
It has come to my attention and thankfully so that there are some who are struggling with understanding how you are gifted spiritually. Let me encourage in two ways.
First review what was said at the end of the message last week.
Second I’m going to spend some more time helping us understand what the Scriptures teach concerning the gifts. So, keep studying, keep praying and keep asking what your gift may be.
As you study God’s Word, as you pray and seek the gift that has been given to you something wonderful will happen. You will grow in godliness, you will grow in Christlikeness, you will begin to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and the gift will become evident to you. The first step in utilizing your gift is godliness!