When Jesus ascended on high, “he led captivity captive and gave gifts to men … and he gave some to be apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers…” (Eph. 4:8, 11). These gifts were for the “perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12).
The gift of apostles was discussed in our previous article, and the other four gifts will be discussed in this article. “He gave some to be … prophets.” This gift, like that of the gift of apostles, required inspiration. Both of these required special revelation from God. The word prophecy means “to bubble up like a fountain.” “Prophets” have been found in every age of man. The first person to be called a prophet was Abraham (Gen. 20:7). During the period of the Law of Moses there were many prophets, foremost among them was Moses himself who was identified as a prophet and who spoke of Him who would be the greatest Prophet of all (Deut. 18:15). There were many prophets (both oral and written) from the giving of the Law until Jesus. In our present era, there were prophets in the early church — Jerusalem (Acts 11:27), Antioch of Syria (Acts 13:1), and Corinth (1 Cor. 14:1). One of the nine spiritual gifts was the gift of prophecy (1 Cor. 12:10), and prophets were common in many of the first congregations and consisted of both men and women (Acts 2:18; 21:9). To have prophets it was essential that apostles visit the churches to bestow the gift, for it was through the laying on of hands that the Holy Spirit was given (Acts 8:18; 19:6). It was this gift that made possible the New Testament, whether it was books written by apostles (numbering twenty-one) or other inspired men (numbering six).
Then he gave “some to be evangelists.” This word literally means “a messenger of good.” Two men are specifically identified in the New Testament as “evangelists” — Philip (Acts 21:8) and Timothy (2 Tim. 1:6). Some view an evangelist as one who moves from place to place, not working with a local congregation. This view is not supported by what is known of New Testament evangelists. Philip’s work as an evangelist is recorded in Acts 8 and at the end of the chapter is recorded: “But Philip was found at Azotus and passing through he preached the gospel to all the cities until he came to Caesarea” (Acts 8:40). Many years later, he was still in Caesarea, doing the work of an evangelist (Acts 21:8).
Then “he gave some to be pastors” (Eph. 4:11). A pastor is a shepherd and synonymous with elders and bishops. The work these men did was to oversee the flock, ward off false teachers, and watch in behalf of the souls of those entrusted to their care (Heb. 13:17). The modern day “pastor” in denominations was not the role of first century pastors. Pastors in the first century may have been inspired, but inspiration is not a necessary requirement today, else we would have no pastors. Inspiration was to reveal God’s will but that has been fully accomplished, and all the knowledge that either modern day evangelists or pastors need is recorded in the Holy Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:15-17). Finally, he gave some to be “teachers.” There will always be a need for faithful teachers of the word. They are needed in every age, in every church, and will be until Jesus comes again.
These five “gifts” — apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers were to equip the church unto the “perfecting of the saints,” unto the “work of ministering,” and unto “the building up of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12). These gifts allowed God’s children to attain “unto the unity of the faith, of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a full-grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we might be no longer children …” (Eph. 4:13-16).
The three works these five gifts equip the church for constitute the work God wants His church to do. The first, ”the perfection of the saints,” is the building up of the newborn Christian. By a new birth, men are born again into the kingdom of God (Jn. 3:3, 5). When we are born anew, we are babes and as such should “long for the spiritual milk which is without guile that we may grow thereby unto salvation” (1 Pet. 2:2). We are commanded to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus (2 Pet.3:18). God has provided us sufficient nourishment through the word that we may grow up “in all things into Him who is the head” (Eph. 4:15).
We are equipped unto “the work of ministering.” The second work of the church is ministering. There are many ways we may minister to brethren and filling their physical need for food, clothing, and shelter is one of them. God has supplied His church with knowledge and authority to do that.
Finally, there is the work of “building up the body of Christ.” The first and third work of the church overlaps in some respects, but are separate works for saving souls and then keeping them saved. It is the saving of souls which is first and foremost the “building up the body of Christ.” The church is the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15). It is God’s organized means of spreading abroad the gospel. It sends out preachers and sustains them as they evangelize new fields. There is no organization other than the local church to carry on this work. That is the way God planned it and His church reflects His manifold wisdom (Eph. 3:8-11). These three works: preaching the gospel, edifying those saved, and providing relief for needy saints constitute the whole work God wants His church to do. Since He provided us “all things that pertain unto life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3), let all be content with what God has provided and wants us to do and work mightily to do it!