The Relational Link to Spiritual Growth (Part 6)
Big Truth: God has positioned you and gifted you for growth. When growth stops, you have either rejected the position and/or abandoned the gifts.
We’re talking about the relational link to spiritual growth from Ephesians 4:7-16. If this is the first post you’re reading on the subject, you may want to go back and review the first five.
I’ve talked about our position in Christ and in the Body. For the past two posts, I’ve spoken about the gifts we receive when we enter the family of God: Immeasurable Grace, Spiritual Gifts, and Equippers in the Faith. Let’s continue to explore the spiritual gifts.
When discussing spiritual gifts, there are several truths that will help guide the discussion.
- You do not get to choose the gift God gives you (1 Cor. 12:11).
- Some of the gifts that are mentioned in Scripture are teaching, prophecy, giving, administration, mercy, encouragement, and tongues (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12-14, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 4).
- All gifts should be understood in light of their context and intended purpose. There is some debate over which gifts are operational today. All of this debate is clarified by context and intended purpose.
- There is nothing that says, “These are the only gifts given by God.” There may be more.
- No single gift is given to everyone (1 Cor. 12:29-30).
- No one receives all the gifts (1 Cor. 12:27-30).
- Gifts are not for my benefit, but for others (1 Peter 4:10).
- God uses the gifts to produce maturity in the church (Eph. 4:11, 12-13).
- The gifts of the Spirit are not the same as the fruit of the Spirit. Fruit shows my maturity. Gifts show my ministry.
10. Using your gift without love renders it worthless (1 Cor. 13:1-3)
There also seems to be multiple variations of the gifts. For example, a hundred believers could have the gift of teaching, but all 100 will not feel comfortable teaching in the same place, have the same level of gifting, or emphasize the same things. Each believer is given the measure of grace and faith to operate his/her gift according to God’s plan. Add individual personality, background, education, and influences in life and it becomes obvious that each believer is unique.
Due to the uniqueness of the believer, no Christian can fully replace another in God’s plan. We are not interchangeable parts in Christ’s Body, but “individually members one of another” (Rom. 12:5).
According to verse 7, God gave us grace.
According to verse 8, God gave us gifts.
According to verses 11-12, God gave us equippers in the faith.
“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, to the building up of the body of Christ…” (Eph. 4:11-12).
God knows that learning to live from a completely different position, focused on a completely different world, relying on a completely different strength, in order to pursue completely different goals—IS NOT GOING TO HAPPEN OVER NIGHT. It is a process.
Just as we have teachers, and professors, parents, and mentors to help us navigate questions of life, God has given us apostles and prophets and evangelists and pastors and teachers to help us navigate questions about our spiritual life. Aren’t you glad that God didn’t just throw us out there and say, “Do what you can”? He has carefully and lovingly given teachers to guide us into maturity. Let’s go through the list and see how each office differs.
Apostles and Prophets
We’re going to look at these two positions together because they are often linked together in Scripture. In 1 Corinthians 12:28, Paul says, “God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers.” While this statement does not point out all of the positions found in Ephesians 4, it does seem to indicate a chronological significance (“first, second, third”).
Apostles and prophets, were given first and second for three basic responsibilities:
(1) To lay the foundation of the church (Eph. 2:20)
(2) To receive and declare the revelation of God’s Word (Acts 11:28; 21:10-11; Eph. 3:5)
(3) To give confirmation of that Word through “signs and wonders and miracles” (2 Cor. 12:12; cf. Acts 8:6-7; Heb. 2:3-4).
The basic meaning of apostle is one sent on a mission. There are two groups of apostles mentioned in Scripture: true and general. The true apostles refer only of the twelve, including Matthias and/or Paul who replaced Judas (Acts 1:26; Gal. 1:15-17; cf. 1 Cor. 15:7-9; 2 Cor. 11:5).
The general apostles were men in the early church, such as Barnabas (Acts 14:4), Silas and Timothy (1 Thess. 2:6), and a few other outstanding leaders (Rom. 16:7; 2 Cor. 8:23; Phil. 2:25). The second group was called “messengers of the churches” (2 Cor. 8:23), whereas the first group was called “apostles of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:1; 1 Pet. 1:1; etc.). The first group was personally sent by Christ; the second group were corporately sent by the churches.
**Prophets were also appointed by God as gifted men, and differed from believers with the gift of prophecy (1 Cor. 12:10). The office of prophet was exclusively for work within a local congregation, whereas the apostles had a much broader ministry.
The prophets sometimes spoke revelation from God (Acts 11:21-28) and sometimes expounded revelation already given (as implied in Acts 13:1). We know that the prophets were second to the apostles because their message was to be judged by that of the apostles (1 Cor. 14:37).
Both apostles and prophets ceased with the completion of the New Testament, just as the Old Testament prophets disappeared with the completion of the Old Testament, some 400 years before Christ. To further show their place in biblical history, Ephesians 2:20 reminds us that the church was established “upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph. 2:20). Once the foundation was laid, the work of the apostles and prophets was finished.
When you attend church or read the New Testament—you are still benefiting from the contribution of the apostles and prophets. These individuals were given as gifts to the church.
Evangelists are those who proclaim the Good News. They have the ability to preach and explain the Gospel to those who have not yet believed. Billy Graham is probably the most well-known evangelist of our time. Louie Giglio and Tony Nolan are also a well-known evangelists.
While there are famous evangelists, it doesn’t mean that there are not thousands of non-ordained evangelists. You can always spot the evangelist in the crowd. They have a passion to share the Gospel, they are comfortable sharing the Gospel, and they are effective in sharing the Gospel.
Every believer is called to share; but some believers are uniquely gifted to be very effective in this pursuit.
Pastors and Teachers
While the evangelist is effective at sharing the Gospel, they’re not always gifted in developing people in Christ. God sent another group of individuals to focus on that side of the ministry.
Pastors (poimēn) means shepherd. It emphasizes the care, protection and leadership over a local assembly of believers. Teachers (didaskaloi) have to do with the primary function of pastors. They are equippers.
Though teaching can be identified as a ministry on its own (1 Cor. 12:28), pastors and teachers are best understood as one office of leadership in the church. Often the word “and” means “in particular.” It could be translated “pastors in particular teachers.” 1 Timothy 5:17 clearly puts the two functions together when it says: “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.”
What does all of this mean?
In order for every believer to experience spiritual maturity, to be equipped for the work of service, and to be built up as the Body of Christ, God gave…
- Apostles and Prophets to proclaim the Word,
- Evangelists to share the Word,
- Pastors and Teachers to train in the Word.
- All are necessary to our development in Christ.
BIG TRUTH: God has positioned you and gifted you for growth. When growth stops, you have either rejected the position and/or abandoned the gifts.
Are you using the gifts that God has given you? Are you relying upon the grace that God has provided? Are you pursuing maturity by learning from those who are equippers in the faith? God has designed this Christian experience so that we need each other. Remember the big truth. God has positioned you and gifted you for growth. When growth stops, you have either rejected the position and/or abandoned the gifts.