Let’s continue our tour through the Bible’s book of Ephesians with a look at some of the jobs that God has given people to do within the church…
“It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 4:11 NIV).
It was he who gave some to be apostles. An “apostle” is someone who has been given the authority to act as a representative, emissary, or spokesperson for God. In the original language that was used to write the New Testament, this word “apostle” involves the idea of an ambassador who carries a message on behalf of someone else.
Now in one regard, we can say that every follower of Jesus is an “apostle” in the sense that every Christian is (or should be) a representative or ambassador of Christ. However, it’s crucial to understand that God gave the apostles mentioned in the New Testament (like Paul, Peter and James for example) some important qualifications that set them apart from other Christians.
For example, 1 Corinthians 9:1-3 implies that someone with the title of “apostle” must be someone who personally saw Jesus during the New Testament period. Then there’s 2 Corinthians 12:12 which says, “When I was there (in Corinth), I certainly gave you every proof that I was truly an apostle, sent to you by God himself, for I patiently did many wonders and signs and mighty works among you.” This description lets us further identify someone with the title of “apostle” as a person that God has also used to perform miraculous works (also see Acts 19:11).
So while it’s true that every Christian is an apostle in one sense, it’s also true that no one today can speak with the same authority as those first century apostles that God selected to communicate His message in the New Testament.
Some to be prophets. A “prophet” is someone with the ability to give God’s direction regarding a particular situation or information concerning a future event. While there are many Biblical examples of good prophets who said exactly what God told them to say, there are also many other examples of so-called “prophets” who looked and sounded religious but didn’t really tell the truth. Perhaps this is why the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy carries this warning…
“One of your people, claiming to be a prophet or to have prophetic dreams, may predict a miraculous sign or an amazing thing. What he predicts may even take place. But don’t listen to that prophet or dreamer if he says, ‘Let’s worship and serve other gods.’ (Those gods may be gods you’ve never heard of.) The LORD your God is testing you to find out if you really love him with all your heart and with all your soul. Worship the LORD your God, fear him, obey his commands, listen to what he says, serve him, and be loyal to him” (Deuteronomy 13:1-4 GW).
You see, a true prophet of God will always give a message that agrees 100% with what God has already said in the Scriptures. So if someone attempts to speak a so-called “prophecy” that is out of line with what the Bible says, then you don’t need to pay it any further thought- you can absolutely know for sure that it didn’t come from God.
Some to be evangelists. Evangelists were preachers who went from place to place talking about how Jesus took the death penalty that human beings deserve for the wrong things they’ve done and how people could get right with God through His death on the cross. Today in our 21st century world, a missionary to a foreign country or traveling minister might be considered as examples of the kind of evangelist that the Scriptures speak of here.
Some to be pastors and teachers. The Pastor/Teacher is someone who has the responsibility of watching out for the spiritual needs of the church and communicating the Bible in a way that people can understand, remember, and apply in their daily lives.
Now you should notice that this verse specifically says that “It was he (speaking of God) who gave some to be apostles…” and so forth. This tells us that no one decides on their own to take on any of the job descriptions that we’ve been talking about. On the contrary, God is the one who chooses each responsibility and He is the one who selects those people that He wants to fulfill each of these responsibilities. (If you want more information on how to determine the job responsibilities that God might be calling you to, check out this discussion on spiritual gifts over here).
So what’s the purpose behind these job appointments? Well, that part comes next…
“to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12 RSV).
The word translated as “equip” there has also been translated as “perfect” or “prepare” in other versions of the Bible. This preparation involves the development of people within the church for the work of the ministry, a word that means “service.” So the idea is that these various job responsibilities within the church have one ultimate purpose- to prepare Christians (or the saints) to minister or serve. While this idea may not seem like a big deal at first, it does represent an important challenge for someone who is under the impression that it’s a church leader’s job to do the “ministry” and the Christian’s job to simply go to church every Sunday.
You see, the verse quoted above tells us that it’s part of the church leadership’s responsibility to help and equip you as a Christian to do the things that God wants to do. The job of a good church leader is to help you to grow strong in your relationship with Jesus, to help you understand what God’s Word says and means, and to fully prepare you to impact your generation with the service (or ministry) that God has called you to perform. So the real work of the ministry is actually done by God’s people and leaders in the church have the important responsibility of preparing them to serve and to help direct that service as God leads.