Gifts and Ministries

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers…” (Ephesians 4:11)

Bible Reading: Ephesians 4:11-12

We have seen that the grace Jesus gives to people often manifests itself in what we call “gifts of the Spirit.” Care is needed, however, not to equate the “grace” of Christ too narrowly with the “gifts” imparted by the Spirit. The latter is contained within the larger idea of Christ giving grace to all the members of his body while not being precisely the same thing.

That becomes clear in verse 11. There, Paul writes, “And he [Christ] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers” (ESV). These “gifts” of Christ are not strictly gifts of the Spirit (charismata) such as prophecy, teaching, leadership and the like. Rather, they are people who are called to serve the body in particular roles, enabled to do so no doubt by the particular gifts that have been given to them.

The Apostle Paul, for example, can speak of being made a minister of the gospel “according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given to me by the working of his power” (Ephesians 3:7). In Paul’s eyes, it was a gift of grace to be made an apostle and a minister of God’s word, especially after being a prize-persecutor of Christians (1 Timothy 1:12-14). But in addition, he also received specific gifts of the Spirit (the working of God’s power in him) to fulfil that role.

Mention of “apostles… prophets…evangelists… shepherds and teachers” has given rise to what some call the “five-fold ministries” of the church. There are differences of opinion as to whether all of these “ministries” continue in the church today, at least in the way in which they were present in the apostolic church. It seems clear that apostles and prophets were “foundational” gifts to the church (see Ephesians 2:20), people who through inspired recollection and interpretation of Jesus’ teaching (apostles) and through immediate revelation (prophets) provided the church of all ages with the foundational truths needed for its welfare. Evangelists disseminated that truth among unbelievers and took the gospel to new territories, while the shepherds and teachers instructed and cared for established flocks (local churches) of the Lord’s people.

Two things are important for us to glean from this. First, the five “ministries” or gifts mentioned by Paul all serve the church in one way or another through the word of God. As we shall see, this is the all-important means by which God’s people are built up in Christ and equipped for their ministries.

Second, it is vital for us to recognise that the Lord Jesus not only imparts gifts to members of his body as individuals, but he also institutes distinct ministries (roles, offices) in the church for the good of everyone. It is not uncommon today for people to so emphasise the importance of personal spiritual gifts that they undermine the value of instituted ministries in the church (pastors, teachers, deacons etc.).

But this is a mistake. Both gifts and ministries are essential for the well-being of the body of Christ.

Closing Thoughts:

  • Do you value and pray for your pastors, elders and deacons?
  • What place is the ministry of the Word given in your church?

– Andrew Young