The Gifts to the Church
By William R. Cunningham
Ephesians 4:11-16 (NLT) - Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.
This lesson is dedicated to investigating the purpose of the church (body of Christ) and how it is equipped by God to fulfill that purpose. We will then apply what we have learned to ourselves to help determine what we individually can do and perhaps should be doing in the church.
Distinguishing the Churches
When people hear the word “church” it is most likely that they will picture a building or imagine an organization. After all, when we speak of a church we are most likely referring to the local church that you or others attend every Sunday. However, there are at least two churches and I think it is important to distinguish the two.
The Body of Christ
First and foremost the church is the body of Christ. The church is the collective of all believers whether they are meeting in a building, worshipping in the park, or sitting together in a room for prayer. All Christians collectively make up the true church. For example, when Paul referred to the Church at Rome he was not referring to a particular building or organization. He was referring to the body of Christ, i.e., Christians that were in Rome. Consider the following passage of scripture.
Matthew 18:17 (NLT) - If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.
The word “church” here comes from the Greek word “ekklesia” and it refers to a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place, an assembly. In the context of Christianity the church here refers to the assembly of believers.
The Religious Organization
The word “church” can also refer to a particular local church organization or congregation. The true church originally met in people’s homes where they worshipped and learned from the Apostles and elders. It wasn’t an environment where you invited non-Christians especially during times of persecutions.
The Gifts to the Church
The following are the gifts that Paul identified as coming from Christ to and for the church.
Let’s briefly define the above in the context of Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church.
The word “apostle” is translated from a Greek work (apostolos), which means to send away or to send. In Christian writings the word “apostle” takes on a more personal or specific meaning. For the most part it denoted someone being sent by Jesus Christ to spread the gospel or someone being sent by a local congregation to deliver a particular gift or person. An apostle was a messenger for Christ.
The word “prophet” is translated from a Greek word “prophetes” and it means to speak. In the context of Christianity and this lesson it is one who speaks divinely inspired revelations (messages). The Tyndale Bible Dictionary defines a prophet as “a man or woman chosen by God to speak for him and to foretell events in the divine plan.” A prophet is therefore a spokesperson for God.
The word evangelist comes from a Greek word “euaggelistes”, which means a bringer of good tidings (news). In context of Christianity an evangelist is one who announces, proclaims, or preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Pastors and Teachers
The word “pastor” literally means shepherd. A shepherd is someone who cares for sheep and provides protection for the sheep. The Bible reveals that Jesus is the good shepherd who gave his life for the sheep (John 10:11). A pastor then is someone who feeds, protects, and guides a flock of God’s people.
At this particular time in Christian history the term “pastor” was not an official title, but instead referred to someone who nourished and cared for a flock of God’s people. It also denoted a leader of a flock of God’s people.
Teachers were instructors of the things of God. They would help the people who heard the gospel understand the gospel message.
Purpose of Gifts
What was the purpose of these gifts to the church?
Ephesians 4:12 (NLT) - Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.
The purpose of these gifts is so equip the body of Christ so that it would be edified. The body of Christ would be mature in its faith and not be tossed to and fro by false teachings because we would know the truth. God wants to build His church and these gifts are for that very purpose.
Edifying the Organization
There are many who want their particular local church to grow in membership. This is human nature where we want to progress, improve, grow, etc. However, we must keep in mind that God’s purpose for these gifts is not to grow a particular congregation, but rather to grow His church, the body of Christ.
Walk In Your Gift
What is your calling with respect to the body of Christ? All true Christians are in some respect evangelists as we can share our faith (the gospel) with others.
1 Peter 3:15 (NLT) - Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.
Perhaps you are a helper, usher, musician, speaker, etc. Don’t think little of your talents because God is the one who gave you those talents. Use them for the glory of God.
1 Peter 4:11 (NLT) - Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.
Realize that the gifts that Paul indicates are not the only gifts and talents in the body of Christ. Consider the power of music that the musician expresses, of encouragement that those who are natural at encouraging others possess. Consider the sound person who makes it possible for more people to hear the message, lesson, or music that otherwise would not be able to be heard. Whatever your talents are use them to the glory of God to do your part in edifying the body of Christ.
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