The Gifts and Eph. 4:11-12
Today I read Ephesians for my AM Bible study. I was curious to see how The Living Bible (TLB) rendered 4:11-12, where Paul writes about apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers. Here TLB has:
Some of us have been given special ability as apostles; to others he has given the gift of being able to preach well; some have special ability in winning people to Christ, helping them to trust him as their Savior; still others have a gift for caring for God's people as a shepherd does his sheep, leading and teaching them in the ways of God.
It would be hard to exaggerate the importance of this passage. A few thoughts:
Strictly speaking, there are no eye witness apostles today. That doesn't mean, however, that there aren't any "apostolic ministries" at work today. I'm thinking especially of pioneer missionary work, church planting, and itinerant ministries.
What about prophets? TLB seems to suggest that the NT gift of prophecy has to do mainly with what today we call "preaching" (that is, the Sunday sermon). But again, in the technical sense, there are probably no prophets today if by "prophet" we mean the recipient of special revelation from God. But as with apostles, there may also be a less technical way of understanding the term. Paul may have also had in mind what Stott calls "a special gift of biblical exposition" (p. 162). High on my list of such gifted men would be James Boice, Haddon Robinson, Chuck Swindoll, and John Stott himself. Not surprisingly, two of these men have written standard textbooks on biblical preaching. (If I were to ever teach homiletics I would require my students to read Robinson's Biblical Preaching and Stott's Between Two Worlds. In my opinion, no better books on the preparation and delivery of expository messages have even been produced.)
As for evangelists, I think TLB has nailed it with its rendering "some have special ability in winning people to Christ, helping them to trust him as their Savior." Stott thinks the term includes a special gift of "evangelistic preaching" or of "making the gospel particularly plain and relevant to unbelievers" (p. 163). "There is a great need for gifted evangelists today," he writes, "who will pioneer new ways of exercising and developing their gift, so as to penetrate the vast unreached segments of society for Christ" (Stott, p. 163).
Finally, I love TLB's rendering of the couplet "pastors and teachers":
... still others have a gift for caring for God's people as a shepherd does his sheep, leading and teaching them in the ways of God.
For one thing, TLB makes it clear that Paul is not calling these people "pastors." He's using a metaphor. For another thing, TLB rightly stresses the need for shepherds to lead and teach their flocks. Who would deny that sound biblical teaching is a major need in our churches? So let pastor-teachers teach well! As Paul writes in Rom. 12:7 (NLT):
If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well.
And what is the purpose of these gifts of Christ to his church? "Why is it," writes TLB, "that he gives us these special abilities to do certain things better?"
It is that God's people will be equipped to do better work for him, building up the church, the body of Christ, to a position of strength and maturity.
I would render the first clause here as, "To equip God's people for works of service." This is the well-known principle of every-member ministry that I have written about in my books The Jesus Paradigm and Seven Marks of a New Testament Church. A pastor will encourage "God's people to discover, develop and exercise their gifts" (Stott, p. 167).
His teaching and training [continues Stott] are directed to this end, to enable the people God to be a servant people, ministering actively but humbly according to their gifts in a world of alienation and pain. Thus, instead of monopolizing all ministry himself, he actually multiplies ministries.
The Protestant Reformation, adds Stott, recovered the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. Isn't it time that the modern church recovered the ministry of all believers?
To recapitulate, let me offer here an expanded paraphrase of Eph. 4:11-13 to attempt to bring out the meaning of this passage. In so doing, I will take TLB's translation and tweak it in certain places:
To some of us the risen Christ gave special ability on the one hand as eye-witness apostles (in the technical sense) and on the other hand as missionaries and church planters (in a non-technical sense); to others he gave the gift of direct revelation (in the technical sense) and of being able to accurately expound and apply the Word of God (in a non-technical sense); to still others he gave the special ability to win people to Christ, helping them to trust him as their Savior; and finally, to others he gave the gift of caring for God's people as a shepherd does his sheep, leading and teaching them in the ways of God. The purpose of all these gifts is to prepare God's people for works of humble service and thus to build up the church, Christ's body, until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God's Son that we become mature people, reaching to the very height of Christ's full stature.
As I conclude, I venture to suggest that Paul's words here in Eph. 4 are indispensable to all members of God's new society, the church. Shepherd-teachers must actively cultivate body life. Christians are not passive spectators of what God is doing in his church. The way the body of Christ grows to maturity is when all of its members use their God-given gifts for the building up of the church. It is good to see this simple truth being affirmed and practiced more and more in our day.
May 13, 2020
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.