This blog post is a summary of our group’s three week study on Ephesians 4:11-16. We had studied Ephesians 4 in part previously as we were studying Biblical unity. This time we approached this passage with several questions about the “equippers” listed in verse 11. We had questions about the Biblical definitions of these gifts and roles and how they are identified and operate within a local church body. So for our first week’s discussion we tackled the definitions: “What are the Biblical definitions of these roles: apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers?”
When we gathered to discuss the definitions, we uncovered some differences in perspective, even among our small group of women. This reflects the fact that there is significant disagreement within the church today on the definitions of these gifts. In fact, it may be that much conflict between different denominations in the area of spiritual gifts may stem from the fact that these terms are defined differently. The best place to start is to understand how the writers of the Bible might define these words. The first step in understanding any passage of Scripture is to get at the meaning the original author intended for the original audience. Only then can we begin to apply these truths to our lives. We understand that some of today’s theologians spend their entire careers on these matters and still disagree with other theologians. We definitely do not have all the right answers, but we believe that by obeying God’s call to search the Scriptures, we can better understand the Biblical answers ourselves rather than just accepting a theologian’s answer.
Strong’s definition of the Greek word “apostolos”: a delegate; specially, an ambassador of the Gospel; officially a commissioner of Christ (“apostle”) (with miraculous powers):–apostle, messenger, he that is sent.
Bible dictionary definition: a messenger commissioned to carry out the instructions of the commissioning agent
Lessons from Scripture regarding apostles:
Apostles performed signs and wonders and mighty works:
The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works. (2 Corinthians 12:12 ESV)
Apostles are among those who equip the saints for the work of ministry:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13 ESV)
The household of God is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus as the cornerstone:
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22 ESV)
Paul touches on this concept again in 1 Corinthians, where he states that he (Paul) laid the foundation, but the foundation is Jesus Christ.
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:10-11 ESV)
In both the Ephesians 2 and 1 Corinthians 3 passage, the tense would suggest that the foundation of the church has been laid or built — past tense. The structure is being joined together and continues to grow, but the foundation has been built.
Apostles carry the commandments of Jesus and had the authority to speak and write the words of Jesus that would become Scripture:
If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 14:37 ESV)
And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. (1 Thessalonians 2:13 ESV)
This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles (2 Peter 3:1-2 ESV)
In the New Testament, apostles carried the authority to speak and write the words of God — that which became Scripture. There are two examples in Scripture suggesting that having seen the risen Christ (a witness to His resurrection) is one of the qualifications of the title “apostle.”
“So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles. (Acts 1:21-26 ESV)
Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? (1 Corinthians 9:1 ESV) (written by Paul)
Another qualification for an apostle that can be supported by Scripture is one who is sent by Christ as His messenger to carry His teaching.
The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ (Matthew 10:2-7 ESV)
But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ (Acts 26:16-18 ESV) (Jesus speaking to Paul)
Jesus Himself was referred to as an Apostle by the writer of Hebrews:
Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession (Hebrews 3:1 ESV)
The apostle term seems fitting for Jesus, as the Bible repeats the idea of the Father sending the Son on several occasions, especially in the gospel of John. Jesus was the Father’s messenger, sent to carry the gospel and to fulfill the gospel.
But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. (John 5:36-38 ESV)
The number of men called apostles in the New Testament were limited. The twelve disciples that Jesus called during His ministry were repeatedly referred to as apostles. The Scripture listed above from Acts 1 tells of calling Matthias as an apostle to replace Judas. In Acts, Barnabas was referred to as an apostle:
But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd (Acts 14:14 ESV)
Paul also calls James, the brother of Jesus, an apostle:
But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. (Galatians 1:19 ESV)
Finally, Paul refers to himself as an apostle:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. (1 Corinthians 15:3-9 ESV)
When Paul says “Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me,” does “last of all” refer to Paul being the last man to see Jesus before His second coming? Or the last man to be called an apostle? Or is he referring to himself as last in this list? The answer to that question would have a great deal of impact on whether Paul (inspired by the Holy Spirit to write this) anticipated future leaders gifted as apostles in the same way that he defines himself and other early church leaders as apostles.
So we have 15 men definitely labeled as apostles in the New Testament — eleven remaining from the twelve that Jesus called during His ministry, Matthias, Barnabas, James, and Paul. There is not evidence in Scripture that Barnabas saw the risen Lord, but Barnabas could have been among the 500 witnesses Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 15:6. Paul does make it very clear that James was an eyewitness of the resurrected Lord in this passage.
Are there other Scriptures that identify additional apostles? The first four chapters of 1 Corinthians, when read as a whole, suggest that Paul may consider Apollos to be an apostle. There is also a reference to apostles in Romans 16:7 which has different interpretations when translated:
Greet Andronicus and Junia, my countrymen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. (1 Corinthians 16:7 NKJV)
“Who are of note among the apostles” is also translated as “well known to the apostles” (ESV) and “highly respected among the apostles” (NLT) and “noteworthy in the eyes of the apostles” (HCSB). It is uncertain whether Andronicus and Junia were known as apostles or known to the apostles. In 2 Corinthians 11-12 Paul uses a term “super-apostles,” but that seems to be a sarcastic term, referring to those who “proclaim another Jesus than the one we proclaimed.”
There are several occasions when “apostolos” is used to refer to a group of leaders without naming specifically who is in the group (such as our main text in Ephesians 4:11). These instances may give us more information about what apostles do without helping us to know exactly who they were. There are only two places when the word “apostolos” is used in the New Testament where it clearly introduces a new definition. In Philippians 2:25 and 2 Corinthians 8:23 the word is used as a reference to messengers communicating between different churches. This version of apostle does not carry the significance or authority of an apostle that Jesus appeared to in person and called to carry His words to the world. The word “apostolos” is used 83 times in the New Testament and only two of them are clearly not referring to those who meet the requirements of having seen the risen Lord and being sent by Him as His messengers of the gospel. Those two requirements, along with the signs and wonders mentioned in 2 Corinthians 12:12, seem to be the defining experiences of a true apostle. While allowing for a different, much less frequent definition of apostle, it seems that in Ephesians 4:11, Paul is most likely using the term to describe a true apostle.
While there are differing opinions on whether the gift of apostle exists in the church today, it seems that if anyone is going to use that word to designate a role in today’s church, they must be very careful to distinguish the role from that of a New Testament apostle such as Paul or Peter. These men carried the authority, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, to speak and write the inerrant Word of God. There is no leader in the church today that carries that authority.
Strong’s definition of the Greek word “prophetes”: a foreteller (“prophet”); by analogy, an inspired speaker; by extension, a poet:–prophet.
Bible dictionary definition: spokesperson for God through a direct prompting of the Holy Spirit or other direct revelation from God
Lessons from Scripture regarding prophets:
Old Testament prophets spoke in the name of the Lord, the very words of the Lord and, if the message did not come to pass, it was proven to not be from the Lord.
“I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.” And if you say in your heart, “How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?”—when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him. (Deuteronomy 18:18-22 ESV)
Old Testament prophets had no room for error. They were obligated to speak what God called them to speak:
Balaam said to Balak, “Behold, I have come to you! Have I now any power of my own to speak anything? The word that God puts in my mouth, that must I speak.” (Numbers 22:38 ESV)
Just as Jesus is called an Apostle in Scripture, He is also called a prophet. It is a term that He uses for Himself in Luke :
And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. (Luke 4:24 ESV)
Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’ (Luke 13:33 ESV)
As we studied under the definition of apostle, the New Testament version of the Old Testament prophets — the men who spoke the very truth of God and had His authority to write Scripture — were the apostles. Paul wrote about this authority in Galatians:
For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. (Galatians 1:11-12 ESV)
The New Testament version of a prophet does not carry the same authority as the Old Testament version, as the apostles carried that authority. There are several pieces of evidence in the New Testament that prophecy was not necessarily the very word of God. Prophecies were imperfect:
For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. (1 Corinthians 13:9-10 ESV)
Prophecy required review, including identifying true prophecy from false prophecy:
Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. (1 Corinthians 14:29 ESV)
Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 ESV)
Prophecies are subject to the authority of apostolic teaching:
If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. (1 Corinthians 14:37-38 ESV)
Despite these limitations, prophecy is to be earnestly desired and is used to build up the church:
Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy… The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. (1 Corinthians 14:1,4 ESV)
Based on our Ephesians text, prophecy is another gift among those which equip the saints for the work of ministry:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13 ESV)
The one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. (1 Corinthians 14:3 ESV)
Prophecy is based in a spontaneous prompting or revelation from the Holy Spirit:
And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). (Acts 11:28 ESV)
While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’ (Acts 21:10-11 ESV)
And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36-38 ESV)
Along with the apostles, prophets are part of the foundation of the church. It may be worth mentioning that there are several views among Bible scholars about the use of “prophets” in the following verse. Some would say that, since the foundation of the church is already laid, there are no prophets today (more on that below). Others argue that this is a special group of prophets that were closely tied to the apostles of the New Testament or the apostles themselves acting as prophets, similar to the role of the Old Testament prophets who spoke the words of God. Still others think that this use of “prophets” may be referring to the Old Testament prophets.
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone (Ephesians 2:19-20 ESV)
There are many Christian teachers who instruct that, along with the gift of apostle, the gift of prophecy was only for the early church. However, a careful study of 1 Corinthians 13 applies here:
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:8-12 ESV)
These verses do teach that prophecy will cease. Yet the time when the gift will cease is “when the perfect comes,” when we see “face to face,” and when “I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” These verses make a very strong case that prophecy will cease when we see Jesus face to face, which certainly has not happened yet.
A New Testament definition of a prophet as one who applies the truth of God (the Word of God), under the direction of the Holy Spirit, in specific ways and under specific circumstances to build up and encourage the church and equip the saints for the work of ministry, is a role that is very much active and needed in the church today.
Strong’s definition of the Greek word “euaggelistes”: a preacher of the gospel:–evangelist
Bible dictionary definition: proclaimer of the gospel — the good news of Jesus Christ; one who seeks and saves the lost
All Christians are called to evangelize (Matthew 28:18-20), but some have a gift making them more effective. There is not much detail in Scripture on the role or gift of evangelism. Paul charged Timothy with the role:
As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:5 ESV)
In this letter to Timothy, Paul seemed to be passing his own role on to Timothy, which would then be passed on to others:
What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (2 Timothy 2:2 ESV)
Included also in the letter are specific instructions about what has been entrusted to Paul that he is now entrusting to Timothy:
Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. (2 Timothy 1:8-12 ESV)
Paul proclaimed the gospel and he charged Timothy and others to proclaim the gospel. Every one of us who follows Christ should proclaim the gospel. Yet the Ephesians 4 passage makes it clear that some are gifted to proclaim the gospel in a way that especially equips the saints for the work of ministry.
Strong’s definition of the Greek word “poimen”: a shepherd (literally or figuratively):–shepherd, pastor
Dictionary definition: to tend as a shepherd; to guide or guard in the manner of a shepherd
Shepherd is used interchangeably with pastor in different translations of Ephesians 4:11. Therefore, both seem best defined by a description of what a shepherd does. A shepherd watches over sheep. He protects them from outside harm, makes sure none stray from the flock, and leads them to pastures where they find food and water. A pastor watches over the people of his church, protecting them from false teaching and harm from outside the body of believers. He makes sure none of the people stray to false doctrine. He leads them to satisfy their hunger and thirst in God and His Word.
Some translations and commentators read the Shepherd/Pastor and Teacher as one role in Ephesians 4:11. There is a different conjunction (“kai”) between shepherds and teachers than between the rest of the roles in the list (“de”). It seems that if Teachers are separate from Shepherds, they are a specialized form of shepherd/pastor that is gifted for instructing people in God’s word.
Greek word “didaskalos”: an instructor (genitive case or specially):–doctor, master, teacher.
Teaching is explanation or application of Scripture. Prophecy is a more subjective experience in which the Holy Spirit spontaneously reveals something to be disclosed to the body for edification. Teaching is more objective, based on the written word of God. Neither prophecy nor teaching can add to or alter God’s Word, and there is Scriptural evidence that both prophecy and teaching should be evaluated against God’s Word for confirmation (1 Cor. 14:29, Acts 17:11).
One goal of teaching is encouragement and hope:
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4 ESV)
Scripture is the basis for the teaching:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV)
Teaching should agree with the words of Jesus:
If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions (1 Timothy 6:3-4 ESV)
Believers should be teaching one another, as they are allowing the word of Christ to dwell in them:
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16 ESV)
Older women are called to teach younger women:
Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. (Titus 2:3-5 ESV)
All five of these “equipping” roles listed in Ephesians 4:11 are based in the Word. Apostles had the authority to speak and write the very words of Jesus. Prophets in the Old Testament spoke the very words of God, and in the New Testament the prophets speak what is revealed to them by the Holy Spirit, subject to Scriptures and the teaching of the apostles. Evangelists preach the gospel, or good news, primarily to those who are lost. Shepherds protect the flock from false doctrine and keep them from straying, while teachers instruct from the Word of God. The equipping of the saints starts with these gifted individuals rightly handling and distributing the truth of God. This prepares the saints for the work of ministry, building up the body of Christ into maturity. Note from verse 15-16 that in Christ the body makes the body grow itself up. The equippers listed in verse 11 bring the truth of the word and the body does the work of ministry, building itself up in love.
One of the most significant things that we noticed about these gifts/roles listed in Ephesians 4:11 is that every one of them is a role that Jesus filled. Hebrews 3:1 refers to Jesus as an apostle. In His incarnation he definitely acted as a messenger, sent by the Father. Jesus refers to Himself as a prophet in Luke 4:24 and Luke 13:33. Though Scripture never refers to Him as an evangelist, it is quite clear that he was the first to proclaim the gospel — the good news of God’s salvation — and He Himself fulfilled the gospel. Jesus was “the Good Shepherd” who “lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11) And many referred to Him as “Teacher” in His ministry (Matthew 8:19; Mark 4:38). Anyone with these gifts who is called to these roles need look no further than Jesus Himself for the model and the power to fulfill what He has called them to do.
During our study of Ephesians 4:11-16, two of our members brought documents written by Christian leaders on this passage. One of the documents was written from a more Pentecostal perspective, the other from a more conservative perspective. The documents and their authors are not as important as the process of digging into Scriptures ourselves to see the truths presented there. Our second week of study on the Ephesians 4 passage caused us to study these two documents and check them against Scripture.
One significant observation we pulled from this discussion is the balance between the objective and subjective experiences of the Christian walk. The written Word of God tends to be a more objective experience — there are truths there that all Christians across all cultures and time can share. On the other hand, there is the subjective experience of being led by the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit gives me a valuable insight, conviction, or lesson from my life or in my individual study of God’s Word, it is a more subjective experience that another person cannot quite see the same way that I see it. Yet both objective and subjective are vital in the Christian walk. There is a balance between the objectivity of God’s Word and the subjectivity of the Holy Spirit operating in a believer’s heart — a balance that a believer must be aware of and consciously seeking after. A believer who follows God’s Word and does not allow for guidance from the Holy Spirit may tend towards legalism. A believer who follows the Holy Spirit and is not grounded in the truths of God’s Word may be led astray by feelings that are not necessarily from the Spirit of God. Studying the Ephesians 4 passage through the eyes of a Pentecostal and through the eyes of a conservative evangelical caused us to be more aware of the need for balance.
What really matters in this passage? Is it the definition of “apostle” or whether that gift exists in the church today? Or is it the call upon all saints to exercise their gifts in unity, under the authority of the Word of God and the Spirit of God, with the end goal of building up the body of Christ, under the headship of Christ, leading to maturity in Christ? Let us all look to Jesus as the One who leads us and unites us. There are many gifts in the body, all essential to its function and maturation. We all have to fit together the way Jesus designed us to fit in order to grow to maturity together. We will all lead in different ways with our different gifts. Let us not overemphasize miraculous gifts like physical healings and other signs and wonders. Let us not underemphasize the miracles of the manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit — joy in the face of pain or physical illness, love in the face of mistreatment, and peace in the midst of chaos. Let us be certain to “examine the Scriptures daily” (Acts 17:11) to see if the things being taught to us are true and in alignment with the Word of God. And let us “walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:4)
Ephesains 4:1-16 is a crucial passage covering unity, spiritual gifts, and maturity in the body of Christ. There is so much to study here. As a final exercise in our study of this passage, our group took on the challenge of paraphrasing this passage, incorporating what each of us individually learned through our study, allowing for each of us to include our own gifting and perspective on the passage. The results are by no means inerrant Scripture, but the challenge forced us to organize our thoughts on the passage. Here are a few of the results:
Ephesians 4:11-16 paraphrase 1
God is the one who appoints equippers of His people. He wants His children to be ready to take up their place in the battle as people who have character that is bent on love. This kind of character does not pick fights by lying about being in pain. In fact, this kind of character wants the whole heart to be in the light…all the time. It doesn’t make judgments about a person’s motives because this kind of character knows there is only One Judge and that He alone can determine what a person should see about him/herself. This kind of character does not withhold good because it does not determine by another person’s performance whether or not he/she deserves worth and kindness. This mature character is not self-righteous because it does not determine when change should happen in another person’s life. Only an equipper will have allowed God to have processed him/her into a place where Jesus’s blood is enough. There will be a high cost for this person to be refined and ready. He/She, in this place of maturity will have no confidence in the flesh and will be ready to lead God’s people out of self-deception as well as the world’s deception. When this Godly order is in place, the unleashed equipper will have no agenda, but God’s. He/she will live and die for helping others become like Jesus so that the Kingdom might have darkness pushed back both relationally and vocationally.
Ephesians 4:1-16 paraphrase 2
Jesus, he himself who descended in order to take into captivity the captive (Isaiah 49:25) then ascended on high so that he might fill all things by sending us the Holy Spirit. As he promised (John 16:5-7) by ascending into heaven the Helper would come and he the Spirit will bring truth through the apostles, (John 16:13), whatever the Spirit hears he will speak through the prophets and he will disclose to you what is to come.(John 16:13). Sometimes through evangelists he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment, many will be saved and the ruler of this world will stand condemned. (John 16:8, 1 John 5:6). Many will also be saved through our testimony and witness. Not necessarily through word of mouth but how we live out our faith, through our walk. This is why he has gifted some to be apostles, prophets and evangelist. The Holy Spirit will also put overseers over the flock as shepherds and teachers to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. (Acts 20:28) Let us therefore be willing to put aside our stubbornness, selfishness and all that hinders us (Hebrews 12:1), and with humility, gentleness (Ephesians 4:2) and love for our King, be intentional and grow up to full maturity in Christ. How do we grow into the full maturity? We diligently seek Him, yielding to the Holy Spirit and his Word, he then rewards us by increasing our faith and producing in us godly fruit which pleases Him (Hebrews 11:6). Then through our maturity, not acting as children who are easily deceived, but knowing truth we begin equipping the saints ourselves. We have not been left alone as orphans but Jesus himself asked the Father to send us the Spirit of Truth and he lives with and in you. Jesus said “Because I live you will live and I am in my Father and you are in me, and I am in you.” (John 14:16-20) Now we can have unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God because he has sent his Spirit he also gifted others to fulfill the needs of the Body of Christ. Jesus finishes the job and the work goes on for us and through us for the beloved bride of Christ till his return. (Philippians 1:6)
Ephesians 4:1-16 paraphrase 3
Because of all that I have written in this letter — because we have salvation through faith, hope, unity and peace in Christ, and the revealed mystery of the gospel — I am urging you all to live the way that you have been called. Everything that I have taught about the gospel is yours through faith and you should live your lives in response to that. Live with humility, gentleness, patience — in fact, live in all the fruit of the Spirit. Remember that love is over all and this life can only be accomplished in the power of the Spirit. Be excited about the unity that is brought by the Spirit and brings peace, which acts as a bond. There is only one body of Christ and one Holy Spirit, with all of us called to one hope. There is one Lord, one faith, one God and Father, who is over all of us and works through all of us and is in all of us, as people of faith. We are all working together in unity toward the same purpose, which is the very purpose of God, and He is the one calling us to work together and empowering us to work together at the same time.
Jesus Christ has given gifts to each of us in a perfect measure, gifts of grace that we do not deserve. He has graced us with Himself in different ways and different portions through the different experiences that we have in this life and the way he comes alongside of us and equips us in those experiences. He is from above, from the heavens, God Himself, and he desires to fulfill all things He has promised by working through His people graced with His gifts. The perfect measure of gifts that He has given includes leaders like apostles, who He has founded the church on; prophets, who He has also used as the foundation of His church and He still uses to build up the church; evangelists, who He uses to proclaim the gospel to the lost; Shepherds (pastors) to watch over the people and protect them from false teaching; and teachers to explain the application of His Word. These gifted people all have Jesus Christ to look to as an example, because He filled all of these roles in His ministry. The source these gifted people should use is the Word of God. The purpose of these gifted people is to train the rest of the Christ-followers to do the work of ministry the way God intended. And the way God intended is that the ministry will build up the body of Christ — His church — so that we all become united in the faith the way that He intends and united in the knowledge of Christ, which comes from the Word of God that is being used to equip the Christ-followers. As we are being built up, reaching unity in faith and knowledge, we become like one mature man, under the authority of Christ as our head, matching up our fullness under His. We don’t want to be like naïve children spiritually, being moved around in our beliefs by changing doctrines and those who would deceive us and lead us astray. Being well-grounded in knowledge of God’s Word through the leadership of those who speak and teach God’s Word prevents us from being swept up in false doctrine.
Instead, we should always speak the truth of God’s Word, wrapped up in His love, to one another. The goal is to grow up to be like Jesus and to be the body that matches up with His head. This body of His, which we make up, is held together by the gifts and graces that he has given each of us. When each part — each of us — is working properly, we are tightly held together and maturing together and building each other — and the body as a whole — up in the love that He first gave us.