for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;Ephesians 4:12(NASB)
How clearly and logically Paul sets out his epistle to the Ephesians. For the first three chapters, he praises God for our redemption through the shed blood of Christ. He rejoices in the spiritual blessings we have received, through faith in Him. He reminds us that our salvation is an act of God's goodness and grace, and that we are God's workmanship - created in Christ Jesus to do the good works that He has prepared for us to do.
He speaks of the immeasurable greatness of God's power to all who believe. He prays that we all receive spiritual wisdom and revelation concerning our new position in Christ and Paul provides an understanding of our predestined status as sons of God and joint-heirs with Christ.
He reminds us that we who were dead in trespasses and sins have been made alive in Christ, raised up together with Him, and seated with Him in heavenly places. He reveals to us the mystery of Christ that was hidden from previous generations - that there is neither Jew nor Gentile in the Body of Christ, and Gentiles are fellow-heirs - members of the same spiritual Body, and partners of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
After cataloging the privileges and promises that are ours in the first three chapters, Paul starts to detail the practical responsibilities and daily practices God desires from all who have received His gift of salvation. This section of Paul's letter begins by explaining the responsibility we have as Christians, to walk in a manner that is worthy of our calling, and to live together in unity of spirit, with all humility, gentleness, patience, and loving tolerance towards one another.
We are to recognise that our privileges in Christ, are to be translated into practical living, for we are one Body of believers, who are joined together through the power of the Spirit. While we are a diverse group of individual believers, who are made up of Jew and Gentile, male and female, black and white, young and old, we have a common goal and a singular purpose. We are to live for God, glorify His holy name, and work the works of God, as enabled and empowered by the indwelling Spirit of Christ.
When the Lord Jesus ascended into heaven, the Holy Spirit was sent, by the Father, to equip the people of God to continue Christ's work on earth, through His empowerment. He came to baptise all who believe, into one single unit - the Body of Christ. He came to equip us with the spiritual gifts and spiritual graces we need to fulfil the tasks to which we have been called.
While each member of Christ's Body is given one or more spiritual gifts to carry out our individual tasks, the Church, as Christ's corporate Body, was to exercise their individual gifts and graces for the benefit of the whole. While each member of Christ's Body receives unmerited grace, through our great salvation, each one is given the sufficient grace and enablement needed to live a holy life. God does not equip each one with the same 'measure of grace'. Each member receives a gift, sovereignly chosen by the Spirit... and there are a number of places in Scripture that list the various gifts that may be bestowed on members of the Church.
Each believer is sovereignly empowered with one or more unique gifts or abilities by the Holy Spirit. While each spiritual gift is to be used for the benefit of the whole Body of Christ, Paul identifies a number of gifts that are particularly necessary for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, and for the building up of the body of Christ - apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers.
Having stressed the importance of unity in the body he writes "He gave some to be apostles, and some prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers - for the equipping of the saints for the work of service and to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ." The first two spiritual gifts were most important in the early church, before the New Testament Scriptures were written, while the others are important in sharing the common truth of the gospel.
The eleven apostles of Christ and Paul are 'apostles' in the strict, biblical sense, because they fulfilled the biblical criteria for apostleship. They not only saw the risen, ascended Lord Jesus, but were used by God to write the New Testament after Christ's Ascension. The apostles were "the sent ones" and it was their duty and responsibility to establish Church principles and outline the Christian gospel. Today, the word 'apostle' still means 'sent one', but perhaps the word 'missionary' is a more appropriate term for those that are 'sent' today.
Similarly, the New Testament meaning of 'prophet' generally refers to those who foretell or prophesy the future - which was carried out in the power of the Spirit, in those early days of the Church, as recorded in Scripture. The gift of prophecy helped to establish the foundation of our faith, when there was no written record. But the word 'prophet' not only means 'to foretells the future' but can also mean.. 'to tell forth' the good news of the gospel. Perhaps a better word to describe those who proclaim the gospel, is 'evangelist' or preacher.
The other gift/s Paul identified in helping to equip the saints for the work of service, and to build-up of the body of Christ, is that of Pastor and Teacher. The ministry of Pastor-Teacher can be interpreted as one duel gift, or two separate gifts. But like all spiritual gifts, the gift of Pastor and Teachers is only given by divine authority. There are many today who go to Bible College to learn to be a Pastor, a Teacher or a Pastor-Teacher, without being truly gifted. But we do not choose our spiritual gifts. We are endowed with a gift determined by the Holy Spirit, Himself.
Not every Christian is gifted with the communication gifts Paul mentions in this passage, but every one of us can use our spiritual gifts to exhort, encourage, comfort, and support one another. Every gift of the Spirit is of equal importance and all Christians can exercise their spiritual gifts and graces to bless their brothers and sisters in Christ, and in so doing are helping to equip the saints for their own work of service and to help build up the body of Christ.
Let us not desire the spiritual gifts and graces bestowed on other brothers and sisters in Christ. Rather let us stir up the spiritual gift with which we have been blessed and exercise it wisely, so that we too may help to equip, encourage, comfort, and support the saints in their spiritual service, and pray that God would use us to help build up the body of Christ, for His name's sake.
Heavenly Father, thank You for the apostles and prophets who established the foundations of our faith in those early years of the Church, and wrote the principles and practices of Christianity in New Testament Scriptures. Thank You for the men and women, the pastors and preachers, the teachers and evangelists, and the faithful members of Your body, who taught me the truth, and helped to establish my faith, after I placed my trust in Christ. Help me to use my own spiritual gift for the equipping of the saints and to forward Your plan for my life. This I ask in Jesus' name, AMEN.