Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 4:11a “And he gave some,. . .”
Paul emphasized “all” (4:6) believers, each “one” of us (4:7), but now highlights “some” believers, those who hold leadership offices in the church. The Church is first and foremost an organism enlivened by God’s indwelling Spirit. To accomplish assigned tasks, this organism takes the shape of an organization which, to function at peak efficiency, must operate under leaders. Ordained of God, this pattern for church administration is not trivial.
Eph. 4:11b “. . .apostles;. . .”
The term “apostles,” meaning “ones sent forth,” was used by the early church to describe the original messengers of Jesus. At least two things were required to be called an apostle: having seen the resurrected Lord (1 C 9:1; AC 1:21-22), and verification of one’s ministry by “signs and wonders, and mighty deeds” (2 C 12:12). Though used of several in a general sense, including Barnabas (AC 14:14) and James the Lord’s brother (GL 1:19), the term was used technically of a church office filled by only the Twelve plus Paul. These followers of Jesus became unique leaders of His Church.
Jesus put the Twelve in a unique category, saying they would “sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (MT 19:28). John saw the wall of New Jerusalem sitting on “twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (RV 21:14). Paul, “one born out of due time” (1 C 15:8), was later added to this illustrious group.
Eph. 4:11c “. . .and some, prophets:. . .”
As best we can tell, based on the scant evidence available to us, the prophets were itinerants who journeyed from church to church. Their ministry was to edify the saints. Among their number were Agabus (AC 11:28), Judas and Silas (AC 15:32), and Philip’s four virgin daughters (AC 21:9).
In the early days of the Church, people were coming into Christianity straight from heathenism. Gentiles especially knew nothing about the ways of God. In those interim days, when the New Testament was not yet written, as problems arose and decisions had to be made, someone had to speak with authority. Prophets, who worked closely with the apostles (2:20; 3:5), helped come to the rescue. Basing their work not on study, but rather on direct inspiration from the Holy Spirit, they told people how to live wisely.
The offices of apostle and prophet have been closed forever. All believers “are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (2:20). Being “foundation,” by definition their work is once done and then completed. The charter-witnesses of Christ’s resurrection, and their close associates, gave to us the sacred oracles. They alone penned infallible writ, the great repository from which the church in all future ages would receive divine truth. Through the New Testament they left us, apostles and prophets still speak, but their offices are closed forever.
Judas was replaced with Matthias, but when James died (AC 12:2), he was not replaced. John, who wrote after all the other apostles had died, says nothing about any of them being replaced. We often call a powerful preacher a prophet, but we do not use the word in a technical sense.
The offices of apostle and prophet are closed forever. Failure to understand this one truth has caused countless troubles, heartaches, disputes, heresies, and splits within the Church. A proper understanding of apostles and prophets would have spared the Church having to deal with the errors of Islam, Mormonism, Christian Scientists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, plus the excesses of Roman Catholicism and Quakerism. “The essence of wisdom is to reject altogether the term “revelation,” as far as we are concerned, and speak only of “illumination.” The revelation has been given once and for all, and what we need and what by the grace of God we can have, and do have, is illumination by the Spirit to understand the Word. The preacher should not enter his pulpit claiming to have received a revelation; his claim should be that he is a man who reads the Word and prays and believes that the Holy Spirit illumines and enlightens his understanding, with the result that he has a message for the people” (Lloyd-Jones).
Eph. 4:11d “. . .and some, evangelists;. . .”
Do not be confused. This is not the gift of personal evangelism. There is no such thing in the New Testament. All Christians are required to evangelize. “Evangelists,” meaning “ones who preach good news,” refers to those who had the extraordinary gift of public speaking to the lost.
Evangelists went from city to city, preaching the good news to the lost. Their office, still open today, carries on the vital task of penetrating a lost and dying world. Many foreign and home missionaries who infiltrate regions dominated by unbelievers fill this office. The evangelist preaches to the world outside, breaks new soil, has the missionary spirit, brings the good new. When he rises to speak, his heart is filled with a fervent love for the lost which helps him speak the gospel freshly and with power.
Philip the deacon is a Biblical prototype for evangelists (AC 8:5-40; 21:8). While the Twelve were dragging their feet in fulfilling their world-wide commission from Christ, “Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them” (AC 8:5). When ordered to speak to the Ethiopian Eunuch, Simon “ran” to him (AC 8:30). Philip then surfaced at the old Philistine city of Ashdod (NT Azotus, AC 8:40a), and preached “in all the cities” (AC 8:40b) along a fifty mile stretch of the Mediterranean coast.
Interestingly, Philip’s family illustrates two of these first three offices. He was an evangelist, traveling from place to place preaching to the lost. His four virgin daughters, unmarried and thus probably still living with him, were prophets, people who traveled from place to place preaching to the saved. Evidently, Philip would win people to Jesus and his daughters would then instruct in the right path to walk in their newfound faith.
The title “evangelist” has oft been besmirched, but the greatest man of our era, as best we can determine, has been Billy Graham, an evangelist. The name is borne with honor by others also, including Luis Palau and my old friend, Hyman Appelman. Where would the Church be without men like Whitefield, Moody, Finney, and Sunday? It’s a thought too horrid to think.
Eph. 4:11e “. . .and some, pastors and teachers;”
Referring to one office, these two words are often hyphenated as pastor-teacher. Emphasis is hereby placed on the pastor’s ministry of teaching.
“Pastors” translates the Greek word for “shepherds,” which in itself implies a particular flock to be tended. As the only non-itinerant officers listed in this verse, pastors have the day-to-day responsibility of building up a local church. Holding its highest office, the pastor is a leader, but a leader who cares, who carries God’s people on his heart. “Shepherd” denotes nurturing, and also prodding. It entails resolute strength and protection of a flock. A pastor is not a tea-sipping sissy, but a guardian who fights wolves. He must have the heart of a lamb, and the hide of a rhinoceros.
Barclay calls the pastorate “the most important task in the whole church.” It is a high honor. Pope, prelate, cardinal, vicar–none of these will find their job mentioned in Holy Writ. However, the humblest pastor of the smallest country church can find the name of his office in the Bible.
The pastorate is an honor, but our verse highlights the duty assigned to it. The sheep, ever in danger of infection from a heathen world, must be protected via good teaching. Sound doctrine must be maintained. Teaching is the duty of all pastors. In I Timothy 3:1-7 all the qualifications of a pastor deal with character, except “apt to teach.” In Titus 1:5-9 all the qualifications listed again have to do with character, except that he should “be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.”
All four offices mentioned in this verse highlight the importance of teaching. The main ongoing, in-house, corporate work of the Church is the task of teaching. Nothing is more necessary for the building up of believers. Teaching is the primary means of discipling. We will not love God and each other, pray, or evangelize as we ought for very long without proper teaching.
I fear we often lose sight of this truth, and thus have preacherettes preaching sermonettes producing Christianettes. God deliver us from men who with poor sermons fill the pulpit and empty the pews, who stuff themselves but starve the sheep. A seminary president once told Kent Hughes, “I would get on my knees and crawl across America to find someone who will teach my students to preach the text of the Bible.”
A danger in our capitalistic and business-oriented society is to overemphasize the administrative side of the pastorate. The latter is important, but some stress it to the point of taking care of teaching only as an afterthought. They wait till late in the week, and then hurriedly put thoughts together for a Sunday sermon. Over an extended period of time, this produces starving sheep. Ironically, often the starving sheep themselves are the very ones clamoring for more administrative time from their pastors. I fear we preachers sometimes under-emphasize teaching because our people undervalue it. When one stands to preach or teach from God’s word, do not fall asleep or let your mind wander. Lean forward, take notes, stay alert, learn all you can. Remember, teaching is the pastor’s main public activity.