The Gifts of Unity

By Frank Jamerson

In previous articles we have studied the life that is essential for unity and the facts of unity. The fourth chapter of Ephesians continues with a discussion of the “gifts” that Christ gave that we may attain “the unity of the faith” (read Eph. 4:7-16). The context is not dealing with the duration of the gifts, but with the purpose of them. the gifts were to produce a “full grown man” in contrast to children who are “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine.” This process continues as newborn babes are brought to maturity through these gifts which Christ gave.

When Christ came to the earth, died, arose and ascended to the right hand of God, He “led captivity (sin, which held man) captive” and “gave gifts unto men.” The gifts are listed in verse 11. “And he gave some to be apostles; and some prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers.” Each of these gifts had and has an important part in the unity that Christ enjoins.

The word “apostle” means “one sent forth.” It is used of Christ, who was sent to the earth (Heb. 3: 1). It is also used of those who were sent by a church (see 2 Cor. 8:23; Phil. 2:25). In Ephesians 4, the word refers to those who were chosen and sent by Christ. There was only one successor to an apostle. Matthias took Judas’ place, but he met the qualifications of accompanying Jesus from His baptism to His ascension and being an eye-witness of the resurrection (Acts 1:21-26). Paul was called “out of due season” to be an apostle (1 Cor. 15:8,9).

The work of apostles was to reveal and confirm the gospel. Mark said that Jesus commissioned the apostles to “go . . . into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation” (Mk. 16:15). “And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word by the signs that followed. Amen” (v.20). They laid the foundation of the church, which is Christ (1 Cor. 3:11).

In a slightly different figure of speech, Paul said, “being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief corner stone” (Eph. 2:20). It seems in this verse that the apostles and prophets are viewed as part of the foundation with Jesus being the “chief corner stone.”

Some religious people contend that we must have apostles on earth in order to have the New Testament church. If that were true, we would have to have Jesus on earth, too! The fact is that Jesus rules today through His word which was revealed and confirmed by the apostles and prophets. The foundation has been laid, and it is sufficient!

The “prophets” were men who spoke by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:20, 21). The prophets of our text were engaged in the same kind of work as the apostles. They did not have power to lay hands on people and bestow miraculous gifts, as the apostles did (Acts 8:18), but they were miraculously guided in their teaching. Prophets were not simply preachers. They were inspired preachers. Prophecy ceased (1 Cor. 13:8-10), but preaching did not. There are no “prophets” today for the same reason that there are no apostles on earth today. (Reading the words of a prophet would no more make you a prophet than reading the words of ani apostle would make you an apostle!)

Christ gave “evangelists, ” which means “messengers of good.” Evangelists of the first century may have had miraculous powers to confirm their message, as did Philip (Acts 8:13), but that is not an essential part of their work. The work of an evangelist is to “preach the work; be urgent in season and out of season… suffer hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill thy ministry” (2 Tim. 4:2-5). They are also called “ministers” (1 Tim. 4:6) and “preachers” (1 Tim. 2:7). They were not called “pastors.” There is a difference between an evangelist and a pastor, just as there is between an evangelist and an apostle!

Christ also gave “pastors.” The word poitnen is only translated “pastor” once in the standard English versions. (From the denominational use of it, one would think that it is on every page of the New Testament!) It is translated “shepherd” seventeen times and “rule” four times. The verb form of the word is translated to “feed” or “tend.” Paul told elders to “feed the church of the Lord” (Acts 20:17, 28). Peter exhorted elders to “feed” (KJV), “tend” (ASV), or “shepherd” (NASV) “the flock of God which is among you . . .” (I Pet. 5:2). The qualifications of elders, or pastors, are given in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1.

God intended that elders be appointed in every church (Acts 14:23). They are watchmen of souls and must give account of their stewardship (Heb. 13:17). They are not “lords,” but they do “rule” and must show kindness and consideration for others in the decisions that they make (1 Tim. 3:5; 5:17). When qualified men are appointed as elders and the flock “knows and esteems them highly” (1 Thess. 5:12,13), unity is apt to exist!

The word “teachers” in the text may refer to the “pastors” who are to be “apt to teach.” (Some argue this because of the grammatical construction of the verse.) It is true that elders are to be teachers, but other passages clearly show that others, in addition to elders, should also be teachers.. “For when by reason of time ye ought to be teachers . . .” (Heb. 5:12). “And the things which thou hast heard from me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). The word “men” in this passage is from anthropos which means “a human being, male or female.” Women are restricted in their teaching (I Tim. 2:12), but this does not negate their responsibility to “teach. “

These are the “gifts” that Christ gave to bring us unto “the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a full grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).

Guardian of Truth XXVII: 19, p. 597
October 6, 1983