But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors 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, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:7-16)
In this passage, Paul lists four types of spiritual gifted individuals: apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers. (In a previous post, I have described why I consider these to be four categories instead of five. See “Ephesians 4:11 and the Five-Fold Ministry.” In fact, I’ve covered this entire passage previously. The summary post is called “Ephesians 4:7-16 and Consistency.” There are links to the other posts in the series at the bottom of each post.) There is some overlap between this list and the other lists. Primarily, apostleship, prophecy, and teaching has been mentioned before. However, this is the first time that Paul has mentioned evangelism or shepherding, which seems to be associated with teaching. Once again, Paul does not describe how these specific individuals function. Instead, we see the results that come about when spiritually gifted individuals exercise their gifts for the benefit of the church.
Once again, Christ is the focus of this passage. In fact, Christ “measures” the gift (Ephesians 4:7); he is the “measure” of maturity (Ephesians 4:13); and he “measures” each one’s part (Ephesians 4:16). Christ is the one who descended and ascended. Similarly, Christ is the one who gives spiritual gifts to the church through its various members. Specifically, in Ephesians 4:11, Paul emphasizes that Christ is the one who gives the gifts. While this is not obvious in many translations (“And he gave…” – ESV, NASB), other translations try to bring out the emphasis found in the original: “And He Himself gave…” (NKJV), “It was he who gave…” (NET, NIV), “And He personally gave…” (HCSB).
Thus, the focus of this verse is not on the individuals, but on Christ. Because of his gift the church can be built up. Unfortunately, the focus is usually shifted to those with the gifts mentioned in Ephesians 4:11, and these are often called “equipping gifts” because Paul says that they “to equip the saints.” However, this stretches the text beyond what Paul says, and ignores the fact that the verb form of the noun translated “to equip” here is often used of all believers (i.e. see Galatians 6:1 where the same verb is rendered “to restore” instead of “to equip”).
So, again, the focus is not on these specific spiritual gifted individuals, but instead the focus is what Christ does through any gifted individual. Christ gives spiritual gifts so that he may equip the church through all of the individuals as they exercise their gifts. According to this passage, when gifted individuals exercise their spiritual gifts, the church is built up to maturity in Christ Jesus. That maturity is demonstrated when the church is not carried away by false teaching and when the church works together – each person working as Christ gifts them – to build up itself in love. Again, love is brought into the working of spiritual gifts. This is not an add-on, but an important aspect of working together.
Therefore, Paul makes this list of spiritually gifted individuals to demonstrate that the church is brought toward maturity in Jesus Christ when those gifted individuals exercise their gifts in love. Again, the focus is not on individuals, but on Jesus working through individuals to mature his church.
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Alan Knox is a PhD student in biblical theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and a web developer. His interests include PHP and ecclesiology. His dissertation topic is the purpose of the gathering of the church in the New Testament. By God’s grace, he tries to live what he is learning about the church.
He writes about how our understanding of the church affects (or should affect) the way the we live our lives among other brothers and sisters in Christ. He's found that many aspects of our understanding of church (gathering, leading, teaching, etc.) are woven together such that it’s almost impossible to focus on only one aspect.
Find out more on his website, The Assembling of the Church.