When it comes to interpreting Ephesians 4 and the five-fold giftings mentioned in verse 11, it is important to know that two main lines of thinking has crept up over the years.
1. Apostles and Prophets were just for the founders of the church (the 12)
2.The five fold ministry does exist today but only for leaders in the church. Not for everyone.
So if you come from a camp that believes one of those thought lines, or are going to a church with these beliefs, you are not going to hear teaching on the five –fold gifting much at all. If it doesn’t exist today, point one, then why teach on it? If it is only for leaders, then if it is talked about at all, it will be talked about with those leaders. Not with the common man or woman in a common place like Sunday morning worship.
This is just a shame and an inaccurate reading of Ephesians 4. It leaves us at 40% capacity and only empowering shepherds and teachers with a tiny bit of evangelism sprinkled in.
[I will write another article about these beliefs and unpack a bit more where they come from…stay tuned]
But for now, let me present to you an alternative way to read Ephesians.
How we need to read Ephesians
First of all, the book of Ephesians is not written to leaders! So any theology that arises saying that the five-fold ministry in Ephesians 4 is for leadership in the church is not correct. Nowhere in Ephesians does Paul mention leaders or that he is talking to the leaders in the church. In fact, in verse one of chapter one, he is clearly talking to the every day common person.
“1 This letter is from Paul, chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus.
I am writing to God’s holy people in Ephesus, who are faithful followers of Christ Jesus.”
Paul addresses the letter to the “faithful followers of Christ Jesus.” This is you and me and your cousin and uncle. This is not some super hero of the faith or some elder council. Therefore, the five-fold ministry in chapter 4 is also addressed to the every day common believer and we need to take it as such.
Staying in verse one, we can also debunk the argument that apostles and prophets were only intended as founding gifts and therefore only for the first apostles. Last I checked, Paul was not an original apostle called by Jesus himself so I don’t know how we get this theology.
If you are going to say that Paul is part of this “founding” group and it extends beyond the 12, that is fine. But you cannot say then that the apostolic gifting is not for today and that it stopped at some arbitrary point in time! It just is not Biblical.
- Paul was not one of the original 12 yet calls himself an apostle
- Scripture doesn’t say Apostolic or Prophetic giftings stop. In fact it encourages it forward here in Ephesians and also in Corinthians
- The word apostle appears 85 times in the NT and many other Apostles are mentioned along with Paul and the founding 12. Prophet is mentioned 150 times in the NT.
- 4:13 says that these gifts and equipping will continue until we reach unity in the faith and “measure up to the full and complete standard of Christ”. That has not happened yet!
The Burden of proof is on those that say apostolic and prophetic it is not for today.
But if we just stick in Ephesians 4 there is plenty to make a case with here. Let’s break this down. You can divide Ephesians 4:1-16 into three parts
- Verses 1-6
- Verses 7-12
- Verses 14-16
Verses 1-6 talk all about unity in the faith. We are of one spirit and baptism and we are to strive for our worthy calling. All great stuff that we talk a lot about today in church. In fact, the whole theme of Urbana 2009 was this very first verse in Ephesians 4! No one contests this part of scripture.
Verses 14-16 are all about maturity and obtaining this through each part doing its work. Paul uses body imagery and talks about Christ as the head and we as a body being knit together as we do our parts. We love talking about this in church too! No one argues this part of scripture.
But we hardly ever talk about verses 7-13!
How can this be, seeing that it is sandwiched right in between two chunks of scripture that we never question and they are sewn together with this part? In fact verses 14-16 are built right on the back of 7-13. You cannot believe in and talk about verses 14-16 if you don’t take verses 7-13 seriously.
The Five-Fold gifts are given for the full reflection of Jesus
What Paul is teaching us in verses 7-13 is that Jesus is the full expression of the church and in him you can find all five giftings. Jesus is the fullest expression of apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd and teacher. In him all the gifts are wrapped up and fully seen in the gospels. In us we are fragmented parts of Jesus as some of us carry part of the picture while others carry the rest. We need each other to show the full expression of Jesus and to know him fully!
Verse 9 makes it clear that Jesus was ascending and descending between earth and heaven and when he left at the resurrection, he gave us five gifts to fully reflect his personhood and the church. Paul is imploring us to use these five gifts to build up the church so we can come to full maturity in our knowledge and understanding of Christ.
If Jesus is the full expression of the five-fold ministry, and the church was given these five gifts by Him, then we need unity and maturity to become a full reflection of Jesus.
Just by doing some simple observation and inductive study, it becomes very clear that this maturity and unity that Paul is talking about…this knitting together of the body, is directly linked to the way we empower and use the five fold gifts in ministry.
“14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching.”
It is very clear that the “Then” in verse 14 is pointing to verse 12 where he says, “their responsibility is to equip God’s people…” If we want to be mature, united and not tossed around by new false teachings, we better start empowering the five-fold ministry and equipping the church fully!
I long to see the A.P.E. leaders released. Perhaps we wonder why the church is lacking a spirit of risk, adventure, concern for the poor and zeal for the lost in our country.
The gifts and functions of the church that would catalyze us towards those ends are being stuffed!
It is also no wonder we have made Seminary THE THING for aspiring Christian leaders to obtain and we have overly intellectualized the church (knowledge seems to be more important in Western churches than obedience). We have overly emphasized the teacher role. All this happens when we don’t empower the whole council of five-fold giftings. Some get dropped and others get propped.
When you operate at 40% (2/5) capacity, there just isn’t much power.
Therefore, just as Paul warned us…the church is getting tossed around.
Do you agree with this reading of Ephesians 4? What else would you add? Leave a comment and let us know