In my three previous posts, I have been discussing Ephesians 4:7-16 (“Ephesians 4:11 and the Five-Fold Ministry“, “Ephesians 4:12 and Equipping Ministries“, and “Ephesians 4:7-16 and the Growing Church“). In this post, I am going to examine some of my previous statements concerning Ephesians 4:7-16 with reference to other passages of Scripture. In other words, I am going to ask this question: Are my conclusions consistent with other passages of Scripture?
First, based on Ephesians 4:7, I stated, “God works through different people in different ways according to his grace and Christ’s measure”. This is straightforward, and few disagree with this statement. But, there are a few parallel passages that teach the same thing. For example, the first part of Romans 12:6 says, “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us…” (Romans 12:6a ESV) Once again, we see that different people are given different gifts according to God’s grace. Similarly, 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 state in three different ways that there are “varieties” of gifts all given by the same Triune God.
Second, based on the emphasis beginning in Ephesians 4:8 and continuing through 4:16, I concluded that Paul was emphasizing Jesus’ giving instead of emphasizing specific gifts. I said, “The emphasis is firmly placed on Christ and the affects of his giving”. This can also be seen in 1 Corinthians 12, specifically in the passage I mentioned earlier:
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. (1 Corinthians 12:4-11 ESV)
While volumes have been written identifying the various gifts listed in verses 8-10 and how people with those gifts should function, this is not the author’s purpose. In fact, Paul does not identify how each gift functions. Instead, he emphasizes that it is God Himself (through the Spirit) who gives the gifts. In these eight verses, Paul states that God gives the gifts for His purposes nine distinct times. Once again, we see that the emphasis is not on the gifted individuals nor on the functioning of those individuals. Instead, Paul consistently emphasizes that gifts and gifted individuals are given by Christ or the Spirit in order to carry out His will and His purposes.
Third, I suggested that the individuals listed in Ephesians 4:11 do not represent offices or positions in the church, but instead represent examples of gifted individuals. This is probably the most controversial point of my interpretation of Ephesians 4:7-16. I do not expect to convert anyone to my position, but I will attempt to explain my position. My request to those who disagree: Please try to understand what I am saying before you begin arguing against me.
Notice that in 1 Corinthians 12:28-30, Paul easily transitions from gifted individuals to the gifts themselves:
And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? (1 Corinthians 12:28-30 ESV)
Why do we see some of these as offices or positions, but not others? If we have an office of apostle, why not an office of helping? If teachers represent a certain position in the church, why not a position of interpreter?
Consider, instead, the possibility that God worked through individual believers according to His will and for His purposes (as we have seen previously, and as Paul emphasized in an earlier passage in 1 Corinthians 12). It is the working of God (manifestation of the Spirit) that is recognized as specific giftings, not particular inate abilities within the individuals themselves. God could use some as apostles, others through gifts of healing, others with gifts of teachings, and others as interpreters. This says nothing about the individuals themselves; instead, it speaks about the working of God. Thus, a “teacher” is simply a believer through whom the Spirit normally teaches other believers. An “interpreter” is simply a believer through whom the Spirit normally manifests Himself through interpreting tongues. This does not require a special office or position. It does, however, require God to work through individuals as He Himself chooses.
This also helps explain why (in just a few paragraphs) Paul instructs the believers in Corinth that they all have the ability to prophesy: “For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged.” (1 Corinthians 14:31 ESV) The gift of prophecy is not relegated to those who hold an office or position of prophet. All believers have the potential of prophesying, if God wills to prophesy through them. (By the way, in case someone wants to make a distinction between “prophet” and “prophecy”, please notice that Paul does not make the same distinction. Instead, he closely connects “prophet”, “prophecy”, and “revelation” in 1 Corinthians 14:29-32.) The prophet is the one who prophesies, not the one who holds a particular office or position. The same could be said for apostles, evangelists, pastors, teachers, etc.
Finally, based on Ephesians 4:16, I concluded that the body will only grow (as Christ desires it to grow) if each believer functions as he or she is gifted by Christ. I said, “In fact, the last verse emphasizes and double emphasizes that it is the proper working of each part of the body that is necessary for the body to grow”. Most would agree with this point as well, but I want to empahsize one thing in particular. According to Scripture no gift or grouping of gifts are more important than any other gift or grouping of gifts. Instead, every individual (as gifted by God) is necessary for the proper functioning and growth of the body.
Again, 1 Corinthians 12 is the best parallel for this (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). Not only does Paul recognize the importance of each “member” of the body of Christ (foot, hand, ear, eye metaphorically), he also teaches us that those gifts that seem less important – from a human viewpoint – are actually more important from God’s viewpoint:
On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. (1 Corinthians 12:22-25 ESV)
Notice specifically that God Himself deems of greater honor those parts of the body that seem to be weaker, dispensable, and less honorable to us. This turns human thinking about importance and leadership on its head.
All members of the body of Christ should recognize that they were placed in the body and gifted by God Himself to carry out His will. No one is indispensable; no one is less important. Instead, every believer should function as gifted by God. If those gifted as apostles and evangelists are functioning, but those gifted as healers and interpreters are not, then the body will not grow as God planned. If those gifted as prophets and pastors and teachers are functioning, but those gifted as helpers, tongues speakers, and miracle workers are not, then the body will not be edificed toward maturity in Christ. Every member of the body is placed in the body by God to function as the Spirit gifts, enables, and empowers.
Hopefully, even those who disagree with me at certain points will recognize that I have attempted to be consistent in my understanding of Scripture. More importantly, this is not an academic exercise for me. Because of these teachings and others, I treat everyone within the body of Christ (regardless of abilities, talents, or gifts) as equally important and necessary. I have been chosen as an elder, but I do not see myself, my gifts, my abilities, or even my opinions as more important or more correct that anyone else’s. God can use my nine year old daughter and sister in Christ to edify me and others just as He can use me.
As always, I know that I am fallible, and I know that I am still learning. I welcome any questions or comments.