And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds 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. Ephesian 4:11-16, ESV.
In Ephesians 4:7-8, we read of how God gave, as a measure of grace, gifts to men. Being familiar with the lists of spiritual gifts found in Romans and 1 Corinthians, we might expect to find a similar list here. But the grace-gifts of Ephesians 4 are different. Here, in Ephesians 4:11, the gifts are people. Specifically, God gives the church apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherd-teachers.
To understand Ephesians 4:11 and what God gave the church, we must remember Paul’s historical context. He is the great missionary apostle writing to a first-century church to strengthen their faith in Christ and help them understand the implications of God’s grace. He is writing before the close of the canon of Scripture. With that in mind, what did God give the church?
God gave apostles. In fact, an apostle is writing this letter! Apostles are those personally commissioned by the risen Christ to go with authority, spread His message, and found His church. These men spoke and wrote new revelation to a church whose only Bible was the Old Testament. Their words are the words of our New Testament.
God gave prophets. These New Testament prophets also spoke special revelation to the church in the days before the completion of the New Testament. They spoke of things to come, called the church to obedience, encouraged the church, warned the church, and related the work of Christ to the promises prophesies of the Old Testament.
The apostles and prophets were used by Christ to establish His new covenant people on the solid rock of the Word of God before the New Testament was available to them (Ephesians 2:20; 3:5). Their efforts still serve us today through the words of the New Testament. Thus, even though there are no living apostles and prophets, we still benefit from this gift of God to the church.
We will continue to look at this passage in the days to come. But already we have good reason to thank God for His gift. Because He gave apostles and prophets, we have the Word of God! We do not need to wait for the next word about Jesus to come from the next inspired prophet or apostle who comes to town—we have it all! The Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the Letters, the Apocalypse of John—we have the full revelation of Jesus Christ. It is God’s gift to us!
I pray that today you will find time to give thanks to God for the apostles and prophets as you enjoy the fruits of their labor!