40. Gifts of Ministries – to Plant

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 6 – Thinking about Leaders

40. Gifts of Ministries – to Plant

Eph 4:11,12  Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up

1 Cor 12:27,28  Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.

Lk 6:12,13  One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles:

A Focus & A Question: I am going to divide this subject of ‘ministries’ into those that initiate or establish new local churches and those who maintain and continue to build the local church. Thus in this first part I am going to focus on apostles and evangelists and to a lesser measure, prophets. Perhaps we should first of all deal with a question in some minds, does the church need these ministries? I doubt if there is anyone who would question the need for evangelists, pastors and teachers in the church and we may wonder why therefore the doubts about apostles and prophets? They are, after all, in the same verses where Paul speaks of Christ’s gifts of these men with the specific role of equipping the people of God, and they are still needed to build up the church and bring it to maturity and fulness in Christ. I’m not sure we can ever say that task is completed. I suspect queries against these ministries arise either out of ignorance of their functions, or possibly experience of those who, living out their gifting, fail in some way to maintain grace and humility. A shame in both cases.

Apostles: Very well, first some basics. The word simply means ‘a sent one’ and we see the distinction between a disciple and an apostle in Lk 6:12,13 above where Jesus, “called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles.”  In the New Testament we first see ‘the Twelve’ who Jesus had with him and one of their roles was, in Peter’s words, to be a witness to Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 1:22). From observing them and particularly watching how Peter and John continued after Jesus’ ascension, we see the apostles taking the lead in the church, preaching the gospel and performing signs and wonders. There is authority and Holy Spirit anointing. I have had the privilege of knowing a number of apostles, men who were clearly church-planters, church-builders, men of faith, vision, power and authority, not by mere word but by deed.

Observing Paul & Barnabas: In the previous study we noted how Paul came to the Lord, preached, grew in faith, taught in the local church and was then sent out by the Holy Spirit to preach the Gospel and, watching how that developed, moved from Jews to Gentiles and clearly established groups of believers who became local churches, and then appointed elders (leaders) in each local church. This created a long-term sense of care and responsibility in Paul, seen in how he wanted to go back and check out those churches (Acts 15:36) and so subsequently went back through the area they had been to before, “strengthening the churches”, (Acts 15:41) with the result that, the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.” (Acts 16:5).  He and those with him (note, “and his companions” Acts 16:6) were clearly directed – limited as well as being led on – by the Holy Spirit (see Acts 16:6-10). It would be foolish to suggest that an apostle need not be filled with the Holy Spirit! Studying both Paul and Barnabas we see them as men growing in faith, being sent, and then being used as they preach with power and authority.

Characteristics? So, from what we have observed of the narratives of the New Testament, the apostles – first the twelve, then others (e.g. Paul & Barnabas seen in Acts 14:14, Andronicus and Junia, mentioned in Rom 16:7, and it may be that those who simply travelled with Paul were generally termed apostles, sent ones, sent to be missionaries, bringing people to Christ, and then establishing them with leaders in the local context) – were people who grew in faith, received vision and would have had to have moved in wisdom, with a strong sense of the Lord’s presence with them on occasion as they moved in authority with power with signs and wonders. These are the things that distinguished them. Are they needed in the Church today? Very much so!

Well, first, perhaps something that distinguishes them from present day bishops, arch-bishops, cardinals etc. was that they were ‘hands on’ out there doing the stuff, not managers or even just good examples for the faithful, but people operating with power as well as authority (and their authority did not come from their position in an institutional structure but from the working of the Holy Spirit in and through them), who were out there ‘doing the stuff’ extending the kingdom. Does a small town say, with a dozen or more local churches today, need the ministry of an apostle coming in? Well the one thing I have observed in the past, being part of a network in which apostles and prophets operated, is that apostles never simply accept the status quo. They are constantly asking, “What next Lord?” and so they energise and motivate the local church on, releasing faith and vision and enabling and equipping and empowering new leaders and new ministries. They are, if you like, God’s catalysts.

Prophets: We all know what prophets are, for we see their writings and activities in the Old Testament, mostly men, but don’t forget Deborah (Judg 4:4), with that popular image of a man standing on the hillside overlooking Israel declaring the word of God to a disobedient nation. In the New Testament we find Agabus who came and prophesied over Paul (Acts 21:10) but there are other references to prophets – at Antioch (Acts 13:1), Judas and Silas (Acts 15:32), and Philip’s four daughters (Acts 21:8,9). We know about the gift of prophecy because there is much about it in 1 Cor 12 -14 especially, but little about ‘prophets’ except  prophets come with God’s heart and with vision, and like apostles are God’s motivators. The prophet tends not to be just concerned with one or two people for whom he has a word, but for the glory of the Lord in the greater church. I mention prophets here in that they come second in Paul’s listings in Eph 4:11,12 and 1 Cor 12:27,28. In my life, although I have known many people with the gift of prophecy, I have only known personally three men who were clearly prophets (there may of course have been more).

Evangelists: Mentioned in the Ephesian verses but not in the 1 Cor 12 verses, the only one specifically mentioned in the New Testament as an evangelist was Philip (Acts 21:8) and we see him in action earlier in Acts 8:4 onwards, both preaching and operating in signs and wonders and seeing many turn to Christ. Paul also exhorted Timothy, do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim 4:5).  Now it has to be said that the apostles clearly operated as evangelists – bringing the gospel resulting in salvation – as they went out proclaiming Christ.  At which point we have to wonder that perhaps evangelists are apostles without the wisdom, vision and authority, a simpler and more straight forward ministry of being more fruitful than most in drawing people to Christ. They also appear to have the ability to impart faith to God’s people to likewise reach out with the gospel.

And So? These appear to be the primary instruments that God has used and continues to use in establishing His Church. So often, across the Church, if we are honest, we see an administrative hierarchy that are more known for their committees and the controlling influences, and simply maintaining the status quo rather than their pioneering energy that continues to ensure the gospel is brought to places where it would otherwise appear to be absent and, even more, it is brought to places where the gospel has come in the past but the life of the church has turned moribund, as continuing surveys of denominational numbers so often reveal. The truth is that where apostles, prophets and evangelists function, life flows, and church grows. Where they are absent, so often stagnation sets in and committees rule and the church resorts to social events to attract the starving crowds, rather than seeking God for the Christ appointed and Christ-anointed ministries that he has chosen, “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

The unity that is absent across the breadth of the Church, brought through history by men who were insecure and so divided off from others, is a sign of the absence of these ministries which were replaced in the early few centuries by men and institutions that were not Christ appointed and Christ-anointed. The tolerance of a powerless form of religion (1 Cor 4:20 “the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” and 2 Tim 3:5 “having a form of godliness but denying its power.” ) in so many places, is a similar sign, of the absence of such ministries moving under the power and direction of the head of the Church, Jesus Christ, seated at the Father’s right hand. Let’s pray for the Lord of the Church to send a resurgence of Eph 4:11,12 ministries. We need him and we need his power and we need his ministries – desperately!

39. Gifts of Ministries – Introduction

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 6 – Thinking about Leaders

39. Gifts of Ministries – Introduction

Rom 12:6-8 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Eph 4:11,12  Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up

1 Cor 12:27,28  Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.

A Focus: There are ‘gifts’ and there are ‘ministries’ and sometimes there is confusion between the two. A ‘gift’ is a precursor to a ‘ministry’. I recently came across a quote of some leader saying in accordance with 1 Cor 14, we can all have the ministry of a prophet. Wrong! Paul doesn’t say that; he says, “I would rather have you prophesy,” and the whole context there is gifts not ministries. The difference? The heart the individual contains and the anointing upon them.

Gifts to?  Another way of distinguishing is by saying who are these gifts to. Gifts of the Spirit, for example itemised in 1 Cor 12:8-10, are gifts to individuals, for use within the church. Gifts given by Christ seen in Eph 4:11,12 are gifts of people to the church. To take prophecy and prophets as an example here, Paul makes it clear that anyone can prophesy when they are filled with the Spirit. As I have led groups seeking to move in the gift, I have noticed a number of times that, although I may pray over them as a group of usually about ten, and that evening all of them will step out and have a word for another that is pure revelation, in the months that follow I have noted (in a church where the gifts are encouraged) that of that ten, two or three will have words regularly, four or five will have an occasional word, and two or three will never have a word again.

Different people, different gifts: This says nothing about the spirituality of the individual, but more about the heart that God gives the individual. In the Romans verses above, Paul speaks of the grace that God gives in different measure to different people. I have expressed it more in the past as the level of faith that God gives individuals. Thus I see individuals who have great faith for giving financially but not, let’s say, for healing. Then there may be others with great faith to pray for healing but don’t have any feeling for giving.  It is a mystery but ultimately it is down to God to find people who will respond in differing ways, and so He gifts them, I believe, accordingly.

Gifts into Ministries: Now I have never carried out surveys on this but I think my general observation through the years is that God gifts many individuals with gifts of the Spirit, but He develops that in only a relatively few to bring about a ministry. A ‘ministry’ is a form of service that captures the heart of an individual and receives the special anointing of the Holy Spirit and is used by God to build the church. The heart for this will grow and develop in an individual and as they step out, so the anointing will likewise grow.

The Example of Saul/Paul: The apostle Paul is a good example of this. it is a fairly lengthy story (taking up chapters 13 & 14 of Acts) but will have bearing in the next study. In it we see the development of his spiritual life and ministry experience.

Earliest days: From the time he was saved and filled with the Spirit (see Acts 9) Saul, as he was originally known, started preaching (see v.20). With the help of Barnabas he was accredited as a Christian believer by the apostles in Jerusalem (v.26-28). Because of opposition from the Jews he was sent off to Caesarea and then to Tarsus (v.30).

In Antioch: Later he was brought by Barnabas to Antioch (Acts 11:25) and he taught for a year alongside Barnabas (v.26) and was then sent as a finance carrier (v.30) to Judea, returning some time later bringing John Mark with them (12:25).  Saul and Barnabas were known in the company of “prophets and teachers” (Acts 13:1). In the context of the church there in Antioch, Barnabas and Saul were commissioned to go out to take the Gospel on what we now refer to as their first missionary journey

First Missionary Journey:  Initially this was to Jews in the synagogue at Salamis on Cyprus (Acts 13:4,5), where his name is changed from Saul to Paul (13:9) and brings blindness to a sorcerer (a power sign) before moving on. After leaving Cyprus they returned to the mainland (13:13) and then went inland to Pisidian Antioch (13:14) where Paul preached powerfully to the Jews but was ultimately rejected by them (13:45), and so turned to preach to the Gentiles (13:46). Moving on to Iconium, they preached boldly with signs and wonders following  (14:3) and it is there that they are first indirectly referred to as apostles (14:4). Moving on to Lystra, Paul healed a cripple (14:8-10) causing many to hail them as ‘gods’. It is at this point that Luke rather pointedly speaks of, “the apostles Barnabas and Paul”. (Acts 14:14). Moving on to Derbe, they had many converts (14:20,21). They then backtracked and appointed elders in each of the churches they had previously formed (14:21-23) and eventually make their way back to Antioch to whom they reported all that had happened (14:26,27). In the next study we will perhaps backtrack and observe the stages of Paul’s development as an apostle, seeing the characteristics that went with it.

Serving to Build: Now we should also note in passing that the Greek word used in the New Testament for ‘ministry’ is ‘diakonia’ (plus other forms of that word) that essentially means ‘to serve’. It is from that word that we get ‘deacon’, one who serves in the church, and we’ll look at them in a later study.  I have said it twice already but we should emphasize that, first and foremost, spiritual gifts and gifts of Ministries are to bring about, create, and build the church. In the following studies we will see how this happens in each case. In respect of spiritual gifts Paul taught, Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church.” (1 Cor 14:12) What is true of spiritual gifts is also true of ministries. If there is anyone who appears to exercise one of the Eph 4 ministries and does not have the heart to build the church and thus glorify God, their ministry is suspect.

And So? We find provision in the Church of ‘Gifts of the Spirit’ which are used by individuals to bless and build the church. We also find provision of ‘Ministries’, gifts of people with heart and anointing calling to minister to bring about, create and build the church. I have twice used this language here to emphasise what these ministries do. In their differing ways they bring about or bring into being what we have throughout these studies been calling ‘the Church’; they create it by spreading the Gospel and creating believers who are the Church, and they build up, equip and empower those believers to act as the body of Christ and continue the creating-building process. This we will see in more detail as we move on.

26. The Origin of all gifting

Short Meditations in John 3:  26. The Origin of all gifting

Jn 3:27    To this John replied, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven.

John understands his ministry and, to be more precise, he understands where it has come from. He was called by God and anointed by God to be the forerunner of the Messiah – and that’s all.  He has done what he was given to do and any ‘success’ that he had had came from the Lord. So when his disciples, or maybe even other Jews starting to stir up competition with Jesus and his ministry, come with questions about his ministry, his basic answer is, I have got what I have from God and do what He gives me to do – and the same is true of the Messiah!

In many ways this is the clearest statement of this principle in the Bible: we do what God calls us to do, and no more. Other people have different ministries and we are not in competition. The apostle Paul wrote in respect of gifts, Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?” (1 Cor 12:27-30). In this he makes clear various important things. First, it is God who appointed these ministries. Second, the ministries are quite clear and distinct. Third, there are only limited numbers of them and not everyone is the same. This sounds very obvious but in practice it is not. Suppose I am called to be a teacher, say. That means I am a teacher and not a prophet and if I have not been given the prophet’s gifting, I should neither hanker after it nor pretend I have it (even if I have the gift of prophecy).

The key to being at peace in serving God, is knowing what He has called you to and what He has gifted you with. This avoids all temptation to envy or jealousy and enables us to be blessed by other people’s ministry and blessed in exercising our own gifting.  This may all sound very obvious but I wonder how many square pegs there are in round holes in the church – men or women ‘performing’ tasks that they have not been given by the head of the church, but just because they think it is expected of them or wrong ambition pushed them to it? It is a vital subject in the kingdom of God, knowing the calling and the gifting of God and not going beyond it, recognising that real gifting comes from God alone and is not something we stir up. John the Baptist rested in this knowledge, it was his disciples who were slow to come to understanding of it.

31. Captives & Gifts

Ephesians Meditations No.31

Eph  4:7-10 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.”  (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)

We have another link word to note – “but” which ties us in with what Paul had been saying earlier. See – Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” (Eph 3:20-4:1) Now back there at the end of the 3rd chapter Paul was speaking about the power God used to bring change within us, and then went on to challenge us to live accordingly, with that power. In verse 2 he called us to a life of humility, then in verse 3 to a life of unity and in verses 4 to 6 grounds why we should live in unity. So, now when we come to verse 7 he picks up again the idea of the work of Christ in us but now he refers to it as ‘grace’, which is the enabling of God by the power of His Spirit in us.

Note what he says about this grace: to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it”. This grace has been given to every one of us who is now a Christian, and we have it because Christ in his role as ruler at the Father’s right hand has apportioned or handed it out to us. This is the same picture that Paul used when writing to the Romans: “think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you…We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” (Rom 12:3,6). The gifts, Paul will go on to describe here, are the ministries he gives to us by supernatural enabling. Grace is supernatural enabling, enabling by the Spirit.

At that point Paul picks up on Old Testament scriptures to justify or explain why that is. In Psa 68 we find the following: “Why gaze in envy, O rugged mountains, at the mountain where God chooses to reign, where the LORD himself will dwell forever? ….. the Lord has come from Sinai into his sanctuary. When you ascended on high, you led captives in your train; you received gifts from men, even from the rebellious– that you, O LORD God, might dwell there.” (Psa 68:16-18).

The ‘mountain where God chooses to reign’ was clearly in that day Jerusalem, or more specifically the Temple in Jerusalem, “his sanctuary.” Now in that prophetic picture David, the psalmist, uses the language of a conquering king coming home from battle bringing captives to show off. That conquering king received gifts or tribute from those he conquered, those who had rebelled against him but who he had now conquered. Now Paul might have applied that specifically to us, seeing us as those who have surrendered to God after having been in rebellion against Him. That would have been a legitimate picture of what has in fact happened, and the gifts we brought would be our submission, our bowing down, our honouring Him, but that’s not what Paul says when he writes it.

Paul took certain rabbinic interpretations of his day and changed the word after ‘gifts’, so instead of ‘from’ it became ‘for‘ which apparently in some places it was legitimate to do. So instead of receiving from us, our God who is a giver, gives to us. We surrender to him and become his captives (or prisoners as Paul has been saying) but what does He do? He doesn’t put us in chains but in fact does exactly the opposite; He frees us and gives to us. He gifts us with His grace so that, we will see later, we find we have supernatural spiritual gifts that enable us to operate in particular roles of His choosing.

Before we finish we need to deal with Paul’s aside, within the brackets: “What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions?” This is Paul referring back to the Psa 68 quote, When you ascended on high, you led captives in your train;” The ‘ascended on high’ back then referred to God coming to Jerusalem and filling the Temple with His glory, ‘ascended’ over the ark. Paul is now applying that quote to Jesus and he contrasts ‘ascended’ and ‘descended’. Now at first sight the descended might appear to refer to Jesus coming down from heaven to earth, which is what some commentators say. But there is a problem with that. It is that the language of ‘lower earthly regions’ is more the Jewish language of the underworld rather than the earth itself. The ascended would probably refer to a) Jesus rising from the dead and then b) subsequently ascending back to heaven to rule at his Father’s right hand. The ‘descended’ may possibly refer to Jesus coming to earth, but my own preference is that he descended to hell, first because ‘hell’ and the ‘lower earthly regions’ were similar in Jewish thought of that day and second, if hell is the ultimate punishment for sin, then if Jesus totally took our punishment for sin, then it would have to have included going down into hell.

His final words in this aside in verse 10 are: “He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.” Paul thus contrasts the wonder of Christ going down to the incredible wonder of him now ruling far about all else, which Paul referred to in chapter one when he spoke of God and “his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come, (1:20,21) an even more powerful description of Christ’s triumph and position now! Wow!