Ephesians 4:1-16 Making sense of Ephesians 4:11

Sermon preached on 11th March 2012

Six apostles, from the Jelling church, Denmark.

Six apostles, from the Jelling church, Denmark. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)











In this passage we see how God’s establishes His church and His purpose for the church to grow in love to become mature. 

13 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.

Our church was established 131 years ago, in 1881.  I love the story: a preacher borrowed benches from the pub opposite, stood on a chair on this spot, and preached the gospel.  There was a work of the Holy Spirit, people came to Christ, and they were formed into a church – and the work of the Spirit continues to this today.

In 7-11, we learn how God establishes and nurtures His church:

8 “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.”

He has given gifts to His church and 11 lists these important gifts:

11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers.

If you know anything about charismatic renewal over the last few decades you will know that much has been said and written on these particular verses, (11-13). At a recent conference I attended, someone sharing about ministry said, “It all comes down to Ephesians 4:11-13 – this is what ministry is all about!”   I just thought to myself, “Well, it depends how you interpret Ephesians 4:11-13!”  Unfortunately, a passage which speaks about Christians reaching unity in the faith creates quite a lot of disunity.  What I want to try and do this morning is to understand the roles of these gifts in the context of the church being established and built up in love.

But why, as an ordinary church member, is this important for you?  First, 7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.  These gifts touch all of us to an extent, and also you may recognise one or more of them as your gift.  Second, the devil has a way of counterfeiting the real thing: there are false apostles, false prophets, and wolves in sheep’s clothing.  If we are going to spot the counterfeit it’s important to recognise what the real thing looks like.

Some people say these gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher represent a fivefold ministry of leadership in the church.  Other people, rightly so, see the pastor–teacher as the same person and call this a fourfold ministry.  I don’t believe this is a fivefold or a fourfold ministry.  I think it is a list of ministry gifts that God has given to people in the church, all of which are needed to establish the church and for it to build itself up in love.

I don’t know about you, but all the names given to church leaders these days can be quite confusing: pastor, minister, vicar, bishop, rector, deacon, elder, priest, reverend, curate, etc.  However I believe there are just 3 basic types of church leadership (a threefold ministry): trans-local ministry between churches (bishop, regional minister); local pastor (vicar, priest); and deacon.

Now, let’s get back to these gifts.  Jesus ascended on high, the Holy Spirit came down and He gave gifts to establish the church and to see it grow in love.  There is logic in the order of the gifts given for this to happen.

1.       APOSTLE

When we think of apostle we usually think of the 12, and the Apostle Paul.  They were witnesses of this resurrection and were unique.  But, in the New Testament, there were others who were called apostles e.g. Barnabas [Acts 14:14].  The role of apostle is wider than the 12.

Apostle literally means “one sent forth”, but what did the apostles actually do?  They preached the gospel and planted churches, and then usually moved on to do it again somewhere else.  I believe this is what apostles do today, except we call them missionaries – or rather church planting missionaries.  Without them would be no church, and that’s why they come first in the list.

The person who came 130 years ago and preached the gospel and got the new Christians together to form this church was exercising the gift of the apostle.  I’m sure he didn’t call himself an apostle, but that’s what he was actually doing.  It’s much better these days to call these people missionaries rather than apostles, otherwise it’s easy to think we are putting them on the same level as the 12 apostles.

A quick survey of the internet will reveal that these days many senior pastors and CEO’s of Christian organisations are calling themselves apostles.  However this is a far cry from the biblical role of apostle.

However this idea of “being sent out” isn’t only for a few individuals.  It also applies to the whole church, to all of us.  We are to be an apostolic church – a missionary church; this is our vision.

2.       PROPHET

When we think of prophet we usually think of the Old Testament prophets. But this ministry also continues into the New Testament.  The Old Testament prophet called people to amend their ways and return to the LORD, and in the same way the gospel calls people to repent and follow the LORD – now open to all people through Jesus death and resurrection.  Jesus and Paul and the apostles stood in this prophetic tradition.

In Acts, the prophet Agabus prophecies about a coming famine [Acts 11:27]; Paul teaches about the use of prophecy in the church in 1Corinthains.

The prophet not only foretells, but also forthtells what God is doing.  He or she is able to read the signs of the times and interpret it to the church and the world (if they will listen.)

I think the prophet comes second because a new church needs vision and this is part of the prophet role.

Prophecy is not the same as preaching, though prophets may preach.  People with prophetic gifting may or may not be in leadership in the church.  Prophets will tend to be controversial.

Jesus warned of false prophets, so the church needs to discern carefully the true prophetic voice.  But this should not put us off.  Moses wished that all God’s people could prophesy, and Paul taught that all may prophesy [1Cor 14:31].  The church should be a prophetic people.

Much could be said about prophecy. I believe we need this gift badly in the church today because we need to know what God is saying.


The evangelist is someone who preaches the gospel and sees people converted. The apostle and prophet also preach the gospel, but the evangelist only preaches the gospel.  In Acts, Philip, who was also a deacon, was an evangelist.  He preaches in a city in Samaria and many came to the LORD [Acts 8:4-5].  After that, he was used in the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch [Acts 8:26-40].   So really an evangelist is another kind of missionary who introduces people to the gospel and brings them to a saving knowledge of Christ.

We also need people with the gift of evangelism in the church.  If the apostle plants the church, and the prophet imparts vision, then the evangelist brings more people in.  I think this is why he/she comes third.

The evangelist may or may not be in leadership, depending on their gift.  They may preach the gospel to groups of people, or one on one.  In a previous Church, an evangelist from Australia was invited for a few weeks to work with us.  His ministry was to go round knocking doors, building up relationships, bringing people to Christ, and starting home groups – and it worked!  He also preached once – to be honest it wasn’t that good.  But he was brilliant at 1-on-1 evangelism.

However, we should all be evangelists in the sense we should be able to share Christ with others.  But some have a special gift for it, and we need them.


I think we know more about the pastor/teacher!  Once the apostle has done his work the pastor/teacher is needed to shepherd the flock.  Even though pastor/teachers are last on the list they become the most prominent in the local church.  I believe the pastor/teacher is equivalent of elder.  In Tit 1:5 Paul instructed Titus to appoint elders in the churches.

A pastor’s main task is to feed the flock, so he is a teacher, but he must teach with a pastor’s heart.  Pastor means “shepherd” and picks up on Jesus’ use of shepherding analogies, which in turn come from the Old Testament.  We know Ps 23:1 well, “The LORD is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”  The local pastor, or pastors (if there is more than one) are to lead and care for the sheep, as an under-shepherd; Jesus is the Chief Shepherd; he gently leads the sheep; he lays down his life for the sheep; he cares for them. Jesus is our example.

Just as with the other gifts, the pastor/teaching gifts are not limited to those in leadership.  We can all show pastoral care for others.  There are those also who can teach, either at the front, or 1-on-1, or teach the children.


These ascension gifts of Christ are not only relevant for today, they are essential. They will be exercised by people specially set apart for ministry, but they are not limited to those people.

7 But to each one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. (KJV)

God has given these gifts to establish his church and so it may build itself up in love.


2 Responses to Ephesians 4:1-16 Making sense of Ephesians 4:11

  1. Pingback: I Believe « The Papers of SL Douglas

  2. Pingback: Prophets and Traditionalists « JRFibonacci's blog: partnering with reality

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