Sunday 13 September
But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it says:
‘When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.’ 9 (What does ‘he ascended’ mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 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.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Who are the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers whom Christ has given to us?
From verse 12: All collectively are to equip the people, Christ’s people, for service and that is to facilitate the building up of the Body of Christ which is the church.
So, who are these 5 sets of people then?
1/ The Apostles were the original 12 Disciples of Jesus. But to see who they are in the context of today we need to turn to the dictionary where we also find the following: - 'an important early Christian teacher or pioneering ministry. A vigorous and pioneering advocate or supporter of a particular policy, idea, or cause'.
That clarity allows us to see that amongst our number some can legitimately be called Apostles. However, as Paul makes clear in our first verse: - to each one of us Grace has been given out “as Christ apportioned It”. With that in mind many, possibly most, or even all of us can be apostolic in our following of Christ, but it is Christ’s choice and, without His blessings, we are likely to struggle if we are not yet ready for that calling.
2/ Moving on then to Prophets then, we might think of the Prophets in the Bible where we find the following; - the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and the twelve minor prophets Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. Which might give us a sound historical perspective but once again what about today? Might we have Prophets in our midst?
The Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary lists a prophet as a person who speaks for God or a god, or a person who tells what will happen in the future. My prayer is that God sees fit to bless Gordon and your Elders with the gift of Prophesy. Let’s not stop there, I pray God opens our eyes and ears to recognise the people he chooses to call as prophets in our midst. Then it would be great to have even more prophets able to tell what will happen in the future. Not as in a crystal ball, which I would avoid like the plague, but who have an ear for what God is laying on their heart.
3/ My next one is sometimes seen as a dirty word in what are known as Liberal Churches yet by definition, they should be the absolute opposite. Here is what Wikipedia lists: - In Christianity, evangelism is the commitment to or act of publicly preaching the Gospel with the intention to share the message and teachings of Jesus Christ. I pray you can all see that we should all be evangelists and, dare I suggest, Proud to be so!
4/ The last in the list are Pastors and Teachers which are to be seen together from the text or at least are often considered as such and yet that can be a challenge. Again looking at a definition the Pastor is a shepherd, overseeing a flock or congregation reliant on the gifting of the Holy Spirit to do so. One of the duties associated with the title Pastor is to teach the congregation. Providing discipleship and showing the congregation how to live like Christ and how to become a disciple themselves.
When I look at the role of teacher, I see the need to impart knowledge in a fashion easily absorbed and applied by their pupils. I believe, not all good teachers are good at pastoral work and equally, I would venture, not all who are gifted pastorally are called to be teachers.
A common phrase in Christianity refers to a “Four-Fold Ministry” of Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist and the Pastor/Teacher. However, there is always the need for members with just one or two of these giftings.
Clearly Christ was all of these things and there will be some who are called to all four, but in most cases, it is more likely to be one or two of these and yet the church needs all of them.
I recall one minister telling me, during my training, that his congregation expected him to be all four plus an expert in fundraising, ancient monument construction techniques, health and safety, and as you can imaging, the list goes on. An impossible ask for one person I think however if we look at verse 15 to see Paul’s advice: -
'We, as in all of us collectively, will become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. That is a singular body. One body with many parts all united into one with Christ, not At It’s head but rather as it’s Head'
Should we all not be looking out for each other making sure that none are under stress, or overworked, or being asked to function in a weaker area of expertise. In business these days, it appears to me that bosses look for the person able to do a good job then expect them to take on another area of work with no additional resources. Not every one is able to respond by saying “yes – but” what would you like me to stop doing to free up the time needed to enable me to do that? So it is no wonder stress is such a major issue in our society and in our denomination today. Something that is only likely to get worse unless we take onboard, our roles as called by God and as resourced by God to ease the burden of our fellow members.
If we can do that effectively, then as our reading ended, with Paul speaking of Christ being our head “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” Then we can be fit for purpose to do as God will ask for the enhancement of His Church in this place.