Read the Passage: Ephesians 4:11-16
Source and Description (4:11)
As he began to focus upon the uniqueness of individual believers within the unity of the church, at Eph. 4:7 Paul wrote, “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” This is a similar teaching to Peter’s later exhortation, “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pet. 4:10). Before he begins to explain the spiritual grace-gifts related to church leadership in Eph. 4:11–16, Paul digressed by quoting Ps. 68:18 and commenting on this passage. Paul’s larger aim in Eph. 4:8–10 is to make the point that it was Jesus’ atonement that made possible the giving of spiritual grace-gifts to the church. Yet, two interpretations of Paul’s commentary here have arisen: (1) Paul could be referring to Christ’s incarnation; or (2) Paul could be referring to Jesus’ so-called descent into hell or His visitation of Hades.
Scripture contains four key passages on spiritual gifts: Rom. 12:6–8; 1 Cor. 12:8–10, 28–30; and Eph. 4:11. Taken together, these passages give us 18 different spiritual gifts; yet, these lists are not identical nor comprehensive. Some of spiritual gifts, including all of those listed in Eph. 4:11, relate to church leadership. In this passage Paul writes of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. While these gifts were all relevant in the early church, we would understand there to be no more apostles, as requirements for an apostle include: (1) having been part of Jesus’ earthly ministry, and (2) having seen the resurrected Christ (cf. Acts 1:22). Similarly, prophets were unique early church teachers, who were subject to each other and to Scripture (cf. 1 Cor. 14:32, 37), who functioned prior to the completion of the New Testament, being replaced by evangelists, pastors, and teachers.
Reason and Goal (4:12–15)
After distinguishing several spiritual gifts that benefit the church, in Eph. 4:12 Paul identified two reasons why God has given evangelists, pastors, and teachers to the church. First, Paul writes that these leadership gifts are “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry” (Eph. 4:12a). This is an important teaching, for many believers errantly assume that professional church leaders are the ones who are equipped to do ministry, while the laypeople are the ones who should receive ministry. In contrast to this idea, Paul teaches that church leaders are to equip—that is, to complete—the laity to do the work of the ministry. Second, Paul writes that evangelists, pastors, and teachers are given to the church “for edifying the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12b). This refers to the general building up, nurturing, and development of individuals within the church.
We can summarize the reasons why God has given leadership gifts to the church in saying that church leaders are to equip and to edify the body of Christ. Yet, this invites questions related to the goal or to the measurement of equipping and edifying. In Eph. 4:13–15 Paul lists seven goals that are marks of Christian maturity: (1) having unity in the faith, (2) knowing the Son of God, (3) being mature people, (4) attaining the fullness of Christ, (5) resisting false doctrine, (6) speaking truth in love, and (7) reflecting Christ. Note that these are all character traits that are marks of the worthy walk Paul began discussing in Eph. 4:1–3. Church leaders, then, are spiritually gifted men who come alongside believers, in the context of the church, and help them to conform to the image of Christ, through the ministry of the Word of God. The Holy Spirit is the one who facilitates this maturity.
Model and Result (4:16)
As believers aim for the result of spiritual maturity, Jesus Christ is the model whom we seek to emulate. Biblical church growth happens, then, when every part of the body of Christ—each “joint . . . [and] part” (Eph. 4:16)—uses their spiritual grace-gift for the edification of the body, in love. Paul gave a similar exhortation at Col. 2:19 where he wrote of “holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God.” This passage in Colossians is clearer, perhaps, as it specifies that all spiritual maturity is from Christ. Taking into account the larger passage, then, the unity that Paul called for (cf. Eph. 4:1–6) is made possible via Jesus’ atonement (cf. Eph. 4:7–10), and is a facilitated in the church by spiritually gifted men (cf. Eph. 4:11–15) who are used by Christ to grow His church.
- What is your spiritual gift(s)? How can we encourage others in the identification and use of their spiritual gifts? What leadership gifts does God give to the church?
- What is the best way to interpret difficult passages such as Eph. 4:8–10 (cf. 1 Pet. 3:19)? Over what types of content in the Bible are Christians free to disagree?
- In Eph. 2:20, why does Paul refer to apostles and prophets as foundational gifts; yet, in Eph. 4:11 he lists apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers?
- How do other church-oriented gifts, such as administration (cf. 1 Cor. 12:28) and leadership (cf. Rom. 12:8), fit with Paul’s teaching at Eph. 4:11–12?
- Do most believers measure spiritual maturity using the characteristics Paul lists in Eph. 4:13–15? How can church leaders facilitate equipping and edification?