“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto the perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. ”
When Christ ascended up on high, He gave gifts unto men. So the apostle had written in the preceding context. Striking is the fact that among these gifts the apostle mentions first the ministry of the Word—that ministry as it is invested in the office of the ministry as the apostle describes it in the words of our text.
The gift of the ministry is given by Christ to the church. The church, so it would appear, must be understood as that institution which comes to manifestation in the world in her offices, administrations and discipline. It is the church of Christ which is ordained by Him to preach His Word, administer the sacraments, distribute to the poor, and exercise the keys of the kingdom of heaven.
When the apostle writes in the context therefore that Christ gives gifts unto men, it must not be understood that He dispenses these gifts promiscuously and indiscriminately; but, as His Spirit is poured out upon the church, so are the gifts of the Spirit of Christ directed to the church in distinction from the world, and particularly to that church as institute and representative of Christ in the world.
Though it pleases Christ to call men to the office of the ministry through which office Christ will declare His Word, the gift of the ministry is not given to the individual, to particular persons, but to the instituted church. Hence when the minister retires, passes away, or is transferred to another local church, the office of the ministry and the gift of the ministry does not leave the church. The gift and the office of the ministry reside in the local, instituted church. It is the church, therefore, which exercises the gift and which ministers the Word, be it through the divinely appointed office in the church. Or, to state it still more correctly, Christ pleases to preach His Word of the gospel through His church unto whom He has given the gift of the ministry.
To the gift of the ministry ,belongs also the office and work of the ministry. And this office the apostle distinguishes twofold. In the first place, he speaks of apostles, prophets, and evangelists. And in the second place, of pastors and teachers. Clearly there is a marked distinction between them, while at the same time there is a close relation, so that the latter is dependent on the former.
As to the office of apostles, prophets, and evangelists, it should be remarked that it was peculiar to the early New Testament Church, was therefore of a temporary nature, and was basic in character. In other words, there are no more apostles, prophets, and evangelists today in the sense in which the apostle speaks of them in the text. The office of apostle ceased with the death of the last of the twelve apostles. The same is true of the offices of prophets and evangelists. There were those who were not apostles, yet held the peculiar office of prophecy in the early church. There were also others called evangelists, distinct from the apostles and prophets, who ministered the Word—men, e.g., such as Luke, Timothy, Philip, and Stephen, who co-labored with the apostles and prophets in the preaching of the gospel. That the office of apostles is mentioned first indicates its basic character. Unto the apostles was committed the Word of Christ, not only to be spoken by them as the oracles of Christ, but also infallibly written by them. On the testimony of Christ through the apostles, Christ would lay the foundation of His church against which the gates of hell should not prevail From the apostles would sound forth the Word of the gospel as it was echoed and reechoed in the offices of prophets and evangelists, and later in the office of pastors and teachers.
What remains of the gifts of the ministry today is the office of pastors and teachers. These are not two distinct offices, but must be understood as one, namely, pastors who are likewise teachers. Pastors they are who lead the church into the green pastures of the Word of God and feed the flock of Christ. Teachers they are who indoctrinate and establish the church in the knowledge of the truth of Scripture.
In the pastor and teacher you have therefore a minister of Christ, a servant of Christ through whom He pleases to speak His Word to the church. He is a minister, i.e., a servant of the Word of Christ. He is Verbi Divini Minister, i.e., minister of the Word of God. He is also the servant of the church. Not is he a lord over God’s heritage, but a servant who is trained, prepared, and ready to serve the church. In this connection he stands in the service of the church whose calling it is to exercise the gift of the ministry in her preaching the good news of salvation.
It is the bounden duty of the church to see to it that this gift is not wasted, misused. The church must see to it that the minister (pastor and teacher) realize his sole calling to preach and to teach only the Word of God. The minister must never be allowed to come with a social gospel, or his own philosophy. Nor must he ever be allowed to become so busy with extra official work that he has no time to prepare for his official calling. The church, too, that understands her responsibility with regard to the gift of the ministry, will therefore not be involved in all manner of social and community activities, but in exercising the gift according to the purpose for which Christ gave it.
For the perfecting of the saints!
Such is in part the intention of the gift of the ministry! Christ did not intend with the gift of the ministry that the church should endeavor to make this world a better place to live in. He had no intention that the church should be busy in the community administering social justice, delving into politics, serving as a corrective of social ills. Nor was it His intention when He gave the gift of the ministry that the church would be out saving souls for Christ, as the modern activity of the church appears to be. Rather, Christ gave the gift of the ministry to the church in order that the church, the saints of God, might be thoroughly, completely outfitted. The word “perfecting” means, literally, to outfit completely. The saints must be completely qualified to live and walk as saints. And this means that they walk in sanctification. But there is more.
For the work of the ministry!
This does not refer to the ministry of the Word, as a superficial reading of the text might suggest. Rather, the apostle has in mind the ministering to one another. The saints must learn from the ministry of the Word to care for one another, to share with one another of the good graces of Christ, to care for the poor and indigent. So no one will look upon his gifts as his own, but use them for the benefit of others. But there is still more.
For the building up of the body of Christ!
The gift of the ministry is given to the church that she may be edified, built up in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
To sum it all up, the intention of Christ in the gift of the ministry is the preparation, the formation, and complete outfitting of a people that is ready for the coming of Christ. Thus, when He shall appear, they may be like Him, for they shall see Him as He is.
The last part of the text makes this clear. It shows how the intention of Christ in His gift of the ministry is attained.
Till we all arrive!
That is, till the entire church attains unto the goal Christ has set as described in the foregoing. And make no mistake about it, the intention of Christ is certain of attainment. It cannot fail! It lies in the very nature and power of the gift of the ministry to bring the body of Christ to its fullest, most complete manifestation.
Till we all arrive!
Unto the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God!
Unto the perfect man! Unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ!
Space does not allow us to explain in detail the significance of all the apostle says here which is descriptive of the goal to which the gift of the ministry attains. But all this is intended to describe what the church will be like when the intention of Christ in the gift of the ministry shall be fully realized.
To be noticed, too, is the fact that the apostle, as it were in an ascending scale, climbs up to “the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” By the latter the apostle means, no doubt, that, through the ministry of the Word Christ is pleased to communicate Himself to the church in such wise that the church becomes Christ-like. Or, as the Scripture often refers to it, transformed into the image of Christ. When the church, therefore, stands in the light of the constant, pure ministry of the Word, the image of Christ becomes reflected in her. Ail the lines of His perfect Being are etched in her countenance.
Through the ministry of the Word the church goes on to perfection, or, as the apostle expresses it: “unto the perfect man,” i.e., holy as Christ is, righteous as He is. Here is brought to light the wonder of grace, and the power of the Word of God. Let us not fail to see it! Wicked and perverse, vile and corrupt as we by nature are, Christ, by the power of His Word transforms us into children of light, holy and without spot. He brings us to the highest potential for man—to the perfect man—all that God in His eternal purpose intended man to become.
And when this shall be realized, we also likewise shall have attained to “the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God.” Undoubtedly here “the faith” must be viewed objectively, referring not to the activity of faith in the heart of the believer, but to the contents of faith. With other words, when the church through the ministry has arrived, has reached the goal set by Christ, there will be no more any differences in doctrine. The church will have arrived at the fulness of the truth of the Word of God. The church will be one in faith. This is supported by the rest of the text: “and the knowledge of the Son of God.” Notice that the apostle does not say: Christ, or Jesus, but the Son of God. God is pleased to reveal Himself in His Son. So we shall come to know God. As the apostle says in another place, we shall know even as we are known.
Wonder of divine grace!
While the world passes away with the lusts thereof, blessed is the church upon whom Christ bestows the gift of the ministry!
That church is prepared for everlasting glory!
Blessed, too, is Christ, Who so graciously bestows the gift!
Above all, blessed be God, Who makes us once more to be restored to His glorious and perfect image!
Let the church say so!