Rev. VanOverloop is pastor of Georgetown Protestant Reformed Church in Hudsonville, Michigan.
“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 a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.”
he many precious truths taught in the first three chapters of this epistle are being applied, in these verses, to the lives of the recently converted Christians in Ephesus. The first application concerns the unity of the church of Christ and the necessity of keeping or preserving this unity (Eph. 4:1-16).
The glory of the unity of Christ’s body is that there is a diversity in the unity, and a unity that comprehends endless variations. The many members are not merged together into a single, solid mass, nor are they made to be alike without individual identity. The unity does not do away with the diversity, and the diversity does not break the unity. The diversity in the unity makes for beautiful harmony! The source of the unity is also the source of the diversity. The source of the unity is Christ, the Head of the body. The source of the diversity is also Christ, the Giver of the various gifts in each member.
Our text speaks of one of the gifts the ascended Christ has given. What is said about this gift applies to all the gifts given to the church. Paul uses the gift of pastor and teacher as an example because it is one of the more important gifts given to the church. Paul is inspired to have the Ephesian believers of long ago and every believer today realize that each gift Christ gives to the church is designed for the building up of the church. Each diverse gift is not for itself and its self-expression, but is designed to work for the whole.
Christ gave to His church the gift of pastor/teacher. This is the permanent manifestation of the temporary and extraordinary offices of apostle, prophet, and evangelist.
The “apostles” were those men who were appointed directly by Christ in Galatians 1:1. When the disciples were given the Great Commission (Matt. 28:16-20), they became apostles—”sent-out ones.” The apostles had seen the risen Lord (I Cor. 9:1; I Cor. 15:8, 9). And they were given special revelations of the truth. The Ephesians heard about the dispensation of grace given to Paul, when he was given by revelation to know the mystery of Christ, which was “revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Ephesians 3:2-5; Gal. 1:12). The special office of apostle could not continue because no others saw the risen Lord and were sent out by the Christ Himself.
The office of “evangelist” was held by men such as Philip, Timothy, and Titus. They were gifted men who were closely associated with the apostles. The evangelists were appointed by the apostles and often studied under them. Therefore they had a special ability and power to make known and expound the facts of the gospel. This office also was temporary, just because of its close association with the temporary office of apostle.
The “prophets” were New Testament prophets (2:20; 3:5). Though they did not see Christ, they (like their old dispensation counterparts) could speak under inspiration of the Spirit (Acts 11:27; Acts 13:1; I Cor. 14:29, 30).They received revelations of the truth with the right to speak this truth to others. Again, this office was temporary. It lasted until the canon of the New Testament was closed. The truth had not yet been completely revealed and written in a permanent record in the New Testament Scriptures. With all the truth needed for salvation now embodied in the New Testament, there is no need for further revelation from God through apostles or prophets.
The permanent manifestation of this gift from Christ is the pastor/teacher. This is one office, not two—notice that the word “some” is not repeated before the word “teachers.” The word “pastor” is used to describe this gift of Christ to His church. This word very beautifully describes the responsibility of caring for sheep. Jesus is the Chief and Great Shepherd (Heb. 13:20; I Pet. 2:25; I Peter 5:4). However, He is now out of sight because He has ascended into heaven. He gives the office of pastor/teacher so that there might be a visible representation of Himself to His sheep. He gives under-shepherds to be guardians and protectors of His flock. This title emphasizes the fact that the bringing of the gospel is to be for the spiritual care of the flock.
The pastor is a teacher. He is to instruct the flock in the Word of God. His shepherding is to be in the way of teaching them. He cares for them, guards and directs them by teaching them the laws and truths of God’s Word. Not just when on the pulpit or in the catechism room, but always the pastor teaches—at the hospital bed, in the funeral home. From house to house he shepherds the flock by increasing their knowledge and understanding of the Word of the Shepherd.
What a gift the ascended Christ gives to His church! How valuable is this precious gift! How carefully and joyfully must it be received. And what a great calling is given to them to whom the gift is given.
The ascended Lord gave the gift of pastor/teacher for the establishment and maintenance of the church by equipping the saints. The members of the church are described according to their calling: saints. This title is given, not to a few special members of the flock, but to every member. This title does not mean that they are perfectly holy. Rather the name “saint” means that they are essentially “holy ones.” As members of the body of Christ they have been given the life of Jesus, which life is holy. They have been separated out of the world of sinful mankind, have been forgiven, and have been given the perfect righteousness of Jesus. They are now dedicated to serve God and His Christ. They are saints.
The shepherding to be done by the pastor/teacher is the “perfecting” of the saints. This refers to equipping or outfitting the saints. The preaching and teaching of the gospel is to promote the spiritual growth and development of each member. The saints are equipped when they are taught the Scriptures. The Word is to be applied appropriately to each sheep in every season. This is all they need—nothing but the Word.
The saints are to be equipped “for the work of the ministry.” The work of the ministry is literally the work of serving. Every saint has the office of believer. Each sheep is to be equipped by the preaching and teaching of the Word for the work of serving the body as a whole and each of the other members of the body. “Every one who believes…must know it to be his duty, readily and cheerfully to employ his gifts, for the advantage and salvation of other members” (Heidelberg Catechism, L.D. 21). “As mutual members of the same body,” all believers are called to serve “the edification of the brethren, according to the talents God has given them” (Belgic Confession, Art. 28). Each saint is called to serve the other members that God puts in his path, using the gifts God has given to him. It is in the activity of serving (ministry) that the members of the body of Christ function most beautifully.
The goal of equipping the saints unto service in the body is the “edifying of the body of Christ.” The shepherding by the pastor/teacher is unto the goal of the building up the body, both in the organism and in the institute of the church. It is through the preaching that Christ communicates Himself to the church, so that the church becomes increasingly Christ-like. It is when the members of the body help each other, that the image of Christ is reflected in them. In spite of the presence of the old man in every saint, the power of Christ’s Word transforms them into the children of light. It is the preaching of the gospel that builds up the body. By the preaching, every member becomes spiritually stronger and thus better reflects the Head.
Christ, knowing what His body needs, has given throughout the new dispensation the office of pastor/teacher, and He has filled the office with men to do the work of pastoring/teaching the saints with His Word.
The edifying of the body of Christ is not the end. There is a higher end. It is the “perfect” or complete man of the body of Christ in glory. “Perfect” means full grown, fully developed, or complete. The reference is to thechurch as a whole being complete. God’s grand purpose is that the church be full grown, with all the elected members being regenerated and gathered into the body of which Christ is the Head. The purpose of the gift of pastor/teacher is that this glorious end might be attained. When the body is complete, then there will be no more need for this gift.
This goal is described as “the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” The completed church is attained when every single member is fully developed. If there is any lack of development or any blemish in any part, then it cannot be said that the whole is complete. Each part, with its own variations in abilities and functions, must attain fully to that which it was ordained to be or do.
And notice that, according to our text, each member is complete when he is filled with Christ’s life, and when every member is in the body—not a single saint lacking. God knows them that are His—He chose them in love in His eternal decree of election. Not until every member is fully present will the body be complete. Then His fullness will be in us and we will fill Him (1:23).
We are taught in this passage that the ascended Christ gives the gift of pastor/teacher and then uses the gift of pastor/teacher to bring the body to “the unity of faith,” and to the “knowledge of the Son of God.” The “unity of the faith” refers to the one faith (4:5) concerning the Son of God and to the knowledge of this Son of God. The essential truth believed by all saints out of every age and culture concerns the person of the Savior. Each saint grasps by faith the knowledge that the Son of God is united with man in the wonder of the incarnation, and that He perfectly fulfilled God’s plan of salvation.
This knowledge is much more than intellectual. It must be a deeper and more profound knowledge. The work of the pastor is to bring us to this fuller knowledge, for it is essential to the building up of the body. This is the knowledge of God’s love for us and of us for Him. It is the calling of the church, through its ordained office of pastor/teacher, to direct the attention of the members toward Christ. It is Christ who must be known and loved.
So Christ ascended in order to give the gift of the pastor/teacher, so that they, through their instructional preaching, might equip each member of the local congregation to be able and willing to serve the other members, unto the goal of the building up of the body of Christ. This work must be done until our Lord returns.
Praise the Lord for the gift of pastor/teacher!!