The ascension gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers were given to men to edify the saints for the work of the ministry, not as a form of hierarchy for church government. They should be respected, but should never command respect or recognition. To edify is to lift up and encourage not put down nor tower over. As gifts to the church they should be a blessing and not a burden for upkeep.
Ephesians 4: 8 & 11, 8, Therefore He says: "When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men. 11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers.
When Jesus was raised from the dead and was seated at the right hand of God he sent the Holy Spirit to all believers who would receive Him. Knowing that His church, His body, did not automatically have all the wisdom, knowledge, and understand to grasp such a precious gift, He also gave us the fivefold ministry as another tangible gift. You cannot see salvation and you cannot see the Holy Spirit, but you can see and recognize the signs and wonders that follow a Spirit filled believer.
Over the centuries these offices in the church have taken on different roles and from time to time man gets involved and turns things upside down by claiming these “gifts” to be seats of authority over the “laity”. Over the past thirty years I have watched the fivefold ministries get turned up on their edge with the gift of apostle at the top and the gift of teacher at the bottom, creating a pseudo hierarchal form of church government. This is not what Jesus gave His life for, nor intended when He gave the church these gifts. True within the church body there needs to be order because God is not the author of confusion. There also needs to be respect given to the people called into one of these ministries as they have chosen to give up their personal wants in order to be a vessel in the hands of God. But that is exactly what they are, a vessel. During the life of Paul’s ministry, he moved in each of these gifts, some, one at a time, others in conjunction with each other. Today is no different.
To understand the difference we need to look at Jewish history and the position of the Pharisee. Jesus often confronted them on their manmade form of government, and even called them whitewashed tomes. They took on positions of “seen” authority even showing honor to themselves among themselves. Paul challenges this thinking in 2 Corinthians 10:8 & 9, “For even if I should boast somewhat more about our authority, which the Lord gave us for edification and not for your destruction, I shall not be ashamed- - 9 lest I seem to terrify you by letters”. Paul is recognizing that his authority is for edification and not destruction. He had written heavy letters on occasion with the intent of getting a church back on track and out of legalism or sin. He never used his authority as control or for personal recognition. He was even concerned that his letters would be seen as terrifying, when in fact without his corrections, the church would have fallen away from grace back into works. Galatians 1:6 is an example of Paul’s correction to the church. Paul further uncovers the false level of hierarchy that the Pharisees walked in and was growing within the body of Christ in 2 Corinthians 10:12-17, 12, For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise. 13 We, however, will not boast beyond measure, but within the limits of the sphere which God appointed us--a sphere which especially includes you. 14 For we are not overextending ourselves (as though our authority did not extend to you), for it was to you that we came with the gospel of Christ; 15 not boasting of things beyond measure, that is, in other men's labors, but having hope, that as your faith is increased, we shall be greatly enlarged by you in our sphere, 16 to preach the gospel in the regions beyond you, and not to boast in another man's sphere of accomplishment. 17 But he who glories, let him glory in the Lord. 18 For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends.
Our glory is in the Lord not our position within the church. It is God who commends us and not on our works or position, but on our faith in Jesus and the salvation He paid for with His life.
To better understand why these gifts given to the church are not to be used in a hierarchal fashion, but are actually positions of equal servitude to the body of Christ; we need to look at what Jesus told His disciples while He was here on earth. In Matthew Chapter 20 the mother of the sons of Zebedee had come to Jesus pleading for positions of authority from Jesus when He comes into His kingdom. We further read where the other disciples became displeased with this request and this is probably because they were hoping for one of the positions themselves. In Matthew 20:25 – 28 is Jesus’ answer to their request for authority positions within His church, “25 But Jesus called them to Himself and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. 26 Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. 27 And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave-- 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many". (Emphasis in bold, mine) Mark 10:42- 45 is a similar recount of the same event in time, but Mark states that those who desire to become great among you shall be your servant.
The fivefold ministry is not an “Amway” pyramid type of hierarchy, but rather a pyramid turned upside down. Instead of having a point at the bottom there is a solid foundation of the original apostles with Jesus as the chief cornerstone, (Matthew 21:42). Those of us called into the ministry should see ourselves at the bottom of this pyramid, supported solely by Jesus and the apostolic foundation. The church was purchased by His blood. We are His “gifts given” to the church for the edification and building up of faith to all who God sends our way. Even today a person called into the ministry can and should be willing to operate in all five offices. If a church is blessed to have more than one person filling these five positions then their foundation is stronger, providing there is not a fight for position. We all have an equal opportunity to come boldly to the throne of God; we are all in Christ Jesus sitting at the right hand of God. We all must have the same faith in Jesus and the salvation He purchased with His blood. No one person is closer to God, but there is the ability to have a deeper understanding and relationship with Him. This ability is equally available to all of the saints, and in fact is the will of God. There is only one true Sheppard, Jesus. The fivefold ministry are gifts, and a gift should bring you joy, not a burden. A gift should edify you, not cause you to feel bad about yourself. The word tells us that a true ministerial gift should receive double honor, because of their hearts desire to serve, work, and build up your faith and understanding in God, not just because of their position in the church, (1 Timothy 5:17).
Yes order must remain in the church and there must be a level of authority regarding the day to day business of a church or ministry. However, God is not mocked, church leaders will be held accountable for their actions in their day of judgment (1 Corinthians 3:13-15). Honor those who bless you and toil in the word and in prayer for you knowing that this pleases God. If the body of Christ, the church, can get this deep into our understanding, allowing the Holy Spirit to truly lead, and step away from this modern day Pharisee way of life, we would be able to witness separation and strife leave the body of Christ.
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