From very small beginnings, the church in Ephesus grew in such size and significance that within just three years its impact was felt not only in that city but across the entire region of Asia (modern-day Turkey)!… Fortunately, the New Testament provides us with more detail about this church than any other, so that we can learn from their success and take heed of the dangers they faced. The story of this church – told in a series of short dramatic episodes – is ‘a tale for our times’, and as we read it afresh, dig deeper and look behind the scenes we discover the heart of God for our churches, our cities and our regions…
The apostle Paul described his relationship with the Philippian church and its elders as a “partnership” (Phil 1:5,7), and it’s clear from the New Testament that this kind of partnership was integral to the “advancement of the gospel” (Phil 1:12), enabling the mission to flourish and the churches to grow daily in number, so that the world of that day was “turned upside down” (Ac 17:6)! Jesus had risen, ascended, poured-out His Spirit and sent-forth His church, and this Spirit-filled church – inspired and thrust forward by her apostles, guided and cared-for by her elders – began to impact and transform every society into which she was planted!…
Now, in a world in greater need than ever, and with a gospel as powerful as ever, it’s the great destiny of the church to once again turn the world upside down and make way for the return of Christ. Led by her apostles and elders, and with every other precious part fully functioning, the church is the hope of the world! And in a time of such abundant harvest, we must be so missional and so well-built that multitudes can be rapidly added, discipled and sent-out. This paper seeks to lift our vision of the church, the apostles and the elders, and considers how their powerful partnership can best be outworked today…
Ephesians chapter 4 makes clear to us that the ‘fivefold’ ministries of Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers are Gifts given by the ascended Lord Jesus Christ to His church, and that all of them are essential if the church is to be built-up and to come to unity and maturity; they are vital parts of the church “until” that time (Ephesians 4:11-13). Jesus is still giving His Gifts to His church. They are divinely-given, not humanly-appointed.
If this is so, then it’s essential that the church knows how to recognise the Gifts Jesus is giving to us; we must know how to test and approve authentic ministry (Revelation 2:2). This will mean listening carefully to the Spirit and the Word, which will never be in conflict – the Holy Spirit won’t ask us to recognise a person who does not fulfil the biblical criteria…
So, what criteria do we find in the Word to help us test and approve these ministries? Although more of the New Testament evidence concerns apostles (there is much less information about the other ministries) and most of that concerns Paul (the pre-eminent post-ascension apostle), the Spirit has – of course – given us all we need to make the necessary judgments about each of the gifts, in their various expressions. The following brief points are by no means exhaustive (other posts explore some of these things in much more detail), but I hope they provide a helpful starting-point…
The Gifts of Christ
- These ministries are people: those gifted by Christ, and given to the church – men and women themselves, not just what they do (note that in 1Co 12:28-30 Paul asks “are all” apostles, prophets or teachers? But in relation to the other gifts listed: “do all” work miracles, have gifts of healing, speak in tongues or interpret?) They are all expressions of God’s grace to His Church (Eph 4:7).
- They’re given by the Chief Apostle (Heb 3:1), Prophet (Mt 13:57, 21:11, Lk 13:33), Evangelist (Lk 4:18-19, 19:10), Shepherd (Jn 10:11, Heb 13:20, 1Pe 5:4) and Teacher (Mt 23:10) and each is an aspect (portion) of Christ’s own nature and ministry. Each is needed (in its many expressions) for the church to have as full a measure of Christ as possible (Eph 4:7).
- All five are essential for the church to come to maturity and fullness (Eph 4:12f); their shared focus and task is “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (4:12). They exercise their ministry in such a way that the whole church is empowered to exercise theirs. An absence of any of them will mean a lack in the church.
- This equipping will continue “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” (4:13) – when He returns.
- There are different types and measures of each Gift; all apostles are not all the same; neither prophets, evangelists, pastors or teachers. Their differences are ordained by God (cf. 1Co 12:18). Therefore we may not see all of the following characteristics in each of the ministries. We expect to see different “measures” of faith (Ro 12:3) and grace-gift (Ro 12:6, Eph 4:7, 1Co 15:10). .
- Gifting may overlap within the same person: Paul and Barnabas were numbered amongst the prophets and teachers (Ac 13:1) before being recognised as apostles (Ac 14:4,14, cf 1Ti 2:7, 2Ti 1:11); Philip was one of the Seven (Ac 6:5) and an evangelist (Ac 21:8), etc.
- Apóstolos – one ‘sent-out’ with a commission and authorisation to represent the Sender.
- Set apart by the Spirit for ‘the work’, which is wider than the local church (Ac 13:1-2, 14:26).
- Commissioned, authorised and sent-out by Christ Himself (1Co 1:1, Gal 1:1,15).
- A deep sense of servanthood (Ro 1:1, 1Co 3:5) and entrustment (1Co 4:1-2, Gal 2:7-8).
- Devoting time to being with Jesus in prayer and Word (Mk 3:13, Ac 6:1-7).
- Their commissions will vary – eg: “planting”, “watering” or “building” (1Co 3:5ff); or to a particular people (Gal 2:7-8) – and they may outwork their apostleship through another ‘underlying’ gift (pastor, teacher, etc) (Ac 13:1-2).
- Grace and authority for founding and building-up churches (Ro 1:5, 1Co 3:10, 2Co 10:8, 13:10, Gal 1:15), which are the “seal” of their ministry (1Co 9:1-2).
- Functionally “first” (1Co 12:28), the apostle is a ‘foundational’ ministry (Eph 2:20); laying a foundation of Christ-centred doctrine (1Co 3:10, Ac 2:46), based on his revelation (Eph 3:5).
- Spiritual ‘architects’ (seeing the big picture) and master-builders (1Co 3:10).
- Functioning as fathers toward churches and their leaders (1Co 4:15, 1Th 2:11).
- Developing a sphere of ministry and churches under his care (2Co 10:13-17, 11:28).
- Appoints elders to extend his fatherly care and government in each locality (Ac 14:23, Tit 1:5).
- Concerned for the practical needs of the poor and needy (Gal 2:10).
- Working in partnership with churches (Phil 1:5) and fellow-apostles (1Co 3:5ff); he may be a ‘hub’ for a team of ministries working together (Ac 13:13, Ro 16:3, Gal 1:2, 1Th 3:2, etc).
- Enduring and persevering through hardships and trials (2Co 4:7ff, 6:4ff, 12:12).
- Motivated by his vision of the Bride; Christ’s fulness in His church (Eph 4:13, Col 1:28f, 2Co 11:2).
- Equipping the Body to be apostolic (‘sent-out’) (Eph 4:12).
- Prophḗtēs –‘one who proclaims’ or ‘one who predicts’; a ‘proclaimer of a divinely inspired message’.
- Brings a revelation of what God wants to do or accomplish (Amos 3:7, Nu 12:6, 1Co 14:29-30).
- Functionally “second” (1Co 12:28), the prophet works alongside the apostle in laying foundations in the churches and carrying foundational revelation (Eph 2:20, 3:5; 2Pe 3:2).
- Bringing clarity and order; making things plain (1Co 14:25); never brings confusion or disorder (1Co 14:32-33).
- Their spirits are pure and they will always exalt Christ (1Jn 4:1-2).
- Strengthening, encouraging and comforting the churches (1Co 14:3, Ac 15:32).
- Function in plurality, with others prophets in the local church (Ac 13:1, 1Co 14:29).
- Equipping the Body to be prophetic (Eph 4:12).
- Euaggelistés – ‘bearer of good tidings’.
- Proclaims Christ and Kingdom; his message is never man-centred (Ac 8:5, 12).
- Filled with the Spirit (Ac 6:3 cf. Ac 21:8) and led by the Spirit (Ac 8:26, 29, 39).
- Seeking signs and wonders to authenticate his message (Ac 8:6, 13).
- Willing to serve in order to release other ministries (Ac 6:4).
- Works as part of a team; draws upon the apostle and others to ensure all the foundations are properly laid (Ac 8:12ff).
- Asks probing questions and takes time to sit alongside unbelievers and explain the gospel to them (Ac 8:30ff).
- Handles the Scriptures well and shares the gospel with ease (Ac 8:35).
- Imparts faith to believe and call on the Lord (Ro 10:14-15).
- Equipping the Body to be evangelistic (Eph 4:12).
- Poimén – shepherd
- Expressing God’s heart of care and compassion for His people, so that none are like “sheep without shepherds” (Mt 9:36, Mk 6:34).
- An integral aspect of Eldership (Ac 20:28, 1Pe 5:1-2).
- Gatekeepers in the church, watching over the flock (Jn 10:2, 1Pe 5:2).
- Works towards a flock established by the Spirit (Ac 20:28).
- Having a voice that is heard and recognised by the flock (Jn 10:14).
- Laying down his life for the sheep (Jn 10:11).
- Equipping the Body to be pastoral (Eph 4:12).
- Didáskalos – ‘an instructor acknowledged for their mastery in their field; one who teaches concerning the things of God, and the duties of man’.
- Functionally “third” (1Co 12:28), the teacher unfolds the apostolic doctrine, with authority (Tit 2:1, 15) and a deep sense of awe and responsibility (Jas 3:1).
- Reliable, suitably-qualified and entrusted with the apostolic revelation and doctrines (2Ti 2:2).
- Devoted to sound teaching and refuting error (1Ti 4:13, Tit 2:1).
- Teaching God’s Word, not secondary sources (2Ti 3:16).
- Teaching by the Spirit (1Jn 2:27, 5:6).
- They will never teach for personal gain (cf. 2Pe 2:3).
- Equipping the Body to handle the Word and teach one another (Eph 4:12).
How blessed we are that Jesus is still giving these Gifts to His church! May we be diligent in our evaluation of ministries and in giving proper recognition as they function and bear fruit amongst us…
As we’ve seen in Part 1 and Part 2 of this mini-series, Jesus is totally unchangeable – the same yesterday, today and forever – and has a Kingdom that, unlike every earthly kingdom, is totally unshakeable. Now we will see that He has empowered His Church to spread the Good News of His Kingdom everywhere. This is our mission, and nothing can stop it!…
Let’s start by briefly making 4 vital statements (expanded elsewhere) that will put things in context and explain why the mission is unstoppable:
- Our mission is the outworking of God’s eternal purpose. The original commission to Adam was to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28) and God’s desire to see his people fill the earth is seen repeatedly thereafter. Our great commission to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19-20) is a re-statement of this great purpose.
- Our mission is continuing what Jesus started. The Gospels record “all that Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1) and Acts shows the early church continuing all He’d started, as they proclaimed and proved He is King and has defeated every enemy.
- Our mission is the very reason Jesus sent His Spirit. Acts 1:4-8 makes clear that the whole purpose of the baptism with the Holy Spirit is to empower His disciples to be His witnesses in spreading the gospel.
- Our mission is the key to Christ’s return. Jesus declared He will come again and “the end will come” only when the good news of Kingdom has been preached in every nation (Matthew 24:14).
Since the purpose of God will always prevail, and Jesus will finish what He started, and His return is never in doubt…we can be assured that our mission cannot be thwarted – it is unstoppable!
Now, if you’re anything like me, it will also help to know: What does this look like in practice? How will it happen? How do we move from theory to reality? And how can we play our part?…
The story of the healing at the Beautiful Gate (Acts 3:1-12) provides some answers to these important questions. This story is positioned: immediately after 3,000 people are initially added to the church (Acts 2:41) and then more are added “every day” (Acts 2:47); and immediately before a further 2,000 are added (Acts 4:4) – and in fact it’s this event that triggers the second wave of growth. And this story is here in the middle of these things by design, to tell us about “one day” that illustrates “every day”, about one man who was saved and added as an example of thousands of others, and to describe one supernatural act that was typical of the “many signs and wonders” prevalent in the church (Acts 2:43). And, as such, it contains keys that help us become part of unstoppable mission and growth in our communities and churches. Let’s look at 5 things we see here:
Firstly, the story shows that our mission is not our meetings! This miracle took place as Peter and John were on their way to pray (verse 1). God moved in power outside the meeting, because that’s where the need was! Our mission doesn’t depend on our buildings or our meetings; we can play our part at any time in any place! We are never ‘more spiritual’ or ‘more usable’ when we are worshipping, praying or fellowshipping with others; in fact, as far as mission goes, we’re probably much more useful when we’re not in a meeting! Meetings aren’t a substitute for mission; good doctrine isn’t an alternative to good deeds; and our great community must not distract us from our Great Commission! If we want to turn our world upside-down we must let Him turn our church inside-out!
Secondly, we must not miss the moments. Peter and John arrive at the Gate at just same time as the lame man (verse 2); God creates ‘a moment’ when they find themselves sharing the same small patch of planet earth! None has planned it, but Peter and John know how to make most of every opportunity; and are alert to this ‘moment’ and available for God to use them at any time in any place. Jesus had told them to “Go and make disciples….” And promised “You will receive power…. you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem…” And now here they are: in Jerusalem and ready to be used! Participating in the mission means being ready for the many ‘moments’ God will bring our way.
Then, thirdly, we must look and listen. Peter and John listened to the man’s request and then “looked at him intently” (verse 4). If we’re going to recognise these God-given opportunities we must attune our senses to what’s happening around us: there’s always something to see and hear; every situation and conversation alerts us to a heart-cry if we look and listen carefully. Peter and John were ‘present in the moment’, and gave this man their time and attention. Playing our part means taking time to notice and care about the need that’s all around us.
Fourthly, we must be ready to give what we’ve got. In response to what they saw and heard, Peter simply gave the man what he had (verse 6). He gave him Jesus, and a miraculous healing in His Name. Simply sharing what we have, passing-on what we’ve discovered and allowing our lives to overflow is the very heart of our mission! And note that Peter and John gave away what they enjoyed “every day” (Acts 2:42-47) to a man who’d spent his life begging “every day” (Acts 3:2) – and from then on no day was ever the same again! It’s a great picture of a thriving church sharing the goodness of God with a barely-surviving world. When we keep it simple and give what we’ve got…the mission is unstoppable!
And then lastly, we must help people up and let them hold on. Peter reached out and helped the man up (verse 7) and let him hold on as they took him into the gathered church (verse 11). It takes great courage to lift up a lame man! But also to share your story, offer to help, sit and listen, ask if you can pray…. But note that it was as he lifted him up that healing exploded in the man’s body! God moves when we step-out. This man expected nothing more than a hand-out, but Peter offered an outstretched-hand. He was present in the moment. It’s a reminder that Jesus embraced people, sat with them, fed them, wept with them, calmed their storms, touched and healed them. And He’s just the same today!
Let’s be sure nothing stops us from opening-up our lives, reaching-out and helping others in… and so playing our part in this great co-mission! In this way we can outwork God’s purpose, continue what Jesus started, enjoy His empowering and hasten His return!
(An extended video version of this message is available here)
One of the most important conversations of all time occurs in Matthew chapter sixteen! After about two years of His public ministry – during which He’d healed the sick, cast out demons, fed multitudes, raised the dead, taught with authority, calmed the storms and forgiven people their sins – Jesus asks His disciples who people think or say He is (Matthew 16:13), and they respond by summarising the most popular public opinions: that He’s a resurrected John the Baptist, Elijah or Jeremiah, or maybe another of the prophets (16:14)…
But then Jesus turns the question on the disciples themselves, those who’ve been closest to Him, who’ve travelled and shared meals with Him and witnessed these things first hand, and asks: “But what about you, who do you say I am?” (16:15). This was no longer about public opinion. Now the focus was on their personal conviction. And without hesitation, Simon-Peter steps forward and is the first to reply: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” (16:16).
Jesus’s joy at Simon-Peter’s response seems almost palpable! And His next words are about to change Simon-Peter’s life forever: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” (16:17). Peter’s conviction that Jesus was the Messiah wasn’t just the result of seeing His miracles and hearing His teachings, and it certainly wasn’t a belief instilled in him by his family or his fellow-disciples. Flesh and blood alone could not convince him. It was a revelation from God! He knew Jesus was the Messiah because God had revealed it to Him.
The same is true for everyone who knows Jesus is the Messiah: we believe it because God has revealed it to us! Think about it: however you came to know Jesus; whatever the circumstances; whenever it happened; whoever was involved in sharing their testimony or faith with you – your conviction and belief actually came about because God the Father was at work revealing the truth to you. Be assured: He wanted you to know; you heard it from God!
Jesus continues: “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (16:18). This is the ‘first mention’ of the church (ekklesia) in the Bible. And notice what happens here: Simon-Peter has confessed the truth about Jesus’s identity (“You are the Messiah”) and in response Jesus proclaims the truth about his identity (“you are Peter”). The word ‘Peter’ is petros meaning ‘a rock’, or a ‘specific piece of rock’ and in those few words Jesus declares something essential that Peter will need to remember as the story unfolds – Jesus thinks he’s a rock; Jesus believes in Him; and Jesus will use him in the foundations of His church! This was Peter’s true identity. In the same way, it’s only when we confess the truth about Jesus that we begin to see our own true identity, and begin to see how Jesus wants to use us in what He’s building.
In declaring that He will build His church “on this rock”, Jesus is referring not to Peter himself but to the revelation Peter has received and confessed. The ‘rock’ in this case is not petros but petra – meaning the ‘bedrock’. This is vital: the church is built not a man (Peter, or anyone else) but on the foundational bedrock of the revelation that Jesus Christ is the Messiah! It’s as we believe and confess this truth that we’re born again and become part of His church (see Romans 10:9). Jesus is the Rock, the Foundation and the Cornerstone of His church (see Ephesians 2:20, 1 Corinthians 3:10-11), and anything built on anything else is doomed to failure, as the story of the two builders dramatically illustrates (Matthew 7:24-27).
This conversation and this revelation lived with Peter for the rest of his life. It defined his identity and shaped his ministry. And in the next article we will look at what happened when he preached it to crowds of thousands on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2)…