With this chapter the second part of the letter begins. In Ephesians 1:1-23 ; Ephesians 2:1-22 ; Ephesians 3:1-21 Paul has dealt with the great and eternal truths of the Christian faith, and with the function of the Church in the plan of God. Now he begins to sketch what each member of the Church must be if the Church is to carry out her part in that plan.
Before we begin this chapter, let us again remind ourselves that the central thought of the letter is that Jesus has brought to a disunited world the way to unity. This way is through faith in him and it is the Church's task to proclaim this message to all the world. And now Paul turns to the character the Christian must have if the Church is to fulfil her great task of being Christ's instrument of universal reconciliation between man and man, and man and God within the world.
4:11-13 And he gave to the Church some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers. This he did that God's consecrated people should be fully equipped, that the work of service might go on, and that the body of Christ should be built up. And this is to go on until we all arrive at complete unity in faith in and knowledge of God. until we reach perfect manhood, until we reach a stature which can be measured by the fullness of Christ.
There is a special interest in this passage because it gives us a picture of the organization and the administration of the early Church. In the early Church there were three kinds of office-bearers. There were a few whose writ and authority ran throughout the whole Church. There were many whose ministry was not confined to one place but who carried out a wandering ministry, going wherever the Spirit moved them. There were some whose ministry was a local ministry confined to the one congregation and the one place.
(i) The apostles were those whose authority ran throughout the whole Church. The apostles included more than the Twelve. Barnabas was an apostle ( Acts 14:4 , Acts 14:14 ). James, the brother of our Lord, was an apostle ( 1 Corinthians 15:7 ; Galatians 1:19 ). Silvanus was an apostle ( 1 Thessalonians 2:6 ). Andronicus and Junias were apostles ( Romans 16:7 ).
For an apostle there were two great qualifications. First, he must have seen Jesus. When Paul is claiming his own rights in face of the opposition of Corinth, he demands: "Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?" ( 1 Corinthians 9:1 ). Second, an apostle had to be a witness of the Resurrection and of the Risen Lord. When the eleven met to elect a successor to Judas the traitor, he had to be one who had companied with them throughout the earthly life of Jesus and a witness of the Resurrection ( Acts 1:21-22 ).
In a sense the apostles were bound to die out, because before so very long those who had actually seen Jesus and who had actually witnessed the Resurrection, would pass from this world. But, in another and still greater sense, the qualification remains. He who would teach Christ must know Christ; and he who would bring the power of Christ to others must have experienced Christ's risen power.
(ii) There were the prophets. The prophets did not so much fore-tell the future as forth-tell the will of God. In forth-telling the will of God, they necessarily to some extent fore-told the future, because they announced the consequences which would follow if men disobeyed that will.
The prophets were wanderers throughout the Church. Their message was held to be not the result of thought and study but the direct result of the Holy Spirit. They had no homes and no families and no means of support. They went from church to church proclaiming the will of God as God had told it to them.
The prophets before long vanished from the Church. There were three reasons why they did so. (a) In times of persecution the prophets were the first to suffer; They had no means of concealment and were the first to die for the faith. (b) The prophets became a problem. As the Church grew local organization developed. Each congregation began to grow into an organization which had its permanent minister and its local administration. Before long the settled ministry began to resent the intrusion of these wandering prophets, who often disturbed their congregations. The inevitable result was that bit by bit the prophets faded out. (c) The office of prophet was singularly liable to abuse. These prophetic wanderers had considerable prestige. Some of them abused their office and made it an excuse for living a very comfortable life at the expense of the congregations whom they visited. The earliest book of church administration is the Didache, The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, which dates back to just after A.D. 100. In it both the prestige and the suspicion of the prophets is clearly seen. The order for the sacrament is given and the prayers to be used are set out; and then comes the instruction that the prophet is to be allowed to celebrate the sacrament as he will. But there are certain other regulations. It is laid down that a wandering prophet may stay one or two days with a congregation, but if he wishes to stay three days he is a false prophet; it is laid down that if any wandering prophet in a moment of alleged inspiration demands money or a meal, he is a false prophet.
(iii) There were the evangelists. The evangelists, too, were wanderers. They corresponded to what we would call missionaries. Paul writes to Timothy, "Do the work of an evangelist" ( 2 Timothy 4:5 ). They were the bringers of the good news. They had not the prestige and authority of the apostles who had seen the Lord; they had not the influence of the Spirit-inspired prophets; they were the rank and file missionaries of the Church who took the good news to a world which had never heard it.
(iv) There were the pastors and teachers. It would seem that this double phrase describes one set of people. In one sense they had the most important task in the whole Church: They were not wanderers but were settled and permanent in the work of one congregation. They had a triple function.
(a) They were teachers. In the early Church there were few books. Printing was not to be invented for almost another fourteen hundred years. Every book had to be written by hand and a book the size of the New Testament would cost as much as a whole year's wages for a working man. That meant that the story of Jesus had mainly to be transmitted by word of mouth. The story of Jesus was told long before it was written down; and these teachers had the tremendous responsibility of being the respositories of the gospel story. It was their function to know and to pass on the story of the life of Jesus.
(b) The people who came into the Church were coming straight from heathenism; they knew literally nothing about Christianity, except that Jesus Christ had laid hold upon their hearts. Therefore these teachers had to open out the Christian faith to them. They had to explain the great doctrines of the Christian faith. It is to them that we owe it that the Christian faith remained pure and was not distorted as it was handed down.
(c) These teachers were also pastors. Pastor is the Latin word for a shepherd. At this time the Christian Church was no more than a little island in a sea of paganism. The people who came into it were only one remove from their heathen lives; they were in constant danger of relapsing into heathenism; and the duty of the pastor was to shepherd his flock and keep them safe.
The word is an ancient and an honourable one. As far back as Homeric times Agamemnon the king was called the Shepherd of the People. Jesus had called himself the Good Shepherd ( John 10:11 ; John 10:14 ). The writer to the Hebrews called Jesus the great shepherd of the sheep ( Hebrews 13:20 ). Peter called Jesus the shepherd of men's souls ( 1 Peter 2:25 ). He called him the Chief Shepherd ( 1 Peter 5:4 ). Jesus had commanded Peter to tend his sheep ( John 21:16 ). Paul had warned the elders of Ephesus that they must guard the flock whom God had committed to their care ( Acts 20:28 ). Peter had exhorted the elders to tend the flock of God ( 1 Peter 5:2 ).
The picture of the shepherd is indelibly written on the New Testament. He was the man who cared for the flock and led the sheep into safe places; he was the man who sought the sheep when they wandered away and, if need be, died to save them. The shepherd of the flock of God is the man who bears God's people on his heart, who feeds them with the truth, who seeks them when they stray away, and who defends them from all that would hurt their faith. And the duty is laid on every Christian that he should be a shepherd to all his brethren.
After Paul has named the different kinds of office-bearers within the Church, he goes on to speak of their aim and of what they must try to do.
Their aim is that the members of the Church should be fully equipped. The word Paul uses for equipped is interesting. It is katartismos ( Greek #2677 ), which comes from the verb katartizein ( Greek #2675 ). The word is used in surgery for setting a broken limb or for putting a joint back into its place. In politics it is used for bringing together opposing factions so that government can go on. In the New Testament it is used of mending nets ( Mark 1:19 ), and of disciplining an offender until he is fit to take his place again within the fellowship of the Church ( Galatians 6:1 ). The basic idea of the word is that of putting a thing into the condition in which it ought to be. It is the function of the office-bearers of the Church to see that the members of the Church are so educated, so guided, so cared for, so sought out when they go astray, that they become what they ought to be.
Their aim is that the work of service may go on. The word used for service is diakonia ( Greek #1248 ); and the main idea which lies behind this word is that of practical service. The office-bearer is not to be a man who simply talks on matters of theology and of Church law; he is in office to see that practical service of God's poor and lonely people goes on.
Their aim is to see to it that the body of Christ is built up. Always the work of the office-bearer is construction, not destruction. His aim is never to make trouble, but always to see that trouble does not rear its head; always to strengthen, and never to loosen, the fabric of the Church.
The office-bearer has even greater aims. These may be said to be his immediate aims; but beyond them he has still greater aims.
His aim is that the members of the Church should arrive at perfect unity. He must never allow parties to form in the Church nor do anything which would cause differences in it. By precept and example he must seek to draw the members of the Church into a closer unity every day.
His aim is that the members of the Church should reach perfect manhood. The Church can never be content that her members should live decent. respectable lives; her aim must be that they should be examples of perfect Christian manhood and womanhood.
So Paul ends with an aim without peer. The aim of the Church is that her members should reach a stature which can be measured by the fullness of Christ. The aim of the Church is nothing less than to produce men and women who have in them the reflection of Jesus Christ himself. During the Crimean War Florence Nightingale was passing one night down a hospital ward. She paused to bend over the bed of a sorely wounded soldier. As she looked down, the wounded lad looked up and said: "You're Christ to me." A saint has been defined as "someone in whom Christ lives again." That is what the true Church member ought to be.