“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way
into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body,
joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped,
when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that
it builds itself up in love.”
As human beings, we love to build things. In the construction industry, (I work in construction materials), I see it every day and make my living from it. All around Knoxville we see the construction of roads and buildings. Have you driven around the UT campus lately? God is also in the building business! He is building his kingdom through his glorious son, Jesus Christ!
In any building project, you need leadership; leaders that understand the plan and are committed to seeing the construction through to its completion. Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, we see God establishing leadership. In the old covenant, God established patriarchs (fathers), elders, priest, judges, kings, and prophets to function in various areas of leadership for the children of Israel. In the new (and better) covenant, we see Jesus Christ establishing the leadership of His church. These offices sometimes referred to as ascension gifts or five-fold, serve for the purpose of equipping the church to do the work of the ministry. I like to think of it this way. Jesus uniquely embodied all the Old Testament leadership offices and then “filtered” these through Himself and gave to the church. He kept the offices of king, priest, and judge for Himself because He alone is worthy and can rightfully administer these offices through the covenant of His blood and are a part of the Trinity.
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds, and teachers,
to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until
we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God,
to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,”
Before I get into the character and purpose of these offices, I need to address one thing. I realize that some of my evangelical brothers’ hold to the belief some offices ceased to exist because we now have the full counsel of Scripture. I struggle with this idea for two reasons. First, nowhere in Scripture does it say these offices have ceased to exist. Second, the reason for these offices is to equip (train) the church to do the work of the ministry. So, as long as, the church is around, I believe it needs to be properly equipped to steward the gospel.
The character of those that hold these offices should follow Jesus’ example. The Apostle Paul said Jesus took the form as a servant. “… but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7-8).
Paul also lists these attributes in verse 2 as an example of how we should walk and are called. These are humility, gentleness, patience and bearing one another in love (Eph. 4:2). So, the model is one of leaders serving in humility and not serving for their own interest.
I think that we struggle with the Five-Fold ministry because there has been abuse in the past. Our tendency is to minimize abuse by eliminating the source instead of correcting the problem. The old saying, “throw the baby out with the bathwater” holds true. First, those who hold these offices are not infallible men. These are men saved by grace through faith in Jesus but are not infallible. The Scripture doesn’t attempt to hide this either. In Galatians chapter 2, we see a conflict between the Apostle Paul and Peter (Galatians 2: 11-14) over applying the law to the gospel. Finally, we should also apply the character qualifications, Paul, lists in 1 Timothy chapter 3. These are qualities we should all want to aspire to as we mature in the faith. We want servant leaders that bare the fruit of the Spirit.
The purpose or end-result of these offices, (gifts to the church), is to equip the saints for the work of ministry, which in turn will build up the body of Christ. So often in churches, the expectation is that paid (clergy) ministers do the work of the ministry and our job is to support them. Now, I believe this model is backward. The church leaders’ job is to equip us to go into the marketplaces, communities and everywhere we are led to be examples of the transforming power of the gospel. The picture of a soldier entering battle provides a perfect illustration of the word ‘equip.’ The military gives the needed tools and training to the soldier on how to accomplish the mission set before them.
I remember recently leaving a church parking lot in Maryville; a sign was placed in the parking lot before entering the highway that read “You are now entering the mission field.” How many times have we thought the only way to serve Jesus is by quitting our jobs and going overseas, or by going to seminary? These are not bad things in themselves, but what about that person that works beside you? What are they going through? Divorce? Perhaps a death in the family? Suicidal thoughts? In my 30 plus years serving God in the workplace, I’ve seen all of these. God in His sovereign purpose through grace has placed you in your job. I’ve recently have been challenged by Tim Keller in a Podcast called “4 Ways the Gospel Transforms Work”. It gave a whole new meaning to work. Now Mondays aren’t all that bad! I’ll close with one of my favorite scriptures.
“As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God
chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up
as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices
acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
1 Peter 2:4-5