In discussing the unity and maturing of believers, Paul describes in Ephesians 4 how God’s comprehensive and unified work results in grace for each individual believer (Eph 4:7). Each of us can rejoice, knowing that God has given us individually the grace we need, while at the same time we can understand that we are not independent of Him nor of each other. We are designed to function as His body—as one—even though we are individual members of His body.
Considering the unique source of grace and the gifts that stem from grace, Paul explains that Christ gave the gift (4:7), and He gave gifts (4:8). His grace included not just the singular gift of salvation (as described in Eph. 2:8-9), but also everything necessary for complete sanctification (as described in Eph. 2:10).
Ephesians 4:11 identifies four vital gifts: “and He gave indeed the apostles, and the prophets, and the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers.” This is a literal translation accounting for each Greek word in the passage. Notice that the objects of verb gave are preceded in each case by the definite article the. Also notice the passage does not say that He gave the gift of apostleship, prophecy, evangelism, and pastoring and teaching—if that is what Paul intended to say, he could have easily structured the passage to make that meaning clear. Instead, he identifies the gifts as the apostles themselves, the prophets themselves, the evangelists themselves, and the pastors and teachers themselves.
In other words, Ephesians 4:11 cannot be used exegetically to support the idea that, for example, there is a gift of evangelism. In fact, there isn’t a single passage in Scripture that indicates evangelism requires a special gifting. All believers are given the mandate, as a part of the full armor of God, to have their feet shod “with the preparation of the gospel of peace” (Eph. 6:15). Every believer is to be prepared and equipped with the gospel. Consequently, no one can claim their lack of the gift of evangelism as an excuse for their failure to faithfully share the gospel.
Further, Ephesians 4:11 does not advocate a gift of pastoring and teaching to individuals, either. The two terms share the same definite article, indicating that the two in this context are not to be understood as two separate functions, but as one. Pastors are not just pastors, they are pastors and teachers. Again, notice that it is not pastoring or teaching that is given to the church—the gift is the pastors and teachers themselves. No other passage in Scripture supports pastoring as an individual gift, though teaching is identified as such in Romans 12:7. In short, no one can claim accurately that they have been given special dispensation to be a pastor. Paul underscores this in 1 Timothy 3 when he explains that one can be appointed to the office of overseer if (1) he desires the office (1 Tim. 3:1), and (2) if he meets the qualifications as determined by those appointing him (1 Tim. 3:2-7). There is no spiritual gift in view in this passage, except for perhaps teaching. All the other characteristics are expected of every maturing believer.
Consequently, no aspiring pastor can excuse his own unpreparedness by appealing to a spiritual gift. And no functioning pastor can resist accountability based on his special choosing by God. The mentality that the pastor is “the Lord’s anointed” likens pastors in the church to priests and even kings in Israel. Many a pastor has been shipwrecked because he failed to understand the difference between the administrative and leadership roles in theocratic and monarchial Israel and the pastoral role in the church—the two have nothing to do with each other.
Ephesians 4:11 is also not describing gifts of apostleship or prophecy. There is no passage in Scripture that describes apostleship as an individual and broadly applicable gift. Instead, Ephesians 4:11 notes that apostles themselves have been given to the church. These apostles are handpicked by Him (Acts 1:2; 1 Cor. 1:1), and had seen Jesus personally (1 Cor. 9:1; 15:7-9). No one in the church today can claim these qualifications, nor can legitimately claim with any biblical evidence that they have a gift of apostleship, for the Bible identifies no such gift. Paul calls those who make such a claim “false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:13). Ouch. On the other hand, Ephesians 4:11 indicates that the apostles have been given to the church as a whole.
Unlike apostleship, there is a spiritual gift of prophecy (Rom. 12:6), but that is not what is referred to in Ephesians 4:11. The reference there is to the prophets being given to the church.
Finally, it is vital that we realize why these gifts—the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers—were given to the church: “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service to the building up of the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12). God has given these gifts—or offices, if I may call them that—to the church in order for saints to be equipped, so that the body may be built up. It is also vital that we understand it is not these people that do the equipping, it is the word of God (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
These offices (or gifts to the church) have served the church (in the case of apostles and prophets) and continue to serve the church (in the case of evangelists and pastors and teachers) in ministries centered on God’s word. The goal is that each believer will one day be fully mature in Christ (Eph 4:13), but until then we are called to no longer be children, carried about by every wind of doctrine. Biblical discernment requires that we base our understandings exclusively on what is written—even when what is written contradicts well established traditions and practices in the church. Considering Ephesians 4:11 gives us opportunity to do just that.