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The five ascension gifts to The Church
In this series of studies on The Church, we have determined that Jesus is the Head of the Church which is His body and looked at how He said that He would build it, based on Peter's revelation of who He was.
This page is devoted to a group of ministry gifts that is as valid now as the day Jesus gave them to us. These gifts are men. They are men (no gender implied) who occupy specific offices or positions within the church and are listed in Ephesians chapter four that says-
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.”
(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth?
He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)
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, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
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. Ephesians 4:1-16
I would also draw your attention to something else Paul said about various gifts-
Now you are the body of Christ, and every one of you the separate parts of it.
And God has put some in the church, first, Apostles; second, prophets; third, teachers; then those with wonder-working powers, then those with the power of taking away disease, helpers, wise guides, users of strange tongues.
Are all Apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? have all the power of working wonders?
Are all able to take away disease? have all the power of tongues? are all able to give their sense?
But let your desires be turned to the more important things given by the Spirit. And now I am pointing out to you an even better way. 1 Corinthians 12:27-31
There are many and various gifts or enablements that have been given to the church. I liken them to tools with which we can do the job. In Paul's letter to the church at Corinth, portion of which is listed above, he taught on the gifts that the Holy Spirit bestows on us. I deal with them in the page titled The Holy Spirit and His Gifts (click to visit) and recommend you visit that and associated pages. But now to what is known as the Five ascension gift ministries that Jesus gave to His Church.
The Gospel accounts of Matthew 3:1-3 chapter three and Luke chapter three describe the appearance of John the Baptist who came to prepare the way for Jesus. John preached about the coming kingdom (that is God’s way of doing things).
John baptized Jesus upon whom the Holy Spirit descended and Jesus went into the wilderness for forty day and forty nights of fasting. During that time, the devil tempted him, appealing to the three main areas in which he tempts us all, namely the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.
Jesus responded at all times by replying, “It is written…” quoting the word of God and emerged victorious to start His ministry. Throughout His ministry, Jesus told everyone that the Father had sent Him (John 5:30-37, 6:44,57; 8:29; 17:25; 20:21). The writer to the book of Hebrews said of Jesus-
Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus; Who was faithful to him that appointed him, as also Moses was faithful in all his house. Hebrews 3:1-2.
The word used for Apostle here is apostolos. It comes form the word apostellō. It talks about someone who has been specifically chosen or set apart for a specific mission. This person is a delegate, ambassador or representative of the one who chose him. He or she is the person who has been sent on an assignment.
Jesus therefore was called or chosen by God and set apart for a specific assignment.
The Lord then started His ministry and then began choosing others to assist Him. Matthew 4:18-22 states that Jesus called Simon called Peter, Andrew, James and John, telling them to follow Him. Luke says in Luke 5:27 that Jesus called Levi, telling Him to follow also.
In Luke 6:1, we see reference to Jesus and His disciples. Some time later, He healed the man with the withered hand and prayed during the night. What happened next is interesting.
One day soon afterward Jesus went up on a mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night. At daybreak he called together all of his disciples and chose twelve of them to be apostles. Here are their names: Simon (whom he named Peter), Andrew (Peter’s brother), James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James (son of Alphaeus), Simon (who was called the zealot), Judas (son of James), Judas Iscariot (who later betrayed him). Luke 6:12-16.
We tend to think that Jesus only had 12 disciples, but this is not true. This account shows that He had a group of disciples and from this group He chose 12 for specific purposes.
- In Luke 10:1, Jesus sent an additional 70 on specific ministry assignments.
- When Jesus talked about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, many of His disciples left him (John 6:66).
- In Acts 1:15, Peter addressed 120 followers of Jesus, two of whom were specifically named in Acts 1:20-26 and one choses to replace Judas.Those 120 were attending the prayer meeting on the Day of Pentecost.
- In 1 Corinthians 15:6, Paul said that 500 brethren saw Jesus.
Obviously therefore, Jesus had many more followers than the 12. Out of this group of people, Jesus picked a special group of people for specific roles.
What we can see here is a principle in that God calls certain people for certain tasks. He calls everyone of us of course, but in this context there is a specific “call” on “chosen people” who are set apart for His purpose. The ministry in the church today is not a vocation or a career as some have made it, but a Divine call.
Hebrews 13:8 states-
Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.
God’s word does not change. See Isaiah 40:8; Matthew 5:18; Matthew 24:35; 1 Peter1:25.
We know where we stand with God at all times. He does not change. His principles remain consistent.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. James 1:17
With such things in mind, the way Jesus does things in building His Church, including choice, selection, ordaining and equipping the saints for His tasks has not changed. The only thing that has changed is how we go about it. We have modern day technology now to help us, but the task or objective remains the same.
It has been said that such gifts were only “temporary” and thus given to help get the church started and once it was, they were no longer required. It is also stated that once the original apostles died out, they had completed their tasks, got the church started and so no more people like them were needed.
It is also said that we now have the bible and so do not need such things any longer, but this ignores the fact that the Old Testament, that is still valid today, was already completed.
If the bible is, as they say already here, why are we still getting new translations or versions today? My own personal library contains scores of original texts and translations. These arguments are meaningless.
The scriptures themselves tell us the truth.
Furthermore, he gave some people as emissaries, some as prophets, some as proclaimers of the Good News, and some as shepherds and teachers. Their task is to equip God’s people for the work of service that builds the body of the Messiah, until we all arrive at the unity implied by trusting and knowing the Son of God, at full manhood, at the standard of maturity set by the Messiah’s perfection.
We will then no longer be infants tossed about by the waves and blown along by every wind of teaching, at the mercy of people clever in devising ways to deceive. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in every respect grow up into him who is the head, the Messiah. Under his control, the whole body is being fitted and held together by the support of every joint, with each part working to fulfill its function; this is how the body grows and builds itself up in love.
The purpose is to-
- Equip God’s people for the ministry. The various gifts equip the saints to do the work of the ministry. Pastors, as I often say, are the shepherds of the Lord’s sheep. Pastors are to love and care for them in all ways, to protect and nurture the lambs and feed them so that they grow into sheep. It is the sheep who bear the lambs. Pastors don’t!
- Build the body of Christ. The church is not a denomination or a building, but people, or the body of Christ. The ministry gifts are designed to help build us all up, to train us, to equip us, to lead us.
- Help us arrive at the destination. These gifts are here to help us all arrive in unity at the same place. They teach us how to intimately know the Lord and how to trust and follow Him. He is the good shepherd and we are His sheep. The fivefold ministries help us to hear the Shepherd’s voice and follow Him.
- The Lord wants us all to be one as He and the Father are one.
- Help us to grow up. These gifts are designed to hemp us as little children to grow up to maturity. They are here to show us the standards of Jesus and to help us reach this stage of perfection. This perfection does not mean we do not make mistakes or be “perfect”, but that we will grow up to be mature, or to reach spiritual maturity.
- Give us stability. There are many voices out there, all clamouring for your attention. Some teach this; others teach that and deceivers are constantly seeking ways to come up with a new fad or a new something or another. If you do not know the truth, you can be tossed around from one wave to another and never come to a complete knowledge of the Messiah. These gifts constantly point the way to Jesus. They always try to bless and encourage the believer to know all there is to know about God through Jesus and to enjoy the fullness of everything that God has for them. They avoid denominationalism and are designed to draw attention, not to themselves, but to the Lord. They may at times allow themselves to be seen as role models, but in the process make sure that they in turn are role models of Messiah!
- Promote the love factor. Love is not sloppy, sentimental emotionalism. Love took Jesus to the cross. These ministry gifts teach and show by example the love of Christ in us, as they work towards getting God’s people, irrespective of denominational ties, grow up in Christ.
These ministries long to see each and every individual member of the body fit into its place and function as designed to fulfil their functions. A classic example is the human body itself. An eye cannot do what the ear does and vice-versa. The leg may take us places, but everything has to rest on the foot or the body will perhaps fall over.
With such illustrations, you may see that the gift ministries have a definite purpose and are here for the duration. Nowhere in scripture is a statement that says that God took these offices out of the Church and that the Church no longer needs them. In the twenty-first century, we need them more than ever.
Let us now see what is meant by perfecting the saints.
His intention was the perfecting and the full equipping of the saints (His consecrated people), [that they should do] the work of ministering toward building up Christ's body (the church), [That it might develop] until we all attain oneness in the faith and in the comprehension of the [full and accurate] knowledge of the Son of God, that [we might arrive] at really mature manhood (the completeness of personality which is nothing less than the standard height of Christ's own perfection), the measure of the stature of the fullness of the Christ and the completeness found in Him.
So then, we may no longer be children, tossed [like ships] to and fro between chance gusts of teaching and wavering with every changing wind of doctrine, [the prey of] the cunning and cleverness of unscrupulous men, [gamblers engaged] in every shifting form of trickery in inventing errors to mislead. Ephesians 4:12-14.
When we receive Jesus as our Saviour, it is by a conscious decision. The preaching of the Cross is the vehicle. The Holy Spirit takes the preaching of the word of God and convicts the listener in some way that he or she must act on that preaching.
Salvation is a free gift.
Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else. But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)
For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus.
So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus.
God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.
Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.
After our conversion, God calls us saints. The Greek word is hagios and it refers to being made holy or righteous. No human being has this right or ability to declare us a saint—God does!
In simple terms before our conversion experience we lived in the world. Once we met Jesus, our lives are changed forever. Paul says that we go through a change process that I liken to the change that turns an ugly grub into a beautiful butterfly.
… Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life.
He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them. So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now!
This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.
So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!”
For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:14-21.
This born again experience (see John 3:3-8) means that we start afresh and, just like a newborn baby does, we need to be fed and nurtured as if at mother’s breast. Peter puts is this way-
Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness. 1 Peter 2:2-3. See also Romans 12:1-2; 1 Corinthians 3:1-2; Galatians 4:1-2; Ephesians 4:14; 1 Timothy 4:15; Hebrews 5:12. The Old Testament gives similar exhortation in Job 187:9; Psalm 84:7; 92:12; Proverbs 4:18.
What we need to understand is that we have started a new way of life and have to learn new things just as someone has to reprogram a computer. We were programmed in that old life and now have to adapt and God has provided the resources such as illustrated above with which we can do this.
It is understandable therefore that many believers will be at different stages of development in their lives with the Lord. Some have just been born again whilst others have been saved for a longer period of time. We are all therefore at differing stages of growth and development.
When it comes to the perfecting of the saints in our core text, the scriptures talk about spiritual maturity. The five ascension gift ministries have been given to us to help us grow more and more in Christ each day. In so doing the believer gains better understanding of the things of God and grows up into adulthood so that he or she can I turn be fruitful and able to reproduce and become a parent to new converts and so the cycle goes on.
As have already touched on, it is often stated that the Gifts of the Spirit as listed in 1 Corinthians chapters 12 to 14 and the Ministry Gifts that we are discussing now were temporary only, given the help establish the church and that when the foundational apostles eventually died, they were no longer available.
The phrase “until that which is perfect is come” as seen in 1 Corinthians 13:10, is used to substantiate such claims, but when we look at the very intent and purpose of the ministry gifts, Paul clearly reveals that they have been given for definite purposes-
- for the perfecting of the saints
- for the work of the ministry
- for the edifying of the Body of Christ.
Obviously, if the last purpose is taken out of the equation, the Body of Christ cannot be edified. This alone is sufficient reason for their validity because every one of us needs to be edified, encouraged and built up on occasions.
The second purpose as listed is to facilitate or help equip every believer so that they can all do the work of the ministry, which leads into the edification of the Body of Christ. One translation says that the five-fold ministry gifts were given “In order to get His holy people ready too serve as workers.”
The words perfect and perfecting might seem confusing, when we think in the natural as if we will be literally perfect. We are not “perfect” in that sense in the flesh whilst we are in our mortal bodies. What it means is that we will be become mature, or brought to full manhood. It relates to spiritual maturity.
Paul tells us how long they are to remain operational, when telling us about these gifts, saying-
Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.
This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.
Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Ephesians 4:12-14
The church as most people see it, is far from such a state. For this reason, if for no other, they will remain in operation until Jesus returns. As I am updating this page (at the beginning of March 2019) the Roman Catholic church is in crisis because of the child sex and other scandals. Cardinal Pell was convicted of such abuse and is in a holding prison for assessment before final sentencing.
I will not comment on this other than to say that this church is riddled with such problems and the community knows it! Many people do not want Christianity at all because of the image that is being presented. At the rick of sounding judgmental and opening myself to criticism, such behaviour is not a sign of a genuine Christian. The fruit is not there, but religion is. I daresay that the whole movement itself is not...and I say that advisedly... not really Christian at all. If we look at the characteristics of a believer from the biblical perspective, there is little evidence of heart conversion experience and the biblical standards of priesthood, one of which includes the ability to be married with an heir. See the page Qualifications for priesthood.
In Ephesians 4:11, we see that Jesus gave these ministry gifts to The Church.
In 1 Corinthians 12:28 we see that God set gifts into The Church.
Two things immediately stand out. The first is that God is the one who has done the choosing, not man. No man can enter any phase of genuine ministry of his own volition. It is not a vocaton one can choose, but a Divine calling one enters into. It is a Divine call.
No one can choose to become one of these ministry gifts just because someone "had a word" for you. No church, denomination or organization can thus appoint anyone to any of those positions. They are gifts from above.
God alone sets men and women into ministry gift offices and He anoints and equips those He calls. Just as Jesus called His disciples to follow Him, one is called into a ministry office and such a person is then spiritually equipped for that office.
The second point to see is that they are set into The church. They are here until Jesus returns.
When God calls such a person into service, He ordains them for that office. Another aspect is that when God calls someone... He equips them and the biblical standard often seen is the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit in that person's life. Jesus was called by the Father and this is a mark of apostleship, but He never started His ministry until after the Holy Spirit came upon Him. Before He ascended to heaven, He issued the command to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came and after that, the believers started their ministries.
Ordination is not to be a ceremony, or issuing a license to preach, conduct weddings and the like as it often is in many places. In many instances it is all man-made.
No one should try to intrude into any ministry office unless they have been first called by God. Paul teaches about "proving" one's ministry and calling, or providing the fruit thereof in places like 1 Timothy 5:22; 2 Timothy 2:15-16, 4:1-5. Unfortunately, we have seen a decline in certain biblical standards so that many people are occupying offices, such as that of a pastor, when the Lord never called them to do that. I call them "went ones" and not "sent ones".
Jesus spoke along such lines in serious terms, calling those who do things that He did not ask them to do as workers of iniquity.
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither cana corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. Matthew 7:15-23
In the Old Testament, we see how serious such a matter is and how such phrases as offering "strange fire" and it cost the lives of those involved.
We recognize God's hand on another of course and when they are ready to enter their ministry, we can lay hands on them and pray for them as we see in the New Testament...on the proviso that it is merely witnessing what the Lord has done in His choice making processes and "ordination" is a recognition and acknowledgment of that fact.