What Good Are They, Anyway?
Apostolic Foundations and Apostolic Patterns - Part 3
“And He, Himself, gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness by which they lie in wait to deceive, but, speaking the truth in love, we might grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:11-16).
The list of benefits brought to the Body of Christ by these men (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers) is immense. Two common misconceptions dominate the religious world today. One is that if we’ll just hang in there until Jesus comes back, then we’ll finally become mature all of a sudden. The other misconception is that our growth into the “full stature of Christ” comes solely through having a “personal relationship” with Jesus. Anything beyond that is considered icing on the cake.
Don’t be fooled! Look again at Ephesians 4. These attributes, which God intends for every Christian, come out of a relationship with these gifted men that Christ (He, Himself—intensive pronoun) ascended on high and gives to the Church. Clearly, our fullness in Christ comes through being equipped by the apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers of God. It does not come by hearing inspiring speeches from a pulpit every week.
Does the Church still have a need for such men today? Let’s take a look at what we’ll be missing if we neglect these gifts from on high.
Equipping the Saints for Works of Service
The whole list of benefits for every believer flows out of being equipped by those who are supernaturally gifted. The word for equip in this passage is katartidzo, which is a medical term with three meanings. The first meaning has to do with the setting of a bone that has been broken. It can also denote the adjustment of a dislocated member of the body to its rightful place or the deployment of anything for orderly use.
Without that equipping by Gifted men, you’ll find a Body broken, disjointed, and lying in pieces with pain and hurt and suffering. If your arm is broken, you can’t use it. It won’t function properly, and it hurts until it is mended. So, in the Church, true healing (katartidzmos) must take place before the Body can function. The “broken bone” has to be set before it can heal and become a useful member to do the work of God.
The second meaning of the word katartidzo is “to adjust a dislocated member of the body back to its rightful place”—ligaments, sinews, and bones joined and knit together just right. Can you see the parallel to our lives as members of one Body? You and I must be fitted together to become a habitation of God by the Spirit (Eph.2:21-22). All the stones are set together into their proper places until the whole building rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. Gifted men of God are essential in order for the house of God, His Habitation, to be properly built and fitted together.
Finally, katartidzo means “to mend the nets.” If the Body of Christ is tangled up with holes and knots, and is disorderly, then it won’t be useful. It needs orderly deployment to be used by God.
As we are in relationship with the gifted men of God, we are equipped for works of service that would otherwise be impossible to do. While equipping might take place apart from other people (by a Sovereign act of God), such occurrences are rare. For the most part, God uses earthen vessels to equip us. This treasure in earthen vessels is how God most often trains and equips His People.
Benefits of Equipping
Building Up the Body of Christ
By this equipping, the Body of Christ is “built up.” The word here was used for the architectural and structural considerations of constructing a home or temple. They are “built up.” Makes sense, doesn’t it?
Unity in the Faith
Jesus’ prayer was that we might be one, just as He and the Father are one. He said to Thomas, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (Jn.14:9). Can you truly say of disciples around you, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen Dave, or Jeff, or John”? Surely our cohesiveness as One Body is directly dependent on these Gifts to the Church.
Knowledge of the Son
Not knowledge about Jesus, but knowledge of Jesus. These men must out of necessity know Christ very, very intimately. By the gifts they bring to the family of God, we grow together to know Him fully.
Fullness of Christ
Our destination is “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Paul described the Church as “the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way” (Eph.1:23). The Church is the fullness of Christ. What a statement! Everything Christ is, the Church is meant to become.
No Longer Infants
In the original language, the word for infants (nepios) meant “speechless babies.” As we are equipped, we will no longer be speechless babies in God’s household. Rather than “takers only” in the Family, we will be those who take responsibility in the House. Those five gifts are given that we might not be forever speechless infants needing, needing, needing. Instead, we can grow into “fathers” and “mothers,” learning to take responsibility in His Family.
Not Tossed Back and Forth
Equipping is essential so that we are no longer blown around in confusion and gullibility by the impure teachings of men—men who are either ignorant or who are in it for themselves. Now we can be made solid. Remembering what we heard from the beginning, we cultivate the anointing of God in us so that no man can fool us. We’re established in what we have heard from the beginning so that now the anointing of God is clear in our lives and in our hearts.
Jesus said to Peter, “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, Simon Peter, but my Father revealed this to you.” Yet five minutes later, Jesus had to rebuke Peter, “Get behind me, satan.” Peter confused the voice of God and the voice of satan. He couldn’t distinguish between the two. The anointing and revelation from the Father wasn’t clear enough for him at that point in time. He required more equipping and anointing to be able to distinguish those two voices. Likewise, we too need equipping so that we’re no longer blown around by every denomination and every system of doctrine, continually confused and frustrated.
Speaking the Truth in Love
For many of us, one of the most difficult aspects of the Christ Life is learning to confront reality in the hearts and lives of those around us. If we’ve been equipped to have the heart of the Lion of Judah, we’ll leave no sin untouched and no stone unturned as we walk in the light with our brothers and sisters. Yet, the Truth is to be spoken “in love,” and that requires that we be equipped to have not only the heart of the Lion of Judah, but the heart of the Lamb that was slain as well.
Growing into the Head
As gifted men of God equip us, we grow into a connection with the Head and His guidance, His teaching and Headship—His Lordship. The Head is the source—the Giver of thought, of purpose, and of protection. He gives a sense of direction to the Body so it all moves together toward a harmonized purpose.
Joined and Knit Together
Apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers are given the special task of knitting sinews and ligaments together to form a unified Body. In a Church of 5000 (or even 500), it would be impossible for everyone to merge their lives into the lives of all the other local parts of the Body of Christ closely enough to “walk in the light” and “encourage one another daily” (Heb.3:12-14). But God, through these gifted men, “has arranged the parts in the body, everyone of them, just as He wanted them to be” (1Cor.12:18). Observation of, and correspondence with many thousands of Believers on six continents for many years certainly has validated the point: after the initial “honeymoon” period of “excitement” is over, chaos, disunity, sin, ambition, independence, and disconnectedness are the marks of virtually every “group” of Believers not in relationship with these Gifted men. What would be the purpose or motive of fighting against God’s Plan by ignoring the parts of Jesus, the Gifts, which bring cohesiveness, sense, Spiritual growth, and corporate fruitfulness to the Body of Christ? I’m thinking there had better be a VERY good reason to NOT “cry out to the Lord of the Harvest” for the Parts of His Life and Giftedness that make this much difference to the daily Life of His Body. Think?
Building Itself in Love
So finally, as the body grows, it is energized (energeo) to build itself up in love as each part does its work. Men of apostolic stature are indeed a necessity in the Church, but they could never do the work alone. “Therefore let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good works” “encouraging each other daily, as long as it is called today, so that none may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Heb.10:24, 3:12-13).
Treasure in Earthen Vessels
All these benefits are ours to the extent that we allow God to raise up apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. Don’t think, even for a moment, that you can achieve such growth simply by reading your Bible and praying a lot. The Scriptures themselves testify that unless you are surrounded by disciples with the five gifts, you will come up short. In order to attain to the full stature of Christ, we need practical, everyday interaction with gifted men of God. The treasure is in earthen vessels, in men, not just in what they’ve written down. Yes, contrary to popular belief, our primary tool of growth is not a gold-edged, leather-bound book with a string hanging out of it.
Heresy, you say? But, what does God have to say about it?
“‘Behold, the days are coming,’ says the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them,’ says the Lord. ‘But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel: After those days, says the Lord, I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,’ says the Lord. ‘For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more’”(Jeremiah 31:31-34).
“You are manifestly an epistle of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart…But if the law that brought death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the Glory of his countenance, which Glory was passing away, then will the Spirit which gives life not be even more glorious?” (2 Corinthians 3:3, 7-8)
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove from you your heart of stone, and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them” (Ezekiel 36:26-27).
The testimony is clear that the new covenant would be written on men’s hearts, not on scrolls, stone tablets, or books. God means to chisel His very words deeply in our hearts by placing His Spirit in us! As much as I cherish the Scriptures and praise God for them, I have to say that these very Scriptures testify to a covenant not written with paper and ink!
Nowhere in Old Testament prophecy does God promise to give us a new book to replace the old book. The promised new covenant would not be like the old one. Rather, God would cause the same Spirit that wrote the Old Testament to LIVE in His People.
Does the twenty-first century church have any need for apostles? When you consider the vast list of benefits they bring to the family of believers, who could say otherwise! Let us stop debating the existence of these earthen vessels and start enjoying the treasures they impart.
29As seen in Mk.1:19, where James and John were “mending their nets.” Back
30You may recall that the temple of God was made out of stones that were cut at the quarry. It was not built from bricks that are uniform and square, but by stones. The tower of Babel was made out of bricks, and we know God’s pronouncement on that work of men. But God’s people are living stones (1Pet.2:5) who are cut from the Rock and who need to be fitted together. Each stone is different in shape, size, and makeup. Each needs to be fitted with another and compacted together (KJV) in just the right way. For each to randomly place himself in the house would be chaos, but as the gifted men of God equip all the living stones, they are appropriately cut and fitted and joined together into a flawless house. Back
31Some rare cases when God chose to sovereignly equip specific people included John the Baptist, Moses, and Elijah. But take a look at Elisha. He did twice as much as Elijah and he was equipped for the works of service by a person. Moses was sovereign in a sense; yet after spending 40 years as Moses’ servant, Joshua was the one who took the people across the river into the Promised Land. Similar examples abound in the Scriptures. Back
33For a more detailed discussion of the lion and lamb qualities of Jesus as these apply to leadership in God’s kingdom, you may want to write and request the three-tape series “Kingdom Leadership.” Back
34See Jer.31:31-34; Eze.36:26-27; Heb.8:7-13; Rom.10:14; 2Cor.4:6-7. Back
35See also Heb.8:7-13, 10:16-17. Back