In the following chapters, I would like to focus on some basic truths about the church and the life of Christ at work in His church, in and through His disciples, as they minister to one another using the gifts that He has given to them for that purpose. My goal is to help believers to understand and be encouraged to believe that Christ is pleased to work with even a very small group of believers who start off meeting in a home or other convenient meeting place, reading the scriptures together, praying together, breaking bread together, and expecting God to provide all that is necessary for the edification of the assembled group by the Holy Spirit working through the Word and through each other for the edification of the whole. I would also like to encourage believers to reckon that this is not an oddity but rather a very much-approved beginning for an assembly: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20).
Sometimes believers may be hesitant to consider beginning a fellowship in their home with just a few other like-minded believers because they think to themselves, “Where are we going to find a pastor? Who is going to preach the sermon? Who is going to teach? Where will we find a worship team?” My prayer is that when you have finished prayerfully reading this series of articles, you may begin to consider the possibility that you do not need a seminary-trained pastor or a worship team, but rather that you will realize that you do not need either.
His Strength Is Made Perfect in Weakness
...and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty. (1 Cor:1:27)
...for my strength is made perfect in weakness. (2 Cor:12:9)
In this first chapter, I would like to have us look at some scriptural examples of how our Lord chooses His servants and what qualifications He demands.
All through the scripture God has shown us in example after example that He does not choose His servants based on their strength, knowledge, speaking ability, physical stature, or any other natural prowess; but rather He chooses His servants in their weakness in order that His power may be demonstrated. What He needs are men who will trust Him, in spite of their weakness, to fulfill His Word through them.
Some examples from scripture:
Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. So Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came. (Gen:12:1-5)
I would like us to take note here that Abraham (at this time still called Abram) was 75 years old when the Lord came to him and told him to leave his home country and people, his kindred, and his father’s house and become a sojourner, traveling to a land that he did not know. I believe that this was very difficult for Abraham. He was not a young man full of vigor and desire for adventure, but he was an elderly man, whom I believe would have much rather stayed home among his family and people. This may have seemed a very fearful prospect to Abraham, but he did it anyway because he believed God!
By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise.... (Heb:11:8-9)
Abraham was not chosen because of his great strength of character or his great courage. We see this recorded for us in Genesis 20. When Abraham was faced with a situation that he considered dangerous to himself because of Sarah’s physical beauty, he lied to save himself, even though it put his wife in a precarious situation.
And Abraham journeyed from thence toward the south country, and dwelled between Kadesh and Shur, and sojourned in Gerar. And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, She is my sister: and Abimelech king of Gerar sent, and took Sarah (Gen:20:1-2). [I recommend that you read all of Genesis chapter 20.]
There are many aspects to this story that could be looked at and are enlightening concerning God’s care for and protection of His servant who has placed his trust in Him. However, the one aspect that I would like us to look at now is that I believe at least one reason that God was faithful to record this episode in Abraham’s life was so that we could consider the fact that Abraham had weakness even as we do. In fact, this is quite a shocking example of cowardice. (Please understand that I am not trying to pick on Abraham. Abraham is one of my heroes of the faith. There are other examples in the scriptures that we could look at that show great courage of faith on this man’s part.) Abraham’s great strength was not in himself and who he was as a man, but rather it was in the fact that he was willing to believe God. He was willing to step out in faith, trusting what God had said to him, trusting that God would be faithful to His Word—even though he had no idea how God was going to accomplish it.
Another example from scripture:
When God appeared to Moses in the burning bush after Moses had failed to be the deliverer of Israel that he thought he was supposed to be, and running from Pharaoh, then ending up spending the next 40 years tending sheep in the desert, Moses was thoroughly convinced that he was incapable of speaking for Israel. He was content to let his brother, Aaron, who apparently had some speaking ability, speak for him. God, in His great patience and kindness, allowed Moses to learn by experience that he could—and should—be the one to speak for Israel in obedience to God’s command. (Consider how quickly Aaron stumbled when Moses left him to look after Israel while Moses went up the mountain to receive the commandments!)
Another example from scripture:
The Lord had to pare down Gideon’s army to 300 men (a ridiculously small number) that He would use to go against (and defeat) an army of Midianites and Amalekites, whose number was so large that even their camels were described as “without number, as the sand by the seashore.”
And the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the children of the east lay along in the valley like grasshoppers for multitude; and their camels were without number, as the sand by the seaside for multitude. (Judg. 7:12)
Other examples from scripture:
Samuel was ready to conclude that Eliab, David’s brother, was the Lord’s choice for king of Israel because of his stature:
But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart. (1 Sam:16:7)
The apostle Paul, who taught us the most on this subject, learned these things through hard experience. Even though the Lord’s ministry through Paul was vast and powerful, there is strong evidence that Paul had to conduct his ministry in spite of much personal weakness and infirmity. He had to endure the following criticism from those whom he referred to as false apostles in 2 Corinthians:
For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible. (2 Cor:10:10)
Since this criticism was made by those to whom Paul referred as false apostles and, therefore, unbelievers, we cannot consider them to be good judges and so must be careful not to give too much credence to what they have to say about Paul, except that we can, at least, conclude that Paul’s physical presence and speaking did not impress them. Later, in chapter 11 of 2 Corinthians, Paul referred to himself:
But though I be rude in speech, yet not in knowledge.... (2 Cor:11:6)
Paul may have been mocking the false apostles when he referred to himself as “rude in speech,” but perhaps not. Knowing how the Lord works, I think it is quite likely that Paul did struggle with some significant physical disadvantages that he had to trust the Lord to work through in order to accomplish his ministry. He expressed this in 2 Corinthians 12:
And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. (2 Cor:12:9-10)
There are many more examples in scripture that we could look at and much more that could be said on this, but the point that I would really like to stress here is that this truth is not just for the men who are examples for us in scripture or possibly some church leaders whom we may know.
Moreover, this truth concerning God’s purpose and willingness to gift believers for ministry in His church who are weak in themselves and do not see themselves as capable, according to their natural judgment of their own abilities, is foundational and essential truth that applies to all of God’s family of believers. We must not make the mistake of basing our decision on whether or not to step out in obedience to God on our own natural assessment of our abilities. It is Christ’s life and power that He is working out through us, through believers, through His Church, through His bride; and He often uses the most unlikely vessels to accomplish His task. We must reckon this to be true for each of us, in the face of our own weakness, and determine to trust Him rather than ourselves. We must also be ready to stand against the enemy of our souls who will try to use our own infirmities against us to accuse us and tempt us to become discouraged and give up. The more effective the life of Christ is being lived through us by faith, the fiercer shall be this warfare.
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. (Eph:6:10-11)
The truths that I have brought forth in this chapter are intended to be presented as foundational understanding for the following chapters, offered as instruction for the saints on the amazing power of the life of Christ being worked out in His church.
He Worketh in Us Both to Will and to Do of His Good Pleasure.
In this chapter we will be looking at the purpose and ultimate goal of the gifts that have been given by Jesus Christ to each member of the body of Christ (every believer). We will, of course, be desirous of knowing what is the specific identity of our gift; but it is important for us to realize that, for most of us (with perhaps some exceptions) the discovery of the identity of our gift will not come by vision or special revelation but will most likely come through trusting and obeying.
It is not likely that we’ll be able to accurately discern the identity of our gift by examining our feelings. One of the most basic lessons that we must learn as believers is that we cannot let ourselves be led by our feelings. Our feelings (emotions) will nearly always lead us astray if we allow ourselves to be led by them. We must be led by faith, which is sometimes in direct opposition to our feelings. I believe the most certain path for us when it comes to discerning our gift is first of all to believe that Christ has gifted us for service to the body of Christ, and then committing ourselves to Him in prayer for this service, being obedient to what He places before us today in whatever simple task He puts before us, cheerfully obeying and trusting Him to direct our steps. We know that “... we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph:2:10).
We may consider what we believe are our strengths and offer ourselves to Him, all the while recognizing that any supernatural gifting that may be ultimately revealed in and through us, might not turn out to be associated at all with what we perceive as our strengths! However, just as the waters of the Jordan did not begin to part until the priests’ feet touched the water, so we will likely not begin to really understand what our gift is until we step forward in obedience. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure (Php. 2:13). Count on God to fulfill this scripture in you. Pay attention to the leanings that He gives you as you love the saints with an “unfeigned” love.
It is also important for us to realize that the grace that Christ gives us in the exercising of our gift allows us to grow in the ministering of the gift as we grow in Christ and as we continue to give what we have been given. Our Lord does not expect us to be instantly skillful or mature in our ministry but is very gracious in our feeble beginnings; and He provides the power and effectiveness of our ministry not based on our strength but rather on His strength. As we faithfully continue to minister the gift to the body of Christ in our weakness, we will grow in confidence as we see His faithfulness and strength working through us; we will likely begin to see that we are becoming increasingly comfortable/skillful in our ministering of the gift!
If you are a believer in Christ Jesus, you have been gifted in some way, supernaturally, by the Lord Jesus Christ, specifically for the purpose of edifying or serving the body of Christ (the church).
But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ (Eph:4:7).
Notice, first of all, that there are two things spoken of here: The gift, which is given by Christ in a particular measure to the believer, and the grace, which is given, that is sufficient for the accomplishing of that gift (ministry). Notice also, that the gift is given “unto every one of us.” Every believer has been gifted, and every believer has been given “grace according to the measure of the gift.” Each of us has been given a gift (or gifts), measured out precisely by Christ, and exactly appropriate for the way in which He intends to use us in His ministry to the body of Christ. It is very important that we, as part of the body of Christ, reckon this to be true for us and embrace this truth, actively looking for God’s leading in the fulfillment of it.
This scripture also reveals to us that a measure of grace has been given to each of us, which is exactly sufficient to enable us to accomplish the ministering of that gift that we have received. The gift that He has given us is peculiar to us. It is not a general gift that is given in the same description and measure across the board to every believer but is a gift given by the wonderful wisdom of Christ and is exactly the way in which He desires to manifest Himself through that particular believer as the believer trusts Christ to do so and is obedient.
As we begin a discussion of the particular gifts listed and described in the scriptures (which are many), I want to stress that not all of the gifts must necessarily be present in a beginning assembly. Christ has given the authorization for beginning an assembly with as little as two or three saints. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them(Mat:18:20).
Where Christ is, everything that is important is there; and where two or three are gathered in His name, trusting Him, all that is needed will be provided.
Consider the way the church was first being established throughout Europe in Acts. Paul and Barnabas (and later Silas) would go to a city and lead several to Christ. They would then begin to disciple that group of believers until they could be left to function as a fellowship on their own. Paul and Barnabas/Silas would then leave them for a while, go on, and do the same elsewhere. Eventually they would return when the brethren had matured sufficiently that there were men who would qualify as elders, and would then appoint those elders. Thus the church would continue to grow.
Remember, the church is a very powerful living organism. Nothing can stop it (except perhaps unbelief and disobedience, and the error that always follows that scenario).
I think of examples in God’s creation that might illustrate this truth. Think of the starfish. It has been said that if a starfish is cut into pieces, as long as there is a part of the central portion of the body (the heart) in each piece, then each piece will grow into a new starfish. When a group of two or more saints meet together, believing God’s word concerning the gifts they have been given, trusting Him to work in and through them for each other and the whole, and being obedient, God will provide what is necessary for the growth and functioning of the body.
So what are these gifts, and what is their purpose? Let’s look first at the list that is given in Ephesians 4. There are more gifts than the ones listed here, and we will look at some of the others later; but let’s start with these five:
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.... (Eph:4:11-12)
Notice that there are five gifts listed here, and their purpose is clearly given. Before we try to identify and understand their individual functions in the church, I would like us to look at and understand their purpose and the ultimate goal of their functions, which will then make it easier to discern their functions. This will also, I believe, make it easier for us to get our sights aimed properly as we begin to work out the ministering of our own gift for the blessing of the body. The gifts are for:
1. “The perfecting of the saints”
“The perfecting of the saints” is the process of ministering to the saints toward and with the goal of maturity in Christ. The word “perfecting” sees application when the saints are equipped and enabled to walk in obedience to God’s word, walking in His wisdom, and seeing effectiveness in their ministries.
2. “For the work of ministry”
There are all kinds of ministry to the body of Christ for the purpose of edifying the saints and bringing them to maturity.
3. “For the edifying of the body of Christ”
In other words, for the building up or strengthening the saints, making them more prepared to walk in the Spirit, to take God at His word, to discern the good and perfect will of God for their daily lives, to wear the armor of God, to encourage them in the exercise and development of their gifts/ministries in the body, etc.
Let’s now look at the ultimate goal of the gifts:
Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.... (Eph:4:13)
The ultimate goal is that we would come to full maturity in Christ, but we must all come:
1. In the unity of the faith
There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. (Eph:4:4-6)
We will never come to maturity in Christ if we are not fully convinced of the truths spoken in Eph:4:4-6, nor will we be effective in ministry to the body of Christ.
2. In the knowledge of the Son of God
That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.... (Php. 3:10)
We will never come to maturity in Christ without knowing Christ.
One of the fruits of the body that has grown up by means of the ministry of these gifts, working together according to the measure and wisdom of the Lord, is soundness in doctrine and the ability to recognize what is false.
That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.... (Eph:4:14-15)
When the body of Christ is allowed to grow up with all of its parts functioning, using their gifts in accordance with the measure of both the gift and the associated grace that has been given to minister the gift, the body can grow in a healthy way. There are many safeguards given for the body.
One of the benefits of a healthy functioning body is soundness in doctrine. Consider the human body. When our physical body is healthy, there are systems that have been placed in the body by the Lord that are designed to fight off disease, germs, illness, etc.; but when the body is not functioning in a healthy way, these defense systems do not function as well, and we get sick. The same is true with the body of Christ. When we disregard the teaching of the scripture concerning the functioning of the body ministry and substitute man’s ideas for body ministry instead, we leave unused some of the safeguards that the Lord has established for the church; and we leave the church vulnerable to attack.
I believe that this is a major contributor to the mass exodus into error that we see today in the church overall and that has been going on for many years. I believe that we are in the time of the falling away, and it is critical now for the church to return to simple obedience to the scriptures in regard to the body ministry of the church in order that we may grow to maturity and weather the storm.
Let us now look at the description of a healthy functioning body given in the following verse:
From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love. (Eph:4:16)
Let’s break this down, because there are so many things to be learned from these verses about the healthy and powerful function of the body.
1. From whom
Whom refers to Christ, who is the head of the church as seen from the previous verse. Christ is the head of the church overall as well as the head of the local assembly. It is imperative that our attention be on Him, individually and as an assembly. We worship Him, study Him, trust and obey Him, allow Him to empower our ministries one to another, and expect Him to manifest Himself in each of us and through each of us for one another and for the lost.
2. The whole body fitly joined together
Fitly joined is a fine woodworker’s or wooden shipbuilder’s terminology. It comes from the art of wood joinery. Think of a fine woodworking joint, like a dovetail joint, finger joint, or a mortise and tenon joint. We are being assembled together. “In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Eph:2:22).
3. And compacted by that which every joint supplieth
When the joint is prepared correctly (fitly), it will have to be driven together (compacted). This scripture is teaching us that the necessary compacting is being done by that ministry that every part of the body is supplying. It is not going to be done successfully by one member, whom we may call a pastor and whom we have designated to be the sole “compactor.” That comes from man’s wisdom. It is not according to the revelation of scripture and is a great mistake. Our refusal to hear God’s word concerning the function of the gifts in the body and the way in which Christ is building His church is in great measure the cause of the amazing amount of error and failure that has manifested itself in the professing church overall.
4. According to the effectual working
Here is an amazing truth to grasp. God is revealing to us that the supernatural gift that He has given to each member of the body will be effective! He is stating that when each member ministers his gift by faith, trusting Him for its effectiveness, its working will be effective! It will accomplish the result, which is the joining (assembling), the building up (edifying), of the body and all of the safeguards and blessings that go with it.
One of the evidences/validations of our gifting is this promised effectiveness. If we can be patient in attempting to identify our gift, we will likely begin to receive some feedback from the saints, indicating how they have been blessed by our ministry. This will usually come after much obedience and is a more certain indicator than our own introspection—especially if we haven’t been obedient in ministering to the saints.
5. In the measure of every part
Again, Christ has measured out every gift precisely for its exact use in the body, through whom and for whom it will be used. He has pre-determined its effectiveness. It is not necessary that we get ourselves a hat or a shirt that has a title written on it: “I am a Teacher;” “I am a Prophet;” or “I am an Evangelist.” Let us recognize that the blend of gifting is according to Christ’s measure and is as unique to each individual believer as each individual believer is to the body of Christ.
6. Maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself
As each part does its work trusting Christ, the body will grow in strength and maturity and will edify itself.
7. In love
This is key to the function of the church and a healthy growth of the body. We must love one another with an unfeigned (genuine) love as we minister to the body.
Stewards of the Manifold Grace of God
As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Pet. 4:10-11)
In chapter 1 we considered God’s purposefulness in choosing weak vessels in order to show His strength and that we do well to consider this a reality for ourselves. In chapter 2 we considered the purpose and ultimate goal of the gifts that Christ has given to every believer. In this chapter, I would like us to consider the function of the individual gifts as they are ministered in, and for, the body of Christ. My intention in this article is not to try to give an in-depth and full teaching on the gifts but rather to give enough information to be helpful to those who believe that Christ has gifted believers for ministry to the body and would like some help in discerning what these ministries may look like when functioning in the body of Christ.
Let us consider the five gifts listed in Ephesians 4:
When Peter addressed the other ten remaining apostles according to the record in Acts:1:15-26, he made it clear that they must choose a replacement for Judas from among those brethren who had been with them throughout the life and ministry of Jesus and who were witnesses of His resurrection. He also made it clear that the number of twelve apostles was a number that was necessary to keep intact for the apostolic ministry in order to fulfill scripture. I believe that this makes it clear that the original twelve apostles were a special group that had a special ministry, which will not be repeated. Then we see the Apostle Paul’s calling, which is described in detail in Acts:9:3-18. Paul refers to himself later, in 1 Corinthians:15:8, as the last apostle that had seen the Lord after His resurrection and as “one born out of due time.” So now we have the original twelve plus Paul, in his unique calling, who were witnesses of the Lord after His resurrection. As we know, Paul, Peter, John, and Matthew were also used to write scripture. This special privilege is also unique and not to be repeated.
So now we might think: “Now we have it: there’s the original twelve plus Paul’s unique calling and ministry to the Gentiles. That must be the sum of the apostles, and there will not be anymore.” But then Paul throws a curve in it for us with his final greetings to the saints in Rome, where he says: “Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow-prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me” (Rom:16:7).
There are a lot of questions to be asked here: Who were Andronicus and Junia? These are Roman names, and they were apparently in Italy at the time. Paul referred to them not only as apostles but “of note among the apostles.” Were they well known and highly regarded by the other apostles? Did they at some point share a prison cell with Paul? Were they in Christ before Paul, and he referred to them as his “kinsmen”? We have just not been given enough information from the scriptures to know very much about these brothers except what we can glean from this one verse. However, I believe that it is reasonable to conclude that they were not among those who traveled with Jesus during His earthly ministry and probably were not among those who were eyewitnesses of His resurrection; yet this passage appears to be identifying them as apostles. This seems to, at least, point to the possibility that there were others also who had been gifted with an apostolic ministry.
We know from Ephesians 4 that the gifts given were “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ...” (Eph:4:12). The first gift on this list that Christ gave to the church is called some apostles. Was there only Paul and the original twelve apostles? Were Andronicus and Junia apostles also and then no more? Or were Andronicus and Junia part of an ongoing ministerial gifting that continues to be given by Christ to His church for the purpose of perfecting the saints and edifying the body of Christ? If so, how long will these gifts be needed?
I believe the answer is given in the next three verses:
“Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ....” (Eph:4:13-15)
I think that the church is in need of this perfecting, edifying, maturing, and soundness in doctrine.
So what does the gift of apostle look like? The word apostle means “sent one.” In Acts 13 we read:
“Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus.” (Acts:13:1-4)
We see in this account the “sending” of Paul and Barnabas by the Holy Ghost. What follows is the most detailed account that we have in the scriptures of the life and ministry of two men who were called to be apostles. The following verse from Acts 14 clearly refers to both Paul and Barnabas as apostles:
“Which when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of, they rent their clothes, and ran in among the people, crying out....” (Acts:14:14)
I believe the fulfillment of this ministry is manifested by the brother who goes into an area where the gospel is not known, begins to preach the gospel, and leads a few to Christ. He then disciples/nurtures that group until they have been established in the basic doctrines of the faith having an understanding of how the church functions with the giftings that the Lord has given (this process is called “establishing” the church). After this he leaves that group, travels elsewhere, and continues a similar ministry. He may stay in contact with these groups and return to them some time later after the assembly has matured sufficiently when men who meet the qualifications of elder can be identified with the intention of helping them appoint elders.
We might say, “That seems to be describing what we call a missionary.” Well, maybe and maybe not. Sometimes missionaries have a gift of helps, and they are going to the field to minister to some physical needs; or they may have a gift of teaching and are participating in discipleship ministry, etc. These are important ministries, but they are not an apostolic ministry.
We may, however, have someone go to the mission field, and whom we are calling a missionary, but who actually is fulfilling an apostolic ministry. I have known a few men over the many years that we have been meeting with believers who understand and believe in the ministry of the body, and who I believe have manifested this gifting. Not one of them have I ever heard refer to himself as an apostle, and these men might even be uncomfortable with that title. I am glad that this is the way it has been. As I mentioned before, we do not need to have a title or try to make it known to everyone what we believe our ministry is. We just need to be obedient to the Lord and let Him manifest the gifting according to His purpose and wisdom for us and for His church. It may be that someone will tell us someday how our ministry has blessed them, and we will begin to have some idea how we are being used. The effectiveness of our ministry is the real validation of our ministry. God has promised that the joints of the body will be compacted “according to the effectual working in the measure of every part.”
God has promised the effectiveness of the gifting when the believer is obedient to minister in that gift. The last thing we need is an immature believer with a puffed-up image of himself who calls himself an apostle and attempts to usurp authority in the church based on his own impression of himself rather than exercising the genuine gifting of the Lord. The true gift of the Lord, when exercised, persuades humility rather than pride because we learn, as we obey, that the strength and effectiveness of the gifting is the Lord Himself.
I have written extensively on the gift of apostle because, even though it is likely to be the gift that we least often encounter, it is probably the gifting that is most likely to be misunderstood and misused.
The New Testament gift of prophet, which is for the church, is another gift that is often misunderstood and misused. When we think of the ministry of a prophet, we may think of men like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, etc., who were sent to minister to Israel under the Law. Their ministry was to be the Lord’s spokesman in warnings, admonitions, rebukes, comforts, and revelations of things to come, etc., to a nation under the law. This prophetic ministry had a very different nature than the prophetic ministry that is a gift for the edification of the church. The ministering of the gift of prophet, in and for the church, may include warnings, admonitions, rebukes, and, occasionally, revelations of things to come; but the primary function of the prophet in the church is revealed to us in the following scripture: “But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort” (1 Cor:14:3).
This gift may very well be the most common speaking gift given to the church. It is a very much needed and important gift for the edification and strengthening of the body—so much so that Paul exhorted the saints in Corinth as follows: “Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy...” (1 Cor:14:39). This gift is also fairly easy to identify, compared to some others, both by its effect on the saints as well as by the believer himself who has the gift, as he discerns his consistent desire to edify, exhort, and comfort the saints.
Remember that these gifts have been given “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ...” (Eph:4:12). We might think that a person with the gifting of evangelist is just someone who preaches the gospel, but I think this gift is something more than that. Certainly, the evangelist preaches the gospel; but since the gifting is for the edification of the body, I believe that the evangelist gift spoken of here refers to one who encourages, instructs, and exhorts the saints in evangelism.
There has been a lot of confusion related to what a “pastor” is and what his ministry involves. Many seem to have concluded that a pastor is the ruling shepherd, primary overseer, and the main teacher of doctrine. He may have some elders working under him, but he makes the final decisions. He has likely been trained in a seminary that has fueled him with some incorrect notions about the gift of pastor. He does the majority of the speaking ministry, perhaps the majority of all ministry in the assembly, and, therefore, becomes the main “compactor” of the joints of the body. This is a great mistake and is definitely not what is taught in the New Testament concerning the function of the body of Christ. The only place where the word pastor is used in the New Testament is in Ephesians:4:11, where it is listed as one of the five “gifts given unto men” for the edification of the saints.
“Pastor” is a gift, and many of those today who are being called pastor may not even have the pastoral gifting. Those who have this special gifting are inclined to come alongside the saints and are concerned about their spiritual (and perhaps physical) wellbeing. The saints are often drawn to them, and find it easy to open up to them and share their struggles. Those with a pastoral gift may be among ones who speak from the pulpit, or they may not. Their ministry may be more one-on-one, perhaps with a family, some young person, with a group of young people, or with the elderly, etc. There may be several in a given assembly who have a pastoral gifting.
Also, pastor and elder/bishop/overseer are not the same thing. Pastor is a supernatural gifting, given by Christ to the believer when he is saved. This gifting will be manifested as the believer obeys the Lord in loving and serving the saints and will be in effect the moment that he first obeys in faith. On the other hand, the office, or responsibility, of elder/bishop/overseer (which are all the same position) is not a gift but is established by appointment, based upon mature qualifications (see Titus:1:5-9). An elder may have a pastoral gift; he may have a teaching gift; he may be a prophet, an evangelist, or have the gift of helps, etc. He must, by qualification, be “apt to teach,” which means that he handles the Word well; he is sound in doctrine and capable of teaching but not necessarily exhibiting a full teaching gift/ministry.
The person with the gift of pastor is not necessarily one who has the responsibility of oversight. This would only be true if the man with the pastoral gift was also recognized and appointed as an elder. The responsibility for oversight is given to the elders. The scripture indicates a plurality of elders; there should always be more than one. The elders have the responsibility of guarding the flock against error, wolves in sheep’s clothing, etc. They are also responsible to make sure that the saints are being fed and that the gifts are being encouraged and functioning. They may or may not be participating in the speaking ministries but will be responsible to make sure there is an environment that gives liberty, encourages the saints who have speaking ministries to grow in them, and ensures that all things are “done decently and in order” (1 Cor:14:40). The plurality of elders who understand their responsibility and are faithful in their shepherding and oversight is one of the major safeguards for the local assembly against error. When the assembly has only one man who is the main teacher, overseer, and guardian of sound doctrine, the whole assembly may go with him if he begins to go astray with his doctrine.
One with the gift of “teacher” will, obviously, be one who teaches the scriptures, not because it is his reluctant duty but because that is what he is in Christ. When he reads the Word, he will likely be given understanding of the sense and the application of what he is reading and have a strong desire to impart that to others. Again, the test for the validity/reality of the gift is the effectiveness of his teaching. Are the saints growing not only in understanding of God’s Word but also in application? One who is gifted by Christ as a teacher of the Word, will also have an unwavering commitment to teach truth. He will be quick to receive correction as soon as he is able to perceive that the correction is in accordance with the truth.
There are more gifts that could be discussed, but this is all we will look at for now.
The Meeting of the Saints
And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. (Acts:2:42)
There is much instruction in this verse, which contains the core components for a valid, fruitful, powerful, and blessed meeting of the saints. Let’s examine the components:
1. They Continued Stedfastly…
They were fully committed to what they were doing together and desired to faithfully continue in these things.
Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. (Heb:10:25)
We see from this scripture that it is important to the Lord that we are committed and consistent in meeting together with the saints.
2. …in the Apostles’ Doctrine…
Since the New Testament, which reveals to us what the apostles taught, had not yet been written, their commitment to the “apostles’ doctrine” would be equivalent to our being committed to the scriptures—reading the scriptures, meditating together on the scriptures, teaching and exhorting one another from the scriptures. What would be especially important for a new assembly would be to read through the New Testament together, focusing on what the apostles taught concerning the life and function of the church. For a beginning assembly, where there are not yet any brothers who are experienced in the speaking ministries, simply starting with reading from the scriptures would be important and also a blessing. In fact, even with experienced speakers, reading the scripturestogether is a great blessing. In our fellowship, which has been operating with the type of body ministry that we have been studying in the first three chapters of this series, after many years we continue to find reading a chapter of the Bible every meeting to be a great blessing as we go through the Bible together. All the men now in our fellowship have grown up in their ministries and are able ministers of the Word; nevertheless we still read the scriptures together in our meeting and often find that much of the ministry is inspired out of the chapter that we read together. Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine (1 Tim:4:13).
3. …and Fellowship
The power of fellowship in Christ for the edification of believers cannot be overstressed. Before every meeting, those of us who arrive early for that purpose gather together for a few minutes to pray for our meeting. In that prayer time, we specifically ask the Lord to show Himself by working through each of us in everything that we do together. We ask that the Comforter lead us into all truth as we read the scriptures together. We ask the Lord to lead and speak through whoever stands to speak. We ask Him to lead us in the selection of hymns that we sing. We ask Him to help us in “teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs...” (Col:3:16). We ask Him to bless our fellowship together, guiding our conversations for the blessing of each other—that His power and blessing would be in a simple handshake. We always take a break approximately halfway through our meeting for about a half an hour. We have coffee and snacks and just enjoy a time of fellowship with one another. The Lord answers these simple prayers, and the saints are edified and growing in the knowledge of Him.
4. …and in Breaking of Bread
This, of course, refers to the communion remembrance. We do this when we come back from our break. This is a special time when our focus is on the Lord and remembering what He has done for us. We commit this remembrance to Him as we carry out the partaking of the elements in accordance with what has been written. This should be a special time of worship before the Lord.
5. …and in Prayers
We always end our meeting with a time of intercessory prayer. We pray for our brethren in bonds, for our missionaries, for special prayer requests, and for one another.
I have shared with you much of how we order our meetings not because I wish to lay down some rule of order for you but only to offer some thoughts for you on how a meeting could be conducted. Trust the Lord to lead you and to be your strength as you minister to one another, and He will do so as you obey Him. My counsel is to start simple: pray, read the scriptures together, and break bread together. If any man has something on his heart to share, encourage him to share it even if it is just reading a verse or sharing a few words. Do not be discouraged but trust the Lord to make His strength perfect through your weakness. His power is not in the least restrained by our feeble efforts. He “is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us” (Eph:3:20).
You will find that, as you continue to obey, the scriptures are being fulfilled. The body is edifying itself in love, and you are growing up in your ministry. As time goes on, you are able to bear witness of His strength with more confidence. It is also wonderful to see all of the members growing in their ministries. As the Lord leads each brother or sister in sharing the gospel with the lost, or as other likeminded believers find out about your fellowship, you may find your numbers growing. As the men grow in their speaking ministries, you may find, eventually, that you have two or more men who would like to speak during a given meeting. The scripture says: “Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge” (1 Cor:14:29). This is also one of the safeguards provided by the Lord in the ministry of the multiple giftings in the body. As the assembly grows in maturity, there may be men identified who meet the qualifications of elder and can be appointed to that position.
The scriptures make it clear that the public speaking-and-teaching portion of the meeting is given to the men, but that does not mean that the women’s giftings or ministries are any less important than the men’s. Women teaching other women; older women teaching younger women; women and mothers teaching children; women with gifts of mercy and/or helps, serving the body—no gift is less important than another in the body of Christ.
Once again, in these chapters, I have not covered all of the gifts; nor has this teaching been an exhaustive treatise on the church. Much more could be said, but hopefully this information may be an encouragement to those who would be in such a position that they are considering starting a church fellowship based from its beginning on simple obedience to what has been recorded for us in the New Testament.
About Dave Kercher:
Dave Kercher, the author of “The Amazing Power of the Life of Christ in His Church” has served on the board of directors for The Berean Call, since its beginning in 1992, being one of the founding board members. Dave has also served for many years on the Board of directors for Shield of Faith Mission International, which is a ministry that honors the scriptures as the word of God, and seeks to glorify the Lord Jesus, as does TBC. Dave served as an elder in Bend Bible Fellowship, which meets in Bend, Oregon from 1989 to 1999, which was the home fellowship for Dave & Ruth Hunt. Dave has served as an elder for the last 18 years in Bible Family Fellowship, which meets in Molalla, Oregon. Both of these fellowships are committed to being true to the scriptures, in the liberty and function of the ministries of the church, as described in the booklet that Dave has authored.