I would invite you to take your Bible and if you didn’t happen to bring one along, why there’s one near you, I hope, in the back of the pews, and look with me at the fourth chapter of Ephesians. And we’re going to begin to examine verses 11 through 16 – Ephesians 4:11-16. For our visiting friends, we might just say this, that the commitment of the ministry here at Grace Church is to systematically teach the Word of God. And in the mornings and in the evenings, we continue to go through book after book. At this current time in the mornings are occupied with the study of Ephesians, and the evenings, we’re going through the gospel of Matthew. And next Sunday evening we’ll back in Matthew chapter 5, beginning the tremendous portion of the Beatitudes. So you’ll want to be sure that you are planning along those lines as we continue our study. And be reading ahead so that the Spirit of God has prepared your mind for what is to come.
About nine years ago when we first taught Ephesians, it set the pace and the direction and the purpose for this church. And it was several months ago that the elders asked me if I would teach it again, because they felt there were so many new people that needed to understand the foundations of Grace Church. And I said, “Great,” and we’ve been having a tremendous time going through the book of Ephesians here about eight or nine years later. And God has taught us much in the interim, so that it has enriched greatly our study together.
But no passage in all of the Word of God has had a greater impact on the destiny of Grace Church than Ephesians 4:11-16. When I came out of seminary and was given the opportunity to pastor a church on my own, to come here and be a part of Grace, they were very generous, because I had not pastured a church prior to that. And in fact, I think I had little to commend myself to them, except that I had spoken at a couple of camps. And they were very kind and let me preach after Dr. Elvy had died. In fact, as I’ve thought about it in years since, Dr. Householder died, and then Dr. Elvy died, and the probably figured they ought to get a young one even if he wasn’t any good. At least he’d be around a while. They were very kind about that, but those two wonderful men laid the foundations.
But when I came to Grace Church, I really didn’t know anything about what to do in a church in terms of specifics. I didn’t really – I wasn’t any, you know, experienced church pastor or anything. I didn’t really know what to do, and of course, I never dreamed anything like this would ever happen. I still don’t quite understand it. I feel like I’m on the same ride that you’re on, and we’re all going along together trying to figure out why and how. But I thank God for it. But I did know one thing – I remember that before I came to Grace, I had intensely studied the book of Ephesians and this section had just grabbed my own heart. I just was tremendously impressed with the foundational concepts in Ephesians 4:11-16. And I realized that this could be the heart of the whole ministry. And so when I first talked with the elders here at Grace, they said to me, “What do you feel you want to do in the ministry? What do you feel your direction is?” And I said, “Well, this is where I am in my thinking. If I could just commit myself to perfecting the saints. In other words, to just ministering the Word, to build up the saints, then I believe I wouldn’t have to do anything else, because everything else would just happen.”
And I pointed them to verse 12 of Ephesians 4. The pastor-teacher – and we’ll talk about that in a moment in verse 11 – is “for the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry for the edifying of the body of Christ.” In other words, if you want to build up the body of Christ, then the saints have to do the work of the ministry. And if the saints are going to do the work of the ministry, they have to be perfected and that’s the job of the teaching pastor. So I said, if you’ll allow me the privilege of spending 30 to 35 hours every week in studying the Word of God so that I can teach the people, I really believe that they can be matured and perfected and fully equipped and brought to a place of adulthood spiritually. And then they will do the work of the ministry themselves, and the church will be built up. And those gracious, generous men said, “We’re willing to do that.” And that is really the history of Grace Church from my standpoint where I entered the scene. Much preparation had been done before I ever came that set the stage. And I’ve been able just to be a part of the reaping of the harvest, and I thank God for it. But I want to study this passage this time and next time, and just help you to refocus on what I think more than any other passage in all the Bible is foundational to what you know as Grace Church today.
Now the phrase that keys this whole is in verse 12, “perfecting the saints.” And everything that comes from then on is a result of that. When the saints are perfected, they’ll do the work of the ministry. When they do the work of the ministry, the body will be built up. Then will come the unity of the faith. Then will come the knowledge of the Son of God. Then will come the perfect man, the stature of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be children tossed to and fro. Then verse 15, we will speak the truth in love. We will grow up into Him and so forth. In other words, all that comes down through verse 16 is dependent upon verse 12. The perfecting of the saints is the issue in the church. And I believe that the gifted men are given to the church for the perfecting of the saints.
We are here to mature the saints, not to entertain the saints, not to coddle the saints, not to evangelize the saints, but to perfect the saints. And that really has two aspects: Aspect number one is to bring the individual believer to maturity and we’ll get into that this morning; but aspect number two in perfecting the saints is to take the collective individuals that you have and put them all together in one unit. In fact in 1 Corinthians chapter 1 and verse 10, the Apostle Paul says, “I beseech brethren by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that you all speak the same thing. That there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and the same judgment.” The perfection of the saints is not only the individual saint matured, it is the collective unity of the whole body brought together in oneness. And I really feel that’s the heart of the ministry. That anything other than perfecting saints for a teaching pastor is a misdirection of the purposes of God. So I want to talk a little bit about the perfecting of the saints today and next time in context of this passage.
Now let me begin by saying this. In the Sermon on the Mount – and we’ll be seeing this in a few weeks on Sunday nights – Jesus made a tremendous statement, a statement that’s haunted me from the time I was a college student. This is what He said, “Be ye perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Matthew 5:48, “Be ye perfect.” Now God’s basic standard is perfection. What God wants is perfection. God wants to reverse the fall, you see. God wants to flip-flop the trouble. God wants to undo what has been done. God is after paradise regained. And the idea in the mind of God and the goal and the end and the ultimate result is the perfection of God’s people.
And God means it in three senses, okay? In three ways that word can be understood. Number one is what I call positional perfection. There is a kind of perfection – and by the way, the word perfection is katartízō in the Greek, and it means to be fully equipped, mature, complete, full grown. So it can have all different meanings. It doesn’t have to mean absolute sinless perfection. It can mean that. But there are three aspects to its significance. Number one is what I call positional perfection. In Hebrews 10:14 this is referred to. And there the writer of Hebrews says this great word. “For by one offering, He has perfected forever them that are sanctified.” And there the writer is talking about the offering of Jesus Christ. When Christ offered Himself on the cross, when He died on the cross, He did a work, which when applied to you and me, makes us forever perfect. In what sense? Not in the sense of our daily life, but in the sense of our position before God. All right?
So that when I become a Christian, I am in Christ. Remember, we’ve seen this in detail in the first three chapters of Ephesians. When I become a Christian, the righteousness of Christ is imputed to me. When I become a Christian the nature of God is mine. I am born again with a seed that is incorruptible. In other words, for the Christian, there is a perfect standing before God, holy and undefiled, a chased bride, without spot, and without blemish positionally. Now that’s the first kind of perfection that God desires. I call it positional perfection and it comes by salvation. When you were saved in God’s eyes, He sees you as perfect as Jesus Christ, because the righteousness of Christ is imputed to you. That’s the message of the great, redemptive section of the book of Romans.
There’s a second kind of perfection that must be understood and that is what we could call ultimate perfection. In addition to our positional perfection now, the Bible talks about an ultimate perfection. In fact, again, it’s Hebrews that gives us the word, chapter 12 and verse 23 where it talks about the spirits of just men made perfect. And he has referenced there to the saints with the Lord. Now listen, there is a kind of perfection then that comes when you die and go to be with the Lord. Right? You leave the flesh. So then positional perfection is gained by salvation. Ultimate perfection is gained by glorification. There is coming a perfection in the future for every one of us when our spirits will be made perfect, when we will even have joined to that spirit a perfect, new, glorified body, Right? First Corinthians 15. That’s ultimate perfection.
Now watch this one. You had nothing to do with positional perfection, and it doesn’t need anything done to it. It’s already done. You can’t do anything about ultimate perfection. That can only happen when you leave. There’s one other category. That’s what I call practical perfection – practical perfection. This is the category of living here and now. And this also God wants, that the believer here and now living in the world, who is positionally perfect, who will be ultimate perfect, should match his practice to his position. In other words, the Lord wants you to be perfect practically. And I dare say that in that sense, the word katartízō does not mean absolutely sinless. It means mature, complete, grown up, fully equipped adult as a Christian. Really there’s no greater tragedy than an infantile Christian, and that’s the word of verse 14, isn’t it? A child who is tossed to and fro carried about with every wind of doctrine, victimized by the slight of men and the cunning craftiness by which they lie in wait to deceive. God doesn’t want us to be infantile or immature. He wants us to be complete in practice.
Now let me say it this way, positional perfection is gained by salvation. Ultimate perfection is gained by glorification. Practical perfection is gained by sanctification, the process of maturity as a Christian. And so I see myself in this way. God has given me as a teaching pastor, God has given other men as evangelists, and in the past prophets and apostles as verse 11 says, for one purpose. Not to perfect the saints positionally; Christ does that. Not to perfect the saints ultimately; God does that. But to work on maturing the saints here and now. That’s the task. That’s the job. We have no other. And so that’s what we’re committed to.
This is what the passage is talking about, that we would perfect the saints. Look at verse 13, that we would bring people to be “a perfect man . . . to the stature of the fullness of Christ;” verse 14, “That they would no more be children;” verse 15, “That they would grow up into Him;” you see, the whole idea of developing, maturing, perfecting, building the saints. And the tremendous reality people is this, that when you build the saints, verse 12 says, they will do the work of the ministry. It’s a fantastic thing. You can get the job done if you just have mature Christians. That’s the plan and we’ll see a lot more about that next time.
Now we’re learning something in our study of Ephesians, aren’t we? We’re learning that the book is divided into two parts as is true with all of Paul’s epistles. The first part is doctrinal, the second part is practical. And after the tremendous doctrinal foundation of 1 to 3, chapter 4 begins to define how you’re to live. And Paul puts it under one umbrella, and that umbrella is what I call the worthy walk – the worthy walk. And what is the worthy walk and what does it involve? First of all, it’s a walk of humility, isn’t it? We saw that. Secondly, it’s a walk of unity. One Lord, one faith, one baptism, endeavoring to keep the bond – the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace. And then we saw it’s a walk in the exercise of gifts that Christ has given us. And now we learn, it’s a walk toward maturity. It’s going up. It’s ascending. It’s growing. That’s what God wants for His church.And I’ll tell you something, I’m so thrilled because I have the privilege to stand here and look out at you. And in many, many case of many of you that I know I can thank God that you have been matured in Jesus Christ by your commitment to Him, by your diligent study of the Word of God. And you are the reason God is blessing this ministry, and you are the reason, because you have committed yourself to the principles of study and nourishment that cause you to grow. I thank God for that. This is the whole heart of the ministry people. This is the reason that we do what we do. There isn’t anything else in the ministry but maturing the saints. You say what about evangelism? Oh that’ll come – that’ll come. When the saints get built up, what happens is verse 15. They begin to speak the truth in love. They begin to move out. They begin to evangelize out of their maturity.
Let me just give you some insight into this and how it was so important to the apostles, to the New Testament. Second Corinthians 13:11 says – and here is the final word of Paul to the Corinthians after 29 chapters. This is what he says. “Finally brethren, farewell.” Get this – “Be perfect.” Did you get that? That sums up 29 chapters. I want your maturity. You find the writer of Hebrews with the same sentiment. Hebrews chapter 13 and verse 20, “Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus that great shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is well pleasing in His sight.” The perfecting of the saints was Paul’s great desire. The writer of Hebrews echoed the same thing.
And 1 Peter 5 verse 10, Peter says, “But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto His eternal glory by Jesus Christ, after you have suffered a while, make you perfect.” Whether it was Peter, whether it was whoever wrote Hebrews, whether it was Paul, whether it was Jesus on the Sermon on the Mount, whether it is the apostle laying it to our feet as teachers and pastors and evangelists, the principle is ever the same. The job is to make the saints mature, to build them. That’s the ministry. And believe me, nothing less than that satisfies the heart of God. In 2 Corinthians 7:1, Paul said, “Having therefore these promises dearly beloved,” – based on the theology, based on the content, based on what God has done – “let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” Let’s move, he says, to maturity.
Now you say, well that’s great, John, but how do you get there? What are the principles? Well let me say this first of all. The agency of perfection is the Holy Spirit. Now I want you to get that. Not for one minute do I believe that any human being can perfect the saints. I don’t believe that. I don’t believe that at all. I believe the only impact that I can have on somebody else’s maturity, the only impact anybody can have on somebody else’s maturity is when the Spirit of God is working through me in them or to them. Let me show you why I say that. Galatians chapter 3. The Galatians had been ministered to initially by the Apostle Paul with great results. Many of them wonderfully saved and committed to Jesus Christ. Great things had happened. In the midst of all of this, they had been inundated by some legalists who came in and said it’s not enough to have Christ; you’ve got to have Mosaic law; you’ve got to get circumcised, et cetera. And so they began to follow a path of legalism and they were going to mature themselves. They were going to grind it out on their own. They were going to grow on their own. It would be sort of like eating yourself to grow, you know. Starting with your fingers and figuring you’ll just eat your way to maturity. What you come up with in the end is zero. They were going to do it on their own self-righteousness. They were going to feed on themselves.
And so he says in Galatians 3:3 – great word – “Are you so foolish” – so foolish – “having begun in the Spirit, are you now made perfect by the flesh?” Are you kidding? Are you so foolish that you would think that you could be born of the Spirit, indwelt by the Spirit, placed into the body by the Spirit, energized by the Spirit, and now would be perfected in the flesh. And in that statement the seed truth is this, that the agency of perfection is the Spirit. In 2 Corinthians 3:18, the Apostle Paul says as you gaze on the glory of the Lord, you will be changed into His image. And that’s maturity folks. Ultimately the end of maturity is Christ-likeness. You will be changed into His image ascending from one level of glory to the next by the Holy Spirit. That’s what it says. He is the agent of perfection.
And so I say to you that the spiritual process of perfection can only occur in the life of an individual yielded to the Holy Spirit. That’s why I’m saying to you that I could preach till I was purple, and I can yell head off all I want and I can teach and your other pastors can teach and the other elders and you teachers and we can go on and on and on and you can study all you want, but unless your life is yielded to the energy of the Spirit of God, there is no growth principle operating. It’s so many words. That’s all. And so the agency of growth and maturity and perfection and equipping is the Spirit.
Now what kind of tools does He use? Well, let me show you some. First of all, James chapter 1. The perfecting of the saints is first of all dependent upon something that maybe we don’t always like, but it’s got to be there and that’s in James 1 verse 2. He says, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials.” Your Bible might say temptations, peirasmos in the Greek means a trial – it’s a neutral word – or a temptation depending upon what happens. Now count it all joy when you fall into a trial, or a test might be the best word. “Knowing this that the testing of your faith worketh patience, but let patience have her perfect work that ye may be perfect and entire, lacking nothing.” Now watch this. One of the things that leads to perfection, one that has a perfect work that makes you perfect and entire lacking nothing then, is testing. So one of the things the Holy Spirit uses is trials or tests.
The Spirit of God will bring into your life opportunities for you to do right as opposed to wrong. The way you choose is an exercise of your muscle in one way or another. Every time you choose a right thing over a wrong thing, every time you hit the crossroads of decision, you go the right way, you’ve stretched your spiritual muscle. You’ve strengthened yourself. The Spirit of God will put into your way obstacles, tests, opportunities for you to exercise faith in God as opposed to believing in yourself. Opportunities for you to put your confidence in God against all opposition. He will do that to test your faith. He will string you out, for example, on a prolonged prayer that you offer and never seem to get the answer to test your trust and your confidence and your faith. These are trials and testings that help perfect you. They stretch your muscle. They exercise you, just like a little child begins to exercise its limbs and that’s part of its growing process.
There’s another thing closely linked to this. Those tests sometimes bring suffering and that’s okay too, because 1 Peter 5:10 says that Christ Jesus and God are working to perfect you, and then it says, “after you have suffered a while.” In other words, sometimes those tests turn into very sad things. Sometimes the making of the man and the making of the woman demands some pain and some hurt and some suffering, and if it is taken right and if the right response is made and if you see your way through, then there is going to be victory and stretching and strengthening and new dimensions of spiritual conquering. So that the Holy Spirit uses trials and the Holy Spirit uses suffering.
Now let me add this. That’s God’s business. God doesn’t call us to do that. I’m not here to make you suffer. I may do that from time to time. If I do, I apologize. I’m not here to present all kinds of trials for you. That’s God’s work. God will take care of the trials and God will take care of the suffering in your life. There is one other element of growth that is the most important of all and that’s where different men of God come into play. It is this. Look at 2 Timothy chapter 3 and verse 16. A very familiar text. This is what it says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” – all Scripture is God breathed – “and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” And there is a sequence there that’s beautiful. We won’t spend the time on it now. But the result of it is, “That the man of God may be” – and what’s the next word – “perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” Now watch – the goal then is that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. How do you get there? All Scripture is given.
Listen, the greatest tool the Spirit of God has for the perfecting of the saints is nothing more than the Scripture. Do you see it? It’s the scripture. And that’s why when the Lord enabled me to come to Grace Church, I committed myself to teach the Word of God, to continue to teach the Word of God. God will take care of the trials. God will take care of the suffering. All He asks out of me is to teach the Word of God, because that is the agent of making the man of God perfect. Peter put it this way. “As babes desire the pure milk of the Word that you may” – what? – “grow by it.” Have you ever noticed how a baby only wants one thing? Babies don’t want lots of thing. They want one thing. And the holler and yell and scream and cry for one thing. You get it, stick it in there, and they’re quiet. That’s it. It all comes down to one thing. And there’s a tremendous analogy that Peter is making. He’s saying it is the single-mindedness of a baby who wants only one thing that ought to characterize a Christian who would have the same undivided single-mindedness to hunger and thirst after the Word of God. Because as that milk brings growth to that baby, so does the Word of God bring growth to the man and the woman of God. Now, this is the purpose of the church to perfect the saints, because when they’re mature, then everything else happens, see? Evangelism and ministry, it all happens off this mature element. That’s the key.
So let’s look at the text and just consider the first point in an outline that we’re going to give you this week and next week. Ephesians 4, if we are to perfect the saints, Paul knows we must recognize four things, four things that are basic to his wonderful exposition here. The preachers of perfection, the progress to perfection, the purposes of perfection, and the power of perfection. We’ll look this time at point one, the preachers of perfection. If, in fact, it is the perfecting of the saints that is the task, then this is what Christ focuses on.
Notice just quickly this review. I told you that in verses 7-11 of Ephesians 4 – if you were here last week, you’ll remember – that Christ conquered Satan, death, and hell, and sin at the cross. Right? And that He descended and that He came like a conqueror ascending Mount Zion after a great victory, and He had spoils with Him that He had captured at the cross. And He takes those spoils, and it says in verse 8 before the parenthesis, “He gave gifts to men.” And what were the gifts that He gave, but verse 11. “And He gave some apostles and some prophets and some evangelists and some teaching shepherds.” Listen beloved, these gifted men are the gifts of a gracious Christ to His beloved church. And He’s given the church apostles. Aren’t you glad for them? You wouldn’t have any doctrine if they weren’t there. There would be no New Testament if it weren’t for the apostles. Every book in the New Testament was written by an apostle, as far as we know, or an associate or a close acquaintance of an apostle. They were the core and the heart of the new revelation.
And the prophets, the ones who preached in line with the apostles and established the local application of apostolic theology. What would we do without the tremendous basis of church foundation that they gave to that early church, which equipped it and energized it to reach its world and begin the spread that we are a part of? And what would it be to be without evangelists and teaching shepherds? These are the gifts of Christ, spoils won at the cross, when He led captivity captive and gave gifts unto men. Some of those things that He won in that warfare were given back to the church as gracious gifts. So we saw that it’s not only the idea that He gave gifts to individuals, but He gave gifted men to the church at large. These are the preachers of perfection.
And the task is ever the same beloved. Did you notice that? It just overwhelms me. Look at verse 11, “Some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some teaching shepherds all for the perfecting of the saints.” You see how it all comes back to the Sermon on the Mount? “Be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.” This is God’s will. This is the bottom-line. And whether you’re an apostle, a prophet, an evangelist, or a teaching shepherd, it never changed – it never changed. To mature the saints – mature the saints.
Now let’s look at these men and we’ve studied them before, and so I’m not going to belabor it, just going to touch on them rather lightly. But I want to remind you of the wonderful character of these four categories. First, there were the apostles. I guess there’s been a lot of misunderstanding about the apostles. I’ll give it as simply as I can. I believe there were several things that make an apostle very unique. The apostles, first of all, were foundational to the church. Back in chapter 2, look at verse 20, it says that the church – and he has given several metaphors and similes and analogies of the church in this chapter. But he says the church basically, in whatever way you look at it, is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone. And from there, then, the whole building fitly frames together and grows to a holy temple in the Lord. In other words, just to remind you what we studied when we were on that text some months ago, that the apostles and prophets were for the foundation of the church. And they don’t exist anymore. They had their time. They had their day. Theirs was a foundational time.
And also I might add that there was a revelatory ministry. In other words, they received direct revelation from God. They didn’t study the New Testament. They were writing it or they were teaching its truths as revealed to the apostles. But theirs was a revelatory ministry, and I see that in chapter 3 and verse 5 where the Apostle Paul says that the mysteries of the New Testament, which in other ages were not made known to the sons of men, are now revealed to the holy apostles and prophets. So they had in a unique sense a revelatory ministry. God’s Spirit spoke directly to them verbally. They gave the very Word of God. That’s because there was no New Testament for the early church. So these unique men directly personally gifted of God – and frankly they were actually appointed by the Lord Jesus Christ. First Corinthians 12:28 uses the verb etheto, which means appointed. They had a specific appointment, as do other offices given to the church, but theirs is wonderfully unique because they were personally called by Jesus Christ. In other words, the Apostles, capital A, the ones we know of as the twelve plus Mathias who filled in for Judas who was false and the Apostle Paul were true Apostles, personally – notice it – personally called by Jesus Christ, every one of them.
Since Jesus Christ called the Apostle Paul in the unique Damascus Road experience, there has been no other personal appointment by the Lord Jesus Christ to the apostolate. May I hasten to add this? There is no such thing as apostolic succession. There is nothing like that. The apostles do not pass their right of apostleship on to anybody, heredity or in any other way, by vote of the cardinals or anything else. Pope John Paul I may be a wonderful man, but he is not in the apostolic succession. There is no such thing. The Bible speaks of no thing such as that. In fact, they are so very unique that Luke chapter 22 and verse 28 gives us the Word of our Lord Jesus to them. “You who are with me have continued with me in my trials and I appoint unto you a kingdom as my Father has appointed to Me that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” In other words, there were an equal number of apostles to equal the number of tribes in Israel so that each would uniquely rule a tribe. There can be no more.
Now you can argue about whether Paul is the twelfth or Mathias. I don’t know how you handle that one. I personally think Mathias is the twelfth and Paul is going to have special assignments during that time, but whatever. They are unique. God only designed twelve and God set up the millennial kingdom for twelve to have unique places of rulership. I don’t think there’s apostolic succession, a continuing apostolate. They did their ministry. They had a three-fold ministry, to preach, heal sickness, and cast out demons. They set the foundation of the church theologically so that when the church met together in Acts 2:42, they studied the apostles doctrine. Their ministry was both revelatory and reiterative. They gave direct revelation from God and then sometimes they re-preached some of that revelation they had received. But they laid a doctrinal foundation for the church and they established both theology and congregations of churches.
Now, I would add a footnote. There’s another category of people in the Bible called with the term apostellō or apostolos. But it isn’t the official apostolate. And the distinction is wonderfully made. There are other men that we see as sent ones, which apostellō means to send. And they are called in 2 Corinthians 8:23 – and this is important – apostles of the church or the churches. It’s plural – apostles of the churches. In other words, the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ and the sent ones of the churches are two different categories. One was appointed by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. The other were appointed by the church and sent out for ministry and the church is still doing that. And we still have sent ones with a small A, but not with a capital A. Not the Apostles of Jesus Christ. They were foundational.
But I’m so indebted to them. I have to admit that I would say my life has been most perfected – if in fact it is to any degree most matured – my life has been most equipped by the ministry of the apostles more than any other human person outside obviously the Trinity, because it is the truth taught by the apostles that has shaped my life. Isn’t that true in your life? They are the ones who in the greatest measure perfect the saints. And I would add this, only as I pass on to you the truth of the apostles can you be perfected. When I tell you my opinion, you lose and I lose. When I teach you the apostles doctrine that’s the process of perfection. So we are most indebted to them.
And then there was another group, the prophets. Now this isn’t the Old Testament prophets, this is the New Testament ones. It’s best to call them New Testament preachers, prophēmi – to speak before, to stand and speak. What they did was kind of behind the apostles. Now notice the apostles moved around. They were itinerant. They would go to a new area where Christ wasn’t named, preached, established a church, build it up, move on. And apparently the prophets were the ones who continued to preach to those organized churches. They were the kind of the follow-up guys. And they would re-preach the great apostolic doctrine. And now and then they would get direct revelation. But every instance we have of a direct revelation to a prophet in the New Testament, it has to do with the practical life of the church.
We only have a couple of instances. One time Agabus predicted a famine that would affect the church. Another time Agabus predicted that Paul would be made a prisoner. Remember he tied him up with his belt and everything in Acts. So it seems as though the apostles majored on theology and the prophets majored on the practical application of that to the local church. So in many ways the apostles were forerunners to the evangelists who went out and proclaimed Christ and founded churches and won people to Him. And the prophets went in and made practical application to the church. They were more like teaching pastors.
Now these men were not as the apostles. They didn’t necessarily have the gifts and the ministries. They didn’t have this ability to speak divine revelation in the same measure that the apostles did and that’s why in 1 Corinthians 14 Paul says to them, the prophets, he says you better let the spirits of the prophets be subject to the prophets. In other words, you’ve got to make the prophets a check and balance on themselves, because sometimes the things they say aren’t so. So that the power of the apostles is diminished when it reaches the level of the prophets. But nonetheless, they were strategic to the early years of the church. And there were so many false prophets, that it was so important that God has His true preachers, rather than prophet meaning somebody who predicts the future – that was part of it to be sure – but they were the preachers who preached this apostolic doctrine who applied it to the local churches.
And we’re indebted to them. You want to know something people, if the church hadn’t grown in the book of Acts, the chain would have been broken and we wouldn’t be here. Right? Those guys were strategic. Listen, the perfecting of the saints at Grace Community Church in large measure can be thankful to God for the work that the prophets did in keeping the continuity of the church flowing. Because there was a day when the apostles went away, when they were gone. In fact, the last time we ever see them meet in Acts 15 at the council of Jerusalem and from then on they just sort of vanish. And it was the ministry of those prophets that sustained the church. Those great preachers through that early church era. I believe they too are foundational and have passed away. I don’t believe there’s any prophets today in the sense of receiving revelation, in the unique sense of this era. They were the foundation. They were the ones who received the mysteries as we saw in Ephesians 3.
And then we find two other ministries. Look at verse 11 again. The apostles and the prophets I believe were replaced by the evangelists and the teaching pastors, teaching shepherds. What is an evangelist? You say, I know what an evangelist is. It’s a guy with 15 sermons and 15 suits. Well maybe in somebody’s mind that’s an evangelist. And maybe that’s some evangelists. We have a lot of ideas. We think of an evangelist, if we go back far enough, as a guy with a tent and a bunch of sawdust and pounding a great big pulpit and screaming about liquor and all of this. Or maybe we think of an evangelist as somebody who holds citywide crusades like Billy Graham or maybe we think of an evangelist as somebody on television who has a very fine approach, a very clever method of reaching people. I don’t know what your thought of an evangelist is, but I can back up and just kind of give you a little idea of what it is biblically.
An evangelist is basically somebody who presents Jesus Christ where Christ is not known, that’s the base of it. He presents Christ where Christ is not known. That’s an evangelist. Pretty simple. And we have them right now, and I believe in continuity they follow right after the apostles. The apostles faded away; they ceased; theirs was a unique thing. And the evangelists took over and the Apostle Paul says to Timothy, and I love these words, “Timothy do the work of an evangelist.” But listen, an evangelist is not a fancy guy who blows into town, fires away five times, and blows back out of town, not biblically. A biblical evangelist was somebody who went to a place where Christ wasn’t named, won people to Christ, stayed there till he had built a church, ordained elders in that city who could take over their leadership of that church, then he moved to a new area. Listen, God never put a premium on biblical ignorance. He never puts a premium on doctrinal ignorance. It never says in the Bible that an evangelist is a guy who knows twelve great sermons on how to get saved and that’s the end of it.
Evangelism is the ability to go in establish and build a church. Or in where a church already exists, an evangelists is one who wins people to Jesus Christ, integrates them into the church, and is a part of the maturing process. If I were going to go out and start a church now and if I were going to start from scratch and I know that God has called me to be a teaching shepherd, I’d find myself an evangelist and that’s the team that you find right here in the eleventh verse. I’d find somebody who could go out and win people to Jesus Christ, who was aggressive in winning people to Christ and who would bring them in and integrate them into the church. You know, I thank God for men at Grace Church who are this kind of men. We have gifted evangelists here.
I think about Rich Hines, who’s out there in the jail, all week long winning men to Jesus Christ, these men in jail and following them up. I think about Jim George, who’s mobilizing all these people in our church to go out and win people to Christ and some of you are sitting right out here, you’ve been led to Jesus Christ either by Jim or by somebody that Jim has trained to share Christ with you. And what happens after they win them to Christ? Right now, while I’m talking that entire office wing is jammed. Every single office is full of little groups of new Christians that are being discipled to maturity, because that’s the work of evangelism too.
I’ll never forget when I was in Ecuador one time they were having what was called evangelism in depth. And it was interesting, they came in and they had this big crusade in the city and so many people were saved. I think it was like 5,000 that they had on the list, and six months later they found two of them in any church in the city. That’s not evangelism in depth. That’s the opposite. And so an evangelist was one who would establish himself to win people to Christ and build them up, a discipler. They were apostle-like in a sense that they would move and go places. Missionaries are like this. They go to places where Christ isn’t named to establish a church. Or they go to win more to Christ to add to a church. What a tremendously needed ministry.
You know, I really feel that if people in the church would begin to do this – and you know, I believe there are just literally hundreds of you that maybe God could put His hand on to call to be an evangelist, and you can do it in a local church ministry. Just because you’re called to be an evangelist – you know, you talk to young men and they think because they’re going to be an evangelist, they’ve got to leave the church and hit the road. Hey, do you realize there are a whole bunch of lost people right here in the City of Los Angeles and we’ve got a place right here? You can go out and win as many of them as you want to Christ. Bring them right in here and we’ll disciple them.
I think evangelism disconnected from a local church loses its power in many ways. I think that’s where it ought to be right here where you can bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Moffett say, “My album is the savage breast to write the name of Jesus there and see that savage bow in prayer. This is my soul’s delight.” And whenever God lays that on the heart of a man maybe he’s an evangelist, and the church needs to give room for him to function in evangelism within its own doors, not turn him loose to hit the road.
Four, the last category, and I’m not going to spend much time on this because I talk about this a lot, but the fourth gifted category of men is teaching shepherds. And by the way, this is a hyphenated word, the Greek construction here indicates that they’re not two words, pastors and teachers, but that it should be pastor-teacher. You’ll notice the word some which is before the first four is not before teachers and that’s because it is not set apart as a separate category. The Greek construction leads us to say this. Some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some shepherd-teachers. That’s the best interpretation, teaching-shepherds. And I might add this, the word pastor only appears once in the whole Bible, and it’s here. And it’s an interesting thing, it’s a Latin word. It simply means pastoral, like a pasture. That’s all.
But I don’t know why they used it here, because it’s misleading. The word in the Greek is poimēn, and every single time that word is ever used in the Bible it is always translated with the idea of shepherding. Except here, they threw the Latin pastor in. But it means shepherd, teaching shepherd. You say well, how is that different than an evangelist? Oh, the evangelist wins people to Christ and builds up the flock and the teaching shepherd teaches, teaches, teaches, and shepherds the flock. See? Again, a beautiful parallel. The evangelist is like the apostle. He’s more itinerant. He’s on the move confronting people in the world. Whereas, the teaching shepherd is more like the prophet who applied doctrine to the local situation. He builds the flock. They were permanently settled in one place teaching, teaching, teaching.
In fact, in Acts 20 – and we’ll draw to a conclusion – in Acts 20 when Paul gives instruction to the shepherds of the flock at Miletus to the elders, to the shepherds that were there, this is what he said, Acts 20:28, “Take heed therefore to yourselves and to all the flock over which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers” – now watch “to feed the church of God.” Now you have two things there. Oversight and feeding. People say to me, what does it mean to be a pastor? I say two things, lead and feed. That’s it, lead and feed – lead and feed. Taking oversight and feed the flock, which He’s purchased with His own blood and that’ll give you a little idea how important the flock is. You know, when I look at Grace Church, I see a flock of sheep that God through Christ has purchased with His own blood, and that’s precious isn’t it? And so the teaching shepherd is to feed and lead.
First Peter chapter 5, Peter says the same thing, “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking thee oversight.” Feed and lead, oversight and feeding. It’s a simple thing, beloved. People say, “Oh it must be complex to be a pastor.” People ask me all the time, “Oh, how can you possible handle that big church.” I don’t handle this big church. I haven’t got any idea of most of what’s going on. I come on Sunday and read the Grace To You so I can find out. I just am committed to two things, feed and lead, feed and lead. And you know something, in the ten years that I’ve been at Grace Church – it’ll be ten years in February – ten years that I’ve been here and I haven’t changed what I do at all. I do the same thing I’ve always done. Feed and lead.
Well, how do you lead? Well, leadership involves two things, principle and pattern, principle and pattern, principle and pattern. Those two things. In other words, if you’re going to lead, you’ve got to know the principles that give you the direction God wants to go, and you’ve got a model it or pattern it. Leadership is not just, “This is what we’re going to do folks.” It’s also living it so that people want to follow. Right? So it is principle and pattern, principle and pattern. And so in the years that we’ve been here and the other pastors have been here at Grace Church, their goal in leadership is to say here is God’s direction for us. Here is where God wants us to go. Here are the principles and then here’s the pattern. Do it like I’ve done it. You’ve got to realize that Paul said to the Philippians, “Be ye followers of me.” You know, he said, “The things you’ve seen and heard in me do,” Philippians 4:9. There’s got to be pattern as well as principle. That’s leading.
What about feeding? There’s two things also. Feeding means warning and teaching, warning and teaching – negative and positive. You’ve got to warn them what not to do and teach them what to do. You see, the ministry is very simple. It’s two things, feed and lead. Lead means principle and pattern, and feed means warn and teach. That’s it. And if a man of God will be faithful – and I tell pastors this all the time – if a man of God would be faithful to take heed to himself first and make sure his life was right before God day by day, and then he would just commit himself to two things, lead his people by principle and pattern and feed them by warning them and teaching them, that God would grow a church beyond his expectations. And that’s where you’ll begin to see Ephesians 3:20 fulfilled, “Now unto him that is able to exceeding abundantly above all you can ask or think.” I’ve never questioned the meaning of that verse in the last few years. I used to wonder what it meant. I don’t wonder anymore, because it’s beyond anything I ever dreamed what God can do. So gifted men given to the church to perfect the saints. Now the best part of this message I left for next week. And I want you to be here. It’s so very important. Let’s pray.
Thank You, Father, for our fellowship this morning and speaking to our hearts so clearly again out of Your Word. Thank You for these precious people. How much we love them and praise You for them. Oh God, we would ask that every one of them would be mature even hear the echo of the Apostle Paul’s prayer where he was warning every man and teaching every man that he would present every man perfect in Jesus Christ. That’s our prayer, Father. The perfection of the saints. We thank You for the promise that it can be done through Your word and Your Spirit, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
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