God knows all things, and even before He made the world He knew every person who would come to Him. He knew who would respond when He called us, and He knew we would sin and be damaged, but because Hes God, He knew He could rescue us, heal us and train us until we would fulfill our destiny. There was a very specific reason that God decided to create us: He wanted a huge family of sons and daughters, and He wanted them to become just like His divine Son Jesus.
When we repent and believe in Jesus Christ each of us steps into a divinely-ordained process that begins to change us immediately, and will continue to change us until the day we die. As our Heavenly Father, God guides everything that happens to us so that it will move us toward His goal
which is to make us more and more like Jesus. We still have a will, so we can slow this process down, and since He doesnt make us His slaves, its even possible to leave Him. But as long as were His, He keeps moving us toward our destiny. Hes unrelenting. The plan never changes. The outcome was set before the worlds were made. And to help us reach this goal God has given us gifts through His Son. These gifts are people.
Our gifts (Eph 4:6-13)
God places people in our lives to help us grow. These are people who He has specially prepared for this work. In his letter to the Ephesians Paul says every believer has been given abundant grace because of what Jesus did for us when He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. At that moment God gave Him authority over all His enemies, and as our triumphant Lord, Jesus gave us wonderful gifts. Then Paul names those gifts:
And He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some shepherds and teachers. (Eph 4:4)
And then he describes why God gives these people to us:
for the restoring and fitting together of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the building up of the Body of Christ until we all arrive at the unity of the faith and the full knowledge (that comes from relationship) of the Son of God, for a completely matured man, for the measure of adulthood of the fullness of Christ. (literal)
In other words, He puts special people in our lives to prepare us to serve Him, to help us work together as a spiritual family, and to teach us the truth about Jesus Christ so we will enter into a genuine, personal relationship with Him and mature until our lives look like His. Thats Gods goal: to make us like Jesus.
The people God gives (Eph 4:11)
Paul lists five types of people Jesus gives to His church, so lets try to understand who they are.
Jesus was the first one to send out apostles. He selected twelve disciples, taught them, trained them to do what He had been doing, let them witness His death and resurrection, baptized them with the Holy Spirit, and then sent them out to make more disciples and plant churches. Then as we read the Book of Acts we watch as more people are selected and sent out to do the same thing. These were very mature, spiritually-gifted people capable of raising up disciples who had repented, believed on Jesus Christ, and been baptized in the Holy Spirit, and then they organized them into churches (Ac 14:21-23).
The next group of people Paul lists is prophets. We know that all believers are capable of prophesying (1Co 14:31), but its also true that Jesus specially gifts certain people for this ministry. A prophet is someone who is able to present what God wants to say in that moment, and to call people to believe or obey. They are able to hear God through one avenue or another (hear, see, feel, recognize) and then to communicate what theyve heard. God uses them to build up peoples faith, or to call people to repentance, or to comfort people who are sad or tired. Through them God can reveal, in a moment, things that have hindered or harassed us for years. Because they speak directly on Gods behalf, a prophet must be very humble and wise.
Paul uses the word evangelist here to describe someone who is specially gifted to tell unbelievers the good news about Jesus Christ and invite them to respond. They are drawn to those who dont know Jesus and are able to show them that they need Gods mercy, to explain in simple terms what Jesus has done for them, and to passionately invite them to repent and believe.
The word we translate as pastor means shepherd. Its someone who leads Gods flock. A shepherd leads a flock to food and water, protects them from predators, gathers in those who stray, and heals those who are sick or wounded (Ezk 34:1-16; Jn 10:1-16; 21:15-17). Wherever Paul planted a church he appointed elders (Ac 14:23). He also called these overseers (1Ti 3:1-7). They were appointed to teach and lead, which of course, was to be done humbly and by being a good example of the Christian life (1Pe 5:1-4).
There are people who know how to study the Bible and teach people so that they, too, can understand it. All of us come to God with confusion and deception in our thinking. We dont really know who He is, or who we are, and we need people who can teach us the truth. We need people who can show us the promises in the Bible and challenge us to grow in faith. We need people who will let the Bible expose our sin and call us to repentance. We need people who will repeatedly remind us of the power of Jesus cross to forgive us and set us free.
Jesus still gives these gifts today, because we still need them, and so does the world. Apostles need to be sent out to plant churches. Prophets need to let us hear God speak so He can build us up, call us to obey, and comfort our weary hearts. Evangelists need to win the lost, and encourage us all to do the same. We need pastors wholl lead us kindly and faithfully so that we will grow and fulfill our calling. And we need teachers who will accurately teach us Gods word so our minds can be renewed.
There is a simple, but very profound truth that confronts us as we observe the early church: they were willing to let people lead and care for them. They were willing to work together as part of a community. We could argue that they were naïve and hadnt yet experienced the abuse unhealthy leaders can subject us to. And its certainly true we all need to exercise real caution about who we allow to speak into our lives. But for those of us who come from difficult religious backgrounds, or other situations where leaders abused us, we can put up such a defensive wall we wont allow God to bring these people into our lives. We isolate ourselves and try to mature ourselves, by ourselves. We refuse to let Him give us the gifts He wants to give us.
Of course, we need to be wise, discerning, careful in what we receive from whom, but thats not the same thing as being defensive and distrustful of everyone. People werent perfect back then either. They made mistakes, and their flesh was as bad as ours, yet God was still able to work through them to grow His people.
Some of us have become very tired of being alone, and we long for people who will love us and care for us. And what the Word of God says to us today is that such people do exist. God has seen to it. They are part of His great plan to mold us into the image of His Son (Ro 8:29). What we must do is let Him confirm to our hearts who they are, and then take down that wall and let them in.
1) Name someone God has used to help you grow spiritually.
2) Name someone God used you to help grow spiritually.