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ATTAINING THE UNITY OF THE FAITH

Ephesians 4:13 – Until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.

The fivefold ministry gifts were given to equip God’s people until the church “attains” the unity of the faith. Paul’s statement about attaining unity is as big a goal as one will find. It is hard to imagine the church in that kind of unity. Perhaps it is what we understand unity to be that is the problem. Unity is impossible in the natural. Biblical unity is the work of the Holy Spirit in the “hearts” of God’s people, not simply in their heads. Today, I have unity with many in the Lord’s church, not based on agreement about everything, but in agreement concerning God’s kingdom purposes.

One reason unity has been difficult to achieve is that, around the second century, church fathers shifted the focus from the “kingdom of God” to the Church. The body of Christ began to be taught that where the Bishop is, there is the church. The apostles taught that the church is the people of God and bishops were “overseers” who provided care for God’s people. The apostles further taught that the kingdom was in the Holy Spirit. He is the center of all that the Father and the Son are doing. This shift set the stage for “ecclesiastical structures” rather than the government of God that the apostles founded. The Reformation brought the church part of the way back to God’s original purpose, but not all the way back. Out of the Reformation came many divisions over doctrine and the government of the church.

The twentieth century brought a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit reviving the Lord’s church. Unity has been on the increase as the Lord changes the hearts of His men and women. There is more unity today than since the first century. The real shift began to happen around the 80’s and 90’s as the church began to focus on the kingdom of God and not on denominations. Unity prayer was at the foundation of this revival in the Lord’s church. One of the first areas was united prayer for the nations and unreached people groups. Another important shift was united prayer in cities as pastors began to pray together to fulfill the “Great Commission.” Marches for Jesus took place all over the world as God’s people celebrated the kingdom of God and His Glorious King!

Unity begins in our family, our local church congregation, and our cooperation with what the Lord is doing in our locality. Search your heart today and see if there is any division toward others in the body of Christ. If there is, repent and give it over to the Lord. Ask the Father for grace to live in the unity of the Spirit and the bonds of peace with everyone. This does not mean compromise of your convictions. It does mean keeping our hearts right before God and others.

GOD HAS PLACED SOME IN HIS CHURCH AS TEACHERS

2 Timothy 3:10-11 – Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and sufferings.

It is hard to know if the teaching gift is separate from the pastoral gift. apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastors are clearly separate. The apostolic and pastoral ministries have teaching as a major component of their gift. The apostles laid the foundation of what was to be taught. I call this “structuring doctrine.” The elders of the New Testament churches taught what the apostles set as proper doctrine. Teaching the things of the Spirit is definitely a gift given to the body of Christ. Biblical teaching is not rooted in academics in the sense of man’s views. It is rooted in “revelation,” or what God reveals.

Paul tells Timothy that any man who “aspires” to the office of overseer,” among other things, must be able to teach (1Timothy 3: 1-7). As stated in our scripture for today, Timothy followed Paul’s teaching. Paul’s teaching was more than words. His teaching was also found in his conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and sufferings. Teaching should reflect a manner of living, not just information.

Teaching is a “fatherly function.” Solomon gives instruction to his son when he says, “My son, do not forget my teaching” (Proverbs 3:1). We can assume that Solomon was taught by his father, King David. Not only do the scriptures speak of natural fathering, but spiritual fathering as well. “This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight” (1Timothy 1:18). Fathers teach their children. The real teachings come through the models that fathers and mothers set for their children. I believe that one of the weak points in church life is that the majority of teaching is simply informational rather than example.

Jesus’ teaching was show and tell. “For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Matthew 13:17). Today, I believe we find that teaching is mostly about information. Biblically it is about modeling. A part of training is putting your hands to the work and practicing so you might develop the skill you are learning.

I worked in the television repair field for many years. My first boss wanted me to take classes at the local city college. It was helpful to be in the class, but my greatest knowledge base came in the field. I was fortunate enough to work with the shop’s best technician. It was his modeling that laid the foundation for future success in the field of servicing. I found the same to be true in ministry development. I listened to a lot of teaching that was excellent and helpful, but it was in the doing, alongside mentors, that the real teaching took place.

Father, thank You for the teaching gift You have placed in the body of Christ. I pray to be taught as well as to teach others of Your wonderful ways and works. Help my life to model for others what You have taught me.

OVERSEERS OF THE FLOCK

1 Peter 5:2 – Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God.

The English word for “pastor” is only found in the Ephesians 4:11. In the Greek it is found many times. A number of different Greek words are used in the New Testament with slightly different meanings. Words such as shepherd, overseer, elder, and bishop. They all speak of pastoring the flock of God. Throughout history these words have been treated as separate ministries, but that is a wrong understanding and application. They all speak of the “care of God’s people.” In our devotional, I will use the word shepherd because the word is used in our verse for today.

The shepherd is a “local” gift. The shepherd has an allotment of God’s people for which he is responsible. The shepherd knows the people and their individual needs. The shepherd is to relate with other shepherds in the locality so that there is a healthy overall care for the body of Christ. Biblically speaking, shepherds are first recognized by the people for whom they are caring. An apostolic function is to recognize the shepherds and set them into their place before the people. This is clearly seen throughout Paul’s writings.

The shepherd is to exercise oversight. Two important understandings are needed. First, the exercise of oversight is not to be an obligation or feeling, “I have to do this.” It comes from knowing God’s call. It is an attitude of “volunteerism.” I do not “shepherd” for money, or guilt, or to be known or seen. The ministry gifts are to be utilized voluntarily. Secondly, an overseer must be motivated by love. Jesus voluntarily laid down His life for the sheep giving us an example to emulate. The overseer is not to be controlling or consider they have a position of privilege. The shepherd is first a servant of God and a servant to God’s people.

Shepherding must be according to the will of God. It is God who calls through the Holy Spirit working in a person’s life. I was called at age fourteen. I was planning a career in electronics, but as I walked across the Fellowship Hall of the church I attended, the Holy Spirit called me to serve the body of Christ. From that moment, I was ruined for anything else. I have done many things in my life, but I cannot escape being a shepherd. I feel no “compulsion,” only an honor to serve my Lord and His people.

As God’s people, it is important to understand the ministry gifts; this helps us pray for the shepherd/overseer. It is important for us to understand the grave responsibility that the shepherd carries. It is important so that we can work alongside the shepherd with their particular gifts. Finally, the Lord may call you to this ministry gift.

Father, I thank you for Your shepherds who represent Christ to the flock. I pray now for the shepherd that You have placed in my life. I pray that You would put a hedge of protection around him and his family. I pray that he would fulfill Your will through the calling that rests upon him.

THE GIFT OF THE EVANGELIST

2 Timothy 4:5 – Be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

The third ministry gift Paul mentions in Ephesians 4:11 is that of the “evangelist.” Your fingers beautifully illustrate these five gifts which the Lord has placed in His church. The thumb speaks of the apostolic, as it touches all the other gifts. The prophetic is like the pointer finger, pointing the way. The evangelist, like the middle finger, reaches out the farthest. The ring finger illustrates the pastoral role and speaks of covenant relationship. The small finger speaks of the teacher. It is ideal for cleaning the wax out of your ears.

Paul addresses four areas of which he wants Timothy to be aware. He says be “sober in all things.” The message of the gospel is serious. The souls of people are at stake. You can have fun witnessing, but understand you are speaking of the eternal destiny of a soul.

Paul says, “Endure hardship.” Declaring the “gospel of the kingdom of God” will generate various kinds of hardships. Some examples are: financial, inconvenience, time and energy, persecution, mocking, rejection, and for some physical abuse, including death. Along with whatever hardships one might experience comes the joy of conversion. David declares, “Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him” (Psalm 126:5-6).

Paul tells Timothy, who carries pastoral responsibility, “Do the work of an evangelist.” Timothy was not an evangelist, but was taught to think evangelistically. A man like Billy Graham is an Evangelist; his gift is obvious. We are all called to witness of the faith and win souls. Solomon wrote, “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who is wise wins souls” (Proverbs 11:30). Whatever your gift may be in the body of Christ, do the work of an evangelist.

Finally, Paul says to Timothy, “Fulfill your ministry.” One of the most fulfilling things in the life of a believer is to know your ministry of service. As I write these devotionals, I know, this task is a part of fulfilling my service to the body of Christ. No one person can do everything, but the Holy Spirit has assignments for each of us. Whatever assignments the Lord may have given to you, remember Paul’s encouragement to Timothy. You can always ask a person if they have any prayer requests. It is a great lead into sharing the love of God with another.

Father, I thank You for the Gift of the Evangelist. As Paul instructed Timothy, help me to do the work of an evangelist. Open my heart and my eyes to see people as You do. Show me the lost and the perishing who need to hear of Your great love revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

PROPHETIC VISION

Ephesians 2:18-22 – Through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.

As we give our attention to the five ministry gifts it is important to keep focused on Jesus. Each of the ministry gifts is a manifestation of the ministry of Jesus and does not stand alone on its own merits. Paul reminds us, “through Him we have both access in one Spirit to the Father” (emphasis mine). The Godhead determined for Jesus to build His church upon the apostolic and prophetic ministries. It is through apostolic teaching and prophetic vision God’s will and purpose is communicated. John the apostle declares in the book of Revelation that he “fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, ‘Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God, for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy’” (Revelation 19:10).

As with the apostolic gift, the prophetic gift is still needed. Today, the prophetic does not bring new revelation or anything “extra biblical,” but helps to restore the Lord’s church to His original intent. Throughout history, men have distorted the truth of God and have built their own systems. The writers of the New Testament warned God’s people that this would happen. Consider what Peter said in his second letter, “False prophets arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves” (2 Peter 2:1-2). The true prophetic voice points to Jesus. The true prophetic voice is anointed of the Lord to envision God’s people in God’s purpose for current times.

The writer of Hebrews tells us, “draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:22). As we draw near to the Lord through the Holy Spirit and the study of His Word, our expected result should be “prophetic vision” for our life and service to Him. When listening to the preached word and as you pray for God’s guidance in your life, expect to receive through the prophetic gift, what the Lord wants to reveal to you. Praise God for the apostolic and prophetic gift He has made available to His church.

When I listen to preaching and teaching, when I read articles and books, I am asking the Lord to reveal to me understanding for my life and what is being spoken and how it relates to culture and what the Lord is doing today. I am listening for His Spirit to give to me prophetic understanding about His church and the culture in which I live.

Father, thank you for the prophetic gift You have given to Your church. Thank You for prophets who hear Your voice and deliver to the church Your message for contemporary times. I ask for You to increase prophetic awareness in me that I might walk in a stronger relationship to “the testimony of Jesus.”

APOSTOLIC GROWTH

Ephesians 4:11 – He gave some as apostles.

In our next five devotionals, we will look at the Lord’s purpose in these five ministry gifts for the growth and development of the body of Christ. These ministry gifts and their function are important to the maturation of individual believers. The first of the five is the “apostolic gift.” The original apostles are known as “the apostles of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:14). Christ is building His church upon the foundation that the apostles and prophets laid, “Having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20).

These men were given to Christ in His earthly ministry by the Father. “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word” (John 17:6). There will never be more apostles known as the “apostles of the Lamb,” since they were given to Jesus in His earthly ministry. It is important to understand that the “apostolic ministry” was meant to continue until the Lord returns. The apostolic ministry today reinforces what the apostles taught. They are used by the Holy Spirit to “equip the saints for the work of service and to build up the body of Christ: until we all attain the unity of the faith, and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13-14).

It is important to know what the Lord is presently doing in the earth. We started to hear teachings about these five ministry gifts around 1948. Since that time, each of the five gifts has been restored to the church and is still developing toward greater maturity. It is through the apostolic ministry that a great unity is manifesting in the Lord’s church. It is unity around the message of the kingdom and not a particular church system. The church is unified throughout the world as we pray for the nations. There is increased city-wide unity as pastor’s work together for the greater cause of Christ. The Lord is at work unifying the generations. There is much emphasis on fathering throughout the Lord’s church today.

The church of Jesus is growing in numbers and in maturity. Individuals are growing in their commitment to the kingdom of God. The unity of the faith is happening. Increased knowledge of the Son of God is taking place. It is easy to be critical, but an honest examination of the church throughout the world reveals “apostolic times” are among us. Jesus is preparing His church for great things as He wraps up the ages and prepares to return for His bride.

Father, I present myself to You as a willing vessel. Help me attain to the unity of the faith. Increase my knowledge of the Son of God, causing me to mature into the measure of the stature of Christ. Grow me up to be used by the Holy Spirit for Your pleasure.