Ephesians 4:7-13

One Lord, one Ministry Ps 68:11-18; Eph 4:7-13 https://youtu.be/9-Oeo6gpiMI


Earlier in this chapter Paul declared categorically that the people of God share in one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father. Knowing however how frequently the behaviour of church members so often contradicts this God-given unity Paul moves his emphasis from “all of us” to “each of us” because practical Christian unity comes about through God-given diversity (Eph 4:7-13).

At the middle of our passage, Ephesians 4:7-13, there is a list of five ministries; “apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors/shepherds (ESV), teachers”. Many churches today believe they have “rediscovered” the so-called “5-fold ministry” as the key to renewing the Church. In many ways this is a good thing; but in line with the “if it works let’s do it” culture of our times few Christian leaders have sought to understand the essential connection between Paul’s teaching on the ascension of Christ as the centre of our text and the character of the gifts he gives. The usual result is efficient and expanding congregations which however lack the goal of which this passage speaks; “mature manhood…the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (v.13). Without a heightened revelation of how and why Jesus “ascended far above the heavens” churches will keep producing undiscipled people who lack the outstanding virtue to be light and salt to the increasingly debased culture in which we live (Matt 5:14-16). Central to a practical application of this passage is Christ’s conquest of the hostile evil spiritual powers in the heavenly realms.


But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.v.7

The Body of Christ is one but each individual believer has been given gifts by God’s grace. These gifts were not chosen by us but sovereignly given by God when he put us in our place in the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12:18). They were given “according to the measure of Christ’s gift”; John’s Gospel expresses something similar by saying, “from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1:16). If Jesus has given gifts to his people they have cosmic implications (John 4:10; 2 Cor 9:15); their unlimited significance is due to their connection with the  exalted status of Christ who is no longer bounded by the things of this world.

“Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.”” v.8

Paul is here quoting from Psalm 68 which contains an urgent appeal for God to summon his power and come to rescue his people from their enemies. In this psalm the earthly Israelite king as the Lord’s representative destroys his foes then ascends to the heights of Mount Zion to worship God in the temple (68:17, 28, 35). The earthly king’s ascent to the sanctuary on Zion prophetically foreshadowed Christ’s ascent to his Father’s throne in heaven. Where in the psalm the earthly conqueror “received gifts from men” the all sufficient heavenly Lord “gives gifts to men”.

When it says “he led a host of captives” it includes his visible resurrection victory over the degrading powers of sin and death but in the context of Christ’s cosmic triumph laid out in Ephesians his higher victory is over the evil spiritual powers in the heavenly places (cf. Eph 1:20-22; Col 2:15). As in the ancient world conquering kings took the goods of their captives and shared the spoils with their own people (Gen 14; Judges 5:30; 1 Sam 30:26-31; Ps 68:12; Isa 53:12) so our heavenly conqueror has received from his Father the gift of the Holy Spirit and poured him out on the Church in the giving of gifts (cf. Acts 2:33; 1 Cor 12:3).

 “(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth?” v.9

This is the turning point/pivot/fulcrum this passage. The expression “lower parts of the earth” seems to be an emphatic way that Paul sets up an antithesis/opposite spirit between the character of Christ and the arrogant cosmic powers of darkness residing in the heavenly places (1:21; 3:10; 6:12 cf. Ezek 28). The triumph of God over the powers came through the humility of his Son descending to the cross and the tomb (Phil 2:5ff.). In embracing suffering and death Christ exposed himself to all the degrading, divisive powers of evil so that in ascending back to his heavenly Father in heaven he might heal the broken condition of humanity by taking it into the eternal glory of God (John 17:5). The rest of our passage explains how Jesus applies his universal victory to a world in which pain and death still seem to reign.

“He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)” v.10

As the victorious divine warrior Jesus lives “far above all the heavens” triumphant over every evil power (cf. 1:21). From his ascended position he is working to “fill all things” with his own glorious power, presence and perfection. With our Head in heaven every force that would degrade, depress, diminish, downsize and humiliate humans has lost its final power. In the End, when Christ returns, the universe will be filled with the love, goodness, mercy, wisdom, power, peace, wholeness etc. that already saturates the humanity of Christ (Eph 1:10). These are not grand mystical or speculative ideas, we have a foretaste of their final reality because Jesus is now revealing his fullness and extending his rule over his enemies through the gifts he gives to his Church.

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors [shepherds ESV] and teachers,” v.11

These five ministries[1] are men and women placed in Christ’s Body by divine appointment, independent of personal attainment or merit. They are not the only gifted members of the Church but are foundational ministers of the Word of the gospel. To suggest, as some have, that some of these ministries were no longer needed after the New Testament became available would be to deny they are all needed to reveal the breadth of the glory of the ascended Christ.

As the Church in Western nations has declined there has been recognition that the so-called APE’s, apostles, prophets and teachers, are needed as gifts to mature the Church in ways that pastors and teachers alone cannot. Generally speaking, while APE’s may have a home base in a congregation they have a broader ministry across the body of Christ.

Apostles always come first in all the ministry lists of the New Testament (1 Cor 12:28). Since the apostles mentioned here are those given after the ascension they are not the “twelve apostles of the Gospels”. Various other apostles are referred to in the letters of the New Testament e.g. Barnabas, Silas, James etc. Acts 14:14; Rom. 16:7; 1 Cor. 4:6-9; 9:6; Gal 1:19; Phil. 2:25; 1 Thess. 1:1).  An apostle is “one who is sent” by Christ (cf. Isa 61:1 Luke 4:18 also Matt 10:2; Luke 6:13; John 20:21) on a pioneering mission as a foundation laying, church planting “frontiersman”. Apostles have faith gifts that see the multiplication of resources for God’s kingdom in the area to which Jesus calls them[2].

Prophets bring inspired messages for the upbuilding, encouragement and consolationof local churches (Acts 11:27; 13:1; 15:32; 21:10; 1 Cor 14:3). They are people of insight who can read God’s working in the signs of the times. Ephesians 2:20 names prophets with apostles as foundational to the Church; this is because true prophets unswervingly testify to Jesus as central to every aspect of the life and ministry of the people of God (Rev 19:10).

The word “evangelist” appears only 3x in New Testament and refers to people gifted in preaching the gospel to the unconverted (Acts 21:8; Eph 4:11; 2 Tim 4:5).

Despite its common use today the noun “pastor” appears only here in the New Testament.  It draws on descriptions of Jesus as the Great/Good Shepherd of the sheep (John 10:1-18; Heb 13:20; 1 Pet 2:25). Shepherding as tending and nurturing God’s flock is a vital function for the health of God’s people (John 21:15-17; Acts 20:28; 1 Pet 5:2 cf. Ezek 34:4). 

The ministry gift of teacher involves making clear divine truths (Acts 13:1; 1 Cor 12:28f), and since it is a major qualification for elders in other letters, elders were likely also teachers (1 Tim 3:2; 2:12; 5:7; 2 Tim 2:24; Tit 1:9).  The purpose of all these gifts is,

 “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,” v.12

The function of the “5 fold ministry” is not to monopolise ministry but to multiply ministries, to prepare/outfit/equip others to minister (cf. 2 Tim 3:16-17). This is accepted in principle across the Church but in practice we still hear people saying things like such and such “has gone into the ministry”, by which they mean ordained ministry. Professional ministers are commonly elevated in a way foreign to the New Testament which always teaches that all believers are called to do works of service to build up the body of Christ. The whole body grows when all its members use their God-given gifts. In practice though the 80/20 rule usually applies; 20% of the people do 80% of the work. There are exceptions however. I have strong memories of the first church I attended; people were lining up to help out e.g.  patrolling the car park doing services, ushering, the exact task didn’t seem to matter, because the kingdom of God was growing the church people wanted to serve what was happening. Paul concludes this section of the letter by making it clear that the goal of gifts to the Body is not Church-centred but Christ-centred.

 “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” v.13

Whilst the perfection of the Church in this age is impossible it is possible to see a quality of spiritual growth that points to a time of completion at the end of a very long journey. There are three aspects to this great goal of Jesus for his people. The first is the “unity of the faith”; trusting and believing together in the great truths of God revealed in the gospel. This unity needs now to be maintained visibly (Eph 4:3) but also must be finally attained fully.Secondly, we need to attain “the knowledge of the Son of God”. This is not intellectual knowledge but a heart knowing intimacy with Jesus as exalted and empowered at God’s right hand in heaven (Eph 1:17). Finally, we are called as a body to “mature manhood”. Everyone can see the difference between the emotional maturity levels of an infant, an adolescent and a full grown adult. It’s the same with spirituality. The maturity Paul has in mind is the life of Jesus himself. God’s great goal for the Church is for us to completely look like Jesus; as it says earlier in Ephesians, “to be holy and blameless in his presence” (1:4 cf. Gen 6:9; Deut 18:13; 1 Ki 11:4; 1 Chron 28:9 ; Matt 5:48). This “measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” means a spiritual advancement where we will perfectly reflect Christ’s virtues in the universe forever (cf. Eph 1:23; Col 1:28).


Paul’s vision is of a Church that draws its life from a person who has been to the lowest place so that he might lift us up with him to the highest place Christ has won supreme victory over the evil powers not by muscularity but by a superior moral character of humility and love. Sadly this pivotal point in the story spelled out in Ephesians holds little attraction for many Christians today. They are either busy promoting the latest social cause in culture e.g. refugee rights, climate change, same-sex marriage (progressives/liberals), working hard in trying to perfect their intellectual understanding and morality in the faith (conservative Evangelicals) or continuously upskilling their worship performances and the relevance of messages to modern life (pragmatic Pentecostals/Evangelicals). Where O where is the vision of the  triumphant King who has defeated the Church’s spiritually powerful enemies by lowering himself to the depths of suffering brokenness for her sake.

Something is dreadfully wrong. I was thinking this morning of the Festival WA event in 1995 (JY was prayer coordinator). Under the banner of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association all the major denominations (Protestant, Pentecostals, Catholic, Orthodox…) came together to bring the witness of Jesus to this city. If the Church could function like that because of the reputation of an ordinary mortal why are we so disunited in our diversity (cf. 1 Cor 1:13) ??

A maturing Church in Perth would understand in the light of Ephesians 4:7-13 that our great need today is to ask her ascended Lord to pour out upon her, “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him” (Eph 1:17). Discerning prayers would respect the order which we read in this passage; asking Christ to first of all reveal himself to the foundational ministries of apostles-prophets (Eph 2:20) then to the evangelists, pastors and teachers and the whole Church.

In the spirit of Psalm 68 which prophetically undergirds our passage lets urgently appeal to the Father to apply the power of the victory of Christ in defeating his enemies in the heavenly realm over this city so that the reality of the glory of the ascended Lord might appear for the salvation of many (Eph 6:12). Let’s seek the Lord, not for a better life, the demonic forces are no threatened by this, but for a fuller life in Christ.


[2] Cf. 2 Pet 3:2 “your apostles” indicates Jesus raised these ministries up for the area of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia (1 Pet 1:1)


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