GOD‘S PURPOSE is that every one of us shall be like Christ and this process begins down here. Our progress depends on our devotion to and service for our risen Lord, Rom. 8. 29; Phil. 3. 8-10; John 15. 14.
Acceptable service should, therefore, be the ambition of every Christian; his Lord expects it of him and indeed makes it the test of his worth and the basis of the rewards, much or little, which he will receive. ‘I know thy works’ is stated of every one of the seven churches of Revelation chapters 2 and 3. The only other points common to the addresses to the seven churches arc that it is the Spirit Himself who is speaking and that in all cases one can be an overcomer (a servant with a single eye to his Master’s glory).
At the judgment seat of Christ we arc told in 1 Cor. 3 that judgment will be based on the works done, not on the quantity but on the quality - ‘of what sort it is’. The test will be extremely thorough and the figure used is of a fire burning up the wood, hay and stubble. The materials which stand up to the test, gold, silver and precious stones, are only refined by fire, which takes away the dross that they may shine or sparkle brighter.
THE HOLY SPIRIT
The believer today is not likely to be in the position of those in Acts 19 who had not heard whether the Holy Ghost was given, Acts 19. 2, R.V. He will know that the Holy Spirit is equal with the Father and the Son and is one with them in the Trinity.
He is mentioned in Genesis 1 as taking part in creation, in Matthew 1 in the incarnation, in Hebrew 9. 14 in the death of Christ and in Acts 2 as descending from heaven after the ascension and dwelling in believers. Since that day the Holy Spirit has been in direct touch with believers on the earth continuously.
APOSTLES AND PROPHETS
Ephesians 4. 1-16 gives us the gifts of the Holy Spirit for service down here in a practical setting, the gifts being given for the express purpose of building up and binding together God’s people.
In v. 11 they are enumerated, apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers.
Apostles and prophets arc stated first as they were the foundation gifts of the church, Eph. 2. 20.
At Pentecost (the position of Judas having been filled) there were the twelve apostles. Paul, came later (last of all as he says). They were given special authority as leaders and teachers in the early church. In the case of Peter he was given the keys of the kingdom of heaven, Matt. 16, which he used, one to open the door to the Jews, Acts 2, and the other to open the door to the Gentiles, Acts 10. After that, the doors having been opened, the keys were no longer necessary. Peter had been given the honour of first preaching the Gospel to Jews and Gentiles. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself has the keys of death and of hell, Rev. i. 18.
The apostle Paul was chosen to record the unique mystery of the New Testament, the Church (consisting of all believers in this present dispensation) which is the Body and the Bride of Christ (so much nearer to God than Israel His servant, Ps. 136. 22). Further, he became the great apostle of the Gentiles who speedily became the majority in the Church and greatly benefited from his pioneering and teaching labours and authority received direct from the Lord.
It was mainly the apostles who wrote the New Testament.
In answer to the Lord’s prayer in John 17 there was complete unity among the apostles (apart from two difficulties later resolved).
The prophets spoke with authority and were empowered to foretell future events as Agabus in Acts 11. They worked with the apostles and sought to maintain the purity of the faith, as Judas and Silas, Acts 15. Luke and Mark were especially used of God.
There are now no apostles and prophets as:
1. The foundations of the Church have been laid.
2. The canon of Scripture is complete and they could not therefore add to its authority or tell us anything new. That which is perfect is come (the Scriptures) and therefore that which is in part is done away (prophecies, etc.) see 1 Cor. 13. 8-10.
EVANGELISTS, PASTORS AND TEACHERS
The next gift mentioned in our verse is that of evangelist. It is the great gift for the extension of the Church. Philip in Acts 8 was a model evangelist. He preached Christ the Saviour of the world to the crowds in Samaria; Jesus the personal sin-bearer to the seeking soul. He was subject to Scripture, obeyed instantly the Spirit’s promptings and used initiative and judgment at the right time. It is a work to be done as Paul told Timothy, 2 Tim. 4. 5, not a striving for a place of prominence.
Young people are especially suitable for such exacting work and can find a joyous outlet in such service for enthusiasm and zeal. Paul, the great evangelist, lost no time after conversion and baptism ‘but straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues that he is the Son of God’, Acts 9. 20. He told the people what he knew.
A passion for souls is the motive to make disciples (not merely converts), who will go on themselves to serve and live for God, is the end, Matt. 28. 19, margin.
To be a true pastor is a definite gift. Many have no gift for speaking and arc not of a studious disposition, they may be even quiet and retiring, but a gracious, sympathetic, understanding personality can help enormously in the building up of God’s work. Visiting sick ones, shielding the weak, en¬couraging the backward or youthful, restraining the forward, such work is necessary to build together the assembly and consolidate the work of the evangelist. It is not necessary to be counted a member of an oversight to do such work. The God who calls His servant to this work will enable and sustain him in it. An example of a pastor in Scripture is Barnabas, a good man who exhorted the converts to cleave to the Lord, Acts 11.23 -Appropriately, the last gift mentioned is that of teacher, for he follows the evangelist and pastor in seeking to build up converts so that they may be established in the faith and abound in it, Col. 2. 7. The teacher can expound Scripture, giving sound doctrine, holding fast the faithful word, Titus 1. 9. He should be able rightly to divide scriptural teaching, dispensationally, in types, for daily living, for Church truth and prophetic truth. He gives babes milk, for temptations the bread of life, strong meat for adult believers, honey for the mature saint, 1 Peter. 2. 2; Matt. 4. 4; Heb. 5. 14; Ps. 119,103. Ezra ‘prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel’, Ezra 7. 10. Note the order. Learning from God’s Word heart knowledge, practising it himself, the true teacher is fitted to teach God’s people today.
Ephesians 4 tells us the object of the gifts to the Church. They are given:
(a) that we may walk worthily,
(b) for humility and patience,
(c) to promote unity and peace, v. 1-3, so that we are effective workers and there is healthy growth of the body of Christ, v. 16.
To be followed by 2. INDIVIDUAL GIFTS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.