A Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians 4:7-10. b). The character of spiritual gifts is extremely varied.
Paul specifically says so in 1 Cor.12:4: ‘Now there are varieties of gifts’. It is important to recall this because many today have a restricted view of *charismata*. For example, some people speak and write of ‘the nine gifts of the Spirit’, presumably to make a neat but artificial parallel with the Spirit’s ninefold fruit (Gal.5:22-23). Others seem to be pre-occupied, even obsessed, with only three of the more spectacular gifts (‘tongues’, ‘prophecy’ and ‘healing’). In fact, however, the five lists given in the New Testament mention between them at least twenty distinct gifts, some of which are very prosaic and unsensational (like ‘doing acts of mercy’, Rom. 12:8). Moreover, each list diverges widely from the others, and gives its selection of gifts in an apparent haphazard fashion. This suggests not only that no one list is complete, but that even all five together do not represent an exhaustive catalogue. Doubtless there are many more which are unlisted.
In our text Paul selects only five for mention. Christ (*autos*, ‘he’, is emphatic, verse 11) gave some to be *apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers*. The word ‘apostle’ has three main meanings in the New Testament. Once only it seems to be applied to every individual Christian, when Jesus said: ‘A servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent (*apostolos*) greater than he who sent him.’ (Jn.13:16) So every Christian is both a servant and an apostle. The verb *apostello* means to ‘send’, and all Christian people are sent out into the world as Christ’s ambassadors and witnesses, to share in the apostolic mission of the whole church (Jn.17:18; 20:21). This cannot be the meaning here, however, for in this sense all Christians are ‘apostles’, whereas Paul writes that Christ gave only ‘some’ to be apostles.
Secondly, there are ‘apostles of the churches’ ( 2 Cor.8:23; cf. Phil.2:25), messengers sent out by a church either as missionaries or on some other errand. And thirdly there were the ‘apostles of Christ’, a very small and distinctive group, consisting of the Twelve (including Matthias who replaced Judas), Paul, James the Lord’s brother, and possibly one or two others. They were personally chosen and authorized by Jesus, and had to be eyewitnesses of the risen Lord (Acts 1:21, 22; 10:40-41; 1 Cor.9:1; 15:8-9). It must be in this sense that Paul is using the word ‘apostles’ here, for he puts them at the top of his list, as he does also in 1 Corinthians 12:28 (‘first apostles’), and this is how he has so far used the word in his letter, referring to himself (1:1) and to his fellow apostles as the foundation of the church and the organs of revelation (2:20; 3:26).
Tomorrow: Ephesians 4:7-10. b). The character of spiritual gifts is extremely varied (continued).