A Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians 4:7-10. b). The character of spiritual gifts is extremely varied (continued).
There is another view, however, popularized by ‘pentecostal’ and ‘charismatic’ Christians, namely that God is again raising up prophets and prophetesses today, who speak his word in his name and by his direct inspiration. I have to confess my own grave hesitation about this claim. Those who make it seldom seem to recognise either the uniqueness of the original apostles and prophets or the superfluity of successors once the New Testament Scriptures became available to the church. Besides, there have been many similar claims in the history of the church, which do not encourage one’s confidence in the modern phenomenon. In those churches in which the possibility of such a gift is accepted, however, it is important to insist that so-called ‘prophetic utterances’ could never be of more than local and limited value (to individuals or a particular congregation, not the whole church), that they must always be carefully tested by Scripture and by the known character of the speaker, and that the regular, systematic, thoughtful exposition of the Bible is much more important for the building up of the people of God.
After apostles and prophets Paul mentions *evangelists*. This noun occurs only three times in the New Testament (here, in Acts 21:8 of Philip and in 2 Tim.4:5 of Timothy himself), although of course the verb ‘to evangelize is frequently used to describe the spreading of the gospel. Since all Christians are under obligation, when they have an appropriate opportunity, to bear witness to Christ and his good news, the gift of an ‘evangelist’ (bestowed only upon some) must be something different. It may refer to the gift of evangelistic preaching, or of making the gospel particularly plain and relevant to unbelievers, or of helping timorous people to take the plunge of commitment to Christ, or of effective personal witnessing. Probably the gift of an evangelist may take all these different forms and more. It must relate in some way to an evangelistic ministry, whether in mass evangelism, personal evangelism, literature evangelism, film evengelism, radio and television evangelism, musical evangelism or in the use of some other medium. There is a great need for gifted evangelists today who will pioneer new ways of exercising and developing their gift, so as to penetrate the vast unreached segments of society for Christ.
Since the definite article is not repeated in the expression some pastors and teachers*, it may be that these are two names for the same ministry. Calvin did not think so, for he suggested that the administration of discipline, the sacraments, warning and exhortation belonged particularly to pastors. Yet it is clear that ‘pastors’ (that is, ‘shepherds’), who are called to ‘tend’ God’s flock, do so in particular by ‘feeding it’, i.e. by teaching (cf.Jn.21:15-17; Acts 20:28; 1 Pet.5:2). Perhaps one should say that, although every pastor must be a teacher, gifted in the ministry of God’s Word to people (whether a congregation or groups or individuals), yet not every Christian teacher is also a pastor (since he may be teaching only in a school or college rather than in a local church).
Tomorrow: Ephesians 4:7-10. b). The character of spiritual gifts is extremely varied (continued)