Theological Exegesis of Fivefold Ministry
Table of Contents
Introduction to Ephesians 4 Fivefold Ministry
The Book of Ephesians, chapter 4, outlines the governance structure of the church Jesus Christ established.1 This framework is God’s original intention whereby when each convert walked in their assignment, the entire body is edified (Ephesians 4:7-16) These gifts begin with first confessing Jesus Christ as Savior, and then living in the measure of grace provided (John 3:15-17). Nevertheless, Ephesians cannot be rightly divided without understanding the historical and spiritual need for the church. This need arose because of so-called original sin (Genesis 3:1-24). Original sin, although assigned to the Garden of Eden, really began in eternity pre-creative event (Isaiah 14:8-20). The events outlined in Isaiah chapter 14, and continuing in Eden, culminated with the arrival of God in the flesh. This so-called fivefold ministry outlined in chapter 4 of Ephesians is meant to establish order, assign roles, and edify the church. Therefore, a macro exegesis should demonstrate origin of need, establishment of foundational spiritual governance, and experiential fulfillment of spiritual gifts as revealed in Ephesians 4.
Historical Context of Ephesians 4
The historical of Ephesians chapter 4 verses 7-16 reveals hierarchal structure of church gifting, governance, and edification. The historical need, and setting, should be understood before the wider context comes into view. The Book of Ephesians was written around the same time as Colossians.2 Both the Book of Acts, and the Epistle to the Colossian Church, record interactions between Paul and the Ephesian Church. However, the basics of why any church was necessary should be reviewed to grasp historical, literary, and other contextual properties. The establishment of the church began with God’s solution to rebellion against Him: sin. Sin began with a rebellious act of free will from an angel named Lucifer. After being judged, GOD cast Lucifer out of Eternity. Lucifer next appears as an evil presence in the garden of Eden. The serpent encouraged Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God, as had Lucifer, promising them they would “be like God.”
Adam, Eve, and the serpent were judged, and sin’s consequences entered spatial time, as it had in eternity. The rectification process began with God establishing a covenant with Abram, later re-named Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3). This covenant resulted in the arrival of God in the flesh, Jesus Christ (John 3:14-23). Original sin separated humanity from God, and Jesus came as the vehicle to repatriate humankind to God. Jesus established His church during a three-year ministry on Earth.
The way this was accomplished mirrors God establishing Israel’s governance in the Old Testament. First, Jesus came as a fulfillment of the law Old Testament Law.3 Fulfilling God’s righteous standard to eradicate sin requires a sinless sacrifice (Hebrews 10:1-10). Jesus Christ is the sinless lamb required to satisfy God’s justice. As a fulfillment of the law, and not violator of it, Jesus established a governance model based on the 12 Tribes of Israel (Genesis 49:1-28). As with the twelve historic tribes, establishment of the church began with 12 disciples, who later became twelve Apostles.4
Church Cultural Context During This Period
Ephesians chapter 4 is built upon the thematic teachings of foundational church governance. This church was established on a foundation of a Jewish savior. The grandeur of the city of Ephesus around the time this epistle was written, stands in contrast to epistle length.5 It was a city of immense importance. Ephesians was dictated around the same time as Paul’s letter to the Colossian Church. The Book of Ephesians opens with a greeting from the Apostle Paul (Ephesians 1:1-3). This chapter is spent with greetings, salutations, and the establishment of ‘Christian identity.’ It is through this identity, that Believers receive the eternal inheritance wrought through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Ephesians is a letter written to a church in the first century CE. The Apostle Paul at least dictated it and it speaks of a plural authorship of God the Father, and Jesus Christ the Son.6 Some scholars remain divided on whether this epistle was Pauline or not, however. In approaching the Book of Ephesians from a certain viewpoint, we notice that it is headed by either a salutation or greeting. Both present equally valid within scholarly circles.7 It further provides a fascinating cultural view on the meaning of Jesus, to an early Christian church, formed by the evangelistic efforts of Jewish Apostles.8
Explaining Semite Literary Context
The literary context of Ephesians chapter 4:7-16 is three-fold. First, Paul wrote to a church explaining the outline of church governance, as set up by Jesus Christ. This is evident in verse 11 when Paul directly references “He” (being Jesus). From a literary perspective, this is important because in the Old Testament, God established governance, in Israel, based on the 12 Tribes (sons of Jacob). The establishing of a “set-apart” people, cannot proceed a hierarchal foundation of leadership. Second, the Apostle outlined the purposes of these offices. This epistle was more than simply “giving commands” to a group of followers. This document was meant, in part, to establish a direct written connection between God, Jesus Christ, and His church.
Third, this chapter makes a connection between how a Christian should “behave,” versus how they behaved before conversion. In the Jewish literary tradition, such comparisons and contrasts were used to further enforce the presentation of spiritual concepts.9 Such parables, which stretch back to the Earthly ministry of Jesus, were crucial in Judaism rabbinic literature. Further, the city’s advantageous position in the ancient world made it a natural outreach center for ecclesiastical writings. Due to this, the council at Nicaea, in the year 325, wrote that this city would was a “primacy” in Asia Minor.10
Meaning of Ephesians 4 Passage
This new Ephesian church required a hierarchal gifting structure to spread the Gospel. The table of gifting in Ephesians, reveals who the writer is speaking of when referencing “us.” The writer, Paul, is speaking to the church, and reminds them of the grace received through Jesus Christ. However, in Ephesians 4 verse 7, he uses the word “measure.” Measurement is a system of apportioning ingredients, or in this case, gifts. These gifts, when measured correctly, produce edifying outcomes. Verse 8 continues this thought, but further states the cost of grace mentioned in verse 7. This price is capturing, and vanquishing, the mortal enemy of humankind: sin. Grace was/is gifted through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (John 1:16). This is the “measure” which achieves salvation and reconciliation to God.
Verse 9 indicates Jesus has both ascended “up on high”, as well as to the lower parts of the Earth. Ascending upwards is mentioned, or suggested, at least twice in the New Testament. First, before dying, Jesus cried out “Father; into your hands I commend my Spirit” (Luke 23:46). Also in Acts Chapter 2, Jesus’ disciples witness His ascension. “The lower parts of the Earth” could either mean Jesus was buried, and/or a biblical reference to His preaching described in 1st Peter 3:18-20. Verse 10 describes where Jesus ascended to, although not specifically mentioning Heaven. A reference to “the heavens” was given, but to the hearer, this would have meant “in the sky” or “far above what one can see.”11
Verse 11 reveals church gifting/governance with “apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers”. The first gifting mentioned was “apostle.” Those functioning as apostles have the responsibility of ‘establishing’ the framework of the local ‘plant.’ The term apostle means “one who is sent out.” Next is the gifting of “prophet.” A prophet’s framework is established in the Old Testament as “spokesperson” for God.7 This is followed by the gift of an evangelist who “announces the good news.” Next is pastors charged with consistently feeding God’s sheep. Finally, there are teachers responsible for discipleship.
Verse 12 reveals what outcomes such gifts produce. It further reveals “three” purposes for assigned gifting. When these functionally combine, their sole purpose is to “perfect the work of ministry to glorify Christ Jesus.” Verse 13 is multi-dimensional through combining verses 11-12. The overarching purpose of outlined gifts (verse 11), as well as the triune purpose(s) of verse 12, is reconciliation to God through Jesus Christ. Arriving at verse 14 warns of being “children tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine.”. The basis for such confusion is based in verse 13 which speaks of “unity in the faith” being desirable (to confusion and double mindedness). Verse 14 also identifies the source of confusion as “deceptive men”.
The meaning of this verse further solidifies the importance of Believers presenting a united front, against any non-doctrinal words or worship. Verse 15 provides, as a component of avoiding confusion, as “speaking the truth in love.” Verse 12 then, is still relative for proper exegesis. To speak the truth in love, we must understand one another’s, and value the gifts and calling of others. I define the ‘truth in love’ as: “speaking Holy Ghost truth for no other reason than concern for their well-being (soul).” Finally, verse 16 concludes a larger though of unity within the entire body. This unity cannot exist without each part of the body, fitting together, to perform its purpose, as a part of a larger whole.
Illuminating Significance and Application
The exegetical significance of our focus passages have Christendom wide implications. We do not arrive at the need for either the book of Ephesians, and more significantly, Ephesians chapter 4, without the need for reconciliation to God. The significance of this macro nexus must be exegetically explored. The overall theme of Ephesians is an exhortation to unity within the body. Unifying restoration became necessary because of confusion in by Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:1-20). The significance of their disobedience cannot be understated. Every future need, decision, and outcome is based on this first instance of disobedience. In fact, it would not be hyperbole to state that human history was/is based on it. The significance of the first human’s decision to disobey God, is only exceeded in magnitude by God’s sovereign act of seeking spiritual reunification.
For this reunion to become possible, hierarchal organization had to be established. Sin results in confusion, and the order in reconciliation cannot be manifest in its midst. In effect, God used a table of organization to establish clarity to a confused humanity. The foundation of reconciliation had three movements early in the biblical text. First, there was Adam and Eve whose third son Seth established a lineal path for God’s purpose (Genesis 4:25-26). In the second movement came Noah and his sons after the cataclysmic flood (Genesis 6-10). The third movement began the lineal line of Jesus with the patriarch Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3).
Through these three historical movements came Jesus Christ, and thus God’s plan for reconciliation. The gift of salvation, through Jesus, is based on God’s desire for spiritual repatriation of His created likeness. This must not be overlooked because Ephesians chapter 4 outlines God’s reconciling governance/order. It further reveals, more specifically in verses 7-16, the unity required for task completion. The application of ‘unity’ is not simply a component of reconciliation, it is foundationally required. Christian ministry has the task of “going into all the world and preaching the gospel” (Matthew 28:18-20). This is the basis of the reunification of the lost, through the blood of Jesus, which is a gift. At the heart of any ministry effort, must be a spirit of oneness. God did not give us the spirit of either fear or confusion. Unity in faith is the opposite of both. The appropriateness of the Ephesians chapter 4, with respect to edification of the entire body, cannot be overstated. A confused world is full of confused people, looking for answers to their confusion. Also in Ephesians chapter 4, and to avoid such confusion, our church governance structure is outlined.
Whether apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, or teacher, this order is meant for missional focused unity. We cannot be focused if our Christian life, and resulting ministries, refuse to acknowledge order. This order is not however, affected by distance between believers. When reading our course textbook Ecologies of Faith in a Digital Age, the former challenge of Christian distance-based fellowship was put into context for me. Digital ministries value became evident during COVID19 as well. Social media platforms became the only meeting place for the faithful. Unity in faith, as taught by Ephesians chapter 4, as well as the reunification of God to his created likeness, is further accomplished through distance-based ministry outreach. Digital platform adoption revealed ministry opportunities years ago.
Perhaps the largest group of unreached for Christ, hide in dark corners online. Unlike in- person witnessing, those who have no interest in faith have been able to avoid Believers. Their avoidance has become more untenable with Christian ministries better understanding online ecologies. For instance, vloggers (video bloggers), writers, as well as Christian social media teams have penetrated previously unevangelized spaces. Even the term ‘ecologies of faith’ fascinated me. I have read the creative narrative in Genesis, as well as its completion in John chapter 1. Within Christian life and ministry, ecologies of faith can be an in road to witness to radical environmentalists. There was a time I delighted in explaining the differences between my Jesus centric worldview versus humanistic philosophies. As I matured in ministry, I realized a great entry point for witnessing is speaking about commonalities with the lost rather than fermenting opposition. I am not given to any form of compromise. However, and as Paul taught: “I must become all things to all people that I might save some” (1st Corinthians 9:19-23).
This truth must apply to digital platforms as well. Digital eco-systems are fertile ground for ministry expansion. For ministry leaders to reach the unreached, a cogent plan for online social outreach is integral. When this is combined with the unity, gifting, and governance model in Ephesians chapter 4, a larger table of organization emerges. Critical to the effectiveness of the ministry organization, is developing disciples to perform ministry within these eco-systems. Various people, as Ephesians 4 teaches, have differing gifts but all are meant to ‘edify’ the body. Digital natives are those who were born with an expectation of electronic engagement. When these are embraced by non-digital natives currently leading ministries, unity in messaging results. Currently, and in certain spaces online, there is inter-generational friction between these groups.
This is the opposite of the messaging in Ephesians in general, and more specifically chapter 4:7-16. I am not suggesting that “Jesus came to bring people together.” In His own words: “Think not that I come to send peace on Earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. I set a man against his father, and daughters against their mothers, and daughters-in-law against mothers-in-law. A man’s enemies will be they of his own house” (Matthew 10:34-26). However, Christian ministry must be based on a unity in spirit wherever these opportunities arise. The application of Ephesians 4 is foundationally imperative to ferment movements of the message into new spaces.
1 Wright, S. (2020). The Authority of Scripture: A Biblical Exegesis of Ephesians Chapter 4:11-16. Journal of Liberty University Online Religion Capstone in Research and Scholarship. Vol. 16, issue 1. Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/djrc/vol6/iss1/6
2 Wayment, T. (2009). Internal Division: Ephesians in Historical Context, “Shedding Light on the New Testament.” Acts-Revelations, ed. Ray L. Huntington, Frank F. Judd Jr., and David M. Whitchurch. (Provo, UT. Religious Studios Center, Brigham Young University). Retrieved from https://rsc.byu.edu/shedding-light-new-testament/internal-divisions-ephesians-historical-context
3 VanDrunen, D. (2020). Jesus Came not to Abolish the Law but to Fulfill it: The Sermon on the Mount and its Implications for Contemporary Law. Pepperdine Law Review. Volume 47. Issue 2. Retrieved from Pepperdine Digital Commons.
4 Troxell, M. (2011). The Order and Significance of the Sealed Tribes of Revelation 7:4-8. Mater Theses, Digital Commons of Andrews University. Retrieved from https://digitalcommons.andrews.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1055&context=theses
5 Arnold, C. E. (2001). The Letter to the Ephesians. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 44(4), 740. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?qurl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.proquest.com%2Fscholarly-journals%2Fletter-ephesians%2Fdocview%2F211137441%2Fse-2%3Faccountid%3D12085
6 Dickinson, A. J. “The Literary Sources and Historical Implications of Ephesians.” The Biblical World, vol. 44, no. 4, 1914, pp. 252–59, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3142451. Accessed 19 Apr. 2022.
7 Ibd. Dickinson, A.J. The Biblical World
8 Shkul, M. Oxford Bibliographies. ‘Ephesians’: Introduction. (2015). Retrieved from https://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780195393361/obo-9780195393361-0193.xml#
9 Notley, R. Steven. “Reading Gospel Parables as Jewish Literature.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament, vol. 41, no. 1, Sept. 2018, pp. 29–43, doi:10.1177/0142064X18788960.
10 Concannon, Cavan W. "In the Great City of the Ephesians: Contestations Over Apostolic Memory and Ecclesial Power in the Acts of Timothy." Journal of Early Christian Studies, vol. 24, no. 3, 2016, pp. 419-446. ProQuest, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?
11Innes, D. “Heaven and the Sky in the Old Testament.” The Evangelical Quarterly. 1971. Retrieved from https://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/eq/1971-3_innes.pdf