The terms found in Ephesians 4:11 are often used to describe the different types of ministry work we Christians do today. And that’s exactly correct. But, these terms were not invented recently, nor were they invented by Christians. These terms were used by anyone living in the first century Roman empire. So, in order for us to understand how these words apply to us today, it is helpful to see how they applied to regular people living at the time of Jesus, 2000 years ago.
Greek was the common language of the Roman empire. Before the Romans were in power, the Greeks were in power. And once the Greeks were in power, many of the nations began to adopt Greek culture, gods, and language. Below are the terms as listed in Ephesians 4:11, and defined as people would have used them in Jesus’s time. One word that seems to stand alone is ‘prophet’. This word was used mainly in the Old Testament, and so it’s best to get its meaning from there.
1) Apostle: (Greek: apostles) Envoy, ambassador, or messenger commissioned to carry out the instructions of the commissioning agent. An apostle was sent by someone in authority to give instructions to a specific person or group of people. In relation to the Church, an apostle is one sent by King Jesus to give instructions to the churches on how to conduct themselves. An apostle’s life was somewhat expendable.
2) Prophet: (Hebrew: nâbîy’; Greek: prophētēs) One who speaks for God and knows God’s plans. One who God listens to. One who can declare the future. One who can destroy old worlds and create new worlds with his words. The word is first used in Genesis 20:7 (Abraham, the prophet, had to pray for Abimelech’s life – God would only listen to the prophet).
3) Evangelist: (Greek: euaggelistēs [yoo-ang-ghel-is-tace]. The word is very similar to the Greek for ‘gospel’: euaggelion [yoo-ang-ghel-ee-on]. The prefix “eu-” means joyful and this is connected to the Greek word ‘aggelos’ [ang-el-os], or ‘angel’ in English, which means messenger.) A herald who proclaims a gospel (joyful message).
4) Pastors: (Greek: poimēn) A shepherd. One who takes care of the believers under his care both spiritually and physically. One who works to keep his people in the Church as a shepherd keeps sheep in the flock. One who works to see his people grow in maturity and Christ-likeness.
5) Teacher: (Hebrew: bîyn; Greek: didaskalos) An instructor. One who teaches the word and commands of God. One who works to ensure that his people are hearing the truth and not led astray by deception. One who works to see his people grow in maturity and Christ-likeness.
• Note: Pastors and Teachers are actually one item in this list. In the Greek the two are put together, and an acceptable translation of Ephesians 4:11 could be this:
“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors/teachers…”
•Note: It’s important not to confuse an apostle with an evangelist. An evangelist proclaims a gospel to a general crowd of people, while an apostle delivers a king’s instructive message to a specific group of people so that they know what they’re supposed to do.
Consider this as an example (historically accurate or not):
In 30 BC Augustus Caesar defeated Mark Antony and became the new ruler of the Roman empire. Once this was done, the news (the good news – euaggelion) of his victory and rise to power had to be made known to all the people all over the empire. The euaggelion was proclaimed to the people by the euaggelistēs (the evangelists). The evangelists were heralds who went through the towns and villages crying out the gospel message: “Hear this message all you people! Augustus has defeated his enemies and now rules the Roman world! Those of you who supported Augustus in the war will be rewarded! Those of you who opposed him – now is the time to turn away from your support of the enemies of Augustus and submit to him!”
Once Augustus had secured his rule, he returned to the capital city of Rome and took his throne. From there he worked to expand the influence of the empire by setting up colonies of Roman people in the places he recently defeated. Once these colonies were established, he gave instructions to the colonists by sending apostolos (apostles) – messengers from the king.
King Jesus has done the same thing, but on a much greater scale. Jesus was the first evangelist for His own rule when He said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15) Jesus was calling the people to turn away from their allegiance to the enemy (to repent) and to turn to Him as their true king. Jesus proclaimed His gospel even before He died on the cross – He had no doubt of His own victory.
After Jesus rose from the dead, He ascended up to heaven and took His throne at the right hand of the Father. From there He will rule until all His enemies have been put under His feet. Jesus is now in His capital city ruling His empire. We, the Church, are establishing “colonies” for His empire by planting churches and starting up other Christian ministries all over the world.
Our evangelists continue to go out and proclaim the good news of our King’s rise to power, and to warn anyone who would choose to oppose Him. Our apostles continue to deliver orders from the throne room of Jesus to instruct the churches on how to worship, serve one another, build, expand, and make new disciples. Our pastors and teachers continue to care for their flocks and teach them all the truth of our Lord Jesus. And finally, our prophets continue to speak words of guidance based on God’s word, and to speak more words which would tear down anything holding us back.
Which of these gifts do you believe you are called into? It’ll most likely be more than one. Paul was first an evangelist then an apostle. Timothy was both an apostle and a pastor/teacher. You’ll probably walk in different gifts at different times in your life. Which are you most passionate about now?
Whatever you choose to do, don’t forget the instructions Paul the apostle wrote:
…(these five gifts are) for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:12-16)
* All scripture quoted from the NKJV.