Examples of Gifted Members of the Body
Now Paul lists some of the gifted people in the church, giving preeminence to apostles, prophets, and teachers as he does elsewhere (Ephesians 2:20; 4:11).
"And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues." (12:28)
These are just examples. The list could be very long indeed. But in this list we see four gifts we haven't seen earlier in this chapter:
"Apostles" (apostolos). The noun is derived from apostellō, "to dispatch someone for the achievement of some objective, send away/out." The noun was used in Greek of an ordinary "delegate, envoy, messenger," and in the New Testament especially of God's "messenger, envoy." Besides the Twelve, other apostles are mentioned in the New Testament -- Barnabas (Acts 14:14; 15:14), Andronicus and Junia (Romans 15:7), James, the Lord's brother (Galatians 1:19; 1 Corinthians 15:7), and perhaps Silas (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2:2, 6).
How one defines an apostle is controversial because of the question of whether there are apostles in our day. An apostle must be one who is commissioned to that role by Christ himself (Matthew 10:1-7; 1 Corinthians 15:9; Acts 1:24; 26:16-17). Qualifications for a person to replace Judas among the original twelve apostles required a person who had been with Jesus throughout his earthly ministry (Acts 1:21-22). Earlier in this letter Paul defends his apostleship as one who has "seen Jesus our Lord" (9:1) and as one who founded the Church at Corinth (9:2). Later Paul mentions, "the things that mark an apostle -- signs, wonders and miracles" (2 Corinthians 12:12).
Most people believe that apostles have passed away. Grudem (who believes in present-day prophecy) notes that none of the great leaders of the Christian church was ever designated as "apostle," and cites Paul's statement, "last of all, as to one untimely born...." (15:58) as an indication that we shouldn't expect further apostles.
On the other hand, J.B. Lightfoot notes a considerable elasticity in the use of the term "apostle" among the early Church Fathers. He notes, for example, that Clement I of Rome is named as an apostle by Clement of Alexandria (125-215 AD). Lightfoot also observes that the existence of false apostles in Scripture presupposes an open-ended time period for the office (Revelation 2:2; 2 Corinthians 11:13). C. Peter Wagner has written widely on modern-day apostles.
"An apostle is a Christian leader gifted, taught, commissioned, and sent by God with the authority to establish the foundational government of the church within a defined sphere of ministry by hearing what the Spirit is saying to the churches and setting things in order accordingly for the expansion of the kingdom of God."
I'm not ready to adopt Wagner's definition for myself. My own position is a more functional definition of an apostle. I agree that apostles today are not authorized to write foundational scripture for the church. But having said that, I met a missionary to Mexico who had established 50 churches and later would travel to each of them in a kind of circuit to supervise and encourage them. That looks to me like the ministry of an apostle, using Paul's functional argument of his apostleship:
"Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord." (9:2)
Can a claim to apostleship be faked and abused? Of course, just like any of the gifts. I've met a few self-proclaimed apostles myself. But that is no reason to reject them out of hand without careful examination (Revelation 2:2). Jesus said of false prophets, "By their fruit you shall know them" (Matthew 7:20). Whether or not there are actual apostles today, we do have people whom God is using in power to establish his church in our day. Praise God!
"Teachers" (didaskalos). These are the people who teach the Bible, who teach a chatechism class or Sunday school. Many pastors, also, are primarily teaching pastors rather than oratorical sermonizers. They are vital if you want to have knowledgeable church members. As I visit different churches, I see that these days teachers of adults are often underutilized. Many of the sermons are at a popular level, but aren't really teaching sermons. And Christian education classes have given away to small groups that may emphasize sharing and caring (good), but underemphasize teaching (not good). If we realize that our members are biblically illiterate, the solution is teaching.
As I've looked at all the things I've done in the ministry, I realize that God has blessed me with many talents. But at heart, my core gifting is as a teacher, and secondly as a leader. You may be a teacher. If your church doesn't offer ways for you to use your gift adequately, then try to invent some ways you can teach in your home or at a coffee shop. Fulfill your calling!
"Helps" (KJV), "helping" (ESV), "those able to help others" (NIV), "forms of assistance" (NRSV) is the noun antilēmpsis, "helpful deeds." The main idea is that of "taking up" or "grasping," or perhaps our idiom, "giving a hand." This could refer to the work of the deacons, giving help to the poor and sick. But it could also refer to the person who runs the sound system or keeps the building clean. You may think of this as a lowly gift, but it is a vital gift. Without a lot of people exercising this gift, the work of the church would grind to a halt. You also might get a promotion. In Jesus' Parable of the Minas, we read:
"Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities." (Luke 19:17)
"Gifts of administration" (NIV), "forms of leadership" (NRSV), "governments" (KJV) is kybernēsis, "administration." It derives from the verb kybernaō, which means "to steer," then "to rule." The kybernētēs is the "helmsman," then the "statesman." Those who guide the local church are usually the pastor and some elders or board members. They not only minister to the flock through prayer and the word, but also make decisions about the direction the church should go (1 Timothy 5:17. I've attended lots of church board meetings in my lifetime. I've seen some people who are excellent in working through to a solution, people who can grasp complex issues and see possible solutions. And then I've seen obstructionists and people who just didn't seem to be able to understand what the issues were.
Dear friends, when you're selecting leaders for your congregation, don't just put someone there because they want power or you need to "fill a slot." Rather select people whom God has gifted for a role of guiding the ship, for leading. Otherwise, you cripple the church with non-visionaries who will stand in the way of where God wants to lead your congregation.