There is a clear biblical purpose for the office of a prophet, and indeed, for each of the five ascension gifts: the apostle, the prophet, the evangelist, the pastor and the teacher. These gifts are described as ascension gifts because they are the gift of a person given by Jesus after His ascension (Ephesians 4:7-10 NIV)
The gifts of the Spirit (Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:8-10) are spiritual gifts given to a person, by the Holy Spirit, for the Church. These gifts are not who a person is, but rather, they are something a person does by the power of the Holy Spirit. The ascension gifts (Ephesians 4:11) are the spiritual gift of a person, given by Jesus, for the Church. These gifts are who a person is, not what a person does.
The only place in scripture that mentions all five ascension gifts is in Ephesians: “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers…” (Ephesians 4:11 NIV)
Purpose or Expression
So, what is the purpose of these five gifts given by Jesus to the Church? Is the purpose of a prophet to prophesy? Is the purpose of a teacher to teach? Is the purpose of an evangelist to evangelise?
To answer this question, we need to understand that our purpose is different from what we do. Purpose essentially refers to the reason for which something is done – or in the case of the ascension gifts, the reason for which someone was given to the church. Purpose is the reason WHY we do what we do.
As much as it may surprise you, the purpose of a prophet is not to prophesy. Prophesying is a part of the expression of what a prophet does, but that is not their purpose.
When we reduce the purpose of a prophet down to just prophesying, we look to them to do only what their title would suggest. This can result in ministers who function in the fivefold ascension gifts living under the expectation of other people. Yet Paul says something profound in verse 1 of this same chapter: “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” (Ephesians 4:1 NIV)
Paul’s urging was to live worthy of the calling that you received from God Himself. This is a completely different focus than trying to live worthy of the expectations imposed by other people or even by ourselves. Father calls fivefold ministers to live from the basis of purpose and calling, rather than from gift expression.
Equipping the Body of Christ
There is so much in Ephesians 4:11-16, every word and sentence is powerful and necessary. Each part clearly identifies what an equipped Christian is called to do and called to look like. Let’s take a closer look together at some of these phrases.
- To equip God’s people for works of service.
Our works of service is not just referring to our roles in the church. The word ‘works’ comes from the Greek word ‘ergon’ and it means ‘toil, labour, occupation, business or employment’. The word ‘service’ is the word ‘ministry’ in the KJV. This is the same word that Paul used when he declared that every believer is called to the ministry of reconciliation with the unsaved!
The apostle, the prophet, the evangelist, the pastor, and the teacher are gifts given by Jesus to prepare God’s people to ‘return people to favour with God’ (literal meaning of the word ‘reconciliation’) wherever they serve, work or volunteer.
- To equip God’s people for unity in the faith.
God’s people should believe God’s Word. God is not confused, nor does He change His mind. Opinions have been replacing truth for many believers for far too long. It is time for the church to be ‘repaired’ in the area of what we believe. We are not called to be tossed back and forwards by every wave of teaching. We are called to know the truth. We are called to accurately discern the truth. We are called to live in the truth.
- To equip God’s people in the knowledge of the Son of God.
Our version of God is only valid if it is a true reflection of Him. The five ascension gifts have a holy call to preach the truth about who the Son of God is. It is from these declarations of truth that the Holy Spirit longs to bring revelation to God’s people. “And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.” (1 Corinthians 2:1 NIV)
When Jesus prophesied about His death, He was also prophetically declaring the mandate of every believer, and specifically of the ascension gifts to the Church when He declared: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32 NIV)
When we lift Jesus up in our preaching, teaching, conversations, and life, He will draw people to Himself. Our part is the accurate demonstration of who He is, and God’s part is the supernatural revelation to people and transformation of their lives.
- To equip God’s people to be mature, that is, to attain to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
The goal of a believer is not to have the best job, the biggest house, the most fun or freedom from all pain. The goal of every believer is to become like Jesus! This is what the five ascension gifts are purposed to do: build maturity in God’s people.
What is spiritual maturity? Well it is not the length of time someone has been a Christian, nor is it measured by the frequency of someone’s attendance at church. True maturity is measured as the distance between your hearing what God says and your obedience to it. “You are my friends if you do what I command.” (John 15:14 NIV) Added to this is the heart motivation and the attitude with which our obedience is done.
- To equip God’s people to grow and build themselves up in God’s love.
Believers are called to be dependent on Jesus, not on their leaders. Yes, we are to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2), but we are called to point people to Jesus so that they follow Him, not us. (John 1:36-37) Spiritually mature followers of Christ build themselves up in God’s love because they have been empowered to do so by the five ascension gifts.
At its core, the purpose of the prophet and the other ascension gifts can be summed up by these few words: “…we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” (Ephesians 4:15 NIV)
Equipping believers for true spiritual maturity in every area is the primary purpose of the apostle, the prophet, the evangelist, the pastor and the teacher in the body of Christ. Let’s be those who open our heart up to not just the expression of the gift, but the purpose of the calling.