On Sunday we started a three week ‘mini-series on Ephesians 4:7-16 (you can listen to the podcast here). At the heart of this passage is the idea that Jesus has given each one of us a portion of grace. Or, as verse 8 puts it: a gift. These gifts — listed in verse 11 as apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher — are meant to build up the body and help the church become mature and unified. And make no mistake — Jesus is generous in giving these gifts. No follower is left out. These gifts are for everyone.
But if you’re like me — and you grew up in the church at a time when spiritual gift assessments were a staple — then you may read this passage and think that verse 11 is a list of spiritual gifts, much like those found in 1 Corinthians 12 or Romans 12. But are they? Is being an apostle a spiritual gift — or is it better understood as a role or ministry that God gives to us?
Think of it this way. Let’s say that God has given you the role of being a pastor (if that word freaks you out, it’s important to listen to the podcast). You’re good at listening — you’re compassionate — and so one day you’re having coffee with a friend and not surprisingly they start sharing a struggle they’re facing. In that conversation there will likely be moments when the spiritual gift of encouragement (Romans 12:8) will need to be exercised. But there may also be moments when wise challenge will be needed (1 Corinthians 12:8). The spiritual gift you use may change based on the situation, but your role won’t. During the entire conversation you’ll be living out your role as a pastor — because that’s who you are!
Or let’s imagine that you’re an apostle. You love to start things – you’re a dreamer – and so not surprisingly you find yourself passionate about a new mission you believe God wants you to help start. As you begin working you find yourself exercising the spiritual gift of leadership one day — but the next you lean into the gifts of faith and knowledge. Again: different spiritual gifts are used at different times — but all of your work is an extension of your role as an apostle.
You see…I believe that the list of gifts in Ephesians 4:11 are gifts — undeserved outpourings of grace — but they are not spiritual gifts. They are best seen as roles that God gives to us — central parts of our identity as followers of Jesus. Which means that the stakes in this passage are high. This is about who you fundamentally are — day in and day out. It is about the “special work” (verse 16) you have been given to do over the course of your life.
So…who are you? What role does God want you to play? If you haven’t taken the quick assessment – which is a good first step in sorting this out — click here. Then talk to a trusted friend or family member and see what they think of the results. We’ll keep teasing out these roles again on Sunday. Looking forward to it.