by Jay S. McMullan
In the Bible's Old Testament, we have the record of a number of prophets that served God's people throughout the ages. Any reader of the Old Testament has learned of these prophets, Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, etc. No one will disagree that these men were placed on the earth for God's purpose. What about prophets in the New Testament? The word "prophet" is found several times in the New Testament and is mentioned as one of the ministry gifts.
The ministry gifts, sometimes referred to as the Ascension Gifts, are a source of misunderstanding and misinterpretation in the church. Some believe the ministry gifts are still in operation and some don't. Some members of Christ's church even despise the ministry gifts. There are certain gifts that were given to us as a church. When these gifts are understood, put in place in the church and utilized to their full potential, the church will be an explosive force in the earth. The lack of understanding of the ministry gifts is generated from a lack of knowledge of God's word as they are mentioned in Ephesians chapter four. As we will see, some of the ministry gifts are widely accepted and at least, basically understood by the members of the body of Christ. There are a couple of them however, that are definitely not understood or accepted by many modern day Christians and well known Christian leaders.
We are told in the Bible that we, as a people, are destroyed because of our lack of knowledge of God's word (Hosea 4:6). There are two main problems associated with the church's misunderstanding of these excellent gifts that Christ Himself has given us. The first is, many Christians take for granted what they have been taught without studying for themselves to see what the word of God has to say. The second problem is, many Christians have preconceived ideas that do not necessarily line up with what the scriptures teach. This condition will render a Christian useless because they become unteachable. Both conditions are as dangerous as cancer to a believer.
Paul recognized the believers at Berea for their willingness to receive the good word of God.
These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.
There are three things to take note of here:
1. They (the believers at Berea) received the word with all readiness of mind. In other words, they were open minded. They had no preconceived ideas of what the scriptures taught.
2. They searched the scriptures daily so that they would know if what was being taught was the truth.
3. They received the truth that was taught and confirmed through their individual study.
It may seem to some that having an open mind could lead to a person accepting false doctrine. This could very well be so if the open minded person did not search his scriptures. Certainly, many have been led astray to cults because they believed someone's words rather than God's. We should all learn from the example given to us by the believers of Berea.
Some ministers teach that there is a "Five Fold Ministry" gift and others teach a "Four Fold Ministry". These are simply names that men have given to the gifts for clarification and should not be allowed to cause confusion. As we will see in Ephesians there are actually five gifts mentioned. We will see why there is some confusion on the fifth gift and how it fits in with each of the other four gifts. The gifts are, in order as listed, the apostle, the prophet, the evangelist, the pastor and the teacher.
Therefore it says, "When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men." (Now this expression, "He ascended," what does it mean except that He also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,
I once heard a man from a Christian university on the radio. His job was to go into high schools and recruit prospective students. He made a statement that I will never forget. He said that he tried to encourage students to consider the ministry as a profession. The problem with this statement is that the ministry is a calling of God and is not a profession like that of a doctor or lawyer. Certainly there have been many individuals that have gone into the ministry as a profession and some have performed admirably. But there have also been many problems associated with those people who filled pulpits that were not called to be there. There have also been problems when someone is called to a certain ministry gift and they try to fulfill another of the gifts. I will share more on this later. Let's look back to the beginning of Ephesians chapter four.
I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,
The word, "vocation", does not mean a profession or job. It is from the Greek word, klaysis, which literally means an invitation or calling. Paul tells us that we are to walk worthy of the call that is placed on us. Obviously not all Christians have a ministry gift calling on their lives. In fact, very few do. I have witnessed to some Christians who idolize the ministry to the point that they desired desperately to become a minister, even though they were not called. This caused much confusion in their lives and sometimes in the lives of those around them. I also witnessed a minister that I once knew, tell a friend of mine that he was called to be an evangelist only to change his mind and six months later tell my friend he was called to be a pastor. It was clear to me that, although my friend was a Christian and zealous in his walk with the Lord, he did not have a ministry gift call on his life. This is not to say that he was any less of a person or Christian because of the lack of that calling. In fact, I would recommend a person do anything they can besides the ministry. If they have a genuine call of God it will manifest itself. Someone may be used by God to confirm the calling on a person's life but no one should accept and try to fulfill a call just because someone tells them they are called.
Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgment.
There are many responsibilities that come with any of the ministry gifts and therefore those of us who are called will receive a greater or stronger judgment. This alone should stop a lot of people without ministry gift calls from becoming ministers. Although it can be very rewarding, ministry also presents its own set of problems. In 2 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul relates many of the terrible things he endured because of the abundance of revelations he had received. Then he closes with an incredible statement.
2 Corinthians 11:28
Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure upon me of concern for all the churches.
Besides all of the things Paul suffered from those that weren't believers and from natural elements that were stirred up by Satan's messenger, he said there was also that which came upon him daily and that was the care of the churches. Those cares or concerns were not only caused by the situations the churches he had founded encountered from governments and non-Christians but also from the Christians within those churches. Any minister knows that young, immature Christians (no matter what their physical age may be) cause the majority of problems in a church. It is a sad fact that many of these immature Christians have been believers for a number of years yet they do not grow up spiritually, as they should. The reasons I have listed as causing many of the misunderstandings of the ministry gifts are also what make it impossible for these believers to mature as they should. Again, those reasons are:
1. They refuse to study the word of God for themselves.
2. They take what someone else says as truth without examining the scriptures to see if what they have heard is true.
3. Their preconceived ideas cause them to not believe the scriptures. These preconceived ideas could have been carried over from their lives as non-believers or could be brought in from not walking in the Spirit and thinking like the world does.
Where did these ministry gifts come from and when were they given? Again, let us examine our key scripture.
Therefore it says, "When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men."
Paul shows us that when Jesus ascended to heaven, He rescued the Old Testament saints that were held in captivity in Abraham's bosom which was also known as paradise. At the same time, Jesus gave these ministry gifts to men, or literally, human beings. God has always chosen to use men and women to deliver the gospel to mankind. One of the reasons we need to study the word for ourselves is because man is fallible even though God and His word are not. Even people with these ministry gifts in their lives can and do make mistakes. This is why the people with a ministry gift call on their lives need constant prayer. Let me encourage you to pray for those ministers whom God has placed in the path of your life.
The ministry gifts were given at the time of Christ's ascension and will be in operation until the end of this age, which ends with the Second Coming of Christ. At that time, all spiritual gifts will also cease (1 Cor. 13:8). There is absolutely no scriptural proof that any of these gifts have been rescinded or that they will be done away with before the Second Advent. Anyone who believes that any of these gifts is not for today (the Church Age) has not rightly divided the word of truth as we are commanded in 2 Timothy.
2 Timothy 2:15
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
This brings us to the question, "When is the spiritual gift placed into the life of the minister?" We have an important illustration in the life of Jeremiah, the prophet.
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations."
The Lord said He knew Jeremiah before he was formed in his mother's womb. The word for "knew" means to know someone intimately. One of the translations of the Hebrew word yawdah, besides "to know", is "to teach." This gives us a picture of the minister conversing with, and learning from, the Lord before he is ever conceived. Then after Jeremiah was conceived, and sometime before his birth, God sanctified him, which means that He prepared and dedicated him to God's own purpose. In this case God prepared Jeremiah and dedicated him to the ministry of a prophet. After Jeremiah was taught by God and dedicated to the ministry of the prophet, the Lord ordained him. This means Jeremiah received an assignment and commission for the specific call and the time of that call upon his life. It was not until Jeremiah was in his early twenties that God spoke to him about the call that was on his life.
Again, three very important steps happened in Jeremiah's life before he was born:
1. Before conception - God knew Jeremiah intimately and taught him.
2. After conception, before birth - Jeremiah was prepared and dedicated by God for His own purpose.
3. After conception, before birth - Jeremiah was assigned and commissioned to the time period that he would be prophet and to which nations (people) his ministry would impact.
There are six people mentioned in the Bible who were called in a similar manner as that of Jeremiah:
1. Samson (Judges 13:2-25)
2. Samuel (1 Samuel 1:17-19, 27-28)
3. Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:5-10)
4. John the Baptist (Luke 1:15-17)
5. Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:18-25)
6. Paul (Galatians 1:15-16)
Once a person is called to one of the ministry gifts, God will never take that calling away.
For the gifts and callings of God are without repentance.
The ministry gift may not come into play until the appointed time but that person will always have the call. In our previous example, Jeremiah was probably in his early twenties when God revealed His call to him. It is possible for a person to run from the call and not fulfill what God has for him but God does not, and will not, change His mind and He never revokes a person's call. Jeremiah tried to avoid the call because of his age.
Then I said, "Alas Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, because I am a youth." But the Lord said to me, "Do not say, ‘I am a youth,' because everywhere I send you, you shall go, and all that I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you," declares the Lord.
"Now gird up your loins, and arise, and speak to them all which I commanded you. Do not be dismayed before them, lest I dismay you before them."
Moses also tried to fight the call of God.
Then Moses said to the Lord, "Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since Thou hast spoken to Thy servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.
If you have a ministry gift call and have some inadequacies in your life, realize that you are in good company! All of us have weaknesses that could impede our effectiveness in the ministry. I once heard a man say that there is not one person in this world that is smart enough to pastor another person without the help of the Holy Spirit. This is true of all the ministry gifts. It is God's divine order that man, with his weaknesses and inadequacies, reveal and deliver the gospel to the world. We are told in the Bible that when we are weak Christ is strong (1 Cor. 13:9).
A person with a ministry gift call may do the work of the other ministries for a time before stepping fully into his calling. It is common to see pastors that spent a few years as an evangelist and evangelists that spent a few years as a pastor before God allowed them to totally enter their calling. It is important to note however, that if they are following God's will for their life, He will eventually put them into their individual calling. Through all of these things and through all of their life's experiences God prepares the person for the fulfillment of the call. An excellent example is Moses. Moses was called by God to deliver the Hebrew children from their captivity by the Egyptians. When Moses was forty years old he killed an Egyptian who was beating a fellow Hebrew. Moses tried to make his ministry work instead of waiting for the appointed time and allowing God to bring it to pass. Because of this, Moses had to flee to the wilderness and did not return to deliver God's people until he was eighty years old. Then Moses' ministry lasted for forty years and he died at the age of one hundred twenty. Perhaps if Moses had waited on God to initiate his ministry, the Hebrews might have been released from their captors years earlier. Perchance many of their lives would have been spared and maybe when they were released they would have had faith in God and not have to have spent forty years in the wilderness so their generation could die. We will never know what would have happened otherwise. Those of us with ministry gifts would do well to learn from Moses' mistake. Only God knows what disasters we will avoid and what tragedies those we are called to minister to will avoid by our being faithful and obedient to His calling.
The ministry gift call should be taken very seriously. God has appointed the person he has called for their time and generation. In other words, if you have a ministry gift in your life, it is no mistake that you were born when and where you were born. God has set you and appointed you for this time.
1 Timothy 4:16
Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things; for as you do this you will insure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.
2 Timothy 3:14
You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them.
In 1986, toward the end of my second year of Bible school, my family and I had been visiting with two other couples from our home state that we had met at school. One of the men always came across to women as though he was a great man of God and of course, the best husband in the world. I never felt a genuiness about him. As we drove away, under my breath, I whispered to God, "If that is what I have to be like to be in the ministry, forget it! I don't want it." Then the Lord spoke back to me, "But I need you, you are the only person that can reach the people I've called you to reach." As I realized what that meant, I began to weep. Imagine the God of heaven actually needing us! And imagine the people that need us. Moses was born exactly at the right time. Jeremiah and Paul were born exactly at the right time. You and I have also been born at the right time! I believe too, that God has saved His best for the last days. We should count it an honor that He has called us to His calling and appointed us for such a time as this.
A few years before this, the Lord showed me a vision. I have always been surprised at how quickly a vision is seen. It is usually a small picture that flashes through your mind's eye. Then God gives us the meaning, sometimes immediately and sometimes over a period of time. In this particular vision I saw, on one side, a man walking in a very dark cavern holding a lantern down by his side. He was walking on a very narrow path that dropped off steeply on each side. Below the path, on each side, were sharp rocks that would obviously kill or seriously injure anyone who fell into them. Following this man were many people. It was extremely dark in this cavern and because the lantern was being held low, the people further back from the man could not see and they were falling into the rocks, to their deaths.
On the other side, I saw the same picture with one huge difference. The man in the front was holding the lantern high above his head and the people following him could see the path and they were not falling off. That picture flashed quickly into and out of my mind's eye. Then the Lord spoke to me, "What kind of witness are you going to be?" We all have the choice of how we will carry the word of God to those that He gives us.
Over the years I have worked several jobs and there were some times that I didn't get off on a good foot with my Christian witness. I always found it so much harder to share the gospel with people if I allowed myself to slip into sin, which they saw, and then try to be a witness later.
If the clouds are full, they pour out rain upon the earth; and whether a tree falls toward the south or toward the north, whenever the tree lies, there it lies.
As a person with a ministry gift, people will watch you closely. It is easier for that tree to fall showing a Christian witness. If you meet people and the first thing they see of you is a slip of the tongue or some kind of ungodly action, it will be much harder for you to minister to them later. Choose to hold your lantern high so all that follow you can walk that narrow path to life and not fall off to their deaths.
Click Here to read Chapter 1
Click Here to read Chapter 3
Click Here to read Chapter 4
Click Here to read Chapter 5
Click Here to read Chapter 6