Spirit Gifts for the Great Commission


Spirit Gifts for the Great Commission

May 29th, 1966 @ 8:15 AM

Ephesians 4:11

And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
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Dr.  W.  A.  Criswell

Ephesians 4:11

5-29-66     8:15 a.m.


Now I want you to turn in your Bibles to Ephesians 4, and we are going to read my text together, Ephesians 4.  On the radio you are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Spirit Gifts for the Carrying Out of the Great Commission, or The Basic Ministries of the Church.  Ephesians chapter 4, we shall read the first thirteen verses.  Ephesians chapter 4, 1 through 13, now we read it together:

I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that you walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,

With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;

Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;

One Lord, one faith, one baptism,

One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

But unto every one of us is given grace according the measure of the gift of Christ.

Wherefore He said, When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.

(Now that He ascended, what is it but that He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?

He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that He might fill all things.)

And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;

For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.

[Ephesians 4:1-13]


These days are given to a presentation of the work of the Holy Spirit in the church and in the world, and we are now studying the gifts of the Spirit.  In the message last presented here, we found four listings of those gifts of the Holy Spirit.  One list is in the twelfth chapter of Romans [Romans 12:6-8], in the twelfth chapter of 1 Corinthians there are two lists [1 Corinthians 12:8-10, 12:28-30], and here in the fourth chapter of Ephesians there is another list [Ephesians 4:11].  And adding them all together, we found that they numbered thirty.  In these gifts that Paul lists in those four different places, he names thirty.  Then we adding them up took out the duplications and found that there were nineteen separate gifts of the Holy Spirit that are named by the apostle Paul.  Now this series of studies in the gifts of the Holy Spirit will follow this outline.

Today we are speaking of the basic gifts of the Holy Spirit of Jesus to His work in the earth.  Next Sunday we shall speak of the precious ministering gifts that the church possesses from the gracious presence and power and endowment of the Holy Spirit.  Then the next Sunday I shall preach on the gift of miracles, then the following Sunday on the gifts of healing, then the following Sunday on the gifts of speaking in tongues and interpretation of tongues.

We begin today with the basic gifts of the Holy Spirit for the carrying out of the great assignment of the church, the evangelization, and the instruction, and the teaching, and the founding of new churches [Ephesians 4:11-13].  And this list is in the fourth chapter of Ephesians, verse 11, “And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers” [Ephesians 4:11].

As with everything concerning the Holy Spirit, I have lived in confusion all of my life concerning these gifts of the Spirit, and this passage is no different.  So as God shall enlighten our minds, we shall speak of these gifts of the Holy Spirit to His church, the basic ones listed here in Ephesians 4:11.

First:  apostles; the word apostolos is a common, everyday, household Greek word meaning “a messenger,” somebody who is sent, apostolos.   The verbal form of the word, apostellō, is the ordinary, household Greek word meaning to send somebody with a message.  The word is used in the New Testament in two senses.  First:  it is used in the sense technical, narrow, limited, referring to an office; the apostolic office.  Second:  the word is used in the New Testament in the sense of a missionary, missio, the Latin word, the English word missionary; somebody who is sent with a divine assignment.

Now it is the separation of those two meanings that brought light and significance to my heart today; in the gifts of the Holy Spirit to His church, for the first one is apostolic, apostles [Ephesians 4:11].  Now we speak briefly and first of the use of that word apostolos.  We speak of it first in its technical and in its narrow sense, referring to an office.

In the Book of Luke chapter [6], verse 13: “And when it was day, after the Lord had spent all night long in prayer [Luke 6:13], when it was day, He called unto Him His disciples: and of them He chose twelve, whom also He named apostles” [Luke 6:13].  That is the technical use of the word referring to the apostolic office [Acts 22:21; Romans 11:13], and there are twelve!  Of these He chose twelve, and they were called and referred to as the twelve, whom also He named apostles.  Now in a special and a divine sense, Paul of Tarsus was called to that apostolic office; a special administration of God.

In a special sense, James, the Lord’s brother, was called an apostle.  For example, in the first chapter of Galatians, Paul, describing his journey up to Jerusalem for the conference in Acts 15, as he speaks of his own unique apostleship, starting off, “Paul, an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, not of man nor of the will of man, but by the will and choice and purpose and election of God” [Galatians 1:1].  He says, “In Jerusalem I saw Peter, but other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother” [Galatians 1:18-19].

 So it seems that the pastor of the church at Jerusalem, James, was an apostle, but actually they are always and only twelve.  And how God shall number them I do not know.  I sometimes say in the first chapter of Acts the apostles chose Matthias to take the place of Judas in that apostolic office [Acts 1:24-26], but God chose Paul, Saul of Tarsus [Acts 9:15].  But however that shall be there are always twelve; in the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Matthew, the Lords says that these twelve shall sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel [Matthew 19:28].

And in the twenty-first chapter of the Book of Revelation, when John sees the bride of Christ, the holy city of New Jerusalem, he says, “And the city had twelve foundations, and on those twelve foundations the names of the twelve apostles” [Revelation 21:14].  And here in the second chapter of the Book of Ephesians and the twentieth verse Paul says that “We are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” [Ephesians 2:20].

The apostolic office and the apostolic ministry is the basis of the foundation of the church of Jesus Christ.  The apostolic office, the apostles, the twelve, they laid the doctrinal foundation of the church; in the second chapter of the Book of Acts those converts at Pentecost continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine [Acts 2:42].  They laid the structural foundation of the church.  In the days of the life of the apostles, the formation of the structure of the church as it ought to be, and as we pray under God our Baptist churches are today, was laid by the apostles [Ephesians 2:20].

They used the keys of the kingdom to open the door to the Jew and to the Gentile [Matthew 16:19].  They formed the link between the Old Testament and the New.  Their roots were in the Old Testament; their ministry was in the New.  Through the apostolic office God purposes of grace found continuity from the Old and into the New.  And they were men who had to be baptized by John the Baptist, taught by Jesus Christ, and were personal witnesses of His resurrection [Acts 1:22].  These qualifications according to the first chapter of the Book of Acts had to be found in a man who was qualified for the apostolic office [Acts 1:22].  But the twelve, the apostles formed no great council, nor no continuing Sanhedrin, and they had no successors.

In the first twelve chapters of the Book of Acts, the apostles, the twelve, are very prominent [Acts 1-12].  Thereafter they are hardly mentioned.  In the great providence of God the apostles were, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, guided into all of the doctrines that we should receive, the revelation of the truth [John 16:13].  And when that revelation was written down by inspiration of the Holy Spirit [2 Timothy 3:16], then the apostolic office ceased, it had no further pertinency.  Our appeal thereafter was not to an apostle but to the Word of God for faith, and for doctrine, and for revelation, and for truth, and for practice [2 Timothy 3:16-17].

And the last time the apostles were assembled together was in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Acts at the Jerusalem conference.  There, they were numbered with the elders of the church, and Simon Peter did not preside over the council but James the pastor of the church and the Lord’s brother, and the whole congregation participated in the final decision [Acts 15:6-29].  And after the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, they are scattered to the ends of the earth and are never together again.  And when the apostles died, the apostolic office ceased.  It had no more reason to be in the church.  It was like, the office of apostle was like a constitutional convention.  When its work was done, the office ceased, and they had no successors.  So in the gift of the Spirit to the church, first apostles [Ephesians 4:11], the Word refers to that unique office of the twelve whom God ordained to lay the doctrinal and the structural foundation of the church [Ephesians 2:20].

Now, there is a sense in which this gift of the Holy Spirit to the church [1 Corinthians 12:28], reaches beyond that limited and technical sense of an office.  For the word apostolos also refers to a messenger, to a missionary, to someone who goes into an area where Christ is not preached, and there he founds churches in the name of the blessed Jesus.  For example, you will find the use of that word in 2 Corinthians 8:23: “If any man inquires of Titus,” says Paul, “he is my partner and my fellow helper: or of our brethren, they are the,” plural, apostoloi, “the messengers of the churches, and the glory of Christ.”  Now you have it translated here in the King James Version “the messengers of the churches” [2 Corinthians 8:23].  That’s fine.  That’s exactly what the basic meaning of the word means.  But the word used is “apostles.”  “They are the apostles of the churches, and the glory of Christ” [2 Corinthians 8:23].

In the second chapter of the Book of Philippians, Paul, writing to Philippi, says, “Concerning Epaphroditus, my brother, and companion in labor, and fellow soldier, but your apostle, and he that ministered to my wants” [Philippians 2:25].  You have it translated here “messenger,” but the word is “apostle.”  Epaphroditus was an apostle.  In the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Romans, you have Andronicus and Junia referred to as apostles in the church at Rome [Romans 16:7].  There the word, the gift of the Spirit, refers to men to whom God gives the marvelous gift of being able to go into areas where the word of Christ is not known.  And there, as emissaries from the courts of heaven, and as messengers from the churches who sent them out, they preached the gospel, and they found churches.

And in that sense the gift of the Holy Spirit in apostolic ministry falls upon some of our people today.  There are some of you who have lived for a while in Guatemala.  When I was in Guatemala I met a young Southern Baptist missionary down there that had the gift of the apostolic ministry.  That young fellow, beyond any way that you could know, could enter a heathen community, a pagan and idolatrous community, and in the power of the Holy Spirit upon him, soon he had gathered together a band of converts and had organized a church, and it flourished under God.  Then he would go on to another like place and do another marvelous work, preaching the gospel of Christ in a pagan and a heathen and an idolatrous community.

And there are men in our own fellowship who are marvelously gifted in pioneer work.  I think it is a tremendous weakness in our fellowship of churches that we do not recognize that gift of the Holy Spirit that the infinitude of God bestows upon some of our men, and we do not help them more in these pioneer areas, as, with the inspiration of God upon them, they enter these pagan cities and these frontier communities.  I’m not speaking of Africa or Indonesia or China.  I’m speaking of America, and they enter these communities where there are no churches and what churches they have bring no message from heaven.

There are men today to whom God gives the apostolic ministry, the gift of the Spirit of preaching Christ where there are no messengers from heaven.  It is a ministry that is vibrant and significant and meaningful today.  First apostles [Ephesians 4:11], and in God’s sight that gift is first, and foremost, and pristine, and significant!  And God bless that pioneer emissary who preaches Christ in a hard and a difficult place, and under whose hands converts are gathered together and churches are formed.  Oh, what shall we do in time?

First apostles, and next prophets [Ephesians 4:11]; prophets—it was over that prophet that I stumbled more than anything else; the gift of prophecy.  From the twelfth chapter of 1 Corinthians to the fourteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians [1 Corinthians 12:1-14:40], Paul uses that word more than twenty-two times; the gift of prophecy, the second great gift of the Spirit in the church [Ephesians 4:11].  And what prophet is this?  When Paul writes in Ephesians 2:20, “We are built as a church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ being the chief cornerstone,” who are those prophets?  And where is the gift of prophecy today?  Well, it was the most difficult of all of the doctrinal theological entanglements that I ever tried to wrestle with; prophecy, the prophet.

Then I found its denouement and its meaning and its significance for us in just what God says.  And did you know in every one, in every one of these difficult situations that arise in trying to find the mind of God for the church today, did you know without exception I have learned that if I will take the Scripture, and not listen to preconceived ideas concerning it or what men have said about it, but if I will follow the Word of God itself, I have found an ultimate answer and a complete answer in every situation?

There was a young preacher on the plane with me Friday, and he was asking me about the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  And I said to him, “I wrestled with that for years, and I found that if I would take the nomenclature of God, the Words of God, the meaning of God, the revelation of God and follow exactly what God said, it had a perfect, and lucid, and reasonable meaning.”  And for us today the same thing about this word prophet in the church.

Well, we must hasten.  I found that the word prophet was an ordinary Greek word used in the households of the day of the Graeco-Roman world: prophētēs, prophētēs, prophētēs; somebody who speaks out, and mostly with a reference to a divine message.  He has divine insight into the things of God; a prophētēs, a man who speaks out; propheteuō, the verbal form of the word; one who speaks out, and especially with reference to divine things.

And I learned that it was only in the medieval days that the word passed into the English language with the idea of prediction and foretelling.  But the original word, and as it is used here in the Bible, has no reference as such to foretelling, to predicting, to miraculously describing what’s going to happen ahead, but the word has reference to a man speaking out concerning divine things with divine insight.  Then I learned that that ordinary Greek word, prophētēs, a prophet, I found out that it also is used in two ways.  And this solved that difficult situation for me in the New Testament.

It refers, as the word apostolos, it refers technically, limitedly, to an office; the office of a prophet.  And it refers also to the gift of prophecy, a man who is speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God; the gift of prophecy; the gift of preaching, the gift of exhortation, the gift of making known the mind and the purpose and the truth of God.  Now when I studied the New Testament, I found that so plain, so very plain.  The apostolic office is one of the great offices through the centuries and through the ages.  When I think of the men in the Bible called prophet, I think of Moses, I think of Samuel, I think of David, I think of Isaiah, I think of all of those prophets of the Old Testament; men with divine insight who delivered the message of God.

Then in the New Testament, there are prophets who are named.  Paul of Tarsus was a prophet, and Agabus was a prophet, and Judas and Silas were prophets.  They were men who were inducted by the Spirit of God, the sovereign choice of God, into the prophetic office.  But the gift of prophecy is an altogether different thing.  For example, in the nineteenth chapter here in the Book of Acts, “Paul, when he had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came upon them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied” [Acts 19:6].  These raw recruits, who have been converted in that instance, prophesied.  There is a vast difference between the office, high and exalted and unique, of a prophet, and the gift of prophecy; the gift of exhortation, and preaching, and praise, and glory in the Lord.

Now I found it again in the twenty-fist chapter of the Book of Acts.  There is a very distinct situation here described between Philip the evangelist, who had four virgin daughters, who prophesied [Acts 21:9], then in the next verse, in an all together different way, “And as we tarried there a many days, there came down from Judea a certain prophet, named Agabus.”  And Agabus foretells to Paul that if he persists in his determination to go to Jerusalem, there he will be bound.  And he took Paul’s girdle and bound his hands and his feet and said, “Thus will the Jews do to you, bind you and deliver you into the hands of the Gentiles” [Acts 21:10-11].  Which was true, he was arrested in Jerusalem, taken to Caesarea and then to Rome to be tried for his life [Acts 21:27–28:31].  Now the Bible here, the New Testament here makes a very distinct distinction, a very sharp one, between the four virgin daughters of Philip who prophesied and Agabus.  It was possible to have the gift of prophecy but not be in the prophetic office [Acts 21:9-10].  It’s like the word apostolos, they numbered twelve, but the apostolic ministry was a gift of the Holy Spirit upon the messengers of Christ who founded churches and preached Christ’s Word where it was not known.

So the use of that word prophetes, prophet, it referred to a prophetic office.  Like Isaiah, like Paul, like Agabus.  But the gift of prophecy was one the Holy Spirit bestowed upon people in the churches.  Now I see that in so many places here in the New Testament that I haven’t time to mention.  In the twelfth chapter of the Book of 1 Corinthians, Paul will list in this listing here of the gifts of the Spirit; the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, the word of faith, the gifts of healing, the gifts of miracles, and finally, prophecy [1 Corinthians 12:7-10].  It is the sixth in a list of nine.

Yet in the fourth chapter of Book of Ephesians, it is second only to the apostle himself [Ephesians 4:11].  Well, the reason is, in the fourth chapter of the Book of Ephesians, Paul is referring to the apostolic office which is next to the office of that of an apostle.  He’s referring to the prophetic office which is next to that of an apostle.  But in the twelfth chapter of 1 Corinthians, it is number six in the listing of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Now, were the prophetic office and the gifts of the prophecy, were they the same, they would have been concurrent in the listings.  I can see by these things that they are two different things.  It was the Lord Jesus Himself who gave the apostolic office and the prophetic office to the church [John 20:21].  The gifts of the Holy Spirit are these that the Spirit gives upon His churches then and upon His churches today.

Now what does that mean when it says in the second chapter of Ephesians, in verse 20, that our church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets? [Ephesians 2:20].  Well, most people, when they read that, will see in the word “prophets” Old Testament prophets.  Our church is built upon the apostles and Old Testament prophets?  Not at all, he is not referring to that at all.  Our church is built upon the apostles and New Testament prophets.  Well, why a New Testament prophet, the office of a prophet in the New Testament?  Well, the reason was this: in their day and in that time, they had no New Testament.

The Word of God by inspiration was not written down.  And when these raw recruits met together and these converts out of idolatry and paganism were baptized into the body of Christ and made members of the church of Jesus Christ [1 Corinthians 12:13], what should they do, and what were they to know?  For the Bible had not been written, and something must come from heaven to guide the young congregations of the Lord, and for that purpose the Holy Spirit instituted the prophetic office [Ephesians 4:11].  And what the church should do––its doctrine, its practice, its decisions, its organization, its structure; all of it––was delivered to them by revelation from the prophet! [Ephesians 4:11].  The prophet stood up and he told the church the mind of Jesus, as to what the church should do.

Now that is why in the twelfth chapter of the first Corinthian letter you have the gift of the discerning of spirits.  After the gift of prophecy you have the gift of the discerning of spirits [1 Corinthians 12:10].  For when the prophet stood up—and I haven’t time to speak of it as Paul describes it here in the fourteenth chapter of First Corinthians—as the prophet stood up to deliver what God’s message was, what the church should do, why, those who had the gifts of discerning of spirits could judge as to whether the revelation he gave from God was of God or was spurious and false [1 Corinthians 12:10].  That’s why, in the fourteenth chapter of 1Corinthians, Paul says, “For the spirit of the prophets is subject to the prophets” [1 Corinthians 14:32].  Those who had the gift of the discernment of truth listened to the message that the prophet delivered, and they could judge whether the message he delivered was true or whether it was false [1 Corinthians 12:10].

When the New Testament was written down, our appeal now for faith and practice in the church is no longer to a prophet.  There is not somebody standing up in the congregation today who gives to us the revelation of God as to what God would have us know and God would have us do.  But today our appeal is to the Word of God.  And when the Bible was written down by inspiration of the Holy Spirit [2 Timothy 3:16], the prophetic office, like the apostolic office, passed away.  It was no longer needed.  Our recourse now and our test now of truth and doctrine and practice is found in the Word of God! [2 Peter 1:19-21; 2 Timothy 3:17].

But, there is another use of that word, prophētēs.  Prophecy, the gift of prophecy, the office of the prophet has passed away; there are no more prophets to stand up to speak to us regarding the doctrine and the truth of the revealed church of God because we read it here on an open page.  But the gift of prophecy is still with us, and the gift of prophecy falls upon certain members of the church.

What is the purpose of the gift of prophecy?  Paul describes it very plainly: “But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort” [1 Corinthians 14:3].  And in the same fourteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians he speaks of the gift of prophecy as being able to convert men who are lost [1 Corinthians 14:24-25].  And then he speaks of the gift of prophecy that our people may learn and be comforted [1 Corinthians 14:31].  The first gift of the Holy Spirit in the church was the gift of prophecy at Pentecost; the gift of preaching, inspired deliverance of God’s message at Pentecost [Acts 2:1-6].  And this is a gift that God pours out upon some of His people today; the gift of prophecy, the gift of inspired preaching, the gift of exhortation, and comfort, and edification, and conversion, and learning; the gift of making known the mind and the message of God [1 Corinthians 12:10].

One of the most pitiful of all of the things I ever read in the biography of great preachers was in the life of Savonarola.  Crushed and destroyed and imprisoned, he said to a friend, “Go tell my people that the spirit of prophecy has left me.”  I understood that when I read it.  He was not talking about the office of a prophet, he was talking about the burning, fiery message of God, by which he changed the whole course of Florentine history.

For, says God in the nineteenth chapter of Revelation and in the tenth verse, “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” [Revelation 19:10].  It is the spirit of burning in the soul of a preacher.  And oh how I pray that God shall bless me as I stand in the sacred place and behind the sacred desk, and there seek to mediate in inspiration, in heavenly utterance and meaning the truth of God.  This is the gift of prophecy the Lord bestows upon some in His churches today [1 Corinthians 12:10].

Dear people, these sermons are being written out, and they will be published in a book this coming January.  I have not time to speak of the gift of evangelism [Ephesians 4:11].  It is a gift that God bestows upon some in His churches today; the gift of evangelism.  I haven’t time to speak of the gift of being a pastor [Ephesians 4:11], a shepherd’s heart.  I have said many times, and you’ve heard me speak of it several times, the sweetest response and reply I ever heard in my life was when Baylor University invited Dr. George W Truett to be president of Baylor University, and he replied, “No, for I have sought and found the shepherd’s heart.”  He had the gift of being not only a prophet, a preacher, but a gift of a pastor.  The word translated pastor, poimen, is the Greek word for shepherd, loving the people, and ministering to the people and comforting the people.  And the gift of teaching, mediating the truth of God; some of you have that gift of teaching [Ephesians 4:11].  The gift of teaching, it is something. . .[tape ends]