Our Life With Others: Unity within Diversity (Ephesians 4:4-16)

Church life can often be difficult because of at the remarkable diversity of people involved. There can be a lot of frustration and tension: Why don’t other people experience God or read the Bible the way I do? Am I the only one that thinks music/sermons/prayer/small groups/ outreach/Israel/spiritual gifts/Bible study/discipleship/theology is important?  This tension is nothing new. There’s a reason Paul basically wrote an entire book focused on the unity that Christ brings transforms relationships within the church. In Ephesians 4:4-16, Paul talks about the importance of embracing a diversity of gifts or roles in the church, and why it is important in building unity. 

As a prisoner of the Lord, I urge you: Live a life that is worthy of the calling He has graciously extended to you. Be humble. Be gentle. Be patient. Tolerate one another in an atmosphere thick with love. Make every effort to preserve the unity the Spirit has already created, with peace binding you together. 

 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were all called to pursue one hope. There is one Lord Jesus, one living faith, one ceremonial washing through baptism, and one God—the Father over all who is above all, through all, and in all. This God has given to each of us grace in full measure according to Christ’s gift as the Scripture says, ‘When He ascended to the heights,
He put captivity in chains;
And in His triumph, He gave gifts to the people…’ 

It was Christ who handed down to us such gifted leaders—some apostles ,some prophets, some evangelists, some pastor and teachers —  so that God’s people would be thoroughly equipped to minister and build up the body of Christ. These ministries will continue until we are unified in faith and filled with the knowledge of the Son of God, until we stand mature in His teachings and fully formed in the likeness of Jesus, our Liberating King. 

Then we will no longer be like children, tossed around here and there upon ocean waves, picked up by every gust of religious teaching spoken by liars or swindlers or deceivers. Instead, by truth spoken in love, we are to grow in every way into Him—Christ, the head. He joins and holds together the whole body with its ligaments providing the support needed so each part works to its proper design to form a healthy, growing, and mature body that builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:4-16, from The Voice)

Before we discuss this passage more, I need to make several points.

1) Apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher is probably not meant to be an exhaustive list of gifts, as can be seen by the addition of elder and deacon(ess) in other passages. Hebrew literature uses lists of five a lot. It’s like saying, “For example…” These are not the only gifts that God gave to his people.

2) There are aspects of leadership in church life that are clearly represented in each of these categories that are needed in the history of the worldwide church, individual churches now, and in our personal growth in Christ. While they are relevant, I don’t think they are all exactly the same as they were in NT times. For example, there are no apostles today like there were in the Bible (you had to see Jesus in the flesh). In the early church, we already see that ‘prophecy’ moved largely away from talking about the future and became mostly about proclaiming truth boldly. But no matter the differences between now and then, there are aspects of each of these gifts that are important in the ongoing process of building, leading and growing the church today. 

3) It’s not a list of spiritual winners vs. losers. Paul says “some” not “all” were given these gifts. I wouldn’t get consumed by asking, “Where am I in this list?”  Like I noted earlier, it's probably a "for example" kind of list; besides, we are not told to seek these gifts or self-appoint ourselves into the role. There are other gifts of the Spirit that  are no less meaningful, and there are plenty of fruits of the Spirit that are a sign of God’s work in your life. They too build up the church. (See the list at the end of this post for a surprisingly diverse list of spiritual gifts. Just be a faithful follower of Christ.

4) It’s about the timeless principle of servicing and building maturity and unity. There is no record these terms were used as a title like some use them today. The gifts aren’t the point. The person with the gift is not the point. Anytime the pursuit of one of these offices or the elevation of someone in one of these positions becomes the point, we are in trouble. Life together in Christ is the point. We are given different gifts for the sake of the church. We need each other if we want to have a healthy, growing and mature body that builds itself up in love. We are talking about this today because apparently these things are crucial for unity – which leads me to believe that they can be a source of disunity to if we aren’t careful.

When we are done today, I hope we will have accomplished several important goals. First, that we appreciate the diversity of passion, gifts and purposes within the church. Second, I want us to be aware of how it looks when the gifts are exercised poorly and when they are exercised well. Finally, I hope we are moved to encourage others and learn from them as we see them display these gifts.

NOTE: I am pulling from a book called Primal Fire, written by Neil Cole, Dezi Baker, Ed Waken, Phil Helfer, and Paul Kaak. There is also a website for the APEST model on Alan Hirsch’s Website, The Forgotten Ways (http://www.theforgottenways.org/what-is-apest.aspx). You can take a test there to see in which areas you are strong, but as I noted earlier, don’t become consumed by the need to find yourself in a category. Just be faithful; feedback from Christians around you is probably more important than your own self-reflection.


CHURCH PLANTERS AND MISSIONARIES (the foundation of apostolos)

We get our term missionary from the Latin form of apostolos, “sent one”. Alan Hirsch says those with an apostolic gift are those who “initiate visions and ideas and then step back.” These people are constantly looking for new places and new people. They lay a foundation and then move on. A modern day term would be church planter (or missionary). They have a passion for establishing a solid church (doctrine).

You can spot a true apostle not because they tell you they are one, but because churches arises where there was no church before – not because of them and their positional power, but because of their inspiration. You can see this show up in other ways too: people we would think of as pioneers or innovators. They always have a new idea, a new suggestion for how to more firmly establish the church in a community. They are never content with the status quo, but are certain things can be done better.

The Hurdles

  • They can tend to be loners because they don’t feel understood, or because they are often on the move.
  • They can be very black and white about methods (“My way works!”) and people (“You are a leader or you are nothing.”)
  • They can leave a mess after they start something by leaving – or staying.

The Counterfeit (The “super apostle” in 2 Corinthians 11-12)

  • They point to themselves
  • They insist on financial gain
  • They are not willing to relinquish power or authority


TRUTH-TELLERS IN THE CHURCH (the insight of prophetus)

Those with a prophetic gift help God’s people hear the voice of God and obey. It is more about forthtelling than foretelling. They bring edification, exhortation, and consolation (1 Corinthians 14:3-4). They force us to face truth, not just settle for understanding or empathy. They often speak truth however they see fit regardless of the consequences. A single issue can drive them tirelessly.

If apostles are passionate about establishing a solid church foundation, prophets are passionate about holiness. People who encounter prophets feel challenged. You can spot a genuine prophet because they don't think of themselves as a prophet – they just think that Christians should call other Christians to holiness. It’s just life to them.

The hurdles

  • They can think everything that comes to mind should be proclaimed
  • They assume all their insights are 1)corporate and 2) preeminent.
  • They can be lonely. Rejection of their message can feel like a personal offense, and they can become impatient with those who don't ‘get it’ 

The counterfeit 

  • They say they are special – only they know God’s secrets
  • Their proclamations bring glory and power to themselves
  • They are wrong in foretelling (predicting the future) and forthtelling (their insights aren’t correct)


TRUTH-TELLERS IN THE CULTURE (the growth from euangelistas)

 Those with an evangelistic gift are “tellers of good news.” If prophets have a passion for holiness, evangelists have a passion for the mission of the church – sharing the gospel and equipping others. A love for Christ and a love for people are inseparable. They are more comfortable with the lost than the found. You are more likely to find them at a bar than a Bible study. They don’t wait for people to come to them – they go get ‘em. Evangelists are the “first impression” of Christianity to the world.

 People who encounter evangelists will feel that an evangelist cares about them even if they disagree with them. Evangelists will tend to ADD people to a church, but not START it (apostle) or REFINE it (prophet).  Evangelists give the church a tender heart for those far from Christ. You can spot a true evangelist when they are surprised at how much you admire their effectiveness. “It’s just what Christians do, right?”

 The hurdles

  • Evangelists are often very charismatic and extroverted, and the message can become about them (cult of personality).
  • Numbers can equal success to them, and they can favor popular thoughts over deep ones in an effort to draw a crowd (numbers = success).
  • They think their method should be everyone’s (tracts, door-to-door, revival meetings, seeker’ services)

The counterfeit

  • The evangelist is judgmental angry and unappealing (not a heart for the lost)
  • The gospel is shame-based rather than grace-based


PROTECTOR OF THE COMMUNITY (the unity of poimenas - shepherds)

 Those with a pastoral/shepherding gift show concern for the continuing care of a specific community – protecting, caring, strengthening and maturing in doctrine and relationships. They don’t care about position or title – they are interested in people and relationships. They want to lead their sheep (the congregation) to a place where they can feed themselves. They are team builders. They create an environment where people flourish in their relationship with God and others. They are not inclined to leave a church community because they are invested in the lives of the community.

The hurdles

  • They can be skeptical or critical of the other categories (apostles are too transient; prophets are not nurturing enough; evangelists are too focused on non-Christians).
  • They can be so concerned about relationships they overlook sin (peace keepers vs. makers)
  • They are relationship-oriented more than task-oriented (people get frustrated by the lack of a clear vision or agenda).

The counterfeit

  • Fail to protect and nourish in orthodoxy (belief) and orthopraxy (action)
  • Are not invested in the church community
  • Will follow the money
  • Will not sacrifice on behalf of the church

GATEKEEPERS OF THE WORD (the instruction of didaskalous - teachers)

 Those with a teaching gift find that scriptural truth is both sacred ground and their playground. They absorb truth; then they instruct, correct and train in righteousness (2 Timothy 3; Titus 2). Identifying and correcting errors in doctrine is of primary importance. Church planters establish a church in solid doctrine; teachers are the gatekeepers. Books and podcasts are their best friends; they don’t have to be prompted to study. They are always looking for new topics to learn and teach because they have an insatiable desire to know and understand more. They then equip others to teach others. They are good at teaching others how to learn and modeling how to pass on the teaching. The Bible is clear about approaching this position with fear and trembling (James 3:1) Like all the other positions, they don’t do it for applause or clout; it’s just what they do.

The hurdles

  • The teacher can become the authority rather than the Bible
  • They can confuse knowledge with wisdom (bogged down in details…divisive)
  • Divide over details

The counterfeit

  • Claim to have secret knowledge everybody else has missed
  • Elevate their teaching to near perfection
  • Add to or detract from Scripture


What’s the point of all this? We are different. God gifted us that way. All these gifts/approaches/emphasis are necessary if we are to be a well-rounded church –and if we want to be a well-rounded person. And we must both do them and accept them with patience and grace.  Look at the difference between the following statements or questions. 


  • “Why are you so focused on people outside the church. Don't we have enough to deal with in here already!”
  • “You are so inward-focused in the church. Don't you have a heart for missions and outreach?”
  • “Wow! You are obsessed with doctrine. Can’t we all just agree to disagree?”
  • “Why don't you spend more time reading and studying and learning about the Bible?”
  • "The  most effective evangelism is d00r-to-door. Why are you wasting your time with Pub Theology?
  • “I wish you didn’t spend so much time empathizing with people in sin. Step up! Tell it like it is!”
  • “Why are you always so blunt? You're just going to offend people over and over again.”
  • “You've  got so many ideas, and you just keep talking about new ways to do ministry, and you hasveno idea how hard that will be.”
  • “Why are you so reluctant to think outside the box and start or try new things?”

Notice how in all these things there is a 'ministry projection' - that is, the assumption that what we are passionate about or gifted in the true sign of Christian maturity. When people are different from us, we can be prone to judgment, criticism, withdrawing ("No one understands me!"), and eventually leaving for another church. Usually two things happen at that point. Either we find a church where everybody is just like us in terms of passions and gifts, or we move from church to church because no place is spiritual enough for us. If the former, we never grow because there is no one there challenge us or expand our understanding of how God works in people's lives. In the latter, we never grow because we never get our spiritual roots down deeply.

Instead, we need to practice 'ministry affirmation.' We should seek to know, understand and grow as we see God at works in those around us who are very different from us. We should applaud when others are successful and looks for opportunities to partner with them (not subvert or criticize them) in the work of the Kingdom. As we do this, we begin to appreciate the breadth of the kingdom of God, and we begin to grow as all of the people around us build up our lives. 

The first list  of questions conveyed judgment, frustration and 'ministry projection.'  This second list approaches others with a request to learn, to understand, to grow and appreciate how God uses all kinds of people to bring his church into maturity and unity.


  • “You really have a heart for people outside the church. Can you help me learn how to be bold and compelling when I talk about Christ?”
  • “I love how you are passionate about the people in our church. How do you approach people and situations so effectively?”
  • “You clearly value the Word of God tremendously. What’s a good way I can begin to study and learn?”
  • “You seem to connect with God very deeply outside of traditional devotional times. What have you found meaningful and why?”
  • "You have a way of reaching out to people far from Christ that is way out of my comfort zone. How do you do it? What's it like? How do you see God at work?"
  • “You connect really well with people who are struggling. I find that people don’t seek me out. How do you do it? What can I do to connect with others?”
  • “I’m not very good at boldly challenging people. Will you hold me accountable?”
  • “You have a ton of good ideas about how we could do church more effectively here in TC. I’m not good with ideas, but I can implement them. Let’s talk…”
  • “I’ve got some ideas about church. I know you are much better at details than I am, so do you mind if I run some ideas by you? I’d love to hear your feedback.”

 This is how "we are to grow in every way into Him—Christ, the head. He joins and holds together the whole body with its ligaments providing the support needed so each part works to its proper design to form a healthy, growing, and mature body that builds itself up in love.”




Prophecy (boldly proclaiming God’s mind and purpose) 1 Corinthians 12, 14; Micah 3:8

Serving (a wide variety of ministries that “make the dust fly”) 1 Peter 4; 1 Corinthians 12:5

Teaching - (explaining God’s truth) Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4

Working - (bringing energy to a project) 1 Corinthians 12:6

Exhortation (motivational skills; encouragement) Romans 12

Giving (joyful, sacrificial generosity) Romans 12

Mercy (compassion) Romans 12

Intercession (prayer) Romans 8:26, 27

Wisdom  (knowledge rightly applied to situations) James 1:5; Numbers 27

Words of Wisdom (giving insightful, practical knowledge)1 Corinthians 12

Words of Knowledge (giving insight into doctrine/spiritual truth) 1 Corinthians 12

Faith (unwavering commitment) 1 Corinthians 12

Healing (miraculous interventions for sickness) 1 Corinthians 12

Discerning spirits (insight into the “spirit” of a situation) 1 Corinthians 12

Tongues (gifted in human or heavenly languages) 1 Corinthians 12, 14

Interpretation of Tongues (translating those languages) 1 Corinthians 12, 14

Apostle (the office is unique to the founding of the church; the gifting is present) 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4

Leadership (church planters and church sustainers) Romans 12

Pastor (“shepherds” who guide and lead) Ephesians 4

Evangelist/Missionary (boldness in sharing the gospel) Acts 1:8; 5:32; 26:22; 1 John 5:6; Ephesians 4

Helps (helping/serving the poor and downtrodden) 1 Corinthians 12; 1 Timothy 3:8-13; Romans 16:1-4; 12

Administration (the ability to give oversight) 1 Corinthians 12; 1 Samuel 11 and 16

Celibacy (refraining from sex) 1 Corinthians 7:7

Marriage (committing to a covenant with integrity) 1 Corinthians 7:7

Hospitality (openness and friendliness) 1 Peter 4:9-10

Craftsmanship (building, construction) Exodus 31:3; 35:30-35

The Arts (music, poetry, prose, painting...)  Exodus 31:2-6;  Exodus 35:25-26; Psalm 150:3-5 Luke 1:1-3

Voluntary Poverty (forgoing wealth without envy or jealousy) 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

Business Sense (reward from hard work and investment) Ecclesiastes 3,5

Courage (as seen in Gideon) Judges 6

Strength (as seen in Samson)  Judges 13

Architectural Engineering  (planning; constructing; building) 1 Chronicles 28