I received the following question:

Do you believe the prophets spoken of in ephesians are with us today?

eph4:11

In Ephesians 4:3-6, Paul sets forth our unity today: the unity of the Spirit. This unity consists of seven great truths which he lists in verses 4-6.

Yet I think God figures here in verse 7 that a great question will arise for His readers. Though we have a unity that God gives us, why cannot we have unity among all believers? Isn’t this what Christ asked for in John 17:21? Did not all believers live in unity in early Acts? (Acts 2:44-47, 4:32-35) Why cannot we see unity among all believers today? Paul explains that in Acts, to every one of them (though NOT to us) grace was given, not according to some superior faith they had, but according to the measure of the gift of Christ. The gift was according to Him, not them! In Greek, the word is “WAS,” not “IS,” as the King James Version. Paul is talking about something that is in the past, in the Acts period.

In verse 8, He quotes Psalm 68:18. When He reascended on high, He captured captivity. This just means he took Satan’s captives and made them His Own captives. To be “in Christ” is not to be free, but to be bound to Him. Once He had done this, He gave gifts to men. These were the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit, given to every believer. These gifts were given according to the measure of Christ, not according to the measure of those receiving them. In other words, if we do not receive such gifts today, it is not because we do not “measure up” to those believers of the past. It was never about their measure anyway! The greatness of the gifts was about the measure of Christ.

In verse 9, Paul cannot help but make an aside. How could He have reascended, if He had not first descended into the lower parts, that is, the earth? This proves that Christ was not just a man from the earth like other men, but had come from above, and was Divine!

In verse 10, God tells us that the same One Who descended also reascended. He ascended up over all of the heavens. These are heaven up (exalted) beings, not places. If He ascended above all heavens as places, He would have gone out of the heavens altogether! He is filling all these heavens. He was the one who filled all those who had miraculous gifts.

Now we come to verse 11, the verse in question. We have been following Christ’s actions, in descending to the earth, then reascending on high, then using His exalted position to give gifts to men, even as He did at Pentecost. He gave many guides to the believers at that time. First apostles, or ones commissioned with authority to do His work. Then prophets, those who were able to speak His inspired word (fresh from Him, not reading from a Bible). Evangelists or “gospelizers” are those who proclaim the right message (gospel) of the Lord Jesus Christ. Pastors is translated everywhere else as “shepherds,” and speaks of those who were given the job of leading the sheep, God’s people Israel (see Knowing God in the Word Episode 1-38: Which Sheep, What Shepherd). Teachers were those whom God gave not only the ability to teach, but also the curriculum. A teacher was like a prophet, but more long-term.

In verse 12, the Lord explains His purpose for giving these gifts. First, the saints are outfitted. The God-given leaders of the Acts period allowed them to quickly outfit the believers for all they would face in service to God. Secondly, the work of dispensing. Whenever a believer needed anything from God, His chosen were available to provide it for them. Instructions from God, healing, guidance, wisdom, direction, and any other help that was needed was provided by those gifted by the Spirit. Thirdly, for the building up of the body of Christ. Those who partook of Christ and became in measure what He is were built up by others who had different gifts from theirs. They built each other up.

In verse 13, He explains the final goal of all this: that the believers all come into unity regarding what they believed. This happened! Acts 2:44-47, 4:32-35. If you had a God-given teacher, prophet, or apostle to go to when you had any different opinions about doctrine or practice, it would make it much easier to be in unity. Sometimes, without these, we just have to agree to disagree. Not so in the Acts period! The final goal also had to do with a deeper knowledge or realization of the Son of God. This would lead them all to come to maturity, the full stature of the complement of Christ. Without these gifts, we often fall short of this today. We have only the Bible to help us grow to maturity.

Verse 14 is also part of the final goal: that they no longer be minors. Of course, literally this happens just as you live long enough. But he means that they no longer be minors in Godliness. Those who are still children in the things of God are constantly surging back and forth and being carried about by every wind of teaching that comes along to blow them to a new viewpoint. An immature believer like this is convinced of what he thinks is true by some clever man who speaks well, and comes up with a methodized error that makes sense to the young believer. The Lord does not want us to be led along by teaching like this!

Verse 15 proclaims that instead, they should be true, even as they come to know the truth. In love, which is the best motivation for seeking truth, they should be making everything in their lives grow up into the Him Who is the Head, even Christ. Remember, a “head” means an outflowing source. Christ should be the source for everything to the believer, and so the true believer should be growing up into Him in everything. When we are firmly rooted in Him, we will not be blown about by every wind of teaching. This was God’s desire for the believers in the Acts period, and He gave them the help they needed to achieve this. In Acts, they had a God-created unity, but it came through many powerful gifts. We might not have this, but God’s goal for us is the same: that we reach maturity in life and walk. We need to grow into Christ!

So ultimately I think the Holy Spirit through Paul is explaining here to believers today why it is we cannot see the unity among believers that we would like to see. We have the unity of the Spirit, but this is something we need to safeguard in our own lives. It is a unity that exists, but it is a unity you need to get on board with. You need to accept these truths, and live them in your life. No one is going to force you to do it. Many others may not acknowledge these truths, and may not be unified with you. That is not your concern. You must keep the unity of the Spirit regardless.

But why cannot you have a real unity, where all believers are truly one in thought, in practice, and in heart like is described in early Acts? Well, to accomplish that, God gave them many God-appointed leaders. This allowed them all to know and believe the same things. We do not have such leaders, so we need to study and be diligent ourselves to know the truth, II Timothy 2:15. As long as God is not giving us such leaders, we will never achieve unity among all who follow Jesus Christ. Yet remember that such unity came with a cost. Those whose hearts started to beat out of rhythm might be struck dead, as Ananias and Sapphira were in Acts 5, in order to preserve the unity. Instead, today God treats all in grace. We might not have the unity they did, but we should not be angry about that or dissatisfied. Instead, we should thank God for what we do have from Him, and for His current plan and work among us that has brought us to salvation.

Ultimately, I will be talking a lot about what God’s current plan is as we study through Ephesians on the radio program, especially as we get to chapter 3.

So my answer would be no, we do not have such prophets today. In fact, Paul is explaining here that the lack of such God-given leaders is why we do not have the God-given unity that they had during the time when God was giving powerful gifts and inspired leaders. The prophets he writes about were the prophets of the Acts period. He is not giving such gifts today. He is not failing to give prophets because we do not measure up, for it was never about the men whom He chose in the first place. Rather, he is not giving prophets because that does not fit His Own will and work today. As I said, I will talk about what that work is in the third chapter of Ephesians.

Thanks for writing. May the Lord bless you in your continued study of His Word, and help you know Him better.

Keep studying the Word!

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