One thing we must be careful of is reading worldly philosophies into biblical text and assigning meaning to them that was never there. In a recent article, author and blogger Keith Giles points out one popular instance of doing this that has infiltrated some church circles.
It’s a concept taken from one single passage in the New Testament (Ephesians 4:11-13) which says…
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
It’s a concept called the “5-Fold Ministry.” It asserts that the above passage is a hierarchical list of more important or essential spiritual gifts to a church, and that a church’s health hinges mostly on the presence of those gifts over and above others.
No spiritual gifts are given pre-eminence
The problem with this view is it can’t be what Paul meant when he penned the words. A test on whether you have an accurate meaning of a portion of Scripture is whether it jives with the rest of Scripture.
In I Corinthians 12:28, there’s a verse that you could make an 8-fold ministry out of…
And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.
Where are pastors and evangelists in this list? Are there different lists for different churches? Then, in Romans 12, Paul doesn’t even mention apostles, which was the first gift on the Ephesians list! Or could it be that the point he was trying to make is that even though we all have different gifts, we are all brothers and sisters of the same family and no one person is given pre-eminence over another?
That has to be it. After all, once you start giving gifts pre-eminence, you would then have to say that God favors some people over others. After all, how would He choose who to give the “more important” gifts to?
Ironically, these passages are in the midst of chapters that talk all about how gifts were given to “each one of us” and “we should not think more highly of ourselves than we ought.” But, that’s what happens when certain gifts are elevated in importance. Those with gifts that have been deemed more important consciously or unconsciously have a struggle on their hands – how to stay humble.
Spiritual gifts are chronological
When Paul said “first of all…second…third” and so on, he wasn’t talking about a hierarchy of gifts. He was talking chronologically about how gifts establish and build up a church. This was something that was always on his mind.
Instead, Giles points out…
The Apostles were the first ones to be “sent out” by Jesus and once the Gospel was preached and people responded, they needed to have others who could prophesy and teach, and serve, etc.
So, there aren’t some gifts that are more important than others. They’re just different. Each person matters and is important to the end goal – the building and strengthening of God’s Kingdom on earth.
That’s what Paul was communicating.
Remember, what may be our enemy’s chief strategy to tear apart a church is for us to make divisions out of our differences (see this post for a fuller treatment of this). One of the main divisions we fall for is creating levels of importance.