“‘When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.’ . . . And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
The day was Maundy Thursday. The location, an upper room in Jerusalem. Jesus was gathered with His disciples to celebrate the Passover. At the outset of the evening’s festivities, He stooped over, took a towel, poured water into a basin, and started washing the disciples’ feet. Peter tried to stop Him, thinking that this act of service was beneath his Master’s dignity. Jesus told Peter, “What you don’t understand now, you will later.” After completing the chore, He told His disciples, “I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:15, for the full account see vv. 1-17)
Jesus was teaching a spiritual lesson that He wants His believers of all times to take to heart: He calls us to serve Him in those around us by kindhearted deeds. This is to be a response to the work of love He performed for us all by washing us clean of our sin by His blood shed on the cross. We rejoice to know that He views the acts of loving service we do for others as having been done for Him (see Matthew 25:40).
In the Ephesians passage quoted above, we learn that out of the large group of all believers in Christ, He chooses some to serve Him in a unique way: as public ministers.1 In the Church’s early days, writes Paul, Christ gave gifts to His Church in the form of apostles and prophets (who served the Lord by planting His Church in the world through the preaching of the Gospel, and and by serving as God’s penmen, recording the books of the New Testament). Christ also gave—and continues to give—pastors to serve as spiritual overseers of His people, teachers to provide sound instruction in the Word, and evangelists to spread abroad the good news of salvation in Christ.2
The purpose Jesus has in mind in conferring these gifts on His Church, Paul says, is to equip believers for the work of ministry and build them up in their faith (so that they might not be thrown off course in their faith-lives by false prophets peddling their lies as “truth,” nor by those who promote empty, worldly philosophies as “wisdom”).
The ultimate purpose Jesus has in mind in providing the Church with public servants of His Word is that Christians may be guided safely and dependably to their heavenly destination, and be among the blessed company who will stand before His throne and “serve Him day and night in His temple.” (Revelation 7:15)
Lord Jesus, thank You for supplying Your Church with the gift of public ministers. We ask for Your blessing on the work they do in Your name for the welfare of souls. Help us all to faithfully serve You through service to those around us in the sphere of life in which You have placed us, until by Your grace we reach our heavenly goal. Then we shall praise You in perfect joy for the greatest work of love ever: Your redeeming us to God by Your blood. Amen.
1 The Bible word minister means “servant.”
2 More examples of Christ’s gifts to His Church could be added to the list, such as church deacons and elders, Christian missionaries, and synod leaders; all with their particular areas of service, as specified in the divine calls they receive from their fellow believers.
Thomas Schuetze is pastor of St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lakewood, Colorado.