RECOGNISING THE FIVE-FOLD MINISTRIES OF PROPHETS AND APOSTLES
by Rodney W Francis
In recent times I have been challenged again with the importance of the function of the five-fold ministries that we read about in Ephesians 4:11 – “apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.” We give mental assent to these offices, but we do not seem to realize the importance of recognizing them – a recognition that makes room for them to develop, to become established, to be able to grow, and to impact the Christians and unbelievers alike. But before we can recognize such important gifts, we need to have some understanding on what they are – and what their function is. Until we do, we will not be able to make room for them to function like they should. Why is this? It is because we have not, as yet, seen the importance of their gift from God to the Church. Once we do recognize the importance of these essential ministries, we will then look for ways and means to bring them to the fore, so the benefits can be received by all believers in Jesus Christ.
As I was meditating upon the importance of the five-fold ministries, this Scripture came to me regarding the call of a “prophet to the nations” that Jeremiah received:
"Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:4-5). Jeremiah’s re-action was to make excuses to God as to why he could not fulfil that call. God’s response was: "Then the Lord put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me: “Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms, To root out and to pull down, To destroy and to throw down, To build and to plant”(Jeremiah 1:9-10; see also Jeremiah 31:28).
I then saw that there is a principle in these verses that applies to each of the five-fold ministries, but manifested in a unique and different way one from the other. We will look at just two: prophet and apostle.
THE MINISTRY OF A PROPHET
In these verses from Jeremiah one, God was speaking to Jeremiah of the function of the ministry of a prophet. He carries God’s word(s) to establish the purposes of God. To do that he has the unenviable task:
- To root out (from the Hebrew word “nathash” meaning “to tear up, to pluck up a plant” – Wilson’s; “to tear away:- destroy, forsake, pluck out or up, by the roots, pull up, root out or up, utterly” – Strong’s) and to pull down (from the Hebrew word “nathats” meaning “to break down, demolish” – Wilson’s; “to tear down:- beat down, break down or out, cast down, destroy, overthrow, pull down, throw down” – Strong’s).
- To destroy (from the Hebrew word “’abad” meaning “to perish, to be destroyed; to cause to perish, to destroy, or disperse; place of destruction” – Wilson’s; “to wander away, i.e. lose oneself; to perish:- break, destroy or destruction; not escape, fail, lose, cause to or make perish; be undone utterly, be void of, have no way to flee” – Strong’s) and to throw down (from the Hebrew word “harac” meaning “to pull or tear down, to destroy, e.g. a wall, building, city, state, or kingdom” – Wilson’s; “to pull down or in pieces, break, destroy:- beat down, break down or through, destroy, overthrow, pluck down, pull down, ruin, throw down utterly” – Strong’s).
- To build (from the Hebrew word “Banah” meaning “to build or repair a house or town, with an accusative of the material, and of the place; with an accusative of the person, to build a house for anyone, to cause him to prosper; it also applies to having offspring and descendants; to begin to build; to be advanced in honour and wealthy; to be enlarged in knowledge; teachers are called builders for the same reason” – Wilson’s; “to build literally and figuratively:- begin to build; obtain children, make, repair, set up surely” – Strong’s) and to plant (from the Hebrew word “nata“ meaning “to plant, set with plants; to plant, settle, establish a people; to drive in a nail; to set up an image, to pitch or erect a tent, from the driving in of the tent pins, hence applied to the tent of heaven; a place planted” – Wilson’s; “to strike in, i.e. fix; to plant; fastened” – Strong’s).
From this we see the role of a prophet and his/her ministry to the people of God. The true prophet gifting hears from God and comes with “the word of the Lord.” He carries an authority to bring about change so that God’s people (individuals and groupings) are able to enter into God’s fuller purposes for their lives. The prophet ministry is all about changing hearts, mind-sets and attitudes towards God and His will. It is about releasing people to fulfil their God-given destiny. Before real change can take place there has to be “a rooting out” of what is presently within and “a pulling down” of those things that hinder us from progressing on in the purposes of God. The language here is strong in that “rooting out” speaks of one taking authority over something that is deeply rooted, resistant to change, and resisting the experience of being subjected to a greater power! “Pulling down” is the same. There are strongholds – religious and otherwise – that “take up residence” in our lives and cause us to settle for “second best,” thus weakening our witness, calling, and authority in God. It takes a ministry gift functioning in the supernatural power of God to dislodge and break down these barriers and walls. And because we do not naturally enjoy change, there is often a strong resistance to that “rooting out” and “pulling down” process. (Preaching and teaching alone does not break these strongholds.)
After those hindrances are “rooted out” and “pulled down,” then the prophet ministry is able to “destroy” and “throw down” those things that have blocked us from hearing the voice of God, doing the will of God, being free of the fear of man, etc. Once the strongholds and mind-sets are “destroyed,” the prophet’s real ministry is able to come to the fore: that of “to build” and “to plant.” To effectively “build and to plant” upon a prophetic foundation, the “old” has to be first “rooted out, pulled down, and destroyed.” Prophetic revelation cannot be planted and built upon a man-made, religious philosophy, and expect to survive and thrive. It is totally different. It is building from God’s perspective and not man’s.
Is it any wonder that Jeremiah tried to avoid such a call? It is not a popular ministry to challenge the status quo and mind-sets of the prevailing environment. We are taught to “not rock the boat . . . don’t question or challenge leaders decisions . . . conform to the vision . . . get into line (come into submission) . . . lay down your vision for the vision of the leader or church,” etc. . . . and on and on it goes. And, often, at the end of doing all that, we have become a people who are “placid receivers,” with no God-direction and God-purpose as to how we can be effective in building the Kingdom of God.
Rejection and ridicule is often the lot of a prophet. He can speak forth the truth from the heart of God, and be laughed and scoffed at. His words can be ignored – and he then has to watch the tragic consequences that happen to those who ignore “the word of the Lord” he brings. As a result of these things the prophet’s life can often be a lonely one. He is the butt of rumours and regarded as being “way off” or “way out” because he has challenged “the programme” or the religious traditions of men.
In Acts 21:11 we see that a prophet called Agabus included prophetic acts with his pronouncement concerning the Apostle Paul.
THE MINISTRY OF AN APOSTLE
An apostle is one who is “sent forth.” He is a pioneer of the plans and purposes of God, in that he is sent forth to establish a work of God where there was none previously. He is a “spear-head ministry,” who has an authority in God to break through the existing anti-God strongholds and set up a work of the Holy Spirit to the glory of God. Apostles and prophets – together with Jesus Christ – are the foundational pillars of the New Testament Church:
“Having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:20-22).
Any foundation that is built without the impartation of these ministry gifts is a faulty foundation. It will not stand the test of time. It may last for many years, but it will not last throughout time and into eternity!
The ministry of an apostle “roots out” and “pulls down” enemy strongholds that have caused the people to be blinded to the truth of the Gospel. He demonstrates the power of God with signs, wonders and miracles. Paul, who as Saul had an amazing encounter with God on the road to Damascus, was called of God to be an apostle:
“Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the Gospel of God which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead. Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:1-6).
Paul had a supernatural and life-changing encounter with God that he was never the same again (see Acts 9, 22 & 26). From that time he proclaimed the power of the risen Christ wherever he went, and upset the devil and religious people second only to Jesus Christ.
- We cannot come to maturity without recognizing the five-fold ministry gifts of Ephesians 4:11 – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (they are a team)! Their purpose and function is for “the equipping of the saints for the work of the 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 (“mature”) man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children (immature), tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine (“teaching”), by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up (mature) in all things into Him who is the head – Christ – from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:11-16, NKJV).
Notice the positive and powerful affect these five-fold ministries have when they are allowed to function. To effectively function they have to be recognized enough to be able to be free to fulfil their calling and office. The purpose and impact of their ministries is recorded in the following Scriptural statements:
- “For the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry.” Without the input and impact of the five-fold ministries we will never be fully equipped for the work of the ministry!
- “For the edifying of the body of Christ.” The five-fold ministries build up the body in a supernatural way through their functioning by revelation of the Holy Spirit. Holy Spirit revelation always builds up and encourages the body to rise to greater heights in God.
- “Till we all come to the unity of the faith.” The five-fold ministries carry the New Covenant revelation of Jesus Christ and, in their respective ways, they proclaim and teach that revelation which then brings about the unity of the faith. “The faith” is the principles upon which New Testament/Covenant Christianity is based and built upon.
- Till we all come to . . . “the knowledge of the Son of God.” In Jesus Christ (the Son of God) we have the fullness of the revelation of the truth of God. This knowledge is revealed to the born-again, Holy Spirit-filled believers by the Holy Spirit inspiring both the written and spoken word of God to our hearts and lives – opening our spiritual eyes to see, hear and know the truth. This is revelation knowledge – not intellectual knowledge.
- Till we all come . . . “to a perfect man.” Perfection is completion, maturity. As we discern and receive the revelation gifts of the five-fold ministries we come to a maturity in Christ we have never known or experienced before.
- Till we all come . . . “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” There is no way we can experience this without coming to a place of maturity.
- “That we no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine.” Children are immature adults. They are still wonderful human beings – yet we all know that they need to eventually grow up and become mature adults. If they don’t, then we class them as being “backward” in some way. Children cannot handle the knowledge and responsibilities that go with that knowledge that mature adults can. As long as we are “spiritual children” we are also “spiritually immature.” And spiritually immature people are prone to be “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of teaching.” Children tend to live for the “moment,” whereas mature adults have a greater understanding of what life is about, the understanding that what we sow today will reap a harvest tomorrow, etc. Maturity causes us to develop vision and purpose through our having a sense of destiny, and knowing where we are going in God. This is all greatly helped by the input of the five-fold ministries.
- That we should no longer be tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine “by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting.” The world today is full of the trickery of men; none more so than that which is taught in the religious world. It robs us of the revelation knowledge of God, without which we can never come to spiritual maturity.
- That we should come to the place of “speaking the truth in love . . . and may grow up in all things into Him who is the Head – Christ.” The five-fold ministries should be immersed in the true love of God as they impart the truth of the revelation of God they have received. It causes us to grow up, to mature.
- It is in Jesus Christ, our Wonderful and Glorious Head of the Church, “from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part supplies.” How does this “transference” of that which God has placed in Christ Jesus become a living reality in our lives, to the point that we all, individually and collectively, are doing our share in the building of this Glorious Body of Christ? It is through the five-fold ministries bringing the revelation of Jesus Christ to us through the anointing of the Holy Spirit working through their respective giftings. Where there are no five-fold ministries functioning, then there will always be lack in the body. And, unless all the five-fold ministries are allowed to function, then there will always be some “deficiencies” in the body that will not allow it to come to full maturity. This makes the place and function of the five-fold ministries very important indeed.
- Putting all these things together, the over-all fruit and “results” produced by the five-fold ministries is that they “cause growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” Every Christian should long to see the body growing in a healthy manner because it is being fed the proper diet (as recommended by the Head of the Church – Jesus). The five-fold ministries are “feeders” of the body of Christ so the body of Christ can “grow up into a mature man” to the glory of the Lord – and the amazement of the world looking on.
Now, to get really personal: If you were to ask most Christians today how they would recognize one of the five-fold ministry giftings within their midst, they could not tell you. And, tragically, many Christian leaders could not tell you either. This reveals a huge need for us to seek to understand and recognize that which God has given for the building up of His Church – that comes through the five-fold ministries “unlocking” God’s people; first to get us into the Kingdom of God, and secondly to make us into effective members of that Kingdom so that every one of us are producing fruit to the glory of God. “Every joint supplying.”
- We cannot come to maturity without the operation of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit! They are part of our maturing process. Spiritual Gifts (also known as “the manifestation of the Spirit”) are given to each one of us “for the profit of all” (1 Corinthians 12:7). The word “profit” is from the Greek word “sumphero” meaning “to bear together, advantage” – Young’s; “to bear together (contribute); advantage:- be better for, bring together, be expedient for, be good, be profitable” – Strong’s. The following three verses tell us what that manifestation of the Spirit is – the nine Spiritual Gifts! Each of these gifts benefit, or advantage the body of Christ in a positive and uplifting way. They encourage us by the Holy Spirit working through individual believers stepping out – speaking out – in obedience to the voice of the Holy Spirit. The fruit of Holy Spirit ministry is that believers are “edified, exhorted and comforted” (1 Corinthians 14:1-5). They are for the purpose “that the church may receive edification” (verse 5). Our “profiting” comes “by revelation, by knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching” (1 Corinthians 14:6). This is what happens when a church or body of believers allow the prophetic ministry to flow in their midst. This is also confirmed in verse 26, where it says: “How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.”
It is interesting to note that the Apostle Paul, in teaching us on the place of Spiritual Gifts and the body being able to freely function, that he makes this statement: “Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature” (1 Corinthians 14:20). If there is an area that is often misunderstood in Christianity, it is in this area we call the prophetic. So many do not understand it – and because they do not understand they criticize, then make fun of, and reject it. They do this to their own loss. Others reject because of the “bad examples” of those ministering in the prophetic without love and accountability.
Rodney W. Francis founded "The Gospel Faith Messenger" Ministry in April 1964, which is mainly a literature ministry providing salvation, healing and follow-up materials to help people find Christ and get established in the Christian faith. It also provides 6-7 days "Prophetic Equipping Schools" (PES), formerly called "International Training Schools", and a "School Of The Holy Spirit". Rodney and his wife Jean have pastored in the Elim Churches of NZ for many years, and in 1999 they went full time with GFM Ministry and have ministered to thousands of people world-wide who are eager to know more of the power of the Prophetic Ministry and the operation of Spiritual Gifts. They currently live in Paraparaumu on the Kapiti Coast in New Zealand.
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