Paul does not rank grace-gifts or the people who receive them.
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Ranking grace-gifts or the people who receive them is against everything Paul taught. Paul had to constantly emphasize Body-of-Christ Ministry to defend against these “one-man show ball-hogging leader-types” that want to control any group of people, even the Church. Despite poor translations, Paul certainly isn’t ranking grace-gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:4-28, 31: “Now there are varieties of grace-gifts (a) . . . varieties of services / ministerings (b) . . . varieties of effectual workings (c) . . . to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the sumphero coming-together-for-common-benefit . . . All these are effectually worked/accomplished by one and the same Spirit, who distributes (d) to each one individually as He will. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ . . . ALL were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body absolutely in fact does not consist of one member but of many. . . .If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as He chose . . .As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. . . . the parts of the body that we think less honorable we actually bestow the greater honor . . . But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. . . . Now you are the Body-of-Christ and individually members of/belonging to it. And God has set in place (e) in the church one apostles, two prophets, three teachers, then next [in time] enabling-powers (f), then next [in time] grace-endowments of healings, helps (g), governering / administrastions (h), various kinds of [supernatural] tongues . . . earnestly desire the more kreitton useful/serviceable/helpful grace-gifts.” The translations of kreitton as “better, best, greater, greatest, higher, highest, more important” in many bibles are certainly misleading because 1 Peter 4:10-11 speaks of the correct emphasis: “Using the grace-gift EACH has received to serve reciprocally one another.” Notice that God takes credit for the entire process into us (a), through us (b), and into others (c). Ranking would create division, would go against symphonic gathering for usefulness, against equal care, and against equal importance! <Notes> a) into us individually, b) through us toward others, c) accomplished in others’ lives as a result of the ‘services’ through us, d) diaireo: apportions or divides as done by a superior, e) tithemi, cf. proistemi, f) dunamis: Spirit-power demonstrations like miracles, g) those who fittingly take hold of the real needs of others, h) pilots or steers the ship.
Paul uses Greek numbers “one, two, three,” not ranks “first, second, third,” followed by the connector epeita “then” that literally means “on to” (epi) + “next or after” (eita), so “on to the next.” Paul used this connector to simply say “on to the next in time” (a), as does all other NT writers such as Jesus, Mark, and John (b). Because of the linear-time aspect, the “one, two, three” may actually also be “in time” for certainly the apostles came first in time, then prophets arose in the church, and then didaskalos teachers, but then came “signs & wonders” miracle-workers (c), and finally in time came miraculous grace-gifts of healing. Who knows if Paul was trying to be exact with this time sequence, but it looks pretty close. Notice that Paul no longer uses this time-connector epeita, but lists the other grace-gifts, which is actually a very small list compared to others he gave elsewhere. He is just trying to make this point in v. 12:31: “Not all are apostles . . . prophets . . . teachers . . . miracle-workers . . . healers . . . tongue-speakers . . . all tongue-interpreters (he threw that into his previous list), are they?” Notice that “evangelists and shepherds/pastors” are not in this list in the 3rd and 4th positions as Ephesians 4:11 has, and many scholars rightfully see “shepherd-teachers” there to be one group as all elders/bishops/shepherds were expected to teach. <Notes> a) 1 Corinthians 15:5, 7, 24; 1 Timothy 2:13, 3:10, b) Mark 4:28, 8:25; Luke 8:12; John 13:5, 19:27, 20:27, c) by the apostles: Acts 2:43, 4:30, 5:12, 2 Corinthians 12:12; then a Stephen: Acts 6:8; then Paul & Barnabas: Acts 15:12, 19, and later to others: Hebrews 2:4 as grace-gifts to the Body-of-Christ.
We know these aren’t rankings of people or offices because Paul reproduces a similar list in Ephesians 4:8-12 without any numbers: “Christ gave [to the Church] grace-endowments to men . . . He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the poimen shepherds and/coupled didaskalos teachers: to equip (coach & facilitate) the saints (consecrated ‘holy ones’) for the work of ministry for building up the Body-of-Christ.” This will be addressed in more detail concerning teachers. But notice that Paul adds more Christ-given grace-gifts, because here he is focusing on those that deal with coaching and facilitating the congregations to actually be the “ministers.” They are not the “ministers,” but only the “equippers.” The bass-akwards mentality of today’s churches, where the coaches and conductors are trying to be the players on the field or in the symphony is a key problem contributing to The Great Wall quenching the Holy Spirit – see also Body-of-Christ ministry.
We know from other such lists, that none of Paul lists are complete or ranked, so in 1 Corinthians 12:28 Paul is simply providing numbering that he could have continued, but characteristically used another connector “on to the next in time”, and then finally left out all connectors entirely to save paper & ink and to keep the sentences shorter – they are normally too long as it is! Ranking would go against everything Paul believed, for God has no favorites and is completely impartial (a), so neither should we consider others more “special” than others, lest we sin (b). Again, the emphasis is absolutely not on the individual, position, office, or title, but to “earnestly desire the more kreitton useful/serviceable/helpful grace-gifts.” The emphasis is always on the Body and the Spirit’s giving of grace-gifts to it to praxis function in symphony for more benefit to all. Again, the translations “better, best, greater, greatest, higher, highest, more important” are certainly misleading. Remember that “using the grace-gift EACH has received to serve one another” is also the point of 1 Peter 4:10-11. <Notes> a) Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11; Galatians 2:6; Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 3:25, b) 1 Timothy 5:21; cf. James 2:1, 9; Jude 1:16.
The people who preach that Ephesians 4:11 teaches a “5-fold ministry” obviously don’t know Greek or have compared Paul’s other lists. First, they would have to more accurately say “5-fold equippers” because the “ministry” is actually done by all the saints. The coaches and facilitators are not the players on the team! Second, the definite article translated “the” only pertains to 4 groups of grace-gifts or praxis functions per Romans 12:4 – they aren’t even 4 groups of people! We see many cases of the same person at different times described as apostles, evangelist, prophet, teacher, and elder! We also know this is the case because the conjunction kai couples related items together and is never used to simply add items to a list – the conjunction de does that! Kai is often used for emphasis, such as “even or that is.” The 4th group is therefore more likely: “the poimen shepherds that are teachers.” We see throughout Paul’s writings that elders, overseers/bishops, and shepherds were 1 group of men who were required to teach.
We can also see from 1 Peter 5:2 that these men were simply “bishop-overseers (a) pastor-shepherding (b) the flock of sheep (c).” Paul sent a letter to the “Elders (d) of the church in Ephesus to . . . pay cautious attention to yourselves and to all the flock of sheep (c) in/by/with the Spirit who made you bishop-overseers (a) to pastor-shepherd (e) the Church of God” (f). So you can see that elders were shepherds, who were overseers! These are just different words describing different praxis functions of the same group of people! <Notes> a) episkopos, b) poimaino, c) poimnion, d) presbuteros, e) poimano – the only use of this noun for a Christian shepherd, f) Acts 20:17, 28.
And now we can see the relationship to teaching: The “bishop-overseer must be . . . able to teach” (a), “able by sound teaching/doctrine both to exhort and to convince/rebuke contradictors” (b). They are the “Lord’s servant able to teach” (c) and the same as the “faithful men able to teach” (d). These are not deacons (e). Once again, the Catholic Church and others who try to distinguish between bishop-overseers, shepherd-pastors, and elders simply don’t know their bible or even the earliest Church writings. Furthermore, “teachers” were not as much a separate group of a “5-fold ministry” but were simply a grace-gift or “praxis function” (f) of the 4th group that functioned primarily as “elder-shepherd-overseers.” <Notes> a) 1 Timothy 3:2, b) Titus 1:9, c) 2 Timothy 2:24, d) 2 Timothy 2:2, e) Philippians 1:1, f) Romans 12:4.
Finally, ranking would be against everything the NT teaches about the impartiality of God/Christ that we are to emulate lest we sin (a), especially because charis grace is “unearned, unmerited, unconditional-favor” by definition and thus not based on our own natural talents (b) so that none of us will be able to boast (c). <Notes> a) Luke 20:21; Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11; Galatians 2:6; Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 3:25; 1 Timothy 5:21; James 2:1, 9; cf. Jude 1:16, b) Roman 11:6, c) 1 Corinthians 1:29, 13:4; Ephesians 2:9.
A hierarchy of people or offices was never intended for the Church, but that instead we should “earnestly seek the more kreitton useful, serviceable, helpful grace-endownments” (a). The translations “higher or greater” are extremely misleading and negate the definition and contextual use of this word! All of the Spirit’s grace-gifts are to be earnestly desired (b), but especially that you may prophesy, and certainly not forbid anyone from speaking in tongues (c). Surely ALL the work of the ministry by the saints builds up the Body-of-Christ (d), building itself up in unconditional-love (e), but prophecy speaks directly to people for their upbuilding, encouragement, and consolation (f), whereas speaking in tongues is directed to God and not men and unless interpreted can’t benefit others. See the Body-of-Christ Ministry page. <Notes> a) 1 Corinthians 12:31, b) zeloo: be zealous for, c) 1 Corinthians 14:1, 39, d) Ephesians 4:12, e) Ephesians 4:16, f) 1 Corinthians 14:3.
1 Corinthians 14:5 “The [singular] prophesying is greater (a) than the [singular] speaking in tongues” sounds like ranking but again the context is focusing on functioning grace-gifts, not the people doing them. So although Paul wants them all to speak in tongues, he wants them even more so to prophecy. He thanks God that he speaks in tongues more than them all, has determined to proseuchomai conversationally-pray and sing in tongues along with proseuchomai conversationally-praying with his mind’s understanding, and thus warns Christians not to forbid tongues, but just to “go for the gold” – the more useful grace-gift of prophecy (b). This is saying that every Christian should speak in tongues, because it’s primarily a prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord, but also that every Christian should prophecy! Prophecy is the only promised grace-gift for every servant of God during the Church age that is mentioned in Acts 2:17-19, 33, 39! It’s very disturbing to see how many churches try to get around the clear teaching of these very important grace-gifts of the Spirit. The common emphasis of ALL the Spirit’s grace-gifts is to “to serve one another” (c). <Notes> a) meizon, b) 1 Corinthian 14:2-5, 14-15, 17-18, 39, c) 1 Peter 4:10-11.
None of this has to do with being the “big kahuna” that “calls the shots!” In fact, one person can receive many grace-gifts ‘into them,’ and many grace-services ‘through them’ to have many grace-effects ‘in the lives of others,’ relying on the occasion and the ministry of the Spirit at that time. For example, Paul says he was set into place as an apostle (a), as an evangelist-preacher (b), as a teacher (c), but he is also listed with the prophets of Antioch (d). Titus, Paul’s partner and fellow worker (e) and travelling companion (f), evangelizes/preaches but also teaches (g), is an alongside-counselor/adviser/encourager as a refreshment to others (h), and an earnest proistemi managing-caregiver (i). Paul also leaves him as an administrator to set/place down (kata + histemi) fellow elders (j). Timothy was an evangelist-preacher (k), yet he was also to be devoted to charging, urging, invoking (likely: of the Spirit), and teaching sound doctrine (l). One person can “wear many hats” as the Spirit directs! It is absurd to try ranking the grace-gifts or the people that God uses, because this goes against everything Body-of-Christ ministry is described as. <Notes> a) 1 Timothy 2:7; 2 Timothy 1:11; Romans 1:1; 1 Corinthians 1:1, 15:9, b) 1 Timothy 2:7; 2 Timothy 1:11, c) 1 Timothy 2:7; 2 Timothy 1:11, Acts 13:1, d) Acts 13:1, e) 2 Corinthians 8:23, f) Galatians 2:1, g) 1 Timothy 3:2, 5:17; Titus 2:1, 7-8, h) 2 Corinthians 7:6, 13, i) proistemi: 2 Corinthians 8:16, j) Titus 1:5, k) 1 Timothy 4:14, 6:20; 2 Timothy 1:6, 14, 4:5, l) 1 Timothy 4:11, 13, 16, 6:2-3.
As Christian musicians, are we going to fall into the historical errors of the Catholic Church and later Protestant churches in attempting to rank certain gifts over others, when the NT doesn’t support this, and it violates the impartial nature of God and clear instruction to treat others the same way? Are we going to miss the emphasis to work like a symphony together, serving one another, for greater common benefit? Are we going to get caught up in organizational divisions or focus on communal fellowship? Are we going to perpetuate the fallacy of “4 or 5-fold ministry” when ALL the saints do the work of ministry? Are we still going to think that the “equippers” are the “ministers” when they are just coaches and facilitators? Are we confusing the conductors with the musicians and the coaches with the football players? Are we going to keep insisting that presbyteros elders, poimen shepherds/pastors, episkopos overseers/bishops, and didaskalos teachers were separate office/positions/titles when in the NT early Church they were simply different praxis functioning grace-gifts of the same group of men?