APOSTLES, PROPHETS, EVANGELISTS,
SHEPHERDS AND TEACHERS
Ephesians 4:11 speaks of a group of people who are for the Body; they are God’s gifts to the church, supplying Christ for the building up of the Body. We have to pay special attention to this group of members.
The apostles are the first gift that God has appointed in the Body of Christ. They are sent by God to represent the authority of the Head and to execute God’s will on earth. Hence, in a church that is a proper testimony of the Body, all the believers should submit to the representative authority. In the Old Testament, Moses did not argue when Korah and his company repudiated Moses’ authority as God’s prophet. Instead, he referred the matter to God, who made it clear that touching the anointed of the Lord was the same as touching the Lord Himself, and that repudiating the authority of His prophet was the same as repudiating His authority. The result of such a touching and repudiation is death upon the offenders. God requires us to come directly under not only the authority of the Lord but also the authority of those who represent His authority in the Body. When the head orders the arm to move, the little finger must move with the arm. The arm illustrates representative authority. We must keep our position in the Body under the headship of Christ and under the authority of those in the Body to whom He has sovereignly given His authority. It is much easier to bow to the direct authority of God than to the authority of His representatives in the Body. Bowing to the authority of His representative takes meekness and humility. We cannot disregard God’s order with impunity, as we see in Paul’s letter to Corinth (1 Cor. 11:29-30). There is no room for individual thought or action in the Body of Christ. The Body moves under the control of the Head. Disobeying the law of the Body means weakness and death.
The prophets not only predict future events but also speak forth God’s mind. They are those who are sent by God to His people to convey His mind. The greatest prophet in the Old Testament was Elijah, not Isaiah, because most of Isaiah’s words were prophecies, whereas Elijah primarily conveyed God’s mind. When a prophet receives a revelation from the Lord, he conveys God’s mind to His people. A prophet is one who knows and declares God’s mind, whereas a person who predicts merely foretells future events. In the Body there is a special group of ministers who know God’s mind and who make it known to the Body. These ones are also the representative authority of the Head.
Evangelists make known the compassions of God in Christ, while shepherds and teachers make known God’s riches in Christ and render others the supply through these riches. Each of these ministers is a "joint of the rich supply" (Eph. 4:16). They receive life from God and communicate it to the whole Body. Many Christians say, "I am in direct communication with the Source of supply; I can get everything for myself from the Head." Such an attitude is a repudiation of the authority of the Lord, who in His sovereignty has ordained that the members would be dependent not only on Him but also on one another.
How do these "joints of the rich supply" serve the Body? They must be those who have gone through special training under the Lord’s hand and have been specially molded through the environment ordered by the Spirit; they have a history of knowing Christ. They are tried and tested and instructed by Christ, and they are qualified to transmit spiritual values. They have a secret history in tribulation, and the cross has wrought the things that they minister to the Body into them.
(The Mystery of Christ, Chapter 8, by Watchman Nee)