THE WORK OF PERFECTING
What is the perfecting work that the apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherds and teachers are doing? It is to perfect the saints to do the same work as they themselves are doing. A basketball coach trains the players to play basketball as he does. If the perfecters fly like angels, they must not perfect the saints to creep like snakes! The fliers must perfect all those under them to fly also! The young ones must fly even higher than their perfecters. The outcome of this perfecting work is that all the saints become apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherds and teachers.
You may not be an apostle yet, but you should have the boldness to say, “I’m an apostle-to-be”! I am presenting to you what is in the Bible. We wear the tinted glasses of Christianity when we come to the Bible. Ministers and pastors are esteemed above ordinary believers. Seeing this causes us to think that the gifted ones in Ephesians 4:11 are special ones and that we are insignificant nobodies. Even among us today there is the concept that the apostle is above the elder and that the elder is higher than the other saints. When we come to the Bible, we bring this concept and insert it into the Bible. Because we do not come to find out the revelation from the Bible, there is no light.
ALL ON ONE LEVEL
We say that among us there is no clergy or laity. Yet we rank some above others. If we say that the gifted ones in Ephesians 4:11 are higher, then we are making ourselves lower. This means there are two levels, and a hierarchy exists. How can we have only one level? This will be the case when the apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers have perfected the other saints to be the same as they. The perfecting will uplift the saints to be all on one level.
Suppose, among the five hundred or so that are in this meeting, only fourteen are apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers. All the rest are humble, claiming not to know anything nor to be able to do anything. The fourteen are then the clergy; the rest are nobodies. This is Christianity’s fallen situation. The normal condition would be for the fourteen not to remain in a special rank, but day by day to uplift all the others, perfecting them till all of them are on the same level.
It may sound humble to say that you do not know anything and cannot do anything, but you have to be practical. You have to grow and be trained and practice until you are an apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd, teacher.
Do you believe that these categories of people are all distinct from each other? Can the prophet be an evangelist? Can the evangelist be an apostle? Consider the example of the Apostle Paul.
No doubt he was an apostle. Was he not also a prophet? In his Epistles he prophesied how the Lord Jesus would return. Does this not prove that he was a prophet? As for being an evangelist, he surely preached the gospel far more than others. How about his being a shepherd? He said he was like a nourishing mother, cherishing the churches (1 Thes. 2:7). Surely he was a shepherd, with all the churches on his heart. Lastly, he was also a teacher.
Suppose two of you are burdened to go to a village in Alaska. You leave your locality and go to an Eskimo village as sent ones. When you arrive, you begin speaking to those you meet. You speak Jesus. God. Redemption. Salvation. Regeneration. Life. When you preach the gospel, some Eskimos believe in the Lord and are baptized. They become a little church there. As you care for them and shepherd them, you will share with them about God’s economy, His eternal purpose, and His dispensation. Do you see how the two of you are apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers? Then eventually some of the Eskimo believers will be perfected. They will do the same thing as the two of you have done. They may either work in their village or be burdened to go, for example, to Moscow. In either case they would be the apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers.
(Life Messages, Vol. 2 (#42-75), Chapter 5, by Witness Lee)