Having referred in the abstract to the gifts that Jesus has given to His people, in today’s passage the apostle Paul identifies several of these gifts specifically. Actually, he does not refer to what we ordinarily consider spiritual gifts but rather spiritual offices. Yet this is not unusual, for 1 Corinthians 12:27–30 also mentions specific offices when it discusses the giftings of Christ through His Spirit to His church. In any case, the lists in these two passages, along with the lists of gifts found elsewhere in the New Testament, are representative and not comprehensive. They are given to indicate the types of blessings Christ gives to His people, not to define every grace Jesus might give to the covenant community.
Paul lists five specific offices in Ephesians 4:11 — apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. Our look at 2:19–21 discussed the apostles and prophets. As a reminder, let us note that these two groups constitute the foundation of the church laid in the first century. Since the foundation has already been established, there is no longer any need for apostles and prophets in the church today as in its earliest days. There is no longer any need for God to deliver new special revelation to His people (Heb. 1:1–4).
Evangelists are those officers who are especially gifted to proclaim the gospel persuasively and intelligibly. Although they carry out their work primarily among unbelievers, there is an ongoing need for believers to hear the message of the evangelists. Timothy, after all, was exhorted to do the work of an evangelist even though his ministry was primarily to an established church (2 Tim. 4:5). We do not lose our need for the gospel at conversion; rather, we must hear it again and again so that we might turn daily from our sin and rest on Jesus alone for forgiveness.
Shepherds (or pastors) and teachers are mentioned side by side in Ephesians 4:11 because both types of officers provide instruction. Yet while all pastors are teachers, not all teachers are pastors. Teachers and pastors alike exposit and apply Scripture to their hearers (2 Tim. 2:2), but pastors have more of a leadership role than teachers, especially in soul care. Imitating the Good Shepherd, pastors guide us through hazardous terrain to green pastures (Ps. 23:1 Peter 5:1–3).