“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:”
Ephesians 4:11-13 KJV
Every homeowner knows how overwhelming it can be to equip his or her home with appliances and features that will meet the needs of their family. Some criteria in finding the right features, apart from affordability, are things such as appearance, ease of use and power or practicality. The Lord has provided the church with His Holy Spirit in order to equip God’s dwelling place on earth with similar features.
In the this series, we are looking at what are the responsibilities given to the church. It is noted that there are three main areas that the Holy Spirit gives us in the Scriptures. These are to Glorify or Elevate God, To Equip the saints and to Evangelize or preach the gospel. These three areas roughly correspond to the same criteria that we use when furnishing our households.
In the last post, we saw that the first responsibility of the church is to glorify God. We discovered that glorifying God means that we focus on who God is rather than what He does for us. We also looked at scriptures that show at least seven ways in which the church is able to glorify God.
In this post, we want to look at the responsibility that the church is given. That is to equip the saints.
Happy Wife, Happy Life
Working on this time tested principle, most homes are decorated primarily according to the woman’s preferences. Furnishings are chosen depending upon an agreed upon (or submitted to) style that reflects the character of the family. Some will prefer a more modern style and some will prefer a more traditional style such as victorian or ‘farmhouse chic’, etc. Anyone coming into the home will be able to quickly discover the things that this couple appreciates and feels most comfortable with.
Without a natural affinity for or some training in decorating principles, the means of equipping the home often involves a process of trial and error. In many cases, in order to successfully equip the home in a way that meets the needs of all of its members, some professional help is needed to blend preferences and coordinate the elements needed to achieve the desired style and functions. Some television channels are dedicated entirely to showing that whole process.
Some years ago, my wife and I built a home together that had a lot of nice features. While attempting to furnish it however, we found ourselves buying pieces of furniture that we liked but when brought into the home didn’t seem to work well together. We finally decided that it was best to hire a designer.
There was a local furniture store that provided free design services if you bought furniture over a certain price point. The result was truly transformative.
Rather than buying and selling furniture that was nice but didn’t work for us, we were able to buy only furniture and select wall colors/decor that not only met our functional needs but also provided an aesthetic feel flowed in a very pleasing way for us.
In addition to choosing a particular style, there are functional elements to be considered. In each home there needs to be those elements that facilitate growth and help to prepare children to go out into the world. By this means, children are empowered to share talents that express the values of that home.
For instance, in addition to basic academic pursuits, some families will emphasize musical ability, some will emphasize sports, some will emphasize trade skills or any combination of these.
In any local church there is the need for a team dedicated to equipping the saints for service that not only glorifies God but ministers to the needs of others. These needs include sound, systematic, scriptural teaching that enable its members to grow in a healthy way. However, this teaching is always with a view toward using opportunities in the world for service and to promote the good news of Jesus Christ.
Although I am not a Greek language scholar, I can see that there are a couple of ways to look at the above verse. (In other words, you would be wise to check this out for yourself) First of all, I notice that there are gifted individuals listed (Apostles, prophets, pastor-teacher) and then there are the desired results of their work (‘perfecting’ or equipping; work of ministry; building up of the body of Christ).
Now it may be that these gifted individuals are linked to specific works; i.e. apostles and prophets to the equipping of the saints; evangelists for the work of ministry; and pastor-teacher for the building up of the body of Christ.
On the other hand, the Spirit of God could be teaching that the combined results of these gifted individuals working together results in the equipping of the saints. Then as the result of that equipping each Christian may be enabled to perform the work of ministry and the building up of the church.
There are some clues from the use or absence of the definite article in the original Greek language. In this instance the word ministry does not have the definite article but the phrase body of Christ does have the definite article. This is important for understanding the intended emphasis on each word.
If there was a definite article in front of the word ministry (‘diakonos‘, from which we get our word deacon), it would be emphasizing the office of the deacon. However, since there is no definite article, it appears to emphasize the broader and more inclusive work of service itself.
Likewise, if the definite article was not in front of the term body of Christ, it would appear to emphasize the nature and manifestation of Christ’s character of the local church as ‘body of Christ’. With the definite article however, it appears to emphasize the entity of the body of Christ or the church which is His Body. In other words, this is referring to the universal church that is being built up throughout the church age.
If this reasoning is sound, it would favor the understanding that these various gifted individuals were given to equip the saints throughout the church age to be able to minister in each local church and thereby enlarge the universal church.
This reasoning would also agree with the fact that the apostles were given as the foundation of the universal church (Ephesians 2:20) and their ministry ended at the death of the last apostle. It is the apostolic doctrine that provides the template by which to evaluate everything that the local church does and teaches. (Acts 2:42)
Likewise, prophetic ministry is limited to what has already been revealed by the prophets of the early church before the scriptures were complete. The final prophetic word is given by the Lord Jesus Himself in what He revealed through the Apostle John in his writing of the Revelation of Jesus Christ. The Lord finished His office as Prophet* with these emphatic words:
“For I testify unto every man that hears the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and [from] the things which are written in this book.”
Revelation 22:18-19 KJV
The ongoing gifts of evangelist and pastor-teacher are exercised in the context of what the Apostles and prophets have already revealed. So, however that you want to look at this verse, it is clear that there is much more to being a Christian than getting saved.
All Are Called to Beautify the House
We are not all called to serve in the office of deacon but we are all called to serve (minister) in accordance to our gifting. Likewise, we are not all called to serve as full time evangelists, but we are called to do the work of an evangelist (2 Timothy 4:5), declaring the gospel both in season and out of season (2 Timothy 4:2). The gift of pastor-teacher is specific to being able to take the Word of God and make it understandable to members in the local church.
There are additional gifts that God has gifted each of us with to minister to others. In 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, the Apostle Paul shows that there are diversities of gift in each local church that is to be exercised as to bring about unity (not uniformity) among believers.
He concludes this section by stating:
“And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.”
1 Corinthians 12:28 KJV
These are all to be exercised in an orderly fashion for the benefit of others (1 Corinthians 14:40) and not for the exclusive benefit of the one exercising his or her gift. (I Corinthians 14:4) Along these same lines Paul admonishes every believer to take responsibility in the following:
“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” – Ephesians 4:29 KJV
“Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: [so do].” – 1 Timothy 1:4 KJV
The conclusion of this matter of equipping the saints for the work of ministry is summed up in the following verse:
“But speaking the truth in love, (you all) may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, [even] Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplies, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, makes increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” – Ephesians 4:15-16 KJV
There are likely godly people close to you that can help you to discover how God has gifted you. It is not only important to discover your gift but also to exercise it in a way that benefits and builds up others (1 Corinthians 14:12). It is the Holy Spirit that enables each of us to fulfill what He has gifted us for, but we are also to look to those who can mentor us in the ways of God.
The House of God can be a beautiful place if it is built according to God’s design.
In the next post we will be looking at the third purpose of the church – Evangelizing the world.
*Jesus Christ is declared to have three offices of Prophet, Priest and King. At His first coming He fulfilled the office of Prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15; Revelation 22:13), He is now fulfilling His office as High Priest (Hebrews 4:14). In a coming day He will return to the earth in fulfillment of His prophetic word. This will happen when He takes His place as King (1 Timothy 6:15; Psalm 110) and Priest after the order of Melchizedek who was both a king and a priest (Hebrews 7:1).
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