To Equip the Saints (Ephesians 4:11-16)
Topic: One Body: You Shall Be My People Passage: Ephesians 4:11–16
I. Called and Conformed
Here's a simply summary of the two studies from Mark's Gospel with which we began this series: when Jesus carried out “the work of ministry”, his work was to both call and conform individuals to himself. Or we might say, he both drew in and built up. People were redeemed and remade. He offered belonging, but also becoming. Or as later writers in the New Testament (NT) might express, men and women were justified and sanctified. Remember, “the work of ministry” is one way to describe why Jesus came into our world. The message he announced, the change he prescribed, the hope he offered, the teaching and time he gave to his disciples, all of it was ultimately and eternally empowered by his death and resurrection.
So why emphasize the fact Jesus's work was to both call and conform? Because “the work of ministry”, this disciple-making work, continues today with these two aspects, inside and outside the church. This morning I'd like to focus on that second aspect of the work. But how does the church help those called to Christ become conformed to Christ? Let me suggest that the most common approach for doing this looks back to what Jesus did with the Twelve and builds on the reality that some were “appointed'. We know the Son was appointed by the Father to do “the work of ministry”, and he in turn appointed these men “to do the work of ministry”. Furthermore, they would also go on to appoint others (e.g..,evangelists and elders) to carry on the same work.
Now in this common model those within the church who are appointed for “the work of ministry” are, in general, appointed to minister to the spiritual needs of the non-appointed within the church. In turn, the non-appointed within the church tackle all sorts of other, important, God-glorifying, practical needs: things like setting up chairs, passing out bulletins, caring for babies, providing meals, offering hospitality, etc.; and all this in addition to faithful attendance, prayer, and financial support. And this is often the paradigm through which spiritual gifts are understood. The appointed are gifted to do these kinds of things, and the non-appointed are gifted do these other kinds of things. But again, in this model, in general, when it comes to “the work of ministry” in which Jesus engaged, the appointed are those who give, while the non-appointed receive.
And that brings us to a clear-cut and critical question: is this 'appointed/non-appointed' model supported by Scripture? The answer... is yes and no. Look with me at Ephesians 4:11-16.
II. The Passage: “The Work of Ministry” (3:13-15)
Listen to how the Apostle Paul describes God's model for continuing the work Jesus began...
And he [i.e., Jesus] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,  to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,  until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,  so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.  Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,  from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
So the first thing we need to establish is that “the work of ministry” mentioned here corresponds to what Jesus was doing. The clearest confirmation of that correspondence is found in verse 13, where “the work of ministry” is specifically described as resulting in Christ-like maturity. Isn't that the goal of discipleship, of disciple-making? That's what Jesus was doing with his first disciples during his earthly ministry. Jesus' work was to both call and conform those disciples to himself.
The second thing we should acknowledge in this passage is that some truly are appointed by Christ for a special role in “the work of ministry”. The offices listed in verse 11 are “ apostles... prophets... evangelists... and shepherds [pastors] and teachers [or shepherd/teachers]”. It's clear from this context, and many, many other places in the NT, that these roles or offices are vital to the continuation of the work Jesus began and empowered through his finished work.
What may be surprising to some is the fact that, third, these special appointments are not described here as carrying out “the work of ministry” (although I think they are), but as we clearly read in v. 12, these offices simply equip “the saints for the work of ministry”. From 1:1 onward, it's obvious that the title “saints” (9x)('holy ones') refers to every believer, every disciple of Jesus. So “the work of ministry” is not simply the 'non-appointed' receiving from the appointed. No. The 'non-appointed' receive from the appointed in order to carry out “the work of ministry” themselves. So in light of this passage, I think it's right say that every part of the body of Christ has been appointed “for the work of ministry”; and specifically in this passage, appointed to help one another spiritually mature, and become more and more like Jesus.
So does this passage support the idea of what's called a clergy-laity distinction? Yes. But it's far less distinct than centuries of church history have led us to believe. It's more accurate to say that the NT's clergy-laity distinction is meant to highlight a fundamental clergy-laity dynamic.
Can we find that dynamic in other passages? Absolutely. For example, flip or scroll forward to Colossians 1. Though Paul never uses the language of discipleship or disciple-making, it's clear in v. 28 that he's talking about that same calling and conforming mission: “Him we proclaim, warning [lit. admonishing] everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” Now keep that language in mind and move two chapters forward to 3:16. Look at how Paul instructs these saints: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom...” So the Christ-centered word that Paul proclaimed (according to 1:28) is the same word that should continue to richly dwell in his readers, and should also be linked to their teaching and admonishing ministry, just like Paul.
Those verses from Colossians also confirm what our main text in Ephesians makes clear, that, fourth, “the work of ministry” is a word-centered ministry. As I said before, meeting practical needs within the church, along with mercy/benevolent ministries, are important, God-glorifying avenues of service. They can and should support and complement and beautify and be vehicles for “the work of ministry”, but they are not “the work of ministry”. The “work of ministry” is the ministry of God's word through every disciple of Jesus. Remember the language in Colossians: “proclaim”, “teaching”, “warning” (or “admonishing”). And in our main text in Ephesians 4, these are summed in v. 15 simply as “speaking the truth in love”. When you combine that phrase with the imagery in vs. 15-16, the imagery of lives linked together like parts of a human body, I can't think of a better phrase to describe what Jesus himself was doing when he labored relationally to both call individuals to himself and conform individuals to himself. “...speaking the truth in love...”. Again, the glowing center of this “truth” we're called to speak in love is the word Paul... proclaimed (Colossians 1:28), the word which should dwell richly in the Colossians, or as Paul already reminded the Ephesians in 1:13, it's “the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation”.
So we might want to ask at this point, “If this word-centered work of ministry doesn't belong to a special group within the church, but to the whole church, to every disciple, then how exactly are the saints equipped for this glorious work?” Well, notice that every office listed in v. 11 is said “to equip the saints for the work of ministry”. Keeping that in mind, 2:20 is helpful in reminding us that “the apostles and prophets” equip the church like the foundation of a building. How were they foundational? Because they bore firsthand witness to the risen Jesus. And the evangelists? They took that witness far and wide as they proclaimed the Good News. And the shepherd-teachers? They helped those who believed grow in their knowledge and application of that very gospel. So not surprisingly, God's people are equipped by faithful pastor-teachers with the gospel-informed word of God, in order that they might minister in love with that same word.
III. Spiritually Investing
But when we look around today, have the saints been equipped? Has the church, has our church, been unleashed to be what God designed her to be? Is “the work of ministry” squarely in the hands of God's people... all of God's people? Is every believer engaged in deliberate word-centered ministry, a ministry of disciple-making? Does every disciple understand their calling to be like Jesus in this way, and to take their cues from how Jesus made disciples? Or... do we still lean toward that 'appointed'/'non-appointed' approach (what is often an active/passive model)? Do we still think and talk and walk as if word-centered, disciple-making ministry was something only the gifted do? Are some gifted as teachers and evangelists? Yes! But as with all the gifts, those gifted are meant to inspire and lead all of us as we participate in “the work of ministry”.
But what do I mean when I say “disciple-making”? I know for a fact that many “saints” have a hard time believing they can personally make disciples mainly because they understand disciple-making to be something highly specialized and practically beyond them. But I would ask you to rethink the issue in light of this definition: disciple-making is spiritually investing in others with an eye toward their wholeness in Christ. That's it. Isn't that what we see here in Ephesians 4? When you consider the context, isn't that what “speaking the truth in love” really means? Isn't this what all of us need, both receiving and making this kind of spiritual investment?
Imagine what would happen in and through a church in which every single believer is blessing and being blessed in precisely these kinds of ways. We know happens: church growth. The last verse of our passage states this clearly: “the body grow[s] so that it builds itself up in love.”
So... brothers and sisters, how do we move in this direction? The first thing we do is pray. Let me suggest two vision-infused prayers: first, pray specifically for the wisdom, the heart, the focus, and the perseverance of our leaders, that we would grow as equippers. Second, pray for your heart and the hearts of God's people, that this biblical vision would be fully embraced and each disciple would be eager to learn and practice this kind of spiritual investing. And under-neath all these prayers, pray that we would treasure Jesus. That our vision of Him would be renewed. That we would daily marinate in the beauty of His gospel, and daily strive to hear his voice more clearly. And as we do that, may our motivation for this ministry, for “the work of ministry”, always be to please Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father. Without that, “the work of ministry” distorts into nothing more than a religious burden or a merit-earning ladder to God. But when we disciple others as daily disciples of Jesus himself, we receive from him what others need from us. We are being conformed to our Lord. We find strength in our weakness. And we are setting before our eyes of faith that glorious picture of true, spiritual maturity... based on (v. 13) the “measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”. So pray for those of us who are leaders, and pray for yourself and your brothers and sisters, that the spiritual investment of Jesus Christ in our lives would so rich, any fear or anxiety or distraction or selfishness would would be eclipsed by a deep, deep desire to honor him and become like him, in every way.
More in The Work of Ministry
September 10, 2023How Jesus Made Disciples (Mark 3:13-15)
September 3, 2023Answering the Radical Call of Christ (Mark 1:14-20)