the weblog of Alan Knox

Parable of the Subcontractors Explained

Posted by on Jan 13, 2009 in scripture, spiritual gifts | 3 comments

In the “Modern Day Parable of the Subcontractors“, the builder represents Jesus. The house represents the church. The subcontractors represent you and me. The mason represents church leaders.

Believe it or not, this parable is based in Scripture. It is built primarily on two passages with two interconnected teachings about how the church is built.

First, in Matthew 16:18, Jesus said that he would build his church. Almost everyone understands this, and very few – if anyone – would disagree that Jesus is the architect and owner of the church. He alone builds the church.

Second, in Ephesians 4:16, we learn that the church builds itself when each person does his or her task. Let’s focus on this verse, because what it teaches is contrary to how the church usually “works”.

…[F]rom whom [Christ] 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. (Ephesians 4:16 ESV)

This is the final clause of the long sentence that begins in verse 4:11. The main subject and verb of this sentence is “He gave”, speaking of Jesus.

If you were to examine the subject, verb, and direct object of the final clause (found in Ephesians 4:16 above), and remove all other modifying terms and phrases, you would find this simple sentence: “The body makes growth.”

Did you catch that? Yes, Jesus is the builder, and without him nothing is built – we’ll examine this later. But, according to Paul, it is “the body” that makes itself grow. However, there are modifying terms and phrases that we have to consider.

First, consider the prepositional phrase “from whom [Christ]” at the beginning of vs. 16. The body can only make itself grow when the body finds its source in Christ. In vs. 15, Paul says that Christ is the head of the body, and that the body should grow toward Christ. Therefore, he is both our source (from Christ) and our goal (toward Christ).

Second, consider the following terms and phrases: “whole body”, “joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped”, and “when each part is working properly”. These descriptive phrases repeat the same thing: the body grows when every part of the body is working. The body doesn’t grow when only one or two parts do their work – even if those one or two are working from Christ and toward Christ. Paul says three times that each part of the body must do its task for the church to grow.

Finally, consider the last phrase: “makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love”. This is the purpose of the body’s growth. It is a difficult phrase grammatically. Literally, the phrase is “makes the growth of the body to the edification (building up) of itself in love”. Thus, as every part of the body does its share, the body makes itself grow toward being built up in love.

Earlier in verse 12, Paul gave a three-fold description of this goal: 1) “the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God”, 2) “mature manhood”, and 3) “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”. In verse 16, he adds a fourth description of the goal of the growth of the church: “building itself up in love”. I think all these happen when each part of the church works together with Christ as the source.

Thus, in the parable, the mason was disobedient because he was working beyond his task. In the language of Ephesians 4:16, he was working where he was not equipped. The other subcontractors were disobedient because they were not doing their part, or as Paul might say, they were not working properly.

Christ is the only builder of the church. He is the only one who makes the plans, and he is the one who communicates those plans to his people.

However, we also have a part to play in the building of the church. And, if we all do not play our part, then the church will not be built according to Christ’s specifications. The church will not grow in faith and in relationship with Christ as it should. The church will not mature as it should. The church will not approach the stature of Christ as it should. The church will not be built up in love as it should be.

I think, if we were to take an honest look at the church, we would have to admit that the church does not demonstrate that it is making itself grow. Perhaps some of us are among the disobedient subcontractors? Perhaps some of us are disobedient like the mason? Perhaps some of us are disobedient like the other subcontractors?

There’s only one answer to this disobedience: With Christ as your source and your goal – and no one else – work as he has equipped you to help the church grow toward faith, relationship, maturity, and love.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 1-13-2009

    Great stuff Alan. In a group just last night, we discussed to great length the importance of Jesus Christ being the Cornerstone so this is quite fitting.

    Several weeks ago, 1 Corinthians 3:1 stopped me in my tracks.

    “For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”

    So, in other words, there are no “other” foundations. You either have Christ as the foundation or you have no foundation at all. Good stuff.

  2. 1-13-2009

    I have a question that is not about this post. I just found some articles from a Andreas J. Kastenberger and David A. Croteaw
    The information stated they were of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. I didn’t know if you knew of them.
    Steven O.

  3. 1-13-2009


    Yes, everything starts and ends with Jesus Christ for the church. And, he gifts all believers and works through all believers.


    Dr. Kostenberger is the head of the PhD program at Southeastern. David Crouteau was a student at Southeastern, but I never met him.