Last year, around this time, I wrote a post called “Special Equippers?” Hopefully, in that post, I successfully argued that the list of gifted individuals in Ephesians 4:11 are not “special equippers” but are instead given to equip the church just as all followers of Jesus are given to the church in order to equip the church. Many times, when people exegete certain passages especially related to leaders (elders, apostles, etc.), they fail to take into account similar passages that deal with all believers. Here is that post:
A couple of days ago, in my post called “And he gave… (Ephesians 4:11)“, I suggested that the list of gifted individuals in Ephesians 4:11 (i.e. apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers) was simply a sample of all gifted followers of Jesus Christ. These four (or five) types of giftings are not gifts that are necessary for the church above and beyond the other spiritual gifts.
However, the argument is often made that Scripture indicates that these gifted individuals are responsible for the special function of “equipping” which is not the responsibility of other believers – that is, those believers without the giftings listed in Ephesians 4:11. (And, now, David Rogers from “Love Each Stone” has asked a similar question in the comments of my post on Ephesians 4:11.) Since this post will deal mostly with Ephesians 4:11-12, I’ll include that passage of Scripture here:
And he [Jesus] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ… (Ephesians 4:11-12 ESV)
I’ve written about previously in a post called “Ephesian 4:12 and Equipping Ministries“. The subject of this very long sentence (the sentence doesn’t end until the end of verse 16) is the pronoun “he” – referring to Jesus – which is emphasized both by its inclusion in the sentence (the pronoun “he” is not implicitly required) and by its prominent position in the sentence. Thus, Paul is emphasizing the fact that Jesus – and only Jesus – gives gifted individuals to the church for the equipment of the church. He gives these gifted individuals according to his grace (Eph 4:7), not according to our own abilities or talents.
The phrase translated “to equip” in the passage above is actually a prepositional phrase that is literally “for the equipping” or “toward the equipping”, with “equipping” being a rough translation of the noun ÎºÎ±Ï„Î±ÏÏ„Î¹ÏƒÎ¼ÏŒÏ‚ (katartismos). The prepositional phrase works adverbially to describe the purpose of Jesus giving the gifted individuals.
The argument is often made that since ÎºÎ±Ï„Î±ÏÏ„Î¹ÏƒÎ¼ÏŒÏ‚ (katartismos – “equipping”) is used only of these four (or five) gifted individuals, then only these individuals carry the responsibility of “equipping” the body. Thus, these are often called “equipping ministries”. I do not think it is valid to assign the responsibility of “equipping” only to these four (or five) gifted individuals based on the us of the noun ÎºÎ±Ï„Î±ÏÏ„Î¹ÏƒÎ¼ÏŒÏ‚ (katartismos) for a couple of reasons.
First, while it is true that ÎºÎ±Ï„Î±ÏÏ„Î¹ÏƒÎ¼ÏŒÏ‚ (katartismos) is only used in reference to these gifted individuals, it is also true that this noun is only used once in the entire New Testament. Thus, the noun ÎºÎ±Ï„Î±ÏÏ„Î¹ÏƒÎ¼ÏŒÏ‚ (katartismos) is only found in Ephesians 4:12. It is not even used in the Septuagint (LXX – the Greek translation of the Old Testament). Can we argue from one use of a noun that only these gifted individuals are responsible for this result?
Paul uses a similar noun (ÎºÎ±Ï„Î¬ÏÏ„Î¹ÏƒÎ¹Ï‚ – katartisis), which is also used only once in the NT in 2 Corinthians 13:9, when he says that he and his fellow workers pray for the “restoration” (“perfection”, “equipping”) of the Corinthian believers. I have never seen anyone suggest that only Paul and his companions are responsible for praying for ÎºÎ±Ï„Î¬ÏÏ„Î¹ÏƒÎ¹Ï‚, since the noun is only used in association with Paul and his fellow workers.
However, to me, there is an even more convincing reason to see ÎºÎ±Ï„Î±ÏÏ„Î¹ÏƒÎ¼ÏŒÏ‚ (katartismos – “equipping”) as the responsibility of all believers. The verb form of the noun ÎºÎ±Ï„Î±ÏÏ„Î¹ÏƒÎ¼ÏŒÏ‚ (katartismos) is ÎºÎ±Ï„Î±ÏÏ„Î¯Î¶Ï‰ (katartizÅ), which is translated (in the infinitive) “to put in order, restore, complete, fully train, prepare”… in other words, “to equip”. We have the advantage of having multiple instances of this verb in the New Testament and in the Septuagint.
For example, this is the verb used when Scripture tells us that James and John were “mending” their nets (Matt. 4:21). Luke uses this verb when Jesus says, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained (ÎºÎ±Ï„Î±ÏÏ„Î¯Î¶Ï‰ – katartizÅ) will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). At the end of the letter to the Hebrews, the author prays that God would “equip” the readers with everything good to do his will (Heb 13:20-21).
But, there are also instances where the verb ÎºÎ±Ï„Î±ÏÏ„Î¯Î¶Ï‰ (katartizÅ) is used of believers acting toward other believers.
For example, in 1 Corinthians, Paul wrote:
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united (“perfected”, “restored”, “equipped”) in the same mind and the same judgment. (1 Corinthians 1:10 ESV)
Since Paul does not mention the work of “equipping ministers” in Corinthians, it would be difficult to argue that Paul was telling the believers in Corinth to allow the apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers to “equip” or “restore” them to the proper way of thinking.
Similarly, consider this passage from Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth:
Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration (“equipping”), comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. (2 Corinthians 13:11 ESV)
The command to “equip” is given in the context of the believers in Corinth working together. There is not a sense in this verse that some specially gifted believers are supposed to do the work of “restoring” while everyone is responsible for rejoicing, comforting, agreeing, and living in peace.
Finally, in Galatians, Paul says:
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. (Galatians 6:1 ESV)
Again, in this verse, the work of ÎºÎ±Ï„Î±ÏÏ„Î¯Î¶Ï‰ (katartizÅ – “restoring”, “completing”, “equipping”) is the work of all who are “spiritual” not just certain specially gifted people.
In these three passages, we see that the work of ÎºÎ±Ï„Î±ÏÏ„Î¯Î¶Ï‰ (katartizÅ – “equpping”, “restoring”) is the work of all believers, and Paul in particular does not have any problem using this term in relation to all believers. This is not a term that Paul associates only with a special group of gifted individuals.
So, who is responsible for “equipping” the body of Christ? Jesus (Eph 4:11). He is the only one who can equip the body of Christ for the work of service. How does he do this? Well, one of the ways that Jesus equips his body is through the gifts that he gives to the church. He gives these gifts to the church according to his grace for the benefit of all members. As Paul explains in Ephesians 4:16, the church does not grow in love when the apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers use their gifts to equip the body. Instead, the church grows in love when all parts of the body use their gifts to build up the body. And, as we’ve seen from other passages, all members of the body are also responsible for “equipping” the body.