One of my favorite passages of Scripture is Ephesians 4:1-16. In that passage, Paul begins writing about the unity of family of God – which is based in the unity of God himself. Out of that unity grows a diversity of types of service, which are all given by God for one purpose: to build up the church. Thus, even our diversity grows out of our unity in God and results in further unity in him.
In the latter half of that passage (Ephesians 4:7-16), Paul focuses on the work that it takes to help the body grow in faith, in unity, and in maturity. He continually points to the fact that this work comes from God as he works through all of his children, not just some of them.
It is interesting to me, then, that many commentators on this passage tend to focus on the list of gifted individuals in Ephesians 4:11. Obviously, that list is important, since Paul included it. (Although, like the other lists of spiritual gifts and spiritually gifted people, I do not think that Paul intended for that last to be exhaustive; instead, I think he listed some examples, again, like he did in the other lists.)
Paul says that those spiritually gifted people in Ephesians 4:11 (and perhaps others, if I’m correct that the list is only a sample) are “to equip the saints for the work of ministry.” (Ephesians 4:12) Now, we know that Paul uses the term “saints” to refer to all who are in Christ and who are, therefore, recipients of his righteousness and holiness (i.e., in the New Testaments, the term “saints” does not refer to special dead people who have been canonized by the Roman Catholic Church or the Eastern Orthodox Church). In fact, Paul had already identified the recipients of this letters as “saints.” (Ephesians 1:1)
Similarly, the term “ministry” is simply another term for “service.” It is not a special kind of service; it is just service. It is not religious service or ordained service; it is service. And, as we see, Paul says that this “service” is “work.”
In other words, those people listed in Ephesians 4:11 are to prepare God’s children (all of God’s children) to do the difficult work of serving others. (Of course, like I said earlier, I think that others besides those listed in Ephesians 4:11 are also supposed to equip the saints for the work of service…)
But, what would it look like for apostles to equip the saints for the work of service? Who should the apostles equip? What service would apostles equip others for? What about prophets? What about evangelists? What about shepherds/pastors? What about teachers? (Yes, in Paul’s list, the last two are connected – i.e., shepherds-teachers – but I’m going to consider them separately in this series.)
For the next few days, I’m going to consider these questions from the perspective of each spiritually gifted person who is listed by Paul in Ephesians 4:11. Hopefully, we’ll be able to help one another as we all work together to prepare each other for works for service.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts. What do you think it means “to equip the saints for the work of service”? What would this look like for apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds/teachers?