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To equip the saints for the work of ministry

Posted by on Jan 7, 2013 in edification, scripture | 11 comments

To equip the saints for the work of ministry

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?

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Series: To Equip the Saints for the Work of Ministry

  1. Introduction
  2. Apostles
  3. Prophets
  4. Evangelists
  5. Shepherds and Teachers
  6. Others (Conclusion)

11 Comments

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  1. 1-7-2013

    Last week we were getting into Ephesians 4, and I was similarly impressed with the fact that – even though some Christians pay more attention to the “gifted ones” in Eph. 4 – it is the “perfected saints” who do the work of the ministry, that is, who build up the Body of Christ directly. We as believers in Christ need to be perfected in our service and function by the gifted ones and the more mature ones, and then we can also preach the gospel, speak an edifying word, shepherd and teach others, and even travel with the gospel to open cities for God’s kingdom. We just need to be willing to be perfected by the Head of the Body through the more mature / gifted ones.

    We see that there are two matters in Eph. 4 related to this: life and function. We need to grow in life unto maturity to become a full-grown man, and we need to be perfected in function that we may build up the Body of Christ.

    … remember, as we see in Eph. 4:7, we are all gifted – God gives us grace according to the measure of the gift. Each One Has something, a portion, a function, a way to build up the Body!

  2. 1-7-2013

    As far as what it looks like to equip the saints, I believe the rest of Ephesians 4 and 5, and into 6, provides some practical instruction, with an illustration at the end using the image of a soldier donning the equipment of combat.

    From laying aside falsehood and speaking the truth in love, to showing grace to one another as God in Christ showed grace to us – and being filled with the Holy Spirit so that Christ’s love becomes evident in and through our relationships and behavior.

  3. 1-7-2013

    I’ve come to the thought that every believer when mature will have preferrable functioning in one of these categories (apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor/teacher). I see these as ‘maturity gifts’ not offices. In the natural – these look like integrators, intercessors, salesmen, and caregivers. I realize that’s a very limited and probably much too generalized categorization – but it’s a least an attempt (maybe a lame one) at giving this passage some practical meaning. I want to emphasize that these ARE very practical functions – not elite organizational positions.

    Biblical maturity in 1 John 2 is children-young men-fathers. Though there are 10,000 instructors in Christ – there are not many fathers (1 Co 4:15). Eph 4:11 is about spiritual fathers (and mothers) – not about career paths – or self appointed authority positions. It’s about people who truly want to see the body mature and grow.

  4. 1-7-2013

    Stefan,

    Yes, we’re all gifted. That’s one of the reasons that I think we should all be taking part in the work of equipping, not just those who are gifted in the ways listed in Ephesians 4:11. I think your categorization of “life and function” can be helpful, as long as we don’t separate them too much.

    Tim,

    I agree that Ephesians 4-6 definitely show some ways of equipping. How do you think the apostles (as apostles) specifically equip the saints for works of service? Is there something different about their equipping because they are apostles? The same could be asked for the other spiritual gifts.

    Jerry,

    Yes, we are all gifted and that would probably be our “preferable functioning.” I’ve heard others suggest that all giftings/functionings are wrapped up in the four/five gifted people listed in Ephesians 4:11. I’m not sure if that list represents all other possible giftings/functions, or if it is simply a sample list like the other spiritual gifts lists.

    -Alan

    -Alan

  5. 1-7-2013

    I noticed you asked whether there was something different about how these gifts equip the saints, not whether there was anything different they did.

    I infer from the fact that Eph 4:11 uses different words there are differences in how they equip (or why would different words be used?). But I think what they actually do to equip the saints is not different from that which we are all to do.

    Perhaps it is a matter of approach. If we take “putting away falsehood” as an example, an apostle may come from someplace else with a fresh (to us) understanding of what that means. A prophet may bring unknown or unconfessed falsehood to light. An evangelist may help those who do not know Christ understand the falsehood inherent in life without Christ. Pastor/teachers may help people discover practical ways to put away falsehood as they live their lives. All would model and teach these functions and approaches to other believers.

    It would be tough to convince me that God has a finite number of approaches through which the saints equip one another, so I agree these are likely examples.

  6. 1-7-2013

    Tim,

    I think it’s very important that we learn to “put away falsehood,” but I’m not sure that’s what Paul had in mind when he talked about “the work of service.” While we should definitely help each other with the things listed in Ephesians 4:17-6, in this series I’m particularly interested in what kind of service apostles, prophets, etc. can help us with.

    -Alan

  7. 1-7-2013

    I agree. I think putting away falsehood is just one part of the work of service, and perhaps another example of the kinds of things believers do.

    I am proposing that the apostles help us by bringing – from the place where they are sent – new (or perhaps corrective) perspectives on the works of service we are to do (including but not limited to those that are listed in the rest of Ephesians). As well as help to introduce the “culture” that drives us to do those things, in this case, that of the Kingdom of God. I’ve been thinking lately of apostles as those who are someplace other than “home” yet create a home environment where they go.

    Another way to look at it is that not being an apostle is not an excuse for not doing ministry in whatever location I find myself.

    I’ve heard that apostles are present to train people to be sent, but I think the five-fold don’t just replicate one-for-one but instead cross train. No pun intended.

    I think the other Eph 4:11 gifts also bring training in unique ways. All that being my current malleable thinking, I’m open to considering other thoughts.

  8. 1-7-2013

    I should have added that I think people who might be identified as among the five-fold will be those that are demonstrating reliable maturity in doing the works of service and by so demonstrating provide good models for others to follow.

  9. 1-7-2013

    Tim,

    I like the idea of apostles (“travelers”) bringing ideas and perspectives from other cultures. This can always help us understand the ways of God better.

    -Alan

  10. 3-13-2013

    If I remember correctly, the Greek word translated “equip” means to make something or someone ready for service. This word was used for mending nets and setting bones to make them “fit” or functional, not for any and all tasks, but for what they were designed to do.

    From the leaders’/teachers’ point of view, their gifts contribute to this, but not exclusively. Their teaching by word and example provides instruction and inspiration. The rest of the body also contributes in complementary ways. Leaders see to it that the body of Christ and family of God functions as an interdependent and unified body and family — with everyone ‘pitching in.’

    As each member (leaders and those who are led) serves one another with his/her spiritual gifts, this improves and completes the body as a whole — “for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7). This builds up (edifies) the individuals who comprise the body. Through this process of serving one another in the context of caring relationships, the saints are further equipped for service . . . which further equips them for service . . . which further equips them for service.

  11. 3-15-2013

    Rick,

    I think the Greek term could be used in medical terminology. Paul may have meant it that way, but I think it would be similar to the meaning of the English word “equip” in application. I love your last paragraph, especially the focus on “further equipping”. It’s definitely not a one time thing!

    -Alan

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