A) God’s Work in the Church (Ephesians 4:11-13)
- The Bible Teacher's Commentary
What is discussed in these verses is the followup of what God has done on the cross through Christ. We would expect the resurrected Lord Jesus to remain on earth but He didn’t. Instead we know Christ’s Spirit came upon His people and live through them. Christ is living Himself out through our lives. And so Christ in a real way is living His life out on earth through our lives. This is the concept we see in Christ being called the head and Christians His body. We are good stewards when we understand and cooperate with Christ’s purpose.
Christ established this extension of His ministry through working in each of our lives. We will see how this takes shape here in verses 4:11-13. A major shaper that has impacted every believer is the way Christ has distributed His spiritual gifts to His people.
2. The Purpose God Enables His people
For the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ.
We must not be content on having those gifted servants the Lord has brought to our church. We appreciate them but if we pay them to do the serious work of the church, we miserably fail. The church is severely malformed because we have separated those who pastor and teach from the rest of the congregation.
There is, of course, a real difference between the equippers and the saints but it is not as most people imagine. Paul states that a certain group are equippers. They are there to help everyone else to effectively do their work. Most churches, however, want to hire a pastor to do the work of the church. They want to believe that the clergy are holy in a different sense than the people.
This Biblical concept is totally foreign to the church. It is true they might get paid but the real problem is the concept of what is the work of the ministry. Malformation of the church has become so accentuated today that a pastor is often evaluated on how much he makes the audience comfortable and laugh rather than on equipping them. Yes, do note that I said audience rather than congregation. People revolve around the entertainer rather than before the Lord.
Ephesians 4:12 gives us a wholly different concept that many of us are shocked at when we begin to understand it. Our surprise derives from having such a different experience than is here being taught.
Paul’s use of saints here should totally eradicate this clergy-laity concept. All of God’s people are holy and are expected to serve Him. The goal of having such instructors is to enable the saints so that they can serve. They bring the Word of God to our lives so that everyone in the congregation can serve. Saints is not a term describing the few chosen virtuous Christians but rather a term that includes all Christians. As we see from Ephesians chapter 1 all Christians are chosen and called and thus set apart for the Lord. All genuine Christians are saints. Even the apostles, prophets, etc. are considered saints. This group of instructors then are a subset of the larger group of Christians.
But much more important is the words here. “He gave ... for the equipping of the saints for the work of service.” A certain number of individuals are specially gifted to enable all the saints to do the work. This phrase ‘work of service’ might be variously defined (and we will later attempt our own definition) but the more important aspect is to recognize that each and every Christian can and must be transformed into a servant of Christ.
Some churches have gone much further than others in this area of what I first heard of in the early 1970s as ‘body life.’ Although only some gifts are mentioned in Ephesians 4:11, verse 4:7 says that every Christian is given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. This does not only mean that each Christian has at least one spiritual gift but also the extra grace of God so that they can serve one another like Christ. Examine Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 to better understand the spread of spiritual gifts.
I like to think of God’s purpose to work through the church in two ways
When the church begins to understand this, she stops her criticisms and steps ahead in faith and love. She begins to value others rather than just putting up with them. Even when there are difficulties with others, the individual is not to focus on what he or she gets but gives! The Lord already gave to the saints. Now they are to give. They can do the work of service just as Christ did. As the church as the Lord puts behind her the imperfections of others and focuses on building up one another, the whole community begins to radically grow. The world begins to notice. Everyone has programs, but when the world sees the glorious healing love of God poured out through His body, they can see the inferiority of their own ways, thoughts and desire. They want to know God. Revival is returning to the love and truths of God.
We can serve each other just as Christ served us and thus finish building up the body of Christ. The goal of the church then is to make sure it equips each saint to participate in the ministry. Small (home, cell or variously named) groups can be just another program. But what we really want is each Christian recognizing his or her own gift and calling to bless and serve others within those small group settings. Then the group of Christians will find the full glory of Christ in their midst.
This one small verse clearly maps out God’s design for the church. He enables the church to reflect His love and truth in the world. As we awaken to the glorious and most gracious calling for the church to serve Him, we are all the more moved at the love and grace of God toward our own lives. Instead of growing in pride, we are humbled that God would work in our lives in such a wonderful fashion.
In most cases the local church is so burdened down by wrong concepts (i.e. lies) that it is malfunctioning. People wonder if the church has any meaning. Many do not see God’s love in the church. The church wonders if it has anything to offer. When the church is confused, it begins to act just like the world. God allows the church to die down by removing His Spirit and it rightfully becomes a museum for it is no longer living. This might be the way the church is in many cases, but it does not need to remain there.
When the people of God catch the truth and love of God as shown in His great plan for the people of God, she awakens in His love and humbly comes before Him, astonished at the love and glory of Christ.
We now need to get a picture of the final goal that the Lord has for His people. Next =>
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Biblical Foundations for Freedom
Paul J. Bucknell