Intro: What do churches do? If we just look about, we might not be able to come to a clear answer. Today, churches are doing just about everything and anything. Churches engage in commerce (sell everything from pumpkins to concert tickets); they build and maintain schools, hospitals daycare centers, health clinics; nursing homes; they contribute to political campaigns and lobby for legislation; they run soup kitchens to feed the poor; they sponsor recreational activities; they wash cars and play bingo. It is difficult to find a spiritual focus in the activities of many churches. What did the NT church do? What does God want His church to do?
I. 1 Timothy 3:15 – 15 but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.
A. Pillar and Ground: The imagery of these terms was clear to them. The impressive Temple of Diana in Ephesus was held up by 127 columns (pillars). Each one of the pillars (jewels and precious stones embedded) was the gift of a king and was designed to represent his tribute of honor to the goddess. The honorary significance of the pillars, however, was secondary to their function as the supports. They were holding up the roof.
1. The church is designed to “hold up” the truth. The term support appears only here in the New Testament and refers to the foundation on which a structure rests. That is the church’s mission in the world. Everything God calls on it to do works to this end.
2. The truth is the divine revelation, the word of God, given in scripture. The church does not invent the truth, and has never had the prerogative to alter it. It is to support and safeguard it. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Rom 1:16) and as such is the church’s primary resource for the accomplishing of its work.
II. Let’s return to Ephesians 4:7-12 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore He says:”When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men.” 9 (Now this, “He ascended” — what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) 11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,
A. Paul tells the Ephesian church that God has provided “grace” in the form of “gifts”. These gifts are identified in verse 11 –
• Apostles: The special ambassadors of Christ, chosen by Him (inspired teachers).
• Prophets: Those who speak the words of God through inspiration. These were first two were foundational – provided once for all time; Eph. 2.
• Evangelists: preachers of good news.
• Pastors: Shepherds of the flock; also called elders & bishops (overseers).
• Teachers: Instructors of the word (men & women).
• All of these “gifts” (or functioning people) have a common arena of work – they are all teachers of the word of God. God’s provision for the church to do its work is the word.
B. What is the purpose of these gifts? Verse 12 – 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, Some see these three prepositional phrases as describing 3 distinct works of the church: edification; benevolence, and evangelism. Although the church has responsibilities in these 3 areas, the prepositions of this verse do not support this interpretation. Although they are all translated “for” in the KJV& NKJV, there are 2 different prepositions in the original Greek. This distinction is evident in other translations.
1. “for the equipping of the saints” – The first preposition in the verse is pros; this is a primary preposition that points backward to the giving of the gifts. It introduces the ultimate goal of the gifts themselves. The gifts are given for the primary purpose of “equipping the saints” – What are the saints to be equipped to do?
2. The next two prepositional phrases [“For the work of ministry”; “for the edifying of the body of Christ”] – contain a different the preposition-eis (ice). In both cases, they describe the objective of the previous action – equipping the saints.
a. Thayer says it denotes the end; and,…the end to which a thing reaches or extends, …the end which a thing is adapted to attain.” The wording suggests a progression. The saints are equipped so that they can do the work of ministering, so that the body will be edified.
b. Notice the NIV translation – “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (NIV)
III. Equipping the Saints: Note first that every Christian is to be equipped; not just the leaders of the congregation. Paul says later that the growth of the church takes place “by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share,” (4:16)
A. Equipping is from a word that means to restore something to its original condition, or make complete. The word was often used as a medical term for the setting of bones. Paul used the verb form in his closing admonition to the Corinthian believers: “Finally, brethren, rejoice, be made complete” (2 Cor 13:11). The writer of Hebrews used the term in his closing prayer: Heb 13:20-21 – “Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight”.
B. These servants are called upon to fill in the gaps and provide what is missing spiritually in the lives of the saints. This is a call to unity among the saints as they work toward the same purpose. This collective equipping is expressed in 1 Corinthians 1:10— “Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree, and there be no divisions among you, but you be made complete (Equipped) in the same mind and in the same judgment” The equipping of each believer results in the unity of all.
C. How do these servants accomplish this? One author list 4 tools God (Holy Spirit) uses to build up the church.
1. The first two are the word of God, and prayer. 2 Tim 3:16-17 – “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” The apostles in Jerusalem provide the pattern for all those would strive to lead toward spiritual growth. They devoted themselves to “prayer, and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). Paul revealed his aim was “admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ” (Col 1:28).
2. The second two are testing and suffering: God allowed the infant church in Jerusalem to be tested through persecution. What was the result? Again the apostles, and this young church provide a pattern for the equipping of the saints.
a. Peter & John are arrested and put in jail. Acts 4:3-4– And they laid hands on them, and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. 4 However, many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.
b. The apostles are threatened and released, reported to the church, who then collectively prayed… Acts 4:29-31 – Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, 30 by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.
c. After preaching more powerfully and adding believers to the Lord (5:14), Peter and John are again put in prison. God rescued them and told them to go preach some more. Acts 5:25- So one came and told them, saying, “Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!” – brought before the council again, and threatened not to teach anymore. Acts 5:41-42 – So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. 42 And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.
d. Later Satan raised his hand against Stephen and his death rocked the church. Acts 8:1-4 – At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. 3 As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. 4 Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.
3. Church growth is not produced through human organization or ingenuity. God’s plan calls for the leadership of God’s gifted ministers who are continually in prayer and in His Word.
4. Even less does the church need entertaining. Religious entertainment neither comes from nor leads to spiritual maturity. It comes from self and can only promote self.
5. The growth of this church depends on those who are here in the pews, not those who are not. God expects us to use the talents we have and to mature to do the work that needs to be done. That is enough of a job. When a young preacher complained to Charles Spurgeon that his own congregation was too small, Spurgeon replied, “Well, maybe it is as large as you’d like to give account for in the day of judgment.”John MacArthur wrote: “When the gifted men are faithful in prayer and in teaching the Word, the people will be properly equipped and rightly motivated to do the work of service. From the saints who are equipped God raises up elders, deacons, teachers, and every other kind of worker needed for the church to be faithful and productive. Spiritual service is the work of every Christian, every saint of God. Attendance is a poor substitute for participation in ministry.”
IV. Equipped to do what? The text in Ephesians 4 presents two progressive purposes or results:
A. The Work of Ministry: The word ministry has been wrongly defined in religion. It has come to signify an official office or the work of a special officer in the church (the minister). But the N.T. word is diakonias and it signifies the work of a servant. It can refer to a special servant, (such as a deacon), but it used most often to refer to the work assigned to every Christian. Mark 10:43– 3 Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant (minister).
1. This work includes our mutual responsibility to serve each other physically and spiritually. We are called to consider each other… (give careful attention)Hebrews 10:24-25 – 24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. 1 Thes. 5:11-14 – Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing. … We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.
B. For the building up of the body of Christ: Proper equipping by the evangelists and pastor-teachers leading to proper service by the congregation results inevitably in the building up of the body of Christ.
1. The words “building up” are from oikodome; (oy-kod-om- ay), also translated as edifying; found often in the N.T. The body of Christ is the church, and thus action involved here is the building up of the church. The image of bodily growth is in view throughout these verses. Paul goes on to describe the body growing up to maturity (perfect man), to the stature of Christ (v. 13). Growth of the body – (v. 16)
2. Again, this is the direct result of teaching. The building up takes place in two ways: 1 inwardly as the body becomes stronger spiritually. 2) outwardly, as people are converted to Christ and added to the church. Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesian elders emphasizes this process: “I commend you to God and to the word … which is able to build you up” (Acts 20:32).
3. Here is spiritual bodybuilding, and God intends that it be accomplished through the ministry of the saints each to the other.
4. The ultimate goal of this work is stated in Eph 4:13: “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (NIV) We are to all strive to be like Christ in every way. When spiritual maturity is reached we will no longer be like children at the mercy of whatever doctrine comes along but stable and strong in Christ.
Conclusion: God has a plan for His people, His church, His body. He intends for it to grow to maturity. To “bring many sons to glory”. He desires for us to grow up to be like Jesus.