“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:11-16).
We see a New Testament church in Ephesians 4:11-16. It is an edifying, ministering body, with the leaders building up the members and each member having an important part in the ministry.
This is a serious church.
The New Testament church is the most important, serious business on earth. It is a product of the Son of God’s incarnation, atonement, and ascension (Eph. 4:10). It is a perfecting entity (Eph. 4:12). It is the body of Christ (Eph. 4:12). It is the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ (Eph. 4:13).
We don’t see an entertainment program here. We don’t see lukewarm, half-hearted Christianity. We don’t see a church that is just going through the motions of following tradition. We don’t see a mixed multitude in which only a small percentage of the body is serious about the things of Christ. This is a “perfecting, edifying, no more children, grow up into him in all things, every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working” type of church.
This is a church that is a body of “saints” (Eph. 4:12).
Saints are the redeemed who are set apart in Christ, owned by God, justified, sanctified. This describes a regenerate church membership.
The members of the church at Ephesus are described in chapters 1-2. They are the faithful in Christ Jesus (Eph. 1:1), blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ (Eph. 1:3), chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy before him in love (Eph. 1:4), predestinated unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:5), accepted in the beloved (Eph. 1:6), redeemed through his blood (Eph. 1:7), obtained an inheritance (Eph. 1:11), sealed with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13), made alive (Eph. 2:5), raised up to sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:6), saved (Eph. 2:8), created in Christ Jesus unto good works (Eph. 2:10), made nigh by the blood of Christ (Eph. 2:13), fellowcitizens with the saints and of the household of God (Eph. 2:19).
A church cannot possibly function according to Ephesians 4:11-16 if it is the typical mixed multitude of saved and lost, faithful and unfaithful, true disciples and lukewarm.
This is a church with the right leaders (Eph. 4:11).
This is the first thing that is mentioned in the passage. Without the right leaders, there can be no right churches
Apostles and prophets were temporary ministries. The apostles had sign gifts to authenticate their ministries (2 Co. 12:12). Prophets operated until the completion of the full canon of Scripture.
Evangelists, pastors, and teachers are abiding ministries. Pastors and teachers are two positions. Every pastor must be able to teach, but not every teacher is a pastor. There is a gift of teaching (Ro. 12:7). Evangelists are like Philip who preached in Samaria and to the Ethiopian eunuch and in the cities of the coast of Judea (Ac. 8). Pastors, teachers, and evangelists work together to build up the churches.
Here we see teams of leaders, as throughout the New Testament. There were 12 apostles. Missionaries were sent out by teams (Acts 13:1-4; 15:40). There were prophets and teachers at Antioch (Ac. 13:1). Elders, plural, were ordained in the churches (Ac. 14:28; Php. 1:1).
These are God-called leaders (“he gave”). Paul said to the elders at Ephesus that the Holy Spirit had made them overseers (Ac. 20:28). The ministry is a divine calling.
It is the leaders’ job to prepare the whole church for the work of the ministry. There is large work to be done for God in this present world. The church is God’s chosen instrument, and every member has an essential part. A New Testament church is a working church! It is the work of the Great Commission, which is the work of evangelism and discipleship (Mt. 28:19-20; Mr. 16:15). The leaders are the principals of the church as a Bible institute. They are the overseers of the church as the headquarters for world missions. They are the superintendents of the spiritual armory, to equip the saints for warfare.
The goal is perfection. “Perfecting” is the Greek katartismos, which means to finish, to make complete, to make fully ready, to set up, to establish, to put a thing in its appropriate condition. Paul used the imagery of building a house in 1 Corinthians 3:9-12.
- The perfecting of the saints is to edify the church (Eph. 4:12). The goal is to produce a spiritual, Christ-centered, biblically-educated people, not just a busy people. It is a crock pot approach vs. a microwave approach.
- The perfecting of the saints means to bring the church to the unity of the faith (Eph. 4:14). The goal is perfect unity, no divisions, one mind in Christ (1 Co. 1:10).
- The perfecting of the saints means to bring the church to a perfect man (Eph. 4:13). The perfect man is the fulness of Christ. The churches are the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s eternal plan, which is “in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ” (Eph. 1:10). The church’s chief goal is to grow into the image of Christ. “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Ro. 8:29). “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Co. 3:18).
- The perfecting of the saints means to bring the church to spiritual maturity so that the members are no longer children (Eph. 4:14). A church of perpetual children is not God’s will, and the leaders must never be content to pastor such a church.
- The perfecting of the saints means to protect the church from spiritual danger (Eph. 4:14). A New Testament church is aware of the presence of spiritual danger, and it is aggressively protecting itself. A New Testament church understands the Bible’s teaching about apostasy (“evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived,” 2 Ti. 3:13). A New Testament church aims not to be tossed about by any wind of false doctrine.
- What a big, serious task! We see that the leaders must be highly capable men; they must be able to minister in such a way that they produce perfection. We see the necessity of the standards that are emphasized in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. They must have good quality spiritual lives so they can back up what they teach by how they live. They must be skillful Bible preachers and teachers. They must have spiritual discernment, to discern the saved from the lost, to recognize spiritual gifts and callings, to see through hypocrisy and deception. They must be able to protect the church from false teachers, which requires serious knowledge, courage, and wisdom. They must be able to train the church in evangelism and prepare workers for the harvest. They must be able to instruct the families so that they are built up in Christ and can produce a godly seed. They must be able to reprove, rebuke, correct, and discipline.
The leaders must have authority to do the work of perfecting. They must be in control of the church’s preaching/teaching ministries. That the church is a body and every member is a minister does not mean all have equal authority. It doesn’t mean the church is a democracy and everything must be approved by church vote. Some are overseers (Ac. 20:28). Some “have the rule over you” (Heb. 13:7, 17).
This is a church that is growing (Eph. 4:15).
It is a church that is making progress. It is moving ahead, getting stronger. This is the opposite of the direction that most churches are moving, which is weaker, less wisdom, less power, less fruit, less vision, less zeal. The church is that is growing is not going backwards.
It is a church that is growing “in Christ.” He is our wisdom, our way, our life, our strength.
It is a church that is growing “in all things.” This was what Christ commanded, “teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Mt. 28:20). This is a big job. Every saint should be passionate to grow up into him in all things.
This is a church that is an edifying body (Eph. 4:16).
A New Testament church operates as a body with every member having an important part in the life of the body. Compare 1 Co. 12:12, “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.”
The life and ministry flows from Christ. “From whom” points to Christ in verse 15. He is the source of all spiritual life by the Spirit. All His people have to do is to be “led by” (Ga. 5:18), “walk in” (Ga. 5:25), “be filled with” (Eph. 5:19), “yield to” (Ro. 6:19), “mind the things of” (Ro. 8:5), and “put on” (Eph. 4:24) the Spirit.
The body is to be “fitly joined together and compacted.” It is to be united in God’s Spirit and God’s will. It is to be joined together like the human body for which it is a metaphor. This is serious unity. This is spiritual unity, not worldly unity.
Every member is to supply his part to the work of the body (“that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part”). This is the “one another” ministry that is emphasized throughout the New Testament Epistles--“admonish one another” (Ro. 15:14), “by love serve one another” (Ga. 5:13), “bear ye one another’s burdens” (Ga. 6:2), “forgiving one another” (Eph. 4:32), “forbearing one another” (Col. 3:13), “teaching and admonishing one another” (Col. 3:16), “comfort one another” (1 Th. 4:18), “edify one another” (1 Th. 5:11), “exhort one another” (Heb. 3:13; 10:25), “consider one another, to provoke unto love and to good works” (Heb. 10:24). Each member of the church is to be thinking about how he or she can contribute to the edifying of the body. How can I help? What can I contribute? How can I encourage and strengthen my fellow brethren? What can I say? What can I do? What can I give? How can I pray?
The leaders’ part is to build up all of the members so they can do what God has called them to do. The leaders are not to do all of the work of the ministry; they are to prepare all of the saints for the work of the ministry.
Every member has a function in the body, but every member is not of equal function. Every member does not have the same authority. We see pastoral authority in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 and Hebrews 13:7, 17. The authority of the church leaders is seen in the term “bishop,” which means overseer (Ac. 20:28; Php. 1:1; 1 Ti. 3:1, 2; Tit. 1:7; 1 Pe. 5:2).
The members are placed in the body according to God’s will. God is sovereign over these things. “But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will” (1 Co. 12:11). Every member must, therefore, seek his place and accept his place in the body. Every member must do his unique part. If a member does not do his part, the whole body suffers. If a member tries to do a part that is not his, the whole body suffers. If the hand says, “I want to be a foot,” or the eye says, “I want to be an ear,” the body is crippled, because a hand is not a foot and an eye is not an ear. “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Ro. 12:3).
The body is to “increase.” God has designed every body to be fruitful and to increase. When God made the creation, He made it to bear “fruit after his kind” (Ge. 1:11). Every church should be growing spiritually and increasing numerically, not just one or the other.
The body is to “edify itself in love.” The members are to love the church and seek to edify it. They are to love one another. Everything is to be done in love. God is love, and His kingdom is a kingdom of love, and the church is the forerunner and outstation of the coming kingdom. To participate in the ministry of the body must be a major focus of the believer’s life in this world. I am not saved to live for myself or unto myself or by myself. I am saved to be a member of a body. This is the very opposite of a self-centered life. It is a giving life, a life that lives for others, which is the Christ-life.
This type of church requires heart-level commitment and faithfulness on the part of all members.
- Consider the services. Every service of such a church should be carefully designed to build up the body, and every member is a necessary part of this. Every member must attend to get as much out of the service as possible and to contribute as much as possible.
- To get as much as possible from the prayer. The church must have a lot of corporate and body prayer, and the people must be present for this ministry to be most effectual. Contrast churches in which only a tiny percentage of the members attend prayer meetings. I could mention church after church after church that I know of personally that is in this terrible condition. To neglect corporate prayer is a great sin. These are not Ephesians 4 churches. I once rebuked such a congregation by saying, “If God saw that His people really cared about praying so that they were in attendance at the prayer meetings and were fervent about praying, would He not be moved?”
- To get as much as possible from the song service. It is a “one another” ministry (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). In contrast, we think of churches in which the people don’t sing, don’t sing out heartily, even talk and text during the song service.
- To get as much as possible from the preaching and teaching. There must be as few distractions as possible: no one going in and out unless absolutely necessary, phones turned off or in airplane mode so there are no notifications. The people’s minds must be focused on hearing God’s Word: listening carefully, taking notes, capturing things, learning to understand the Bible better, looking for God’s message for me personally, considering what I need to change, noting things that can be discussed with the family.
- To get as much as possible from, and to contribute as much as possible to, the fellowship: coming with the mindset to encourage and build up the brethren (to love, admonish, and exhort one another), to minister to the visitors, not just to enjoy my little clique, and not to discuss the things of the world.
In these passages, we have looked long and hard at a true New Testament church. This is the pattern for every church of every time and place.
Let’s leave tradition and pragmatism and the status quo behind and get back to the Bible!
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