Ephesians 4:12-13: The goal of the church’s life, part 2.
Wednesday, January 5. 2022
These verses unfold to us three main conceptions:
1) The goal of the church’s life (vs. 13).
2) The malady that arrests its development (vs. 14).
3) The means and conditions of its growth (vv. 15-16).
If we pursue theological knowledge for its own sake, it is bound to go bad on us. It will make us proud and conceited. The very greatness of the subject matter will intoxicate us, and we shall come to think of ourselves as a cut above other Christians because of our interest in it and grasp of it. If we are getting biblical knowledge with no higher motive than a desire to know all the answers, we are on a direct route to a state of self-satisfied self-deception. Knowledge of God is a means to an end. Our hearts are to respond to it with a transformation of mind and character, which is to live like Christ, godly in thinking, motivation, and action.
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ
Gifts are given to each believer for the sole purpose of equipping other believers for ministering work and thus the entire body of Christ is built up.
Starting, excitedly, in verse 12, we discover what the gifts of the spiritual life and the specific spiritual gifts are for. “And He gave …” is followed by three prepositional phrases.
For (pros = to, towards) the perfecting of the saints
For (eis = into) the work of ministry
For (eis = into) the building up of the body of Christ.
“Equipping” is a word that means completing or perfecting. “Service” is the word we already studied as the spiritual gift of ministering or serving. The whole thought of this section is the equipping of the saints for their own service so that the body would be built up. The first line (vs. 7) looks forward to it and the last line (vs. 16) looks back to it.
The two prepositions used (pros and eis) have several meanings. Eis usually means “into.” Pros has the nuance of heading towards something or being with something. All three phrases state the purpose of Christ’s gifts and they are all headed towards a goal.
The first is the completing or perfecting the saints. Certainly, we cannot make other Christians mature, but this word has the nuance of being made fit for service rather than spiritual maturity. In our service we help others to also serve in their own personal ministry.
Each preposition has its object. The first object is:
“equipping” – katartismos = make fit, equip.
The nuance of this word is being equipped or made fit for a journey.
A close cognate (katartisis) of this noun is used in:
For we rejoice when we ourselves are weak but you are strong; this we also pray for, that you be made complete [katartisis].
The Corinthians were obviously dependent on the apostle Paul, but also one another in the various spiritual gifts they possessed. Paul’s prayer is that they would be equipped for the work of service.
The equipping is for the saints (ton hagion).
Our gifts from God are designed only for spiritual equipment, which are only used for the “new and living way.”
This next part should be said, but it should be common sense.
Though you might be able to help others be fit for a math test or the baseball team or to be a good musician, which good things we should do, our spiritual gifts do not operate in this area. That said, it is a tragedy that some Christians, having learned that spiritual things are only for the spiritual life, feel that it is okay, and in fact prudent in some cases, to ignore the natural things that are good, like education, job skill, athletics, art, music, literature, culture, good diet, health, etc. I’ve read about pastors who have given all of their time to studying while neglecting their families. If the good thing you’re doing has some results that are sinful, then it’s time to reevaluate. The pastor has time for both in their proper place. I heard of a father who went to so many Bible classes that he never spent time with his wife or kids, and when the bad results of this surfaced, he strategically shot Bible verses at his wife in defense of his actions, while neglecting other key Bible verses that would have properly corrected his situation, and if practiced, would have made him a much happier man.
Everything in the natural world has a divine way, and all of it has been perverted in some way. We would say correctly that our level of secular education has no bearing on the spiritual life. An illiterate can be a spiritual champion. But would you allow your children to not learn to read because they are lazily preferring not to? Would you fail to instruct someone about justice and freedom in life just because they preferred communism? (politics is not spiritual)
We shouldn’t have spiritual blinders on. The church is not of the world but is in the word. It is not the church’s job to fix all the wrongs in the world, but if a believer has in front of them (we need not search out for the world’s wrongs like crusaders) the real opportunity to peaceably (peaceful and not violence must be emphasized), for instance, stop CRT from being taught in their local schools, but they don’t take advantage of it because it’s not a biblical issue or church issue, they are in the wrong. However, if they did use the opportunity, and the school board ruled against them, then the issue is in God’s hands. The example I chose is a sticky one. Things like it, which face wrongs done by those who have authority over us, do not always present us with a clear right or wrong choice, but most cases of natural good in our lives are simple and can be influenced by us for good with some effort.
The status of being fit or equipped or matured has a purpose in the next prepositional phrase – “for the work of service.”
Eis (for) ergon (work) diakonias (of the ministry).
Diakonias is in the genitive, describing the work – of the ministry. Diakonia is the work of the diakonos who is a minister or deacon in the ecclesiastical (office-holding) sense, as well as general service in all categories that we all are responsible to do. Our ministries are composed of works.
Looking back to the first phrase, it is those who are fit or equipped who have successful ministries made out of their lives. God has given every believer a body of works to do, which we could term their ministry.
The believer’s ministry – the body of works that God has prepared him to do.
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
We cannot complete our ministry in isolation. Other servants of God help us in their own service and we help others. Remember, we are equipping them, not making them grow up spiritually. At times you will need a pastor, a teacher other than your pastor, a helper, a server, a leader, an encourager, a mercy giver, a faithful brother or sister, and others who have a special way with knowledge and wisdom. Even if the gifts of knowledge, wisdom, and faith were temporary to the early church, believers with a key knowledge at a certain time (or wisdom or faith) will equip you for your own service.
This leads us to the third phrase.
Eis (for) oikodomen (home building, edifying, promoting spiritual growth) tou somatos tou Christou (of the body of Christ).
We must be sure to understand what it means to build up the body. If we stay in context we will do well. The Lord Jesus gave gifts to the church so that we will equip the saints for the work of their own service. It therefore follows that saints who are able to do more of the service God that has determined for them, will serve the body of Christ more, and then the body performs a sort of compound interest on itself. The body will be built up or constructed more spiritually. The definition of “building up” or “edification” in our age has taken the course of everyone gets a trophy, everyone must be told how valuable they are, everyone must convince themselves that they are good despite their decisions. Lies will not edify, but truth will, and truth only comes from the self-existent God of all truth. Truth has only one source, and that is the eternal God.
Only God can edify the church and He uses the members, who He made new, as secondary agents to do it with His gifts.
This system that God has designed, and all He does is genius and perfect, is not difficult to understand, as long as a believer remains humble. Pride will cause a believer to imagine that it is himself who equips and edifies and that all are in his debt. Keeping the truth in mind, which is that we are but tools in God’s hands, like the writers of Scripture were pens in God’s hand, we will do wonderful and important things for one another while giving all of the glory to God.
The spiritually fit do the work of their ministry for the edification of the body of Christ. We work together, for each other, toward this goal.
Notice how this system feeds itself. The members of the edified body of Christ will in turn function better in their own gifts and so equip others for their own works which builds up the body. The growth of the body feeds the body with more growth and over time matures to heights unforeseen.
Christ gave gifts to the body so that the body could be made fit and edify itself through its own love for Him. Essentially, all growth or equipping, is from Christ, but He gave to each member the ability to build up the whole and to experience their own equipping. Following Christ, losing their own lives that they may find His, they could equip and be equipped continually through the gifts that Christ gave to the church by those who would faithfully use them.
It is better to do hermeneutical study sentence by sentence rather than verse by verse. Verses are handy for locating passages but they can hinder us from context. A sentence may be made up of several verses. Study the sentence, and keep in mind the thought of the paragraph in the context of the chapter and also the context of the book. Like on a road trip to a place for the first time, every so often we must pause and look at the map and remember where we are.
Paul’s sentence continues revealing the extent to which the three phrases should continue. Paul reveals the zenith of the purpose for the body of Christ.
until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ.
Mechri is a preposition, but here functioning as a conjunction – “until.” As in English, it expresses the degree to which something will be done.
He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of (mechri) death, even death on a cross.
The three phrases: for the equipping of the saints for the work of their individual ministries for the building up of the body of Christ will continue until we all arrive at something.
“Until” is followed by the aorist active subjunctive of katantao (to arrive at) and the adjective pas (all).
kantantesomen hoi pantes – we all arrive at or come to. Our destination is nothing less than the perfection that is the measure and stature of Christ.
The subject of this next clause is “we all,” first person plural pantes. It means that the process of equipping, serving, and building up the body will continue until all of us arrive at the faith, full knowledge, and maturity of Christ. Some think it will go on forever because Christ is infinite. That may be. No one really knows. Some are adverse to that. It may be our fallen nature, which seems so often in a rush to get somewhere while failing to enjoy the journey. Imagine you are on the most enjoyable journey. To arrive at your destination is great, but it means that the journey is over. Coming to fully know Christ is the greatest journey. It should be okay with all of us if it never ends.