I’ve heard it said that it’s easier to love God than it is to love people. I think the same is true in ministry. It’s easier to serve God than it is to serve people. Serving God is a great joy. He is All-Powerful, All-Knowing, Everywhere-Present and Unchanging. People, on the other hand, are weak, often missing in action, tough to find when you need them, and are constantly changing. Ministering to people demands a lot from us because people are so needy.
Jesus knew exactly what He was calling His disciples to do when He sent them out to minister in a world that doesn’t like Him – or us for that matter. And even when unsaved people receive Christ as their Savior and Lord and the Holy Spirit lives inside of them, they are still a challenge to serve in the Name of Jesus (so are we sometimes). That’s why He gave the Body of Christ support gifts.
There are two types of support gifts in the Bible. We learned about the first type Wednesday. Those are the grace gifts that support your dominant gift(s) in your service to God and others. The second type of support gifts are what God gives to the Body of Christ to equip Christians for their works of service. Look at what the Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesian Christians.
“But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore He says: ‘When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men.’ (Now this, “He ascended”—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” Ephesians 4:7-16
More gifts! The Christian life is amazing. Every time we look around we see that God has given us another gift. God designed a life for His children that is about following, loving and serving Him while He continually gives us gifts. Can you imagine growing up in a family like that? What an amazing childhood that would be. We love and serve our parents and they give us wonderful gifts every day of our lives. That’s what it’s like to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. We work hard, we study hard, we serve God and His people, reach out with love to the unsaved world to tell them the wonderful story of salvation — and God showers us with gifts every day of our lives. Wow!
Paul told the Ephesians that each one of them had received grace (charis) from God according to the measure (metron – measuring standard) of Christ’s gift (doreas – free gift that stresses its gratuitous character). Paul told the believers that when Jesus ascended to Heaven He took captivity captive (from the Messianic Psalm 68) and “gave gifts to men.” The gifts that Jesus gave to men is the Greek word domata. It signifies the strong character of the gift. Paul uses the plural of the word that demonstrate the generous nature of the Giver, Jesus Christ. Our Lord Personally gave these gifts to us – “And He Himself gave.” Jesus did not assign someone else this gift-giving work — just as He didn’t assign someone else to die on the Cross for the sins of the world. Jesus wanted to give these gifts in Person.
What did He give the Church? “… some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers.” And why did Jesus give these gifts to His Body? “… for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” God sends out His grace-gifted people to minister to a lost and dying world equipped for the work of their ministry. The word equipped is katartismon and means “making fit, putting in readiness, preparing fully.” God wants us to be fully prepared to accomplish His goals for the ministries He gives us, so He gifts some Christians with equipping gifts to prepare the Body of Christ to use their grace gifts. The great result is the edifying (building up, growth) of the Body of Christ!
Many Christians I’ve talked with through the years believe that the work of the ministry is done by professional ministers (i.e. pastors, evangelists, missionaries, Bible scholars, seminary professors), but that’s not how God designed the Body of Christ to work. Ephesians 4 was the light bulb that went off in my mind and heart decades ago when I spent several months in serious study to understand God’s Will for my service to Him and His Church. I saw clearly that the ministry is done by every member of the Body of Christ. Those who Christ gave to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers have the job of preparing God’s people for their works of service , their ministries. That makes so much sense! God gifts a small number of His children (some to be) to prepare the large number of His children (till we all) to do the work He has given His Church to accomplish for His Glory. But is that the way it works today? Unfortunately not. In fact, it’s reversed. The majority of Christians expect a small number of professionals to do the work of the ministry. The great challenge we all face in the Church today is to turn that around.
If you are an apostle (apostolos, one sent forth), job #1 is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the Body of Christ. If you are a prophet (prophetes, one who speaks forth or openly), job #1 is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the Body of Christ. If you are an evangelist (euangelistes, messenger of good), job #1 is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the Body of Christ. If you are a pastor (poimen, shepherd, one who tends herds or flocks), job #1 is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the Body of Christ. If you are a teacher (didaskalos, instructor), job #1 is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the Body of Christ. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers all have their own individual ministries to the saved and unsaved, but when it comes to Christians our job is to equip all believers for their works of service. In fulfilling that calling and gifting from our Lord, Christians with equipping gifts play an important role in the building up of the Body of Christ.
How long should we equip the saints? Is a year long enough? How about two or three years? Here’s how long God recommends: “… till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ.” Doesn’t sound like there’s an end to our equipping ministry. It’s not something we can accomplish in months or years. Equipping God’s people for their ministries will take a lifetime.
Paul often used the human body as a framework to explain the working of the Body of Christ. He does it here in Ephesians 4 in the context of Jesus giving gifts to Christians who should use their gifts to equip other Christians for their works of service. Paul refers to those gifted people (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers) as joints: “from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” The human body is made up of bones and muscles and tissue, along with organs, glands, blood and nerves. What is it that holds all of this together and gives trillions of cells the ability to move cohesively? Joints. Take away the joints of the human body and it can’t move. It’s still a human body, but it can’t go anywhere or do anything.
The joints are vital to the function of the body. Joints connect bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments and allow the body to move in a wide variety of directions. The shoulder joint, elbow joint, wrist joint, hand joints, finger joints, hip joint, knee joint, ankle joint, foot joints and toe joints are what give the human body functional movement. Joints come in many shapes, sizes and purposes. They may be ball-and-socket joints, hinge joints, pivot joints, fixed joints, saddle joints, condyloid joints, synovial joints, cartilagenous joints or gliding joints, but they all function together to make the body work as it was designed.
So it is with the gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher. Their gifts are different, but their purpose is the same: prepare the Body of Christ to move forward. The Greek word used for joint here is haphe and means “to fit, to fasten.” Christians with equipping gifts work with God’s Spirit to make the Body of Christ fit. You might say that some of us are in the “spiritual fitness” business.
Jesus uses apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to help connect Christians to their ministries and to each other and prepare them to move as God calls them to move. Notice the spiritual process the Lord has designed for His Body:
- Jesus gives gifts to men (The Giver)
- From whom the whole Body joined and knit together by what every joint supplies (the equippers)
- According to the effective working by which every part does its share (the workers, ministers)
- Causes growth of the Body for the edifying of itself in love (the growth that brings glory to God)
Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers do the work of joining and knitting the Body together. The Greek word for joining is sunarmologeo and means “to fit or frame together.” It means “fitly framed together.” The Greek word for knitting is sumbibazo and means “to unite, to join, to knit together.” This uniting and equipping ministry of those with support or “joint” gifts leads to a Body of believers that functions well and accomplishes the goals of its Designer. That function is made up of individual believers who do the work God has called them to do (“which every part does its share”). The end result of that causes growth of the Body – “for the edifying of itself in love.” Even though the human body and Body of Christ are both complicated in design and structure, the purpose is simple: to glorify the Designer.
Let’s put this wonderful segment of Scripture in its larger context. A careful study of Ephesians Chapters 1 -3 will prepare us to maximize the meaning of Chapter 4. In Chapters 1 and 2, Paul wrote to the Ephesians about their spiritual redemption through the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ. In Chapter 3, Paul wrote about the mystery God revealed to him and its blessing for Christians. He then reminded the believers about the absolute necessity for unity in the Body of Christ at the beginning of Chapter 4:
“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” Ephesians 4:1-6
Before Paul says one word about spiritual grace gifts, he points Christians to the need for unity in the Body. Every time Paul wrote about spiritual gifts, he wrote in the context of spiritual unity. Spiritual gifts without spiritual love and unity are not pleasing to God (1 Corinthians 13) and accomplish little to nothing of eternal value. We will never accomplish God’s Will for our lives or the life of our ministries unless we love one another and are unified firmly around God’s Purpose for ministry and giftedness.
My prayers are with you as you consider all that God has given you: your salvation, your grace gifts, your ministries and the people you touch for Jesus Christ. For those of you who have gifts God uses to equip other believers for their works of service, my prayers are with you that you will have the wisdom and strength to accomplish the great goal of preparing the saints for their ministry, to the edifying of the Body of Christ in love.
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”