Jesus' Parables for Disciples
#4. Ministry in the Church (Ephesians 4:7-16)by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Part of JesusWalk -- Vision for the Church
 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.  This is why it says:
"When he ascended on high,
he led captives in his train
and gave gifts to men."
 (What does "he ascended" mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions?  He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)  It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers,  to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up  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.
 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.  Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.  From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Have you ever been "church shopping," trying to find a church for your family? We look for programs that will help us and our children grow in the faith. We look for people with similar interests to our own so we will be able to make friends. I don't contend that these things aren't important. I do suggest, however, that we have it backwards.
The Church is not about us, but about Jesus Christ. If the Church is a Temple, a "dwelling place for God in the Spirit" (4:6), then the Church is God-centered, not John and Mary Doe-centered. We should be approaching the Church as Christ's Arms, Hands, and Fingers in the world, not to point out where we need some scratching and massaging, but to ask: How can I help? Where can I serve? How can I make this local manifestation of the Temple of God a more pleasing place for God to dwell?
In this week's lesson, Paul paints a picture of the Church's ministry and purpose, and how we are to fit into it.
Our first revelation is a new way of looking at God's grace. We've been accustomed to consider ourselves on the receiving end of grace. But this passage talks about channeling God's grace to others.
"But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it." (4:7)
"Grace," the Greek noun charis, is used in a number of ways in the New Testament. The root idea is "that which delights" and is often used in the sense of "favor." Here it means "making glad by gifts," of showing free, unmerited favor, with an emphasis on freedom in giving. In the context of 4:7, charis indicates the "exceptional effect produced by generosity, favor."
Our word "charismatic" comes from this root. The "Charismatic Movement" of the 1960s and beyond was not intended as a bless-me club, but as a re-tooling and re-fitting of the Church for great works of grace to be done in the world through gifted people.
Oh, I'm not gifted, you protest. I beg to differ with you. The words "each one" in our passage translate the Greek distributive pronoun hekastos, "one of an aggregate in a distributive sense, each, every," here as a noun, "each one, every one." The New Testament clearly indicates that "each one," each Christian has been given gifts in order to build up the Body of Christ and carry out Christ's work in the world (Romans 12:6; 1 Corinthians 12:11; 1 Peter 4:10).
The idea of giving is predominant in this passage. The verb didomi is found in 4:7, 8, and 11, the noun dorea in 4:7, and the noun doma in 4:8. Dorea, "gift, bounty," and doma, "gift," both come from the same root as the common verb didomi. Didomi occurs 416 times in the New Testament "in all the nuances of presenting, giving, bestowing, granting, etc."
The NRSV and KJV provide a clear and literal translation of the latter part of this verse: "according to the measure of Christ's gift" (NRSV), which the NIV renders "as Christ apportioned it." Christ has measured out to you one or more gifts for service. The two questions that remain are: (1) Which gifts are those? and (2) Will you use them diligently for his service?
Giving Gifts to the Church (4:8-10)
Now that our eyes are alerted to gifts, let's continue.
"This is why it says:
'When he ascended on high,
he led captives in his train
and gave gifts to men.'
(What does "he ascended" mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)" (4:8-10)
In the ancient world, when conquering generals returned home they would bring a procession of prisoners of war as a sign of their victory, and in celebration, give gifts to the populace. Paul quotes Psalm 68:18 and offers us this image -- of the conquering Christ bestowing gifts upon his citizens, the Church. He has vanquished his enemies in the "lower, earthly regions" and has now ascended to the heavenly realms where his citizens are enthroned alongside him at the right hand of God (2:6).
Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, and Teachers (4:11)
"It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers...." (4:11)
These people are tasked with heavy construction -- building up the church. Let's look briefly at these five "church construction" gifts.
"Apostle," the Greek noun apostolos, comes from the verb apostello, "to send away to achieve an objective." The noun means "delegate, envoy, messenger." In the early church, apostles were individuals sent with Jesus' personal authority to establish his church. The original apostles were eyewitnesses of Jesus' ministry (Acts 1:21-22). Later apostles included Paul, who had a special revelation from Jesus. In addition to the Twelve and Paul, the New Testament lists James, Barnabas, Andronicus, and Junia(s).
Are there apostles today? Some deny that there are. Others see a present-day apostolic role. Pete Wagner defines the gift of apostle as "the special ability ... to assume and exercise general leadership over a number of churches with an extraordinary authority in spiritual matters that is spontaneously recognized and appreciated by those churches." I see as apostles individuals like Martin Luther and John Wesley. Some modern apostles might include Chuck Smith, who founded the Calvary Chapel movement, or John Wimber, who began the Vineyard movement. I would name Pope John Paul II among that number, especially since he has taken a strong teaching and leadership role during his papacy. Though an apostle might have a home congregation, much of the apostle's time is probably spent traveling, since apostles are a gift to the larger Church.
If apostles seem a bit obscure to twenty-first century minds, so do prophets. "Prophet" is the Greek noun prophetes is used of "a person inspired to proclaim or reveal divine will or purpose, prophet." Though Paul talks about prophecy in 1 Corinthians 14, we only get glimpses of New Testament prophets. John the Baptist is a prophet of the Old Testament mold (Matthew 11:19). Jesus is called a prophet (Matthew 16:14). Prophets and teachers gather at Antioch for prayer and fasting (Acts 11:27; 13:1). Prophets Judas and Silas exhort the people in Antioch (Acts 15:32). Finally, a Jerusalem prophet named Agabus predicts a famine (Acts 11:28) and prophesies the Apostle Paul's imprisonment (Acts 21:10).
Exactly what is a prophet? Gifts can take different shapes and forms in different individuals, but here's a working definition: "The gift of prophecy is the special ability ... to receive and communicate an immediate message of God to His people through a divinely-anointed utterance." Some have equated preaching with prophecy. While sometimes prophecy may come through medium of preaching, I don't think that we should normally consider preaching as prophecy.
We're more acquainted with evangelists. "Evangelist," the Greek noun euangelistes, comes from the noun euangelizo, "bring good news, announce good news." The noun means "proclaimer of the gospel, evangelist." It is used only three times in the New Testament, here, in Acts 21:8 of Philip the Evangelist, and in 2 Timothy 4:5, where Timothy is exhorted to "do the work of an evangelist" and so fulfill his ministry. Philip, if you remember, conducted a powerful ministry of evangelism in Samaria and to the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:4-40).
In the twentieth century we have seen mass evangelism done by those who also exercised the gift of healing (T.L. Osborn, Oral Roberts, Kathryn Kuhlman, etc.), though many effective evangelists have not been healers (D.L. Moody, Billy Graham, Luis Palau). Christ chooses the ministries and bestows the gifts.
Local congregations today need men and women as gifted evangelists who bring people to faith in Christ. Some might win two or three a year -- every year, year after year. What a ministry! Others might win dozens or hundreds or thousands. Local church evangelists are also important because they can instruct other church members how to effectively share their faith.
Pastors, too, are recognizable in our day. "Pastor" is the Greek noun poimen, "shepherd, one who serves as guardian or leader." The idea of shepherd as leader was present in the ancient orient. The king is referred to as shepherd in documents and inscriptions in Sumeria and Egypt. In the Old Testament, Jeremiah and Ezekiel castigate the worthless shepherd-leaders of their people (Jeremiah 10:21; 23:1-2; Ezekiel 34:2-10). Leaders are also called shepherds in Nahum 3:18 and Zechariah 10:3. The noun is only used elsewhere in the New Testament of Christ (Hebrews 13:20 and 1 Peter 2:25). But the verb poimaino, "to watch out for other people, to shepherd," is used in 1 Peter 5:2; John 21:16, and of the administration of a congregation in Acts 20:28 of the Ephesian elders.
Not all with the gift of pastor are ordained, full-time ministers paid by a congregation. The largest church in the world in Seoul, Korea, uses house church leaders to extend the ministry to neighborhoods and apartment buildings all over the metropolitan area. Surely these are pastors -- and, strange to some, most of them are women. There may be some in your congregation whose shepherding gift should be recognized and used to help care for a portion of the local congregation. Certainly the elders of the Ephesian church had that sort of role (Acts 20:28).
"Teacher" is the Greek noun didaskalos, "teacher." The Hebrew title "rabbi," sometimes used to address Jesus, uses this word. The term "teachers" describes officers in Christian congregation here and in Acts 13:1; 1 Corinthians 12:28-29; 2 Timothy 1:11; and James 3:1. The Great Commission includes this vital teaching function -- "teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you..." (Matthew 28:20). Teaching was "the ministry of the Word" (Luke 1:2; Acts 6:4).
A good case can be made for considering pastors and teachers as two sides of the same ministry. Jeremias argues, "The absence of the article before didaskalous which follows shows that the pastors and teachers form a single group, obviously because they both minister to the individual congregation." I don't think we should be dogmatic about this, but we should be aware of the very close relationship between caring for God's people and teaching them.
Sadly, too many pastors preach homiletically sound sermons, but do very little actual teaching of the New Testament. Too many of our people are biblically illiterate. Too many of our children don't really know the stories and message of the Bible that will bring them to salvation. Sunday school teachers and small group leaders who teach are so important to the work of the local church!
Due to a misplaced comma, however, generations of Christians have misunderstood this passage. In the KJV it reads: "For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ." The implication -- because of the commas -- is that the five ministries listed are (1) to perfect the saints, (2) do the work of ministry, and (3) edify the church.
The result has been successive pastorates filled by ministers hired to be chaplains -- to provide for the spiritual comfort of the congregation, to minister to their needs, to provide specially cooked sermons so they could feed on gourmet teaching on Sundays to sleep off during the week.
The commas, however, weren't in the original Greek. Their placement in the KJV is arbitrary. Verse 12 should be read differently:
"... to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ..." (NRSV)
In other words, the "saints," the "holy ones," the members of the congregation are to do the work of ministry themselves -- not just the pastors and teachers. The pastors and teachers, rather are to train and equip the members of the congregation to get on with their ministry.
"Works of service" (NIV) or "the work of ministry" (NRSV, KJV) is made up of two words: ergon, "deed, action, work" and diakonia, "service" (from which we get our word "deacon").
To expect the pastors and teachers to act as "hired guns" to do the church's ministry is backwards. It's like the players forcing their coach to hit and run bases, while the players huddle on the bench to discuss when to fire their pinch hitter and hire another.
Equipping God's People for Ministry (4:12a)
"... to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up." (4:12)
"Prepare" (NIV), "perfecting" (KJV), and "equip" (NRSV) translate the Greek noun katartismos, "equipment, equipping." The noun is formed from the verb katartizo, "put in order, restore, put into proper condition, prepare for a purpose, make, create, outfit." The verb was used in classical Greek as "to regulate (politically), to order." It also meant "to equip" and was used of armies, of education, and of childraising. In the Gospels the verb is used of repairing fishing nets (Matthew 4:21; Mark 1:19).
During the American Revolutionary War, the Continental Army spent the bitter winter of 1777-1778 at Valley Forge, cold and ill-clad. Washington appointed two men to help this rag-tag group. Prussian General Baron Friedrich von Steuben drilled and trained the men continuously until they could execute battle maneuvers quickly and flawlessly, capable of standing up to the best armies of Europe. His method was to train a group of the officers and sergeants, who went back and trained their companies with the same method. General Nathanael Greene was appointed Quarter Master General and began to see that supplies, clothing, and shoes flowed to the destitute army. As a result, when the army marched out of Valley Forge in the spring of 1778, they were a confident, equipped, and fearsome fighting force.
Pastors and teachers are charged with training and equipping the army of God to struggle against principalities and powers -- and succeed! (6:10-18).
The Purpose of Ministry (4:12b)
The purpose of ministry is clearly stated:
"... to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up." (4:12)
The phrases "built up" (NIV), "building up" (NRSV), or "edifying" (KJV) translate the Greek noun oikodome, "the process of building, construction," also used figuratively of spiritual strengthening, "edifying, edification, building up." The pastors and teachers train the workers who construct the building, the Body of Christ -- His Church.
The Body of Christ
We've seen the phrase "body of Christ" several times in our lessons. Let's see how Paul uses this term as he teaches the Ephesians:
"The Church, which is his body...."
"The Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus."
"There is one body and one Spirit..."
"... To prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up."
"From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work."
"Put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body."
For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.
" No one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church -- for we are members of his body."
What is the basic concept? The church as Christ's body is a metaphor, a figure of speech drawing attention to a likeness or analogy between them. How Paul came to use this metaphor isn't certain, but it is probably an interplay of several influences: (1) the Stoic comparison of the state to a body consisting of interdependent members, (2) the Hebrew concept of "corporate personality" indicating solidarity between a figure and the nation or people he represents, and (3) the risen Lord's identification of himself with his persecuted people (Acts 9:4).
In which sense does Paul mean that the members should minister to build up or construct the Church? Though in some places in the Acts and Epistles numerical growth is the forefront, here the focus is on Christian maturity:
"... 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. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming." (4:13-14)
Let's examine some elements of that maturity. A body, by definition, is unified. "Unity" is the Greek noun henotes, "a state of oneness or of being in harmony and accord, unity." that we saw in last week's lesson in 4:3, "unity of the Spirit." Here it is "unity of the faith" (KJV, NRSV). The church is also unified in knowing Jesus. "Knowledge" is the Greek noun epignosis, "knowledge, recognition."
The KJV translates literally, "unto a perfect man (aner)." The Greek noun aner means "an adult human male, man." The phrase "perfect man" (KJV) means "a full-grown man," "mature" (NIV), "to maturity" (NRSV). This mature church knows Jesus and isn't easily swayed by false teachings.
Creating a Functional and Healthy Body (4:15-16)
"Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work." (4:15-16)
Paul makes several points in these two verses about the nature of the healthy Body of Christ that he envisions:
- Truth. The body is characterized by truth. But it is not just bald truth, truth wielded as a weapon to injure, but truth spoken in love.
- Love. Love is both the way truth is spoken in the Church, it is also the means by which growth and building take place. Love is an essential and integral element of the Church itself and its growth process.
- Head. Christ as Head is both the source of growth and the direction of that growth. A church that does its own thing and for whom Christ is a doctrine rather than a living reality will not a functional church, but dysfunctional.
- Ligaments. The body doesn't sprawl. The legs don't buckle at the knees. This body is both joined and held together by ligaments or joints. The wording reminds me of the "the uniting bond of peace" (4:3) that holds Christ's church in unity.
- Each Part. For the body to work properly, "each part does its work" (4:16). That's talking about you and me. It isn't just the "big ministries," but all the supporting systems that allow the "big ministries" to function. Gifts of "helps" or "service" (1 Corinthians 12:28), for example, must be active or the efficiency of the "big ministries" slows way down. A human body is not just arms, legs, fingers, and a head. What supports this body are a number of key systems -- circulatory, nervous, lymph, reproductive, digestive, endocrine, respiratory, urinary, skeletal, and muscular systems. If any part isn't working, the whole body suffers. What is your part? Are you functioning in a body in any regular, dependable way? Or is your relationship to a church selfish, based on your own needs and schedule rather than on the church's needs?
- Growth. Notice how this figurative body grows. (1) It grows up, grows in maturity in Christ ("we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head," 4:15). But (2) it also grows in size and character ("grows and builds itself up in love," 4:16).
I have a vision for a Church filled with gifted people who are all active in ministry -- "each one"! This kind of church is might, unstoppable, and a witness to the world. It begins with seeking Christ to reveal what our ministries are. Then by allowing evangelists, pastors, and teachers to equip us for our ministries. Finally, gifted people need to be identified and mobilized into the unified work of local congregations.
Lord, bring about this glorious church in our generation and our own communities.
Father, we depend upon the gifted leaders that you call and give to us. Forgive us for being unfaithful leaders. Forgive our churches for resisting our leaders. Encourage and renew them, we pray. Give them a passion for training and equipping, and give us all a passion to be trained and equipped. Lord, awaken and revitalize your Church in our day. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.
"It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up." (Ephesians 4:11-12)
- (Ephesians 4:7) In what way does verse 7 teach that all Christians have received spiritual gifts? (See also Romans 12:6; 1 Corinthians 12:11; 1 Peter 4:10). If all have received spiritual gifts, what is the implication of this in light of the clause in Ephesians 4:16 that mentions "each/every part"?
- (Ephesians 4:11) How did (do) apostles and prophets build up the Body, in your opinion?
- (Ephesians 4:11) What does an evangelist in a local congregation look like, in your experience? How does a local church evangelist function? How does he or she build up the Body?
- (Ephesians 4:11) How do pastors and teachers work to build up the Body? Do you recognize anyone in your church who has a pastoral or teaching ministry who is not an ordained clergyperson? What effect do they have upon the Body? What do small group leaders and Sunday school teachers do to build the Body?
- (Ephesians 4:11) From a strategic point of view, why is it vital that pastors focus on "equipping the saints for the work of ministry" rather than on serving as paid chaplains to the flock? What actions might this equipping involve? In what ways is "equipping ... for ministry" similar to what Jesus did when he trained his disciples?
- According to Ephesians 4:13-16, what is the purpose of constructing a healthy local congregation?
Standard abbreviations are found on the references page. https://www.jesuswalk.com/church/refs.htm
- Hans Conzelmann, "charis," TDNT 9:372-415, especially pp. 373 and 394.
- BDAG 1079-1081.
- BDAG 298.
- BDAG 266.
- Herwart Vorländler, "Gift, doron," NIDNTT 2:41. There is no particular distinction in meaning between these words, though doma is relatively rare.
- "Measure" is the Greek noun metron, which first refers to "an instrument used for measuring," and then "the result of measuring, quantity, number" so this phrase could be rendered "grace was given to each one according to the measure (of it) that Christ gave" (BDAG 644).
- It is beyond the scope of this lesson to consider all the spiritual gifts in detail, just the five mentioned in verse 11. Resources include C. Peter Wagner, Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow (Regal Books, revised 1997), ISBN 0830716815, which I cite in this lesson -- an extremely readable and helpful book. For teaching on spiritual gifts I recommend: Alvin J. Vander Griend, Discover Your Gifts and Learn How to Use Them -- Student Manual (Revised edition; CRC Publications, 1996), 8-1/2x11 paperback, 142 pages, ISBN 1562121839, and Alvin J. Vander Griend, Discover Your Gifts and Learn How to Use Them -- Leader's Guide (CRC Publications, 1996), 8-1/2x11 paperback, 79 pages, ISBN 1562121820. The second revised edition, especially, is well-balanced, and includes teaching on both the so-called "natural" as well as the supernatural gifts of the Spirit. I highly recommend it.
- "Ascended" is the Greek verb anabaino, "to be in motion upward, go up, ascend"(BDAG 58). Its antonym is katabaino, "to move downward, come/go down"(BDAG 514). The phrase "he led captives in his train" (NIV) can also be rendered "he made captivity itself a captive" (NRSV). The word "led/made captive," the Greek verb aixmaloteuo, "to capture in war, capture, take captive"(BDAG 31). What affects the translation is the noun aixmalosia, which can mean either (1) "state of captivity" or (2) "a captured military force, prisoners of war, captives"(BDAG 31).
- BDAG 122.
- P.W. Barnett, "Apostle," DPL, pp. 45-51.
- C. Peter Wagner, Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow (Regal Books, 1979), pp. 261, 207-211.
- This doesn't mean that I agree with everything the Pope or the Roman Catholic Church teaches or does. However, I believe Pope John-Paul functions as an apostle to his movement.
- BDAG 890-891.
- C. Peter Wagner, Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow (Regal Books, 1979), p. 259. David Hill defines a prophet this way: "A Christian prophet is a Christian who functions within the Church, occasionally or regularly, as a divinely called and divinely inspired speaker who receives intelligible and authoritative revelations or messages which he is impelled to deliver publicly, in oral or written form, to Christian individuals and/or the Christian community." (David Hill, New Testament Prophecy (John Knox Press, 1979), pp. 8-9.) Another helpful book on prophecy is Wayne A. Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy in 1 Corinthians (University Press of America, 1982).
- See my article "Understanding the Gift of Prophecy. I. Is Prophecy Preaching?" part of an unpublished Doctor of Ministry dissertation, Fuller Theological Seminar, 1984. https://www.joyfulheart.com/scholar/preach.htm
- Joachim Jeremias, "poimen, ktl.," TDNT 6:485-499.
- BDAG 842-843.
- BDAG 241.
- Joachim Jeremias, "poimen, ktl.," TDNT 6:485-499, especially p. 407.
- BDAG 390-391.
- BDAG 230.
- BDAG 526.
- Gerhard Delling, "artios, ktl.," TDNT 1:475-476. Reinier Schippers, "Right, artios," NIDNTT 3:349-351.
- BDAG 696-697.
- Ronald Y.K. Fung, "Body of Christ," DPL 76-82; Eduard Schweizer, "soma," TDNT 7:1068-1090.
- BDAG 338.
- BDAG 369.
- BDAG 79. "Stature" (KJV, NRSV) is the Greek helikia. The basic meaning is "the period of time that one's life continues, age, time of life." Here it refers to "bodily stature" (BDAG 435-436).
- "Joined" (NIV, NRSV) or "fitly joined together" is the Greek verb sunarmologeo, "to join together so as to form a coherent entity, fit/join together." It was used of a building in Lesson 2, Ephesians 2:21. Here it is used of a body (BDAG 966). "Held together" (NIV), "knit together" (NRSV) or "compacted" (KJV) is the Greek verb sumbibazo, to bring together into a unit, unite, literally of the body which is "held together' by sinews, ligaments, and joints" (BDAG 956-957). "Ligament" (NIV, RSV) or "joint" (KJV) is the Greek noun haphe, "ligament," literally, "joint, connection" (BDAG 155). "Supporting" (NIV), "equipped" (NRSV), or "supplieth" (KJV) is the Greek noun epichoregia, "assistance, support," from the verb epichoregeo which means "to provide (at one's own expense), supply, furnish" and "to provide what is necessary for the well-being of another, support" (BDAG 386-387).
- "Part" is meros, "part, in contrast to the whole ... component, element" (BDAG 633-634).
- "Grow up" (4:15) is the Greek verb auxano, "to become greater, grow, increase." "Grows" (NIV), "growth" (NRSV), or "increase" (KJV, 4:16) is the Greek noun auxesis, "growth, increase" (BDAG 151). "Builds/building" (NIV, NRSV) or edifying (KJV) in verse 16 is the Greek noun oikodome, "building, construction," which we met in verse 12.
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