4. The Unity and Gifts of the Church (Ephesians 4:1-16)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (22:54)

Ford Madox Brown (British Pre-Raphaelite painter, (1821-93),'Jesus Washing Peter's Feet' (Ephesians 1865), oil on canvas, Tate Gallery, London
Humility and service are at the basis of unity in Christ. Ford Madox Brown (British Pre-Raphaelite painter, (1821-93),'Jesus Washing Peter's Feet' (Ephesians 1865), oil on canvas, Tate Gallery, London.

While the previous section (Ephesians 2:22-3:21) focuses on the unity of Jews and Gentiles in Christ, now Paul approaches unity a different way. He offers an impassioned plea for unity within an individual congregation.

"Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." (Ephesians 4:3)

He talks about the elements we Christians all have in common. Then he explains how even different spiritual gifts work together to produce a mature body of believers through the Holy Spirit.

4.1 One Body -- Unity and Diversity (4:1-10)
4.2 Equipping, Ministry, and Maturity (4:11-16)

4.1. One Body -- Unity and Diversity (Ephesians 4:1-10)

While the first half of Ephesians is has a big-picture, spiritual, teaching orientation, the second half of the letter focuses on practical applications. Paul has worked to develop the theme of unity in Ephesians 1-3. Now he explains how that unity can be achieved. The passage we're about to study offers:

  • One Purpose
  • Three Commands
  • Seven Bonds
  • Millions of Unique Giftings

One Purpose

"Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." (Ephesians 4:3)

Someone once said, "If you find a perfect church don't join it -- otherwise it wouldn't be perfect any longer." Conflict is a fact of life. If you want a harmonious marriage, don't put a man (from Mars) and a woman (from Venus) together. That's a sure recipe for conflict. Instead, put two very mellow people together who are very much the same. It'll be a calm marriage, but they'll probably die early -- of boredom.

Whenever you put differences together -- in a marriage or in a church -- you get conflicts. The purpose here is not to avoid conflict, but to learn how to deal with it so that unity might prevail. Unity is the purpose of this passage and the theme of the entire letter (see the key verse: Ephesians 1:10).

Three Commands (Ephesians 4:1-3)

To bring about this unity, Paul delivers three commands:

1. "Live a life worthy of the calling which you have received" (Ephesians 4:1)

"As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received." (Ephesians 4:1)

We've been called to follow Jesus, to be like him. So we are to live our lives in such a way that we bring credit (glory) to him.

I have two big brass belt buckles. The first says, "Praise the Lord." The second says, "Jesus Is Lord." Whenever I wear them I am acutely aware that what I do and say reflects on Jesus. But we don't have to wear bold belt buckles or T-shirts for our actions to reflect on Jesus. When people know that we are professing Christians they'll be looking at our lives. "Live a life worthy of the calling," admonishes the Apostle.

As regards unity, the Master who prayed that we all might be one (John 17:11), expects us to act out that truth in our Christian community. We are called by our Master to be one; let us live a life worthy of that calling.

Verse 1 speaks of the "calling" with which we have been "called." We get our English word "vocation" from Latin vocatio, "summons." The Greek noun in our passage means, "call, calling, invitation to experience of special privilege and responsibility."144 Our calling is a general calling to be disciples, followers of Jesus. This is our "vocation" towards God. The way we "walk" (KJV, ESV), "live a life" (NIV), "lead a life" (NRSV)145 must be "worthy"146 of the One who has called us to follow him. Unless we take this seriously, we are just playing at Christianity. (Yes, we fall short at times. Thank God for forgiveness.) But this high calling (Philippians 3:14; KJV) inspires us to our best. And at our best we are to strive for unity with our Christian brothers and sisters.

Q34. (Ephesians 4:1) According to verse 1, what is the standard of our behavior? What is the "calling" to which God has called us?

2. "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love." (Ephesians 4:2)

Paul's second command regards humility and patience.

"Be completely humble147 and gentle148; be patient, bearing with one another in love." (Ephesians 4:2)

Jesus himself established humility and gentleness as virtues. He treated people with gentleness while he healed them with God's power. His humility attracted people. Jesus said:

"Come to me all you who are weary and burdened," he said, "and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matthew 11:28-29).

While we are eager to impress people, he was eager to bless them.

Pride splits churches. People get their toes stepped on, are rubbed the wrong way, don't feel appreciated, and then begin to gossip and complain. To achieve unity we must continually seek humility and gentleness. The desire for power is closely related to pride, and it too infects unwary believers.

At the Last Supper the disciples were arguing about which of them would be considered greatest. Jesus told them:

"The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them .... But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves." (Luke 22:24-26)

To underscore this he took a towel and a basin and began to wash their feet as might a lowly slave (John 13:4-5).

"Be completely humble and gentle," commands Paul (verse 2a). Without these qualities, unity will escape us.

The next two character traits are just as important: "Be patient, bearing with one another in love" (verse 2b). The King James translation of "patient"149 is "long suffering," and that is often what patience entails: suffering long. We are quick to dispense with annoyances, but Paul says that patience with each other is essential to unity. So is "bearing with one another in love." The verb "bearing" (ESV, NIV, NRSV), "forbearing" (KJV) means "to regard with tolerance, endure, bear with, put up with."150 Why do I have to put up with this? we ask angrily. Because God calls us to it.151

Have you ever noticed annoying idiosyncrasies in your spouse or your parents or your pastor? Why do they do that?! We want to set them straight and change them. But ingrained habits are difficult to change. We can split and be alone, or we can "bear with each other" and have unity. Yes, God does change people, but we must allow him to be the Changer, and give up the notion that this is our role.

Jesus accepted people, loved them, and his love changed them. Of course, love is at the core of Paul's command, too. "Be patient, bearing with one another in love."

Q35. (Ephesians 4:2) Why are patience and humility so important to preserving unity? What happens to the reputation of Jesus Christ when we have right doctrine along with a sense of arrogance towards those who disagree with us? How are we to be both "gentle" and to "fight the good fight of faith"?

3. "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3)

"Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3)

Let's look at some of the words in this command.

"Make every effort" (NIV), "endeavoring" (KJV), "eager" (ESV), "being diligent" (NASB) means to "hasten, hurry," then "be zealous or eager, take pains, make every effort, be conscientious."152 This is the same word Paul uses in 2 Timothy 2:15 "Study to show thyself approved unto God." It indicates zealous effort.

"Maintain" (NRSV, ESV), "keep" (KJV, NIV) the unity, employs a word that is more active than our English translations often indicate. The NASB translation "preserve" captures some of the active idea of Greek tēreō, a military term: "keep watch over, guard; keep, hold, reserve, preserve."153 We are charged to actively guard this unity!

The idea of "bond" here denotes some kind of fastener, something that keeps together a house, a garment, or different members of the physical body: the wooden beams, the fastenings, or the ligaments.154 (See also verse 16).

This is an earnest and solemn command: "Be very zealous to guard and preserve the unity of the Spirit," the ligaments which hold together the Body in peace.

"Oh, I am breaking the unity for the sake of truth," proclaims one zealous follower. But our zeal needs to be focused on guarding unity. "I am breaking the unity for the sake of pure doctrine," asserts another. But our purity consists of speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), and

"Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy or boast ... it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails" (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

This doesn't mean that preserving unity is at all easy. We need to be faithful to the truth, to guard the teachings delivered to us from the apostles to pass on to the next generation. We need to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3). But we must keep the unity of the Spirit, and we must do it in love. We must! It is a command.

God cause us to repent of our denominational divorces and pride in our own petty righteousness and hobby-horse doctrines! Forgive us, O Lord!

Q36. (Ephesians 4:3) How much energy must we expend on Christian unity? What is "the bond of peace"? How do we strike at peace when we are intent on argument and dissension?

Seven Bonds (Ephesians 4:4-5)

"There is one body and one Spirit -- just as you were called to one hope when you were called -- one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." (Ephesians 4:4-5)

Seven elements unite us, says Paul:

  1. One body
  2. One Spirit
  3. One hope
  4. One Lord
  5. One faith
  6. One baptism
  7. One God and Father

He urges us to look at the things that unite us, rather than the things that divide us. Sometimes we view the early church through rose-colored glasses. Those were the days! The church was perfect, the saints were wonderful! I just wish I could recreate the New Testament Church! Right. You don't even have to read very carefully to see division:

  • In Corinth, one group was touting the preacher Apollos over the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 3:4).
  • In Galatia, there was conflict between the Christians who wanted to bring along their legalistic Judaism and those who asserted their freedom in Christ (Galatians 3:1-3).
  • In Rome, one group preached while Paul was in prison just to aggravate him (Philippians 1:17).
  • Paul and Barnabas disagreed over bringing John Mark on the Second Missionary Journey (Acts 15:37-40).
  • In Philippi, Euodia and Syntyche couldn't get along with each other (Philippians 4:2).

The early church didn't lack conflict, but they worked hard -- with the apostles' urging -- to preserve, guard, and maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, focusing on the things they did have in common.

One baptism? Don't Christians disagree about baptism? Babies or believers? Sprinkling, pouring, immersion? We do disagree, and it is important to study the Scriptures and determine carefully what is right. But baptism is to unite us.

"For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body -- whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free -- and we were all given the one Spirit to drink." (1 Corinthians 12:13)

How can we hold our views of baptism higher than the clear command to guard the unity of faith? We must agree to disagree about some things, but continue to hold love as preeminent, and refuse to break fellowship over these things.

Is there a time to break fellowship? Yes. We see this occasionally in the Scripture (1 Corinthians 5:1-2; Revelation 2:14-15; etc.). But it is always the time to seek unity.

Millions of Unique Giftings (Ephesians 4:7)

"But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned155 it." (Ephesians 4:7)

Once Paul has established the groundwork for the unity of the church, he goes on to explain the diversity within the body.

The spiritual gifts Christ has given cannot be counted. Oh, they can be classified into types and categories. But look at the variety even then. Billy Graham manifestly possessed the gift of evangelism. In him this gift worked through preaching in mass evangelism settings. But the gift of evangelism also worked through Phillip the evangelist who coupled preaching in villages with miracles and personal witness (Acts 8). Are they both valid? Of course. Does Billy's gift have to be like Phillip's? No.

We serve a God who has created categories of trees -- oaks, pines, palms -- but within these broad categories we see individual species. On our property we have about 800 oak trees in three species: Interior Live Oak (Quercus wislizenii), Valley Oak (Q. lobata), and Blue Oak (Q. douglasii). But when you look carefully, you can see that some of the Live Oaks are probably a cross with the California Black Oak (Q. kelloggii) which thrives at a slightly higher elevation. Besides hybridization we have the effects of soil quality and precipitation. Some of our trees grow well on the sandy loam soil. Others struggle to grow in the crevices of granite outcroppings. Some are tall, others are broader, and still others have long branches, which parallel the ground. In the fall, some trees have wonderfully abundant acorn crops, while others will come ripe another year.

Spiritual gifts are no different. God has made human beings wonderfully diverse.

  • Factor 1: physical
  • Factor 2: temperament
  • Factor 3: family environment
  • Factor 4: birth order
  • Factor 5: artistic ability
  • Factor 6: intellectual ability
  • Factor 7: language ability
  • Factor 8: emotional sensitivity
  • Factor 9: spiritual aptitude
  • Factor 10: affluence
  • Factor 11: opportunities for development
  • Factor 12: talents

But spiritual gifts are ... "spiritual," you protest. Talents are "natural." Says who? It is God who has wired us the way we are, and then flooded us with his Spirit. When God is creating, who is to say what is natural and what is spiritual? The result is wonderfully unique and enriching and God-given. How many spiritual gifts are there? Five, nine, nineteen, twenty-six? How about billions!

The Victor Dispensing Gifts (Ephesians 4:8-10)

"8 This is why it says:
   'When he ascended on high,
    he led captives in his train
    and gave gifts to men.'
9 (What does 'he ascended' mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)" (Ephesians 4:8-10)

Paul begins his discussion of spiritual gifts in verse 8 by using the figure of a military victory procession where the conquering general leads the prisoners of war through the streets of the capital and distributes gifts to his subjects from the booty. He quotes Psalm 68:18:

"When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men."

If we were to carry though the analogy (and Paul doesn't), the conquering general is the victorious Christ, the captives are perhaps the vanquished spirits of the evil one (Colossians 2:15), and the gifts are spiritual empowerment to build up and perfect his Body, the church.

Verses 9 and 10 are a parenthesis that interprets the word "ascended" in the quotation from Psalm 68:19. Paul sees the ascension as the resurrected Christ's ascension into God's presence in glory, as opposed to his descent from heaven onto the earth in human form to redeem humanity.

Q37. (Ephesians 4:7-10) Who gives spiritual gifts? Can our "natural" talents be related to our "spiritual" gifts? How? What is the difference between a natural God-given talent and a spiritual gift?

We'll shortly study five of the gifts which Christ has given to the church, and how they fulfill the purpose of unity. This purpose of the unity of God's people is primary. It is the cause we must strive for. Our goal isn't structural or organizational unity, some kind of world church. Our goal is spiritual: that the Church of Jesus Christ -- in our congregation, between the congregations in our community, and extending to the bodies of congregations throughout the earth -- might practice, with love, the unity of Christ's Body that surely exists in heaven and must exist here on earth so that the world might see Christians who love one another. Jesus put it this way to his sometimes proud and fractious disciples:

"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34-35)

Grant this unity based on love, O Lord, in our lives and in our churches.


Dear Lord, help me to love my Christian brothers and sisters -- the ones I agree with and the ones that see some things differently than I do. Help me to simply love and so reflect you. We ask you to heal the scandal of schism in your Church so that Jesus might be seen in us and that people will know that we are your disciples. In Jesus' mighty name, we pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received." (Ephesians 4:1)

"Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." (Ephesians 4:3)

4.2. Equipping, Ministry, and Maturity (Ephesians 4:11-16)

Audio (23:08)

Caravaggio, 'The Conversion on the Way to Damascus (1600), oil on canvas, 230 x 175 cm, Cerasi Chapel, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome.
Paul's call to be an apostle was sudden and decisive. He was struck from his horse and called by Christ. Caravaggio, 'The Conversion on the Way to Damascus (1600), oil on canvas, 230 x 175 cm, Cerasi Chapel, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome.

Our passage speaks about

  • The purpose of pastors and leaders: to develop ministry
  • The purpose of ministry: to develop maturity
  • The purpose of maturity: unity with Christ and his church

Exactly what are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers? Let's define some terms:

Defining an Apostle (Ephesians 4:11a)

"Apostle" (Greek apostolos) designates one who has been sent with a commission and can mean a "delegate, envoy, messenger."156 In the NT it is used as a technical term to refer to Christ-designated messengers given authority to speak for him and to establish his church.

The first apostles were the Twelve.

"When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles." (Luke 6:13)

Notice the first thing he did after appointing them: These twelve Jesus sent out (apostellō) on a mission. These first apostles were eyewitnesses of the resurrection, as was Matthias, selected to take Judas' place (Acts 1:22-26).

The apostles were the first teachers (Acts 2:42) and administrators (Acts 6:1-6) of the church, but these responsibilities were soon spread among others. The apostles performed miraculous signs (Acts 2:43; 2 Corinthians 12:12), conveyed the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands (Acts 8:17-18), and generally established the church both in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria. Thomas is said to have gone to Parthia and as far as India establishing churches. The Didache indicates that the ministry of apostles and prophets extended into at least the late first century.157

Do apostles exist today? If so, how does one define modern-day apostles? This is hotly debated. If they do exist, they differ some from the original apostles. For example, they are not eyewitnesses to the resurrection (Acts 1:22). I find C. Peter Wagner's working definition helpful:

"The gift of apostle is the special ability ... which enables them 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."158

Examples of apostles might be John Wesley, founder of Methodism, in the past. I would guess that the pope might fit this category, too, since his ministry extends far beyond administering the Vatican. Some popes have exerted an influential teaching ministry throughout the world. (Note: Apostleship is a gift endowed by the Spirit, not bestowed by churches. I do not expect all present-day apostles to see eye-to-eye with each other on doctrine. Nevertheless, they can still be gifted and empowered by the Spirit to build Christ's Church.)

When I was in college I met an American missionary who worked in the highlands of Mexico. His main role was visiting and teaching in a circuit of about fifty congregations over which he had responsibility, many of which he had planted. That seems to me an apostolic ministry, akin to the function of St. Paul in Philippi, Galatia, Corinth, and Ephesus and, later, St. John in the Seven Churches of Asia Minor.

Q38. (Ephesians 4:11) If there were apostles today, why kind of function might they have? What needs do our congregations and regional groupings of churches have that an apostle might meet? How might we detect false apostles? (2 Corinthians 11:13; Revelation 2:2)

Defining Prophets (Ephesians 4:11b)

Prophets in the Old Testament seemed to be lone spokesmen for God such as Elijah, Moses, Samuel, and Malachi, often very unpopular for speaking God's word. Jesus and John the Baptist both functioned as prophets. In the early church, however, the prophets seem be spread among some of the other leadership roles. We read about prophets who came from Jerusalem to Antioch, among them Agabus who prophesied of future events (Acts 11:27-28; 21:10-11). Prophets and teachers gathered in Antioch to worship and fast and seek God's guidance, and out of that gathering came the prophecy: "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them" -- i.e. their missionary journeys (Acts 13:1-3). Silas was a prophet (Acts 15:32). Philip the Evangelist's four unmarried daughters prophesied (Acts 21:8-9). An early Christian document, The Didache, instructs congregations how to relate to itinerant and resident prophets in the last years of the first century.159

Paul encouraged all to prophesy (1 Corinthians 14:5), that is, to speak under the anointing of the Holy Spirit the immediate and upbuilding Word of God. I believe this goes beyond anointed preaching to something else entirely.160 It is one thing to win someone to Christ, it is another to be an Evangelist. It is one thing to teach a lesson, it is another to be a Teacher. In the same way, while many Christians may prophesy occasionally, few of these will have the ministry of being a Prophet.

Defining Evangelists (Ephesians 4:11c)

Next Paul speaks of evangelists. This role isn't spelled out very well in the New Testament, though clearly it has to do with proclaiming the Good News and comes from the Greek word euangelizo, to proclaim good news. The noun is used twice, in a technical ministry sense referring to Philip (Acts 21:8), and in a functional sense referring to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:5).

Philip's ministry involved preaching to the Samaritans and winning them to Christ (mass evangelism, Acts 8:4-13), as well as witnessing to and winning the treasurer of Ethiopia, whom he saw riding in a chariot (one-to-one evangelism, Acts 8:26-40).

In the early church, evangelists were probably itinerant preachers of the Gospel, perhaps similar to tent-evangelists of our day. In areas of India, Africa, and elsewhere today, evangelists and evangelistic teams will travel to non-Christian villages to share the Gospel with them. While all Christians have an obligation to share Christ where they are, Pete Wagner once estimated that 10% of the people in churches have the gift of evangelism. Oh, that the gift of evangelism would be stirred up in our churches (2 Timothy 1:6; 4:5)! Instead, in some congregations evangelism is shamefully denigrated as "proselytism."

Q39. (Ephesians 4:11) How can we stir up the gift of evangelism among members of our congregations? What might be the earmarks of a person with this gift? How can we encourage and stimulate the Spirit-gifted evangelists in our midst?

Defining Pastors (Ephesians 4:11d)

Because of the Greek syntax of verse 11, some scholars see pastors and teachers to be combined into one ministry of pastor-teacher.161 More likely they are overlapping roles.162

Our word "pastor" (with the related word "pasture") means, literally, "shepherd." In fact, in Spanish, El Pastor can refer to either a herder of sheep or a religious leader. In the Ancient Near East, the term Shepherd was applied to kings and other leaders. So the pastor is the leader of the flock.

A pastor or shepherd leads the flock, protects it, guides it to places where there is grass to eat and water to drink. He heals the sheep that are hurt, assists in birth, and with tenderness cares for the flock.

This describes pretty well what a resident spiritual leader does for a group or congregation, which is sometimes referred to as a "flock" (Acts 20:28-29; 1 Peter 5:2-3). The larger the church is, the more pastors are needed. In fact, in the largest churches, the "senior pastor" may need additional gifts of faith, leadership, teaching, or administration.

Often the functional pastors in a Christian community are not the official leaders, but adult Sunday school teachers, small group leaders, house church leaders, etc. You can have a pastoral gift of caring for the spiritual needs of a group of people without having received any official title. Recognition is nice, but not necessary to carrying out this important role. God knows, and it is to him that you serve in this gift.

In the New Testament church, the words "elder" (presbyteros), pastor (poimēn), and bishop or overseer (episcopos) are used synonymously. You can observe this by comparing 1 Peter 5:1-4; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; and Titus 1:5-9.

Defining Teachers (Ephesians 4:11e)

The teacher (didaskalos) has a role closely related to the pastoral function, but somewhat specialized. The pastor is more a leader of and carer for people, while the teacher grounds people in truth and helps them to understand the implications of truth as it pertains to their everyday lives.

Of course, none of these lines can be drawn with heavy black markers; they often fade into one another. Timothy was a pastor and teacher, told to do the work of an evangelist. Paul was an apostle, but clearly he functioned as a pastor during part of his ministry, as well as a teacher. He taught by his letters when there were no people close by he could teach. He was an evangelist, and you might argue that he was also a prophet. Jesus, too, took on all these roles in his ministry.

Let's recognize that people's ministries are from God, but realize that God's giftings often don't follow our rules and man-made position descriptions. Moreover, I believe it is possible to transition from one core ministry to another over one's lifetime.

Q40. (Ephesians 4:11) How could a person have the spiritual gift of pastor or teacher without having an official position in a church? What must a church do if its "senior pastor" doesn't have the spiritual gift of pastor? Who gives these gifts?

Purpose of the Ministry (Ephesians 4:12)

"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, 12 to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up...." (Ephesians 4:11-12)

One problem that afflicts modern churches is a strong clergy-laity distinction. Clergy are to do the work of ministry and the laity are to pay their salaries, benefit from the worship they conduct and the sermons which they give, and generally go away encouraged. Wrong!

Look carefully at verse 12 which tells what apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers are to do. It's translation in the KJV tended to fix the interpretation for 400 years.

"... for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ." (KJV)

Oh. So pastors are to perfect, work, and edify? But look again. Is that what it is saying? When you remove the commas from the sentence it reads differently.

"... to prepare God's people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up." (NIV)

Without the errant commas, verse 11 makes the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers to be equippers and trainers, rather than the only ones doing any significant ministry.163

The word translated "perfecting" (KJV), "prepare" (NIV, ESV), "equipment" (RSV), and "equipping" (NASB) translate a verb that meant "to put in order, restore, furnish, prepare, equip."164

Just to clarify the structure here: Christ gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers

In order to165 prepare and equip God's people (12a)

  For works of service (diakonia), (12b)
  and for building up the body of Christ (12c)

To the end that166 we may reach unity in the faith (13a)
and grow into the full maturity of Christ (13b - 16)

In other words, the job of pastors, teachers, and other ministers is to equip, prepare, and train the believers so they can learn to function in their own ministries. This is the way that the church will be built up; not by the leaders doing everything themselves, but by the leaders equipping the rest of the people to function in their own ministries.

A church in which only the leaders are working to build the church is weak. It is sick. A healthy congregation is one in which the leaders succeed in motivating, training, and deploying the people in a variety of ministries according to the gifts of each member, all of whom bring strength and depth to the ministry of the Body as a whole, and which bring about the maturity of the Body.

We've spent quite a bit of time on this point because this is one of the chief failings of the organized Church. If we can get this right, we'll be well on our way to effectiveness of ministry and maturity.

Q41. (Ephesians 4:12) What's wrong with the old model of the minister or pastor being the main worker in the Church? How does it hinder people in the congregation? How does it hurt the community? What is the purpose of pastors and teachers?

The Nature of a Mature Church (Ephesians 4:13-16)

"... 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.

14 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. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16From 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." (Ephesians 4:13-16)

Look at the description of the healthy, mature church:

  • Unity in the faith and in the knowledge of Jesus (13a);
  • Attaining to the fullness of Christ (13b);
  • Speaking the truth in love (15a);
  • Growing up into Christ, the Head of the Body (15b);
  • An infrastructure of joined and supporting bones, ligaments, and muscles, which can then support (16a);
  • Sustained bodily growth (16b);
  • Sustained development of increased strength and new infrastructure as needed (16c); with
  • Each part of the body doing its work (16d)

When this begins to take shape, we and our churches won't be "infants" which are tossed and blown and manipulated (Ephesians 4:14). People won't be deceiving each other with surface level niceties or "tell it like it is" bluntness which blows the other person away. Instead, we'll be "speaking the truth," but also speaking it "with love." Honesty with tenderness and compassion will build Christ's church in a way that won't require it to be dismantled and rebuilt properly.

I am impressed by the last phrase of this passage: "as each part does its work" (verse 16d). This brings us back to where we started. The job of the leaders is to equip each part to do its work. Ultimately, each member must commit himself or herself to giving time and energy to the gifts and ministries God has given.

The purpose of all this is found in two places:

verse 13b -- "attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ."


verse 15b -- "we shall in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ."

This sounds very much like the overarching theme of the whole letter found in 1:10 "to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ."

What does this mean in practice?

  1. It requires pastors and teachers to concentrate on their primary role of equipping, and to cease doing everyone else's work.
  2. It requires members of the congregation to discover their own ministries and begin to practice them effectively ("so that the body of Christ may be built up") and diligently ("as each part does its work")

It requires leaders to lead and church members to follow their leaders into the exciting task of seeing before our eyes the Church of Jesus Christ begin more and more to feel and sound and act and love like Jesus Christ himself in this world. Amen.


Jesus, your Church on earth sometimes seems like it has a long way to go. Help us not to give up on it, but to equip your saints for the work of their ministry and see the mission completed through the help of many gifted, consecrated hands. In your holy name, we pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"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 4:12-13)

"Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ." (Ephesians 4:15)


Section 4.1

[144] Klēsis, BDAG 549.

[145] Peripateō, "walk" then figuratively, "to conduct one's life, comport oneself, behave, live as habit of conduct." (BDAG 803).

[146] Axiōs here means, "Pertaining to being correspondingly fitting or appropriate, worthy, fit, deserving" (BDAG 93-94).

[147] Tapeinophrosunē, "humility, modesty," from tapeinos, "pertaining to being unpretentious, humble" (BDAG 989).

[148] Prautēs, "the quality of not being overly impressed by a sense of one's self-importance, gentleness, humility, courtesy, considerateness, meekness (in the older favorable sense)." From praus, "gentle, humble, considerate, meek" (BDAG 861).

[149] Makrothumia, is a compound word from makro, "long, large, great" + thymos, "passion." The word carries two ideas: (1) the "state of being tranquil while awaiting an outcome, patience, steadfastness, endurance" and (2) the "state of being able to bear up under provocation, forbearance, patience" (BDAG 612-613).

[150] Anechō, BDAG 78.

[151] Of course, occasionally there is a time to sever ties, in the case of danger, etc. But I'm talking about the normal kinds of behaviors here.

[152] Spoudazō, BDAG 939.

[153] Tēreō, BDAG 1002.

[154] Sundesmos, BDAG 966.

[155] "Apportioned" (NIV) or "given ... according to the measure" (KJV, NRSV, ESV) is comprised of three words, didōmi, "give;" kata, "according to" and metron, "measure," here "the result of measuring, quantity, number" (BDAG 644). The preposition kata has a variety of meanings. Here it probably refers to "a marker of norm of similarity or homogeneity, according to, in accordance with, in conformity with, according to" (BDAG 511-513, 5).

Section 4.2

[156] Apostolos, BDAG 122. It is compounded from two words, apo, "off, away" + stello, "to send."

[157] Didache 11.4-9.

[158] C. Peter Wagner, Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow (G/L Regal Books, 1976), p. 208.

[159] Didache 11:10-21; 13:1-8.

[160] I have written further on the gift of prophecy (https://www.joyfulheart.com/scholar/).

[161] Barth, pp. 438-439.

[162] O'Brien, p. 300.

[163] The reason we know that the commas in the KJV convey the wrong meaning is that the Greek does not have three parallel clauses each beginning with the word "for." Rather, the phrase "to prepare God's people for (eis) works of service" uses the preposition eis which indicates the goal of this equipping, that is, carrying out works of ministry (BDAG 290, 4d). The next clause also uses the preposition eis, indicating a second goal, "so that the body of Christ may be built up.

[164] Katartismos. Reinier Schippers, "Right, artios," NIDNTT 3:349-351; BDAG 526. Katartismos is a compound noun, from kata, "towards" + artios, "fit, sound, complete."

[165] Pros here carries the idea of "with conscious purpose, for, for the purpose of" (BDAG 874, 3cα).

[166] The conjunction is mechri, "until" (BDAG 644, 2b), which suggests the end or ultimate purpose.

Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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