Equipping the Saints, Building up the Body

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

(Ephesians 4:11-16, ESV)

For me, this passage is one of the most important, foundational passages in Scripture addressing the teaching ministry of the church. I still remember the first time I read Ray Stedman’s book, Body Life (Gospel Light, 1972), which focused on the “Body of Christ” passages in the New Testament. These passages have radically grown my understanding of the church and how it needs to be built up. Ephesians 4: 11-16 was one of those passages.

Let’s begin this devotional with a question: What do you see when you look at your Bible study group members?

Our answer to this question influences our goals for our teaching and how we evaluate the effectiveness of a teaching ministry.[1] If we think of our group members as people who want, or need, to know more about the Bible, we teach with certain goals in mind. But if we think of them as active members of the church who need to be equipped for ministry, we teach with some different goals. In both cases, we want them to better understand the Scriptures and how God wants to use it to guide their lives, but each approach sees the application of that knowledge differently. From Paul’s perspective, the church’s teaching ministry is not merely to create a group of knowledgeable Bible scholars; rather, the deeper goal is to equip each member of the church for the different ministries God calls them to. In this passage, Paul identifies three different aspects of how the purpose of our teaching is to build up the Body of Christ.

Unity. At a time when the church was comprised of people from very different backgrounds and status, Paul emphasizes that one goal of our teaching is to grow unity within the Body. Jesus prayed for our unity (John 17:20-23), saying that it would help convince the world that the Father sent Jesus and loves us. Earlier in this passage Paul emphasizes the importance of our unity in the Spirit and our efforts to maintain it in spite of our differences. Our teaching ministries are intended to unite us around our “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:5-6). We may have some differences in our understanding of some aspects of Scripture, but we are united in the core beliefs that have guided the church through the centuries. Jesus considered our unity so important that He prayed for it, and God uses pastor-teachers to encourage its growth.

Maturity. Paul contrasts the instability of immaturity (tossed by the waves, blown about by the wind, deceived by human cunning) with the fullness of the stature of Christ. “Mature manhood” (or personhood) is steady in rough water, stable in the wind, not deceived by the craftiness of others. Another goal of our teaching is to equip others to discern the truth, recognize error, and not be swayed by false teaching.

Love. As we speak the truth in love, growing up in every way to be like Christ, and when we use their gifts for the benefit of others in the body, God causes the body to grow so that it, too, is built up in love. God is the source of that love, and as we grow in Christ, He helps us love Him, and our brothers and sisters in Christ, more fully. In this way, we are increasingly fulfilling both aspects of “The Great Commandment,” “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment… You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22: 37-39, ESV).

We are called to equip God’s people, that together we can grow in unity, maturity, and love. We must never settle for Bible knowledge alone, as important as that is. We must equip the saints to use that Bible knowledge for the purpose of ministry, to build up the Body of Christ. I pray that you will make this your goal, your passion, your prayer.

Father, I am so thankful for those you called to teach and equip me for the work of ministry. Help me, through my own teaching, to equip and encourage others to pursue unity as your people, maturity together in Christ, and love for you and for one another. Help me to love those I teach and to speak the truth in love. Forgive me when I settle for less than this! Thank you for your good gifts to build your church. Amen.

[1] I borrow this idea of the “educational imagination” from the book, Educating Clergy: Teaching Practices and Pastoral Imagination (Jossey-Bass, 2005), by Charles R. Foster, Lisa E. Dahill, Lawrence A. Golemaon, and Barbara Wang Tolentino.

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