In Ephesians 4:11 we are told of several gifts that are given to the church of God. Jesus Christ gave apostles and prophets, his divinely appointed messengers who laid the foundation of truth on which the entire church is built. And he also gives evangelists and pastor-teachers; those who are specially gifted in the proclamation of the gospel and the feeding and training of disciples, respectively. It is also clear that the exercise of these gifts is intended for the benefit of the saints, the born-again ones whose guilt has been blotted out by the atoning work of Christ, and who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God. But what exactly does Christ expect evangelists and pastors to accomplish using the foundation of the apostles and prophets? In other words, when the church is functioning properly, what is supposed to be happening in the lives of its members, the saints?
Well, first Paul says that these gifts were given “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry” (v.12). The word equipping doesn’t simply mean “outfitting,” it includes training and preparing the saints to be completely qualified for the work of the ministry. It suggests that the evangelists and pastors are investing in the saints in order to bring them to full maturity, so they are perfectly adjusted to fit the needs of the ministry of the church. Properly understood, this idea revolutionizes much of the way we “do church.” Instead of treating church members as infants in need of diaper changes and spoon-feeding, the pastor who is attuned to his biblical role will see them as athletes-in-training and coach them to excel beyond even his own achievements. Instead of viewing the pastor and church as obstacles to his freedom and comfort, the saint will seek to learn everything he can from both their instruction and example, while recognizing the imperfection of all that is not Christ. Instead of wearing himself out ministering to the needs of the body, the pastor will expect, engage, encourage, and train church members to share the responsibilities and blessings as fellow-servants in the household of God. Instead of viewing the work of the ministry as the primary responsibility of paid church staff, the saint will endeavor to use his own resources to accomplish the work that is about him, believing that he is fulfilling the purpose for which Christ gave the gifts in the first place.
But that is not all that Paul says about this. He continues in the next phrase, “for the edifying of the body of Christ.” Whose job is it to build up the church? Does it belong to the evangelists and pastors alone to build up Christ’s body? Or do the fully equipped saints bear any responsibility in this? It can hardly be said that those who are prepared to do “the work of the ministry” are not involved in the building up of the body of Christ. In fact, it would seem that this is the cooperative function of the evangelists and pastor-teachers alongside all of the saints. As Richard Lenski put it, “These saints include also all the workers in the Word from apostles down to teachers. They are to preach also to each other and to themselves as well as to prospective converts and to the other church members and thereby to fit themselves and all others out more and more.” This is God’s plan for building his church, that all the saints would minister to one another as they are continually outfitted and trained by those who are gifted to preach and teach God’s word. And how can we know that the body is being built up as Christ intended? We’ll discuss that next week as we look at v.13.