Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 4:12 Introduction
Before beginning our exposition of this passage, we need to discuss its prepositions and punctuation. Our King James Version, my favorite translation and the one I use in all my preaching and teaching, misleads us here.
The translators rendered two different Greek prepositions with the same English word (“for”), and inserted two commas which interfere with the Apostle’s intent and break his train of thought. The KJV rendering of verse 12 makes it look like the four officers mentioned in verse 11 have three things to do: perfect saints, work the ministry, and edify the body. We must remember the King James translators were Church of England clerics, men who held a certain bias toward hierarchical church polity.
When we delete the commas, as most translations do, and distinguish the prepositions, the verse takes on a totally different meaning, “For (pros) the perfecting of the saints unto (eis) the work of the ministry unto (eis) the edifying of the body of Christ.” Church officers are not to do everything. They have a task to perform, the congregation has another, and both groups strive toward a third, common objective. We can now begin our exposition.
Eph. 4:12a “For the perfecting of the saints,. . .”
This is the task assigned to the four officers (4:11). “Perfecting” translates “katartismon,” from which we derive “artisan.” The term, entailing right ordering and arrangement, referred to a craftsman who fashioned something into what it was meant to be. In the creation, God perfected (KJV framed) the worlds (HB 11:3). When Jesus called James and John, they were in a ship perfecting (KJV mending) their nets (MT 4:21). In the medical realm, “perfecting” referred to setting a dislocated bone. Pastors are spiritual surgeons, sent to set things right. Our task is not primarily to please, entertain, or administrate. Our main role is to teach with a mind to making proper adjustments. We are to help fix what’s wrong in people.
A preacher’s most basic assumption is that something is lacking in his every listener. Each hearer has a need to be met–a sadness to touch, a hurt to heal, an emptiness to fill, a bitterness to uproot, an anger to soothe, a complacency to rouse, a sin to condemn, or a question to answer. The people’s ongoing presence at preaching implies felt needs which must be met by the preacher. His ministry to them helps prepare them for their work.
Eph. 4:12b “. . .for the work of the ministry,. . .”
A pastor’s role is to perfect, to adjust, to fix the saints that they might thereby be able to do “the work of the ministry.” This phrase translates two Greek words, “ergon,” meaning work, and “diakonias,” meaning service. The first word excludes idleness, the second excludes pomposity. Laziness and arrogance are out of place in the church of Jesus. Every member has “work” to do, a spiritual gift to manifest, a ministry to perform. The church must be a training-house for working, humble servants. Pastors must humbly work hard at serving their people, who in turn are thereby enabled to humbly work hard at serving others.
A church is not to be a pyramid, with a pastor presiding on top as a pope, and members underneath in inferiority; nor are we a bus in which clergymen say to slumbering parishioners, “Leave the driving to us, but do buy your ticket.” Yet this is all too often what happens. Let’s ponder two questions about the status quo. What went wrong, what can make it right?
What went wrong? First of all, history hurt us. In the middle ages, the church established a priesthood patterned after Old Testament Judaism. This in time led to a spiritual caste system similar to the one which existed in Jesus’ day. The Pharisees snarled, “This people who knoweth not the law are cursed” (JN 7:49). A massive gulf separated leaders from laity, the former deemed the latter contemptible. Imagine, Simon Peter could have never been a leader in Judaism. He was of the lowly laity, not the elite. Once the church chose to imitate Judaism, a similar caste system in Christianity was inevitable, and led to the view expressed in “Vehmenter Nos,” a 1906 Papal Encyclical, “As for the masses, they have no other right than of letting themselves be led, and of following their pastors as a docile flock.”
History hurt us, but we cannot place all the blame there. Baptists have often added to the confusion. Pastors sometimes fuel the flames by wanting to run the show and rule as dictators. We still have among us men who, like Diotrephes, love “to have the pre-eminence” (3 J 9), and want to be not only “number one,” but also “number only” at the top.
Congregations are often at fault also. Sir John Lawrence once said, “What does the layman really want? He wants a building which looks like a church; clergy dressed in the way he approves; services of the kind he’s been used to, and to be left alone.” Members often sit back and refuse to be led, or say, “Let the staff do the work. That’s what we pay them for.”
What can make it right? First, put the bad history in focus, come to grips with it, analyze its disastrous results, and then reject it.
Second, pastors must come to grips with their God-given role. We are servants, not lords. Pastors are not kingpins; the body is primary. A congregation is not called to help their pastor do God’s work; rather, a pastor is to help his congregation do God’s work. Pastors are leaders, not dictators, and the way we lead people into humble service is by going there first ourselves. Sam Rhodes shared a pearl of wisdom with me, “Delegating works when the one delegating works.” Pastors, too, are saints and thus have to be perfected and involved in ministry.
Third, congregations must come to grips with the full implications of our belief in the priesthood of believers, a Baptist hallmark. Every believer is a priest. Unfortunately, when teaching this doctrine our emphasis has been primarily, and sometimes exclusively, on each man’s direct access to God. However, the priesthood of believers involves responsibility in addition to privilege. We are priests before God, and the other side of this coin is, we are all priests to others. We have direct access to God, and God in turn has direct access through us to others.
“Do not be content to come to meeting and just be a spiritual sponge. Fill up, and then let the blessed Lord do some squeezing. Give it out to somebody else” (Ironside). Every believer should be involved in a ministry, in finding a hurt and being the instrument through which God heals it. We are not a lake without outlets, but a reservoir yielding what it receives for the health of mankind. Each individual is to be a channel of blessing.
I remember reading years ago of a church in Washington DC called “The Church of the Savior.” To become a member of this fellowship one had to be actively involved in ministry. All who joined this church were ordained to a particular ministry. I must admit I see a danger in this. We must not lose sight of the God-ordained officers of the church. Some are set aside as officers to make sure the ministries get done and to “perfect” the saints. However, the basic idea of this church is sound.
We at East Side are venturing into a similar, though less dramatic, experiment. Before I came as pastor, a Constitution and Bylaws Committee was set apart by East Side to analyze every facet of her life and work. This group began its task, soon added me and then later Bro. Pete, to devise an organization through which the organism can best do God’s work. This effort to construct a New Testament, and thus truly Baptist, model can be capsulized in a simple formula: diffuse authority; let leaders lead, in consultation with many committees, and then let the people decide and do.
An interesting example of this type of organization is found in 1 Chronicles 13:1-2. David led by first suggesting a plan, the relocation of the ark of the covenant. He “consulted” with “every leader,” and then appealed to “all the congregation” to see if they deemed it “good” and “of the Lord.”
For our East Side system to work, we all must now rise to the occasion. If the organization is going to operate in a New Testament way, then the organism, its individual members, must operate in a New Testament way. If we are all involved in the process of decision-making, then we must all be involved in the work decided on. To put it more bluntly, find your ministry. I pledge to you I will work, I will minister, I will give my all to perfecting you. Your part of the bargain is to find your spiritual gift and to use it. If we all do our part, the result will be wonderful. . .
Eph. 4:12c “. . .for the edifying of the body of Christ:. . .”
“Edifying” refers to building up, it highlights growth in numbers, and also the building up of individual saints. When we all do our part, the Church is increased and each member is improved thereby. Do not be deceived by Satan’s lies. He wants you to think doing nothing is the way to happiness. No! When Christians do not work they shrivel and atrophy. We are most fulfilled individually when making a contribution to the whole.
Notice, this service is done in the context of “the body.” Doing good deeds in other charitable settings is fine, but the believer must always have a ministry within the context of a local church. Deeds done elsewhere inevitably chart a path which eventually detracts from Jesus. We may start out giving a cup of cold water “in Jesus’ name,” but eventually give a cup of cold water. . .period. For instance, the YMCA, a fine organization, used to say, “Come play basketball and we will tell you about Jesus.” Now they say, “Come play basketball.” Our best work for Jesus is done in the church, for a head always has its greatest glory within the context of its own body.