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Ephesians 4:7-16, Part 1. "Be Equipped/Fixed"

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Ephesians 4:7ff., Part I.
Let's start today by simply reading our passage. Ephesians 4:7:
Now to each one of us was given this grace/ministry according to the measure of Christ's gift.
Therefore , it says,
"Rising into the height, he captured captives,
he gave gifts to people."
Now the "he rose"-- what/who is (it) except that he also descended to the lower part of the earth?
The one descending-- he is also the one ascending above all the heavens,
in order that he might fill/fulfill all things.
And he gave, on the one hand, apostles,
on the other hand prophets,
on the other hand evangelists,
on the other hand pastors and teachers
for the fixing/equipping of the holy ones,
(1) for the work of service/ministry,
(2) for the building of Christ's body
until we all reach
for the unity of faith and the knowledge of the son of God,
for a perfect/mature man,
for the measure of the maturity of the fullness of Christ,
in order that no longer we may be infants,
being tossed by waves and being carried by every wind of teaching
in the trickery of people,
in cunning for the scheming of error/deceit.
Now speaking the truth in love, we must grow into him into/for him with reference to all,
who is the head, Christ,
from whom the whole body,
being joined together and being held together through every supporting ligament according to the working by measure of each part, makes the growth of the body for the building of itself in love.
Over the years, I've read my fair share of commentaries and academic journal articles on the Bible. I have never, ever, read more passionate-- and even angry-- scholars on any other subject, than I have on today's verses. At first, I was surprised by this-- amused, really, if I'm going to be honest. You don't expect to see that kind of heat in the types of books I was reading. But then eventually everything clicked all at once for me , and I got it. This is a passage that changes everything about us as a church.
That said, this is a tricky passage. I'm not going to lie. It's hard. I don't know how to explain all of it. And I could spend a lot of time describing the different ways scholars have wrestled with bits and pieces of it. And at the end, what I would say about each of the tricky bits is, "I don't know who is right."
But even though some of the details are tricky, the main points are pretty straightforward. So what I've decided is, I'm not going to try to cover every little detail of the passage. I can't. I don't understand them. That makes it easy, right? Instead, I'm going to focus on the main points, and try to help you see the flow to Paul's argument. If you really understand what Paul is saying, it has the potential to completely change how you understand the church, and your role in it. We will have to work at this one, but the end result will be worth it.
The other thing I'll say up front about this passage is that I'm not going to get through the whole thing in one week. I try really hard to get through a section each week, because I'm sneakily trying to help you all learn how to read and understand larger sections of Scripture at a time. But this is going to be an exception to the rule.
Verse 7 starts like this:
Now to each one of us was given this grace/ministry according to the measure of Christ's gift.
Let's flip back to Ephesians 3:8 to start this, so we start this right. There, Paul said this:
To me, to the least of the least of all the holy ones-- this grace was given,
to proclaim the good news to the nations of the fathomless riches of Christ,
and to enlighten everyone as to what is the stewardship of the mystery hidden from the ages by God-- by the One who created all things--
In Eph. 3:8, God gave Paul a specific ministry. His job was to proclaim the good news about Jesus to the nations. Paul calls this God's gift to him. It's a privilege to have God give you a job to do. It's a privilege to be entrusted with an important task. And Paul was grateful for that. He knows he doesn't deserve this. It's important that you see how Paul describes this ministry. He says, "this grace was given." What we are supposed to hear, is that Paul was given a specific ministry that is both a privilege, and a responsibility. "This grace was given."
This language is common for Paul. He often describes ministry as "a grace that was given."
1 Cor. 3:10
2 Cor. 8:1 (this one is key)
Gal. 2:9
2 Tim. 1:9
Paul was given the grace-- the ministry-- of telling the Gentiles about what God has done for them in Christ. The Macedonians were given the grace-- the ministry-- of giving money to the Jerusalem church that was starving because of a famine.
So let's turn back to Ephesians 4:7. "To each one of us was given this grace according to the measure of Christ's gift." Paul is not talking here about saving grace. Paul is talking about specific ministries in the church. God gave each of you a specific job for the church. This job, this ministry, is both a privilege and a responsibility. We don't all have the same responsibilities. We are a unity in Christ, but we aren't all the same. We don't all do the same job. Some of us received one grace-- one ministry-- others received another. But all of you have at least one ministry that you are supposed to devote yourselves to (Acts 6:4).
In verse 8, Paul then supports this idea that each of us is given a ministry by quoting Psalm 68:18.
Therefore , it says,
"Rising into the height, he captured captives,
he gave gifts to people."
At first glance, this verse looks really hard. It never really gets any better, in my experience. What we are going to do is focus on two things.
First, ask yourselves the question, who is the "he"? Whoever "he" is, "he" did three things. "He" (1) rose into the heights. "He" (2) captured captives. "He" (3) gave gifts to people. Who is "he"?
Second, notice how the quote ends. "He gave gifts to people." Whoever "he" is, it's important to know that "he" gave gifts to people.
Paul is aware, I think, that anyone reading this is going to feel a little lost. And so he explains this quotation for us in verse 9:
Now the "he rose"-- what/who is (it), except that he also descended to the lower part of the earth?
The one descending-- he is also the one ascending above all the heavens,
in order that he might fill/fulfill all things.
Before I say anything else, write this on your handout. "The point of verse 9 is that the psalm must be referring to Jesus."
If we move away from this at all, I get really confused again. Jesus came from heaven, right? He preexisted, in heaven, with the Father. He came down to earth, and then after being crucified, he rose again. Jesus descended, and he ascended. He went down, and then up. I wish I could be more help than this. I don't really understand what Paul is saying. But the main point of verse 9, again, is that the psalm must be referring to Jesus.
And if this verse is talking about Jesus, then we know that Jesus gave gifts to people.
It's this point that Paul has been working toward. Jesus gave gifts to people. If you are hopelessly lost at this point, I'm sorry. If you're feeling sad that this is the best explanation you're going to get this morning, I'm sorry about that too. I'm just as sad about it. Just focus on this: Jesus gave gifts to people.
Verse 11
And he gave, on the one hand, apostles,
on the other hand prophets,
on the other hand evangelists,
on the other hand pastors and teachers
Jesus gave gifts to people, right? Now we read in verse 11 that Jesus gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers. Some of you who have done studies in spiritual gifts are going to read this verse, and you're going to be tempted here to say that Jesus gave some people special gifts, or abilities. You hear Paul saying Jesus gave some people the gift of apostleship, the gift of evangelism, the gift of teaching. These are the gifts that Jesus gave people.
That's not what Paul is saying here. Paul is saying, Jesus gave these people to the church, as a gift to the church. Your pastors are Jesus' gift to you. Your evangelists are Jesus' gift to you. After Jesus ascended to heaven, he had presents he wanted to give you as a church. He wanted to bless you as a church. So it wasn't enough that Jesus died on the cross for your sins, and made peace between all of you and God. Jesus also gave you gifts. He gave you pastors, teachers, evangelists, prophets, and apostles.
Is this how you view your church leaders? When you think of them, do you say to yourself, "These people are Jesus' gift to us"?
I usually don't. This is actually one of the more painful sermons I've had to write, because I know very well I've had really bad attitudes at times over the years, with some pastors more than others. Is this a struggle for you? These people are Jesus' gifts.
In verse 12, Paul tells us why Jesus gave the church these people as gifts.
he gave, on the one hand, apostles,
on the other hand prophets,
on the other hand evangelists,
on the other hand pastors and teachers
for the fixing/equipping of the holy ones,
(1) for the work of service,
(2) for the building of the body of Christ
This verse is really, really interesting. And actually, after reading commentaries, it's controversial. Incredibly controversial. I have never in my life read more angry scholars, than I have on this verse.
The reason this is controversial is that these verses are at the heart of an argument over the role of church leaders, and the laity, and how the two relate to each other. I've blown over some of the disagreements earlier in this passage because they aren't really a big deal. That, and (lol) I don't get them. But the way we read these verses has a huge impact on how we understand ourselves, and our leaders, so I'm happy to dive into this one.
The easiest way into this controversy is going to be by comparing two translations, the KJV and the ESV.
KJV:
11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
12 For the perfecting of the saints,
(NOTICE THE COMMA) for the work of the ministry,
for the edifying of the body of Christ:
ESV:
11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds[a] and teachers,[b]
12 to equip the saints for (NO COMMA) the work of ministry,
for building up the body of Christ,
I'm guessing the two main differences jump out at you immediately. First, do church leaders equip people, or do they perfect them? Which translation is right? Second, do leaders have one main job here, or three?
So let's take these one at a time. First, do leaders equip the saints, or perfect them?
The Greek word, that I'm pretty sure I'm supposed to say out loud at this point, is καταρτισμός. It's used in Mark 1:19 to describe mending fishing nets. Say you're a fisherman for a living, and you get to fish with nets. You're not stuck with a lousy fishing rod. Some of you here fish, so I'm going to give you great advice. If you're going to go net-fishing, you have to make sure the nets don't have huge holes. If there are big holes, the big fish will swim through them. So fishermen mend their nets.
The word is also used to describe mending bones. If you break your arm badly, you go the doctor, and they do horrible things to your arm to straighten it before putting a cast on it.
So the idea is that there is often something wrong with us as laity. We are like a fishing net with huge holes, or like a broken arm, and we can't do what God created us in Christ to do. We can't do all of the good works God planned for us ahead of time (Eph. 2:10). Pastors and teachers are like mechanics, or like doctors. They fix us, so that we can do the ministries Jesus gave us to do. So which translation is right? Well, they sort of both are.
There is maybe something you lack, that keeps you from serving God effectively (1 Thess 3:10). Maybe you are caught in sin. You'll never be able to serve God if you are living in unrepentant sin. Pastors, teachers, prophets, and evangelists can fix you, if that's your problem. They come along, and warn you. Or maybe the ministry Jesus gave you was to be an evangelist. But you don't know the good news well enough to actually share your faith. An evangelist can fix you. Or maybe you don't know the basics of our faith well enough to be rooted, and secure. Teachers can fix you. It's like we are broken cars, and these leaders are mechanics who fix us so that we can go and do what we need to do.
The second hugely debated thing has to do with how we set up the passage. Most translations set it up like this:
he gave, on the one hand, apostles,
on the other hand prophets,
on the other hand evangelists,
on the other hand pastors and teachers
for (πρός) the fixing/equipping of the holy ones
(1) for (εἰς) the work of service/ministry,
(2) for (εἰς) the building of the body of Christ
The KJV sets it up like this:
he gave, on the one hand, apostles,
on the other hand prophets,
on the other hand evangelists,
on the other hand pastors and teachers
(1) for (πρός) the fixing/equipping of the holy ones,
(2) for (εἰς) the work of service/ministry,
(3) for (εἰς) the building of the body of Christ.
The difference between these two translations, in English Bibles, comes down a single comma. The ESV says pastors fix laity, so that the laity can do the work of ministry and build the church. The KJV says pastors have 3 jobs: they fix people, they do the ministry, and they build the body of Christ.
Which translation is right?
In the Greek, when people want to make a numbered list, they didn't write, "first, second, third." They didn't even have commas or any punctuation originally. When they wanted to signal to their readers they were making a list, they repeated the preposition. In these verses, Paul uses two different prepositions, pros and eis, but we are forced to translate them both as "for." They basically mean the same thing. They mean "for." I think the reason Paul used different prepositions, was to make sure we didn't accidentally read Paul like the KJV does. And, as far as I know, every modern translation agrees with this. Even the NKJV takes out the comma now. So the ESV is right.
So, what's the end result of all of this? How are we supposed to read this passage?
Jesus, after ascending to heaven, gave all of us at least one special ministry--one grace. This is the ministry we are supposed to devote ourselves to. Jesus gave a few people leadership roles in the church. To some he gave the grace of apostle, others prophecy, others evangelism, others pastor and teacher. The reason Jesus gave these people this ministry was to fix us, so that we are able to do the work of ministry, and so that we can build up the body of Christ. Basically, they make it so we can do the ministry Jesus gave to us.
The reason this is controversial is because if this is right, church doesn't revolve around the pastors and teachers.
Next week, I'll talk more about our role as laity in the church, and about what it means that Jesus gave us each a ministry. This week, I want to give some thoughts about our leaders' role in church. In many churches, both the pastor, and the church, expect the leaders to do the work of the ministry. Leaders are the only ones who are really allowed to do anything. They do all the teaching; they find curriculum for any teachers under them. They do all the counseling, and all the visitation. If you know someone who is open to hearing the good news about Jesus, you'd say to them, "You should go down to our church to talk to my pastor. He can explain all of that to you." At these churches, there's a strong focus on only leaders being allowed to do certain things. Only the ordained pastor can lead communion. Only the ordained pastor can baptize new believers. If you sin in a Catholic church, and you want forgiveness of sins, where do you have to go? Only the Catholic priest can hear confession of sins (contrast James 5:16). The end result is a very top-down organization. Leaders lead with authority and do the ministry; congregations submit and passively grow. If you have an idea for ministry, you need to bring it to the elders and justify it, and they get to decide if it fits in with their vision for the church's ministry. I'm going to call this the KJV of church.
This is not biblical. What Paul is saying so far-- and I'm just not going to get all the way through this passage-- is that Jesus gave each of you a ministry. This ministry is a grace given to you; it's a privilege, and a responsibility. This ministry is Jesus' gift to you (Eph. 3:8). Notice, it's Jesus who hands out ministries.
The problem is that some of you aren't able to do the ministry Jesus gave you. If you are living in unrepentant sin, you can't serve. It simply doesn't work. You won't desire to serve; you won't be able to serve effectively. At best, any service you offer will be hollow. And it will leave you exhausted and burnt out, because your life is a lie. For others of you, you aren't going to be able to do whatever ministry Jesus gave you because you don't know how. There are core parts to your faith that you simply don't understand well enough. The special job Jesus gave pastors, teachers, apostles, evangelists, and prophets, is to fix you so that you can serve. They are the mechanics of the church; the doctors. Their job is to fix you so that you can do the work of ministry, and so that you can build up the body of Christ.
I'll have to finish this next week, but I want to leave with 2 thoughts. First, Jesus gave you a ministry so that you can serve, and so that you can build up Christ's body-- this church. This ministry is a privilege, and a responsibility. You need to figure out what that is. Second, some of you know that there's no way you can serve. Maybe your lives are a train wreck. Life is falling apart all around you, or you are caught up in some terrible sin. Or it's all you can do, to stay married to your spouse one more week. All you can do in life is hang on. And the idea of acting doing ministry... would be funny, if your life wasn't so hard.
If you know that you can't do the ministry Jesus gave you, whatever it is, you need someone to fix you. Is there someone in the church who can do that for you? Jesus gave the church leaders to help you. So use them. Humble yourselves, and let them know you need help. Or maybe you don't think you're really able to serve, because there's so much you need to learn. There are people in this church who would love to mentor you and strengthen your faith.
Second, and this is the flip side, leaders in this church are not here to do all the ministry. The KJ version of the church is an unhealthy church. You have a responsibility; take that seriously. Don't dump everything on them. Finish with Acts 6:4?
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