Perfecting the Saints


And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; (Eph. 4:11)

I imagine that when most people read this list in Ephesians 4:11, they think of church offices, ecclesiastical functions, or maybe clergy. I have read discussions of this verse that go into detail as to the subtle differences between apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. There is even this ongoing dispute as to whether or not someone can be called an apostle after the first twelve. Well, it's all very interesting and perhaps it's even useful to do that, but I can't help thinking that all that tends to miss the point. Paul doesn't discuss any distinction between these - he just enumerates them and charges right into the remainder of the sentence. So, maybe it's important in some sense, but at least for the meaning in this passage of Ephesians we can just lump them all together and call them "preachers." That will save me a lot of typing, too.

What seems important to me is the two words "he gave." To think of the preachers as officers of the church can give the impression that the church somehow creates these positions. That is usually the way it is done but is really just tradition. Centuries of church history and tradition have developed a division between clergy and laity with the clergy thought of as those somehow more concerned with church affairs. This is especially true of Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Anglican/Episcopal churches but is almost as true among the more democratic type church organizations such as the Baptists and Methodists. Does anyone really think that's what Paul had in mind? I don't think so. All that clergy business came much later.

It is certainly true that from the earliest times of Christianity a congregation would choose men as deacons and elders for the purpose of administering the common affairs. But the preachers that Paul lists are those that "he gave." Jesus chooses these. To put it another way, these are not career choices. You don't go fill out an application to become a preacher. A preacher is not created by a church council, board of deacons, search committee or seminary review board. Either Jesus chose and gave or he didn't. He chooses, gives the abilities to those he chooses, and then gives those he chooses to the church. So when reading the following verses, keep in mind that these "preachers" are not equivalent to some person ordained by a denominational body, but just means anyone the Lord chose out to do a certain work.

The respect due to a preacher is not given because he is somehow better, (i.e. more moral) than anyone else. A preacher has to face the same temptations and trials that everyone else does, and is just as likely to slip and fall as anyone else. As Paul says elsewhere, "Know no man after the flesh," and that is just as applicable to preachers as anyone else. Church members have a tendency to put the preacher up on a pedestal and demand that he somehow be better than they are themselves. The moment they find out that is not true, the gossip, backbiting, and judgmental attitudes come out. Everyone loves to blame the preachers because they are such an easy target. The preachers rarely help the situation much either. When people start treating you as somehow more righteous, more important, and all your training tells you that it is so, it is easy for all that respect heaped on the preacher to turn into pride and arrogance. The next thing you know there is all this bowing and scraping in front of the clergy as if they were the Lord himself! So we need to keep in mind the distinction: To the extent that the words the preacher speaks come from the Lord, total respect is given to the word, not the man speaking. The man speaking is simply the vessel. It is the word of the Lord that is due our respect. If we can get past this notion of clergy and treat these preachers as the Lord's gift to the saints, then we are ready to understand why the gift was given and what the proper roles and relationship really is.

For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: (Eph. 4:12 - KJV)

for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, for the building up of the body of Christ; (Eph. 4:12 - New American Standard)

to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up. (Eph 4:12 - New International Version)

for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

I quoted several different versions of verse twelve because there are some important differences here. Is it "perfecting" or "equipping" or "preparing" or "training", or is it none of these or all of these? The differences come about in part because of the difficulty of translating into English what Paul wrote. There just isn't a single word in the English language that can accurately translate the word Paul uses: katartismos which is the noun form of the verb katartizo. It means something like "to join, mend, or arrange in place in order to make useful." The word is used of fishermen mending their nets before going out to catch fish and also to how a surgeon sets a broken bone or displaced joint so that it will heal properly. It also means the preparation of a soldier before going into battle. The overall idea is of joining together, and is used elsewhere in Paul's writings. In 1 Cor 1:10, Paul tells the church at Corinth to be "perfectly joined together" and that phrase is a translation of this same word. In Luke 6:40, Jesus says, "but everyone that is perfect shall be as his master." That word "perfect" is the same word katartizo and when understood as meaning "joining together" then what Jesus said makes even better sense; when a blind teacher is in the lead, the joining of the student to teacher means they both fall into the pit.

This then is why the preacher is given: to join the saints together into the body of Christ such that they can function in unity of faith and knowledge. Skip down to verse sixteen and it is even more clear:

From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love. (Eph. 4:16)

There is another discrepancy between versions you may have noticed in verse twelve. Without going into a whole lot of talk about Greek this and Greek that, just understand that the perfecting of the saints is directed "into" works of ministry and "into" the building up of the body of Christ. Perfecting the saints is the means to those end purposes. This pretty much destroys another false idea prevalent in most churches. There is the idea that the clergy perform ministry while the congregation is what is ministered to. That is yet another tradition built up over the centuries and has led to a lot of lazy saints who seem to think their job is to show up on Sunday and keep the pew warm while the clergy does all the work. It leads to the notion that if the congregation isn't feeling ministered to in the manner they desire, then they need to go get another preacher or church. Remember, Jesus chooses your preacher, not you. Really, the work of ministry (which just means service, by the way) is done by the saints. The role of the preacher is to get the saints together and make them ready to perform the works of ministry that build up the body of Christ.

And while we're at it, let's make sure that we understand that a "saint" is someone who has dedicated his life in service to God. It doesn't mean they are somehow more righteous than anyone else. The moment you lay down your ego and self-willed desires, giving your life over to Christ, you are a saint.

This is the theme here in Ephesians chapter four. It is the unity of the body of Christ. When we talk about perfecting the saints, that is what we should mean. This unity keeps out the false teachers and deceivers. You can easily tell the false (self-appointed) preachers, because they are working towards some other purpose than unifying the saints into works of ministry and building up the body of Christ. If they put themselves, or anything else, at the head in place of Jesus, they are false. If their obvious intent is to sow dissension between believers, they are false. If their intent is to get the saints to serve anyone or purpose other than Jesus and His Kingdom, they are false. If they declare that salvation is by any means other than the grace of God received by faith, they are false.

All true preachers will preach the same message. That message is the gospel of Jesus Christ and is the same today as it always was: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. There really is no new message to preach. Everything else is just echoes and footnotes. But, each generation must stand up and boldly proclaim that message. It then echoes throughout the world and across space and time. In the unity of that message of faith, the body of Christ is built up.

What this unity means and how it is achieved is described in detail by Paul in other places. In particular, Romans 12:3-8 and the well-known passage in 1 Corinthians 12 and 13. This writing is already getting long, and I have written about this in the past anyway, so I will leave those to another time. You should go study those in detail. To quickly summarize, the unity of the body is brought about when everyone discovers and uses the gifts he is given. This joining together and proper use of those gifts is the power of the body of Christ to transform the world into the Kingdom of God.

Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; 21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. 22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: 23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. 24 Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world. (John 17:20-24)

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