Ephesians 4:8, 11-16
While on earth 20 centuries ago, Jesus ministered to multitudes. He especially trained a small group of men to be His apostles (Luke 6:13). After His resurrection from the grave and His ascension back to heaven (Eph. 4:8), Jesus broadened the scope of His ministry gifts to the Church to include apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and Bible teachers (vs. 11). Seated at the Father’s right hand in heaven, He gave additional apostles, such as Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:4, 14). He gave prophets, including Agabus (Acts 21:10) and Judas and Silas (Acts 15:32). He gave evangelists, like Philip (Acts 21:8) and perhaps Timothy (2 Timothy 4:5). He also, the apostle Paul wrote, gave pastors and teachers. And Jesus continues to give these five ministry gifts to His Church today.
This is the very heart of our Bible study today. Why does Jesus gives these “fivefold” ministries to the Church? The answer is found in eight short words in verse 12: “…to equip His people for works of service.” The Amplified Classic version, I believe, accurately captures the Lord’s intention (vs. 12): His intention was the perfecting and the full equipping of the saints (His consecrated people), [that they should do] the work of ministering toward building up Christ’s body (the church). The New Living translation says, “…to equip God’s people to do his work.”
I recall once reading the words of a famous pastor who said that about 500 people was the maximum he felt he personally could pastor. But he wisely trained and used the people in His church to minister. And that church grew to reach many tens of thousands as the people themselves were trained and equipped to minister in their own God-given gifts and callings.
To my fellow pastors and other fivefold ministers: that is the main duty of our ministry calling. The Lord Jesus has given us to our churches to love, train, and equip His people
Look at the multiplication effect! The apostle Paul had trained his spiritual son Timothy — and many others — in effective ministry. He told Timothy in turn to pass these things on to faithful men. And those faithful men would thereby be qualified to teach yet others. One ministers to many. And the many in turn minister to many more. And by that biblical principle of multiplication, the multitudes are reached and brought into relationship and growth in Jesus Christ.
My fellow ministers, we are called by Jesus to equip His people. Again I ask, Why? What is our purpose, our motivation, our goals, in preaching, teaching, training, counseling the Lord’s people? It is found in the “so that” of Ephesians 4:12 — “…to equip His people for works of service, SO THAT…”! Then verses 12-16 give us a number of very important results that will occur as we train and equip others to pass on that training and equipping to yet others. Let’s look at some of these vitally important “so that” results.
The Church of the Lord on earth is called “His body” (Ephesians 1:22-23; 5:23), the “body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:27). One of the central goals of ministry is to build up the Church, Christ’s body on earth. Not to build up our reputations, our numbers, or our public recognition. If these become primary goals for our ministries, we have departed from the straight and narrow path! We minister to others, within and without the church, “so that the body of Christ may be built up.” It is His Church; we are simply His servants in the building of His Church. Jesus said, “On this rock
Is the Church on earth living in full unity yet? Certainly not. Realistically, there is an “until” (vs. 13) in the pursuit of our not-yet-achieved unity. Nevertheless, that should be an ongoing goal in our ministries — that is, unity without the compromise of Bible truth. As preachers and teachers of God’s Word worldwide seek to impart Bible truth to others under the Holy Spirit’s guidance and instruction, there will be a sharpening of our understanding of the Scriptures.
There are obviously conscientious doctrinal differences among sincere Christians. But let’s be reminded: there are no doctrinal differences in God’s mind. He knows exactly what His truth is in every word of Scripture. As we pursue love, harmony, and relational unity with our Christian brethren, God is fully capable by His Spirit of moving us deeper into a broad-based unity in the faith, including an increasing mutual understanding of God’s Word where presently there may be walls of disagreement.
This should be a central goal of every minister of Christ’s Gospel — to help others to grow in their personal knowledge of and their personal relationship with their Savior Jesus Christ. In John 17:3, while praying to God His Father, Jesus defined the very essence of eternal life: “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” To know in a real and personal way both the Father and the Son is at the very heart of eternal life.
In a denominational high school long ago, I studied Religion five days a week for 4 years. In college I studied Theology for 4 years. And yet, in all of that, I wasn’t saved, I wasn’t born again. Why? How could that be? Because I had only an intellectual concept of God the Father and Jesus the Savior. I had never personalized it, had never personally received Jesus into my life as my Lord and Savior. I knew about Him, but I didn’t know Him. That all changed in 1969, when I had a very real and stirring salvation encounter with Jesus. From that day to this, 50+ years later, it has been my daily desire to “know Him better” (Ephesians 1:17). And I exhort my fellow Christians to expend every effort to help others come increasingly into a very close, personal relationship with the wonderful Savior, Jesus Christ.
Every minister, every God-called shepherd of God’s beloved sheep, should be moved by the desire to help them “become mature Christians.” The writer to the Hebrew Christians scolded them for failing to move beyond an elementary knowledge of God’s Word. He was driven — as all God’s ministers should be — to see the believers “taken forward to maturity.”
As I write this, I am 76 years old. I’ve been saved for 50 years. My wife has been a born-again believer since her early childhood. Are we “mature” Christians? To some degree, yes. But quite frankly, we relate strongly to the humble saying by the late, internationally known Bible teacher Kevin Conner, who said, “The more I know, the less I know.” My wife and I hunger and thirst for greater maturity in the things of the Lord. We spend about an hour each day studying the Bible together, and I can honestly say personally that, after 50 years in God’s Word, I find myself growing daily as we dig into the inexhaustible riches of the Word of God Almighty. And I find myself continually consumed to help others to grow more and more into Christian maturity. And I say from my heart, that is why I am writing you this message today. Continue to grow in your own walk with our Lord, and help others to do so.
We are called to be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). We haven’t gotten there yet. But as the apostle Paul wrote, “One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13b-14).
The saints need our encouragement, our training, our love, our patience. Let our Lord’s heart drive you to help them attain a full measure of the Lord’s influence in their lives. Be consumed, as the apostle Paul was, by the desire to “present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Colossians 1:28). The more you help them in that noble goal, the greater will be their effectiveness in the growth of the kingdom of God.
I love infants. As a Grandpa 24 times over, I still do. And I love spiritual infants, newly saved and excited to grow in their walk with the Lord. But I don’t want them to stay spiritual infants. I’m motivated by the word of the Lord that says they should grow to the place where they are “no longer infants."
Pastors and other ministers, we are not helping our congregations by allowing them to remain babes in the Lord. Part of our calling is to teach and encourage the flock to grow and mature. Think about it. If our generation of God’s ministers fails to raise up mature Christians, who will then be equipped and capable of raising up the next generation after we are gone?
The apostle Paul warned Pastor Timothy about the danger of “deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1, NASB). Christian ministers, train your congregation in God’s Word! “Preach the Word,” Paul demanded (2 Timothy 4:2). The Word of God, the Bible, is a major weapon your people must be equipped to use in discerning and rejecting demonic teachings and deceptions.
Luke 4:1-11 is the Gospel account of Jesus’ temptation by Satan when the Lord was fasting in the wilderness. The devil presented three different temptations. Jesus overcame each one by replying with God’s Word — “It is written!” (vss. 4,7,10) A sound knowledge of God’s Word will equip the saints to resist every wind of demonic teaching.
Once again, it is a sound knowledge of the Scriptures that will enable believers to “speak the truth.” Don’t preach what my pastor used to call “sermonettes,” that is, tiny bits of Scripture. And don’t waste pulpit time with lots of cute or funny stories. The saints don’t need entertaining; we need large doses of Bible truth. And Jesus reminded us of where that truth is found — Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free (John 8:31-32, KJV).
This verse (Ephesians 4:15) speaks of the whole church (“we”), not just one individual, growing to become a mature local portion of the body of Christ. Pastors and other church leaders, have a vision in your heart to see all the people grow and mature. Imagine the multiplying effect of dozens or hundreds of mature Christians who are equipped with God’s Word and God’s Holy Spirit to reach out to your city.
Many years ago I had the privilege of being invited to teach (on video) the Ministry Training and Church Planting course, summarized here, in the International School of Ministry (ISOM) [Full disclosure: I receive no financial benefits from ISOM. My participation is entirely voluntary]. The visionary ISOM founder, Dr. Berin Gilfillan, started small and gathered experienced ministers in their specialties from around the English-speaking world to videotape their assigned Bible courses. The first project was producing a 200-hour bilingual core curriculum. Dr. Gilfillan envisioned the ISOM curriculum as a ministry tool to help local churches train their people with a view to reaching out to the world for Jesus Christ. That small ISOM startup has become a great resource to the local churches. It has grown to become the world’s largest video Bible school, now in about 80 languages and 150 nations, with well over 20,000 teaching locations worldwide. My point? My fellow ministers, get a vision from God to equip the saints of your church for the work of the ministry. Don’t be intimidated by small numbers at the beginning. Rather, believe God for the results the apostle Paul predicted, as you fulfill your equipping role — “We will grow”!
Bible teachers often use the term “body ministry” for this concept. By His Holy Spirit, God calls and enables “each one” in the body of Christ to minister fruitfully for our Lord. A wide variety of spiritual gifts and ministries are discussed in the Scriptures — for example, 1 Corinthians chapter 12, Ephesians chapter 4, and Romans 12:3-8, among others.
The individual’s responsibility is not to try to tackle everything. Rather, believers are to find those gifts and enablements of God working in their lives and to minister those. As the apostle Paul wrote to a brother: And say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry which thou [singular] hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it (Colossians 4:17, KJV). As each believer ministers in their different capacities and giftings, the body of Christ will grow, mature, and flourish.
Pastors, Bible teachers, and other ministers, with the Lord’s help and empowerment, you can do this. You can equip your people so that they can effectively and fruitfully do the work of the Lord’s ministry. We ministers can — and must — work diligently to help all who receive our care to fulfill Jesus’ words: “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” ( John 15:8).
Preach, teach, train, counsel. Equip them to minister — this is a primary calling of the ordained minister. Should we pray, do Bible study, and other devotional activities? Of course. But lest we forget our opening verse (Ephesians 4:11-12), we are told very clearly that Jesus Christ “GAVE the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers TO EQUIP HIS PEOPLE for works of service.” That sacred trust (to equip His people to minister) must motivate and guide our labors in the service of our Lord and His people.
POSTSCRIPT to the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers, local church elders, and other Christian leaders reading this Bible study — If this message has spoken to you, please consider sharing it with your own ministry friends, coworkers, etc. The Bible principle of training and equipping the saints for the work of the ministry can have a dramatic multiplying effect for the kingdom of God. Thank you sincerely.
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©2019, James H. Feeney.
Pentecostal Sermons &
Bible Studies by
Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.