The Work of Ministry
Topic: English Passage: Ephesians 4:11-16
If you’re familiar at all with the story of Samson, then you probably know two things about him. Number 1, he was super-strong. That was part God’s empowering. And number 2, he had a weakness for women.
Samson’s story, though it showcases God’s salvation of his people, is more of a tragedy. Samson is the final deliverer in the book of judges from a list that gets worse and worse.
I’d like you to go with me to Judges chapter 13. This is in the Old Testament, after Deuteronomy and Joshua. I imagine most of you know the end of Samson’s story. It is a bittersweet moment. He dies as he saves Israel from the Philistines. But that final tragedy in his life was the result of smaller tragedies made earlier in his life.
And those smaller tragedies, I would say, can be traced all the way back to before he was born. Let me show you what it says in Judges 13:1-5:
And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, so the Lord gave them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years. 2 There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. And his wife was barren and had no children. 3 And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold, you are barren and have not borne children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. 4 Therefore be careful and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, 5 for behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.”
The angel gave Samson’s mom a list of rules for his life. And that list also came with a purpose. This miracle child was going to have to live a special life because God had a special purpose for him. He was going to be used by God to save Israel from the Philistines. That was his purpose.
Well, after hearing that she’s going to have a son, this woman tells her husband Manoah. She passes along the rules for this child’s life, but says nothing about what his purpose will be.
Manoah responds by praying to God. And his prayer is, “O Lord, let this angel come again. And let him teach us what we’re supposed to do with this child.” He wasn’t asking for parenting lessons; he was asking about the purpose of this child’s life. And God sends the angel again. Skip down to verse 11. The woman sees the angel, and, this time, she calls her husband.
And Manoah arose and went after his wife and came to the man and said to him, “Are you the man who spoke to this woman?” And he said, “I am.” 12 And Manoah said, “Now when your words come true, what is to be the child's manner of life, and what is his mission?” 13 And the angel of the Lord said to Manoah, “Of all that I said to the woman let her be careful. 14 She may not eat of anything that comes from the vine, neither let her drink wine or strong drink, or eat any unclean thing. All that I commanded her let her observe.”
The angel is content to repeat his commands about the child’s upbringing, but he does not repeat his statement about the child being a savior for the people. That was the start of Samson’s problems. He grew up with rules and regulations in his life, but he never understood why they mattered. He never knew his purpose. And that contributed to the aimlessness and the tragedy of his life.
What I want to say to you today is that that exact thing still happens in lives of Christians. We are all susceptible to the error of focusing on the rules that God has given us, while ignoring the purpose behind those commands. If we don’t understand our purpose, life is going to be frustrated and disappointing.
As Christians, we have not been given and independent and individual purpose. Our purpose is found within the context of the church. We don’t have an individual purpose apart from, or outside of, our corporate purpose as God’s people.
Christianity was never designed as a club for people who want to live a moral life. That’s not what Jesus came to create. Jesus came to institute the church. And the church has been placed on this planet to glorify God, to put Him on display.
The Bible says that every single person who turns from their sin and surrenders to Jesus Christ is joined to His bride, which is the church. And even though that church exists in a global sense, the Bible says that in some mysterious way, it is also expressed locally in its fullness. That’s why when Paul wrote his letters to the churches, he didn’t say, “to the portion of the church in Corinth.” He wrote “to the church of God in Corinth.” Just like the global church is the body of Christ, so is a local church.
And so, as the body of Christ, what are we supposed to be doing? What does God want for us corporately, and what does he want for you individually?
That’s what our passage today in Ephesians 4 helps us answer. It helps us see the church, not in the way the world sees it, but as Jesus sees it. That’s how we need to learn to see it.
As we look at these verses in Ephesians 4, the first thing I want you to notice is the Master’s Plan for the church. That’s going to be our first heading today: The Master’s Plan. Go back with me to Ephesians 4, verses 11-16.
The Apostle Paul wanted the church of Ephesus to understand the big picture of what God is doing. God is gathering to Himself people from every tribe and nation and tongue, and He is uniting them in Jesus Christ.
And since they are united in Christ spiritually and eternally, they need to demonstrate that unity practically. That’s what the opening verses of chapter 4 are talking about. They need to walk in in humility and forgiveness toward one another because they are one in Christ.
But that unity does not mean that they are all supposed to look the same. To use Paul’s words from Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12, they are all part of the same body, but they don’t all have the same function. This is what we see in God’s Master Plan.
The first element of Christ’s plan is His gifts. Jesus gifts the church. Look at verse 11, the subject there is Jesus—And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,
The Apostles and the prophets were people in the time after Christ’s ascension who started the church. They were endowed with a unique enablement of God’s spirit to transmit the truth of Jesus Christ.
Today, we don’t have any more of those Apostles, and we don’t have any prophets giving us new revelation. We have the completed New Testament. What we do have, though, are evangelists and pastors and teachers who plant new churches and strengthen existing ones. Those are part of Christ’s gifts to His church.
So, the first element of the plan is that Jesus gifts. Secondly, teachers equip. Teachers equip. That’s what it says in the beginning of verse 12. Jesus gave leaders and teachers to the church in order “to equip the saints.”
That word “equip” carries the idea of finishing or preparing something. The King James put “for the perfecting of the saints.” Now, we elders can’t make you completely perfect. That’s not going to happen this side of Christ. But we do play a role in is training you. We get you ready to serve Jesus.
Jesus gifts, and then the leaders equip. But what are we getting you ready to do? What are we preparing you for? This is the third element in Christ’s plan. Keep reading verse 12. Teachers equip the saints for the work of ministry.
Jesus gifts teachers to the church. The teachers equip the members of the church. And then the members minister for the church. Do you see that pathway? Jesus gifts. Teachers equip. And Members minister.
Sometime in this series on church leadership I made this comment: The role and the responsibilities of leadership are never intended to diminish the role and the responsibilities of the membership. It is vital that you understand that and implement in in your life. Good leadership will not diminish good membership.
Just look at that phrase again for a moment: “the work of ministry.” The word “work” emphasizes diligence, and the word “ministry” emphasizes humility and service. This is something that takes diligence and it takes humility. Whose job is that? Who is supposed to be doing the work of ministry?
Answer: All of us. I’m a member, just like you. And God has called us all to a work of ministry. If you personalize those words, it means that we’re all called to be workers, and we’re all called to be ministers.
A lot of people like to professionalize that word, so when they use the word “minister” they’re only thinking about full- or part-time pastors. I don’t have a problem with professional ministers. But the problem is when we start to think that there are only professional ministers. That’s not a biblical idea.
Every single one of you here is a worker and a minister for the gospel of Jesus Christ. You need to understand that that’s Jesus’ plan. He came to fill this world with ministers. And if you have entrusted your life to Him, that’s what you are.
From the moment you wake up, to the moment you fall asleep, you should be reminding yourself, “I am a minister.” And my job, along with the rest of the elders, is to help you be equipped for that.
Jesus gifts the teachers. And then the teachers equip the members. And then the members minister. That’s the Master’s Plan. If you don’t want to be a minister, you’re at odds with Jesus, because that’s what He put you here to be. That’s His plan for the church.
Now, as a minister, what are you supposed to be doing? We’ve seen the Master’s Plan. Now let’s look at the Master’s Purpose. This is our second heading for today: The Master’s Purpose. If we understand what Jesus’ purpose is for the church, then we’ll know what the purpose of our own lives is supposed to be, right?
On the flip side, if you and Jesus have different purposes in mind for your life, there’s going to be a tension. There’s going to be a confusion or a dissatisfaction.
What’s our purpose? Why are we here on this planet and s part of this church? Let me give you four ways to answer that. And just so you know, these four responses aren’t separated. They are almost like different ways of saying the same thing. These purposes overlap and intertwine, but by saying it different ways, it helps us all get a more well-rounded idea.
Number 1, we are here to build up the body. That’s a purpose in your life. We are here for building up of the body. That’s the end of verse 12. Leaders equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.
In a literal sense, we can use the word building for a physical structure. You can build a sandcastle, or you can build a skyscraper. We can also use the word “build” for the human body. That’s why we have the word “bodybuilding.” And that’s how it’s being used here, except that it’s a spiritual body.
What is the body of Christ? … That’s the church. That’s the body of people who have repented of sin and trusted in the death and resurrection of Jesus alone for forgiveness. They’ve cried out for salvation and have received the Holy Spirit. They are a new creation. That’s the church. That’s the body of Christ.
How is the body of Christ built up? Well, there are two basic ways. We can build up the body by adding people to it, or by growing the people in it. Do you get that? Christ’s body gets built up when somebody responds in faith to the gospel, and Christ’s body gets built up when we grow in our understanding of the gospel. Jesus called that “making disciples.” That’s why God has you here: to contribute to the building up of the body of Christ.
Now that might seem a little vague. So let’s keep adding to this list of purposes so that we get a much more filled out idea of what it means.
Purpose number 1 was building up the body. Purpose number 2 is uniting the body. We are here to unite the body.
Verse 13 starts with the word “until,” which, on the one hand means this is when our work and our ministry stops, but it also helps us understand that this is the goal we’re after. We work and we minister until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.
Biblical unity is not simply about holding hands and getting along. Biblical unity is rooted in biblical truth. That’s what the words “faith” and “knowledge” are talking about. It’s talking about the content of our faith, our doctrine, and our personal intimacy with Jesus.
The more we grow in our understanding of biblical truth, the more we grow in our knowledge of and love for Jesus, and the more we experience true unity.
Holding hands and singing generic feel-good songs about someone named Jesus is not how this happens. Biblical unity happens when, through song or through prayer, or through the words of our mouths, our minds are taken to the great and deep and glorious truths of Jesus Christ who came as God in human flesh to give His life as a ransom for sinners.
There might be an immediate sense of unity when someone tells you they’re a Christian. But if you realize that’s not true, that unity is gone. It’s no longer real. But if you run into someone who genuinely loves and serves Christ, there’s a connection there. And the strength of that connection is going to be related to the level of your maturity.
If you’re both mature in the faith, you connect that much more because Jesus connects us. He is the vine, and we are the branches. When we help someone learn more about and grow closer to Jesus Christ, we are helping them grow closer to the rest of the church.
That’s why, as we grow in our faith, we feel a stronger connection to the church. That eternal and spiritual bond is being realized in a practical way. And Jesus has placed us here to strengthen it. We are here on this planet to unite the body of Christ.
Sometimes, that means we’re acting like peacemakers; we’re helping brothers and sister be reconciled. But even if we’re not addressing a conflict, we can use our words to move others closer to Jesus and, so, closer to one another. We are uniting the body. That’s our purpose.
Purpose number 3—and keep in mind these are all related, and they overlap—purpose number 3 is maturing the body. We are here to mature the body.
The end of verse 13 says we’re working: to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.
How many of you have ever been to a baby shower, or maybe a Christmas party, when they show you a bunch of baby pictures and you have to guess who it is. That’s kinda fun to see, isn’t it?
When you know someone as an adult, and you see a photo of them when they were younger, you can see the connection. You can see them inside that photo, right? Maybe it’s their eyes or their ears or their smile.
What’s more difficult to do is the opposite. When we see a child, it’s not always entirely clear what they’re going to look like once they grow up. Have you ever looked at the back of that stack of advertisements in the mail and seen the photo of the child who has been digitally aged (that’s what they call it)? Have you seen that? Do you know what I’m talking about?
Well, think about that in a spiritual sense. What would you look like if we digitally aged you spiritually? And I’m not primarily speaking about your appearance; I’m talking about your life. What does a more mature Luis look like? What does a more mature YOU look like? What are you going to look like when you’re all done growing up spiritually?
Answer: You’re going to look like Jesus. That’s what it means to grow into the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. That’s where we are all headed, and that’s what we all take part in for one another. That’s your purpose in this church—to help others look more like Jesus. And you do that by the word of God and by prayer, and either through teaching and encouraging, or correcting and admonishing. But that’s what we’re here to do.
You’re here to build up the rest of us. You’re here to unite the rest of us in the faith. And you’re here to mature the rest of us, so that we look more like Jesus.
Let me just give you one final purpose. This is purpose number 4: You are here to protect the body. Jesus has you in this church for the purpose of protecting the body from false teaching.
Look at verse 14—so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
One of the distinguishing marks of a child is the lack of discernment. Young children are still figuring out what is true and what is a lie, or what is good and what is bad. That’s why we tell them not to go with strangers, or not to eat things off the floor, or not to spend all their money at one time. They don’t know any better, so they need to be protected and taught.
Well, in a spiritual sense, that’s what happens with baby Christians. They are easily deceived by error. But the more we grow up in our faith, the better we can defend ourselves.
The language of verse 14 pictures a little boat caught in a big storm. You’ve got waves and wind, and they are thrashing this little boat around because it’s not built for that. That’s a baby Christian. You’ve got worldly philosophies and false Christian messages, and they don’t know how to sort all that out. They aren’t rooted enough in God’s word to know what’s goo and what’s bad. They aren’t firmly anchored in the truth.
I know that as the main preacher here I bear a distinct responsibility here, but this is something we all have to take on as a responsibility. We need to be looking out for one another, and especially for our young ones or our new believers.
When we baptize someone, and we bring them in front of the church, that doesn’t mean they’ve arrived at some level of Christian maturity. Usually, it means they are a baby Christian. They’re barely taking their first public steps of faith. Don’t just clap when someone gets baptized; make a note of that person. Recognize that they need you to help guide them and protect them.
And they need to be protected, not just from the sin in this world or the sin in their own heart, but from, as verse 14 says, doctrines and human cunning, and craftiness and deceitful schemes.
Some teachers out there in the broad world of Christianity know exactly what they are doing. They’re in it for the money and the fame. And they don’t care what damage they cause. They are, like Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11, servants of Satan disguising themselves as servants of righteousness. They’re frauds. They’re religious conmen.
Other times, you might find someone who is genuinely convinced of their position, and they think they are helping others, but they have been deceived. And the root of that deception is Satan himself. That’s the business of him and his demons—to propagate false doctrine, to deceive both unbelievers and believers.
So, you need to do your part to help protect the body. That’s part of your job description as a member of the body of Christ. And so, it’s part of your job description as a member of this church. You are a worker and a minister placed here to build up, to unite, to mature, and to protect.
You know, it might help to think about all those goals from a negative perspective. When the body is weak, we help build it up. When the body is divided, you help unite it. When the body is young, you help mature it. And when the body is in danger, you help protect it. That’s your job.
Now, from a positive perspective, what does that actually look like? What are you supposed to be doing? Verse 15 introduces a contrast. You don’t want to be the baby Christian, drowning in a sea of lies. What should you be?
Verse 15 says: Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ
You can’t help others mature if you’re not maturing yourself. And as we mature, we are helping other mature. How? By speaking the truth in love.
This is an important concept to understand. In the original Greek, the word for speaking isn’t here. It’s actually the word for truth being used as a verb. Literally, you could say we’re called to be “truthing” in love. But the idea there is that we are walking in and immersing ourselves with truth. The false teachers from verse14 are living in the waves of lies and error. We are supposed to be on the solid ground of truth. And we are supposed to be walking in that truth as well.
And how did Jesus sum up God’s commandments? What’s the greatest commandment? What’s the summation of the law? It’s love. We walk in the truth, we immerse ourselves in the truth, and we proclaim the truth. And we do it all in love.
So, what verse 15 is doing is pointing out the connection between a life of truth and love and our spiritual growth. The more we exert ourselves in truth and love, the more we’ll grow. And the more we grow, the more we will walk in truth and love.
Now, remember the context of this passage is not your individual life. It’s our corporate life as a church. So, this is what you need to think about as a result of today’s message.
- How am I working for Christ’s purpose
- Do I see myself as a minister for Jesus Christ in this church?
- What am I doing to help build up this body of Christ?
- What am I doing to help unite this church?
- What am I doing to help mature others?
- What am I doing to protect this body?
You might have a formal answer to that, with some kind of public ministry in the church. Or you might have an informal answer to that. That's not what matters. The Bible never makes some kind of distinction between formal ministries of the church and informal ministries of the members. We're all ministering for the body of Christ. You just need to be thinking about waht you're doing. And think about how to do it better.
The trouble, at times, is getting motivated. And it's particularly difficult if you don't consider yourself a very "gifted" person. You think, "Oh, what could I do? I don't matter all that much." How do you respond to that.
The answer to that comes in our final heading for today. We've looked at the Master's plan, we've loked at the Master's purpose, now let's look at the Master's promise. The Master's promise.
This is from verse 16. Look at what it says—from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
We can be motivated to serve in the body by recognizing that Christ has guaranteed that it will work. Jesus is the One who joined the body. He put it together. And He has equipped every part—big parts and little parts.
And just like in our human bodies, big parts are important and little parts are important too. Every part matters. Jesus put us all here. He has us all exactly where He wants us. We are the joints and the ligaments and the muscles. And when we are all doing our part, not matter how small or insignificant it might seem, the body builds itself up. That's the promise of verse 16.
From Christ, by His power, when the parts are working properly, the body builds itself up in love.
Don't minimize the contribution you are making or can make. Don't look at a children's ministry, for example, and think, "Oh they already have two teachers. They don't need me." Ask the teachers. They would love to have another adult in the room, even if that it doesn't look like he/she is doing anything. It helps so much.
First Peter 4 says that some people serve with their words. Others serve more with their actions. Either way, the ability all comes from God, and it's all for His glory.
So, dwell on these purposes that God has given us, and find ways to serve. Where God places you is going to be connected to the current needs of the church, and, over time, to where you and others affirm that you're being effective. And I believe God will begin giving you more and more fulfilment as you serve Him and grow.
We don’t need to go through life like Samson. We know our purpose. And we can experience the joy and the wonder that God will use us for His glory.