The Purpose of the Meeting of the Church
Ephesians Lesson #147
May 1, 2022
Dr. Robert L. Dean, Jr.
“Father, we are so grateful that we can come together to focus upon Your Word. We recognize that in this world there are very few places where Christians can truly feed upon the Word that You have revealed to us. That it is by Your Word that we grow; it is by Your Word that we are sanctified. It is by Your Word that we are edified and comforted.
“Father, we are so thankful that we live in a time when each one of us can possess our own copy—in many cases multiple copies and translations—of Scripture, and that we might honor that and recognize what a privilege that is throughout the history of the church.
“Father, we pray that we might not take Your Word lightly, that we might not take it for granted that we have opportunities to study and to learn and to grow, and that we might desire to glorify You in every area of our life as a result of our spiritual growth through Your Word. We pray this in Christ’s name, amen.”
Open your Bibles with me continuing our study in Ephesians 4. The topic in this next verse, Ephesians 4:12, is the purpose of the meeting of the church:
- Why is it that God has ordained the meeting of the local church?
- What do we mean by the meeting of the local church?
I think the meeting of the local church is any time that the members of a local church come together in order to pray and study the Scriptures. It’s not just what happens on Sunday. Here it is what happens also on Tuesday night and Thursday night.
We come together to focus upon what God has revealed to us that we might learn to think as God would have us to think, to have the values that God has instilled within the creation, so that we might learn to live in harmony with the way things are and not the way sinful men often think that they should be.
The meeting of the church, therefore, should have the highest priority in the life of every believer. For it is through the teaching of the Word in the company of other believers that we are encouraged and strengthened, and God uses that in order to develop us. That is exactly what Paul is emphasizing in this section of Ephesians 4.
I want to turn your attention to the last two verses of this section, because that brings this together in a distinctive focus. Ephesians 4:15, “… but, speaking the truth in love …”
That’s the focal point of the teaching ministry of the pulpit: Speaking the truth. A lot of people don’t like truth. A lot of people go to church because they want to have their ideas, values, opinions, and lifestyle validated by what comes out of the pulpit.
The last thing they want to hear is for anyone to say that they have wrong values: their thinking is wrong, the way in which they think is wrong, the way their lifestyle is lead is wrong. They just want God to be like a big Santa Claus up in Heaven who’s going to validate everything that they say, and then give them Christmas presents.
But that’s not what the Scripture says. We are to speak the truth in love, and not in condemnation, not in a judgmental attitude. And we grow then on the basis of the truth. He goes on to say, Ephesians 4:15 that we “… may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ.”
It focuses on growing into Christ, and I take that as being conformed to His image, which is what Romans 8:29 focuses on.
Notice what Ephesians 4:16 says, “… from whom the whole body …”
That’s not just the body of believers that meets at West Houston Bible Church, that’s the whole body of Christ, the universal body of Christ. That is composed of all those who are already face-to-face with the Lord and those who are alive today. Anyone who has trusted in Jesus Christ as Savior, whether they are walking with the Lord or not. That’s the body of Christ.
Ephesians 4:16, it is “from whom—from Christ—the whole body, joined and knit together …”
Notice the focus on the importance of the body of Christ here, that they are joined and knit together by what every joint supplies. In this analogy, what every joint supplies is what every individual believer brings to the body of Christ and his ministry to the body of Christ.
That’s very important for an understanding this passage, because it shows that the point is on all the saints—all the believers in Christ, it is not for some special group within the body of Christ, but it’s important for every joint in terms of what each individual supplies to the whole, the universal body of Christ.
Ephesians 4:16, “according to the effective working by which every part does its share.”
Notice the emphasis again. “Every part” is every individual believer. Every believer in Christ in a local assembly or in the universal body of Christ has a significant role to play in relation to the whole body of Christ.
We have an emphasis in Ephesians on the corporate entity of the body of Christ, but that is not at the exclusion of the significance of each individual. Each individual has a role and the oneness of the body of Christ has a role.
We will cover several things when we get there, but that is a great illustration of a philosophical principle called “unity in diversity.” Sometimes it is referred to as “the one and the many.” “The one” would be the corporate entity of the body of Christ; and “the many” would be all of the individual parts.
That had a significant impact on how the Founding Fathers of the United States understood how the social makeup of a nation was to function. On the one hand you have the oneness of the nation, and on the other hand, you have the parts.
If you over-emphasize the one, then you end up with a totalitarian government like they have in Russia, where what matters is what the government dictates for the whole.
If you over-emphasize the parts, you end up with anarchy because every part becomes autonomous, and you get what happened in the period of the Judges, as we’re studying on Tuesday night, because everyone does what’s right in their own eyes.
It just leads to the fragmentation of a culture and society. We see a lot of that going on right now in this country because the body of Christ and the impact of Christianity has been lost because of what has happened in the schools in education and in the pulpits.
We’ve lost this concept that was very much a part of the understanding of the average American citizen for the first 300 years of our existence—the colonial period up through near the end of the 1800s—which formed their foundation.
“… every part does its share …” Notice the emphasis on the first divine institution of individual responsibility. The individual should not say, “Oh, I’m just going to let everybody else do the work, and I’m going to benefit from it.” That’s basically what happens in communism and socialism, both philosophical and political ideas that are hostile to biblical Christianity.
Every part does its share, every part has its responsibility. Then Paul says in Ephesians 4:16, “causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” Love brackets these two verses.
I went to the end because sometimes you have to go to the end in order to see where Paul is going, where we’re going to end up, and this is very important.
Ephesians 4:11–12, “And He Himself—refers to Christ—gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers—New King James Version—for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”
What does the Bible teach about the role of pastor?
We spent a lot of time studying especially the role of pastors. We looked at the Old Testament and came to understand that the role of a literal shepherd was to lead, guide, direct, provide for, and take care of the sheep that were entrusted to him.
One other factor was that this was applied metaphorically to spiritual leaders as well as political leaders, as we saw in passages in Jeremiah and Ezekiel. God brought condemnation upon those who failed in their responsibilities as leaders and in taking care of the spiritual life of the people, whether that was politically or spiritually.
From the Old Testament we get that the meaning of this concept of a pastor-shepherd is grounded in the idea of providing nourishment and leading. And the leading is through that nourishment which comes from the Word of God.
When we got to the New Testament, we realized that nothing really changed. Jesus Christ is considered to be the Shepherd and Teacher for His church. He is the ultimate Shepherd, and pastors in local congregations are simply under-shepherds. We see this pattern again that it is a leadership gift.
The idea of pastoring focuses on leadership and direction, and the major part of that responsibility is to provide nourishment, whether it’s literal water and food, or whether it’s the food of the Word of God, spiritually speaking. The primary role is leadership and feeding the sheep.
We saw that in Jesus’ conversation with Peter and John 20:15–17. Three times Jesus says, “Do you love Me?” And Peter says, ‘Yes, Lord, You know I love You.” And the Lord said, “Feed My sheep.”
He used different words for “feeding” and different words for “sheep” to indicate that it involved teaching the lambs, teaching the older sheep, and different ways in which that was communicated in terms of simple food to more complex food.
The mission given is stated there: that the pastor, the apostle, the evangelist are to feed the sheep. That’s the primary mission.
For that last phrase, we took time to study the intricacies of the grammar to help understand what is going on and the fact that there are internal structures in the Greek translated as “some,” which in the passage of Ephesians 4:11 are four categories set apart: apostles, then prophets, then evangelists, (then, pastor-teachers.
But there’s only one Greek word, DE, before pastor-teacher, indicating they were to be understood as a closely connected group. There is a spiritual gift of teacher, but in the other passages that talk about spiritual gifts, there’s no autonomous spiritual gift of pastor.
This is the only time the noun is used, and is used in connection with teaching, which tells us that the way in which the feeding and nourishing is accomplished is through teaching, teaching the Word of God.
That which distinguishes pastor-teacher from a teacher has to do with the leadership role and his responsibility for the congregation. We learn from that that not all teachers are pastors, but all pastors are to be teachers. A pastor who is not a teacher—in other words a pastor who is simply a motivator, an exhorter, someone who is entertaining—is not a pastor at all! He is a fake pastor and nobody can grow as a result of that false view of the ministry.
We concluded that the pastor feeds the sheep through the teaching of the Word of God, the whole counsel of God.
I’m reminded of a conversation reported to me involving someone who didn’t know anything about me or my ministry asked what I was teaching. The response was that I was teaching Judges on Tuesday night, and his response was, “Well, why do we need that? That’s for Israel.”
Unfortunately, that’s a commonly held view by a lot of people, but we are to teach the whole counsel of God. That means everything from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21. It is the whole counsel of God, and it covers everything.
What is the purpose then for the pastoral ministry?
In Ephesians 4:11 apostles were a temporary gift that was limited to the first century, and when the apostle John died, there were no longer any apostles in that key sense of those who were the primary foundation of the body of Christ, the church.
Prophets were also indicated to be a temporary gift according to 1 Corinthians 13, that the gift of prophecy was to be abolished when the canon of Scripture was completed. There was no longer any need for extra biblical revelation.
The gifts of evangelists and pastor-teachers, gifted individuals, are to train the church, Ephesians 4:12. This is a very interesting verse, one that a lot of people think they understand when they read it.
And I will tell you without any arrogance that you don’t, and I didn’t until you really break it down. This is complex. I went through, and I have a whole page, I’m not using it all, I just created these notes for myself, of about 12 different translations.
We will look at a couple of them, but it’s interesting how different translations have understood the structure of this verse in the Greek, and it’s very important because it impacts different things.
Ephesians 4:12, “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ …” continuing into verse 13, but for now we will just look at Ephesians 4:12.
It seems to make sense when we look at it in the English, and it does to a certain degree, but there’s one thing there that you don’t find in the original language at all. Can anybody tell me? Think about it. What do you see in that English translation that would not have appeared in the Greek at all?
Answer: The comma.
That comma is important in terms of the way the translator sees the thought that is expressed in this verse, but there’s no comma, so anytime you see a comma in Scripture, it’s always a tool that the translator is using to try to clarify what he thinks the verse is saying.
There is a comma at the end of, “for the work of ministry …” In the New King James Version, it looks like the first part is considered all one thought, “… for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry,” then secondarily, “for the edifying of the body of Christ.”
There are three English words “for.” It looks like they would be equivalent to each other. If you think that you would be wrong, but there’s a history for why people handled it that way. Before we get to understanding how these three prepositional phrases relate to each other—and that’s very important—we have to look at the main words “equipping,” “ministry,” and “edifying.”
We will learn that in the Greek there are actually two different words that are used for these prepositions that are all translated in the New King James with the English word “for.”
The first one is a different word, and then the second and third one are the same Greek word. But it indicates a different way in which these phrases are to be related to one another.
As a result of that, you’ll see that there are different ways in which this is punctuated, and the punctuation isn’t consistent between the translations either.
I’ve concluded, which we will see when we I get to the end, that perhaps the best way to understand this and its significance is with an expanded paraphrase. Initially I want to look at the three keywords in each of these phrases: “equipping,” “ministry,” and “edify.”
To start, “the equipping of the saints.” The equipping of the saints in the Greek is KATARTISMOS, which basically has the idea of training or equipping. In at least one commentary the suggested word was “preparation,” which is certainly a good word for training. Training prepares you for something.
I prefer the word “training” to “preparation” because the focal point is the process of the preparation. This is the only verse in the New Testament that uses this noun. The verb is used 13 times in the New Testament.
The problem with the King James or the Authorized Version is that it translates this as the “perfection of the saints.” When you read the word “perfection” in English, you think of something that’s sinless or flawless.
But not only is that not present in the Greek KATARTISMOS, it’s not even present in most of the passages that use the word “perfect.” We will discover that it’s used here in Ephesians 4:13, we are to come to a perfect man. Again, that’s a poor understanding and poor translation.
To get an idea of training, the Oxford English Dictionary definition of training is: to teach a person a skill or a type of behavior through regular practice or instruction. If you’ve taken dance lessons, if you’ve taken lessons on a musical instrument, if you have learned any kind of skill whether it is working with machines or something physical or athletic, you know that it takes a lot of repetition and that you have to practice it a lot in order to master it.
First you have to learn certain things, then you have to put those things into practice, and then you’ll come back and learn some more things and refine it, and that’s just the process that we all go through as we are trained to do whatever it is that we are involved in. That’s a key idea in KATARTISMOS.
The root word ARTI is in the center of the word. KATA at the beginning is a Greek preposition that is used as a prefix for emphasis. The other is a nominative masculine ending.
EXARTIZO, a similar word is used in 2 Timothy 3:16–17. (EX is the Greek preposition for “from out of”), so it’s very similar in meaning having to do with the idea of completely or thoroughly equipping someone for their task. What thoroughly equips us for our task as believers? It is the Word of God,
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for doctrine—meaning teaching.”
Teaching covers a range of things. Too often in modern Christianity, the word “doctrine” has been narrowed to just refer to theological concepts. But the biblical use of “doctrine” is teaching—everything from how to think to how to live.
It includes the whole realm of understanding, that there’s no such thing as just purely abstract theology, but everything that we understand, though it may seem abstract, has practical implications for how we think and how we live.
“All Scripture is breathed out by God, and is profitable for teaching [or instruction], for reproof—that means that God is going to step on our toes; He will say, ‘No, you’re doing it wrong’.”
We live in a world today when nobody likes to be told they’re wrong. And we have a lot of people who, as soon as they hear somebody say that their opinions, beliefs, or lifestyle is wrong, they’re going say that you’re racist because racism now covers everything. (The term’s really changed its meaning!)s
Next, they will say something like you’re a bully or that you are this or that, and yet the reality is we are all sinners. The problem with the modern thinking of Western civilization is it’s grounded on the idea that human beings are perfectible, that human beings can be improved to perfection. And if an individual human being can be brought to perfection, so can society.
All of these college-age kids protesting and demonstrating are angry that,
1. They can’t get their way, and they have to work.
2. If they’re irresponsible and are suffering the consequences that’s unfair.
3. About the fact that they want perfection, and there’s no perfection.
They don’t see it quite that way, but that’s what’s really going on. They assume that somehow it’s a utopian world and everybody can get 100 because they grew up going through various athletic contests, whether it’s baseball or T-ball or soccer, and everybody got a participation prize no matter what they did. So they don’t understand that when we do things wrong, there’re consequences.
God tells us when we’re doing things wrong, but He tells us what the correction is, so that we can improve. But we’re never going to become perfect or flawless because we live with a sin nature, and even though we’ve trusted Christ and are saved, we’re still corrupt. We still have a sin nature that tempts us, and we still enslave ourselves to that sin nature, Romans 6.
We have to learn to be corrected and that means humility. If you don’t want to be corrected, you’re just as arrogant as you can be, and your life is going to be an absolute miserable mess. Because arrogance always produces problems and heartache and self-destruction.
God reproves us through His Word, He corrects us, and then He gives us instruction in righteousness: How we are to think and live in conformity to righteousness. But where do we get a standard of righteousness? We only get it from God. God’s Word tells us what that absolute standard is, and there’s an absolute standard for right and wrong.
Often today people don’t want to believe that there’s a right and wrong, so when they hear somebody like me get in the pulpit and say, “There are absolute rights and absolute wrongs,” they say, “No, no, no, you’re wrong.”
“Where do you get this idea of wrong, what is your standard? Where did that come from?”
See, they don’t understand that they can’t even think in terms of right and wrong categories without affirming that there is an ultimate standard. So in their attempts to discredit God, they are demonstrating that they can’t even think without using God’s terms.
“Instruction in righteousness.” Why? The ultimate purpose, 1 Timothy 3:17, “that the man of God—that’s not a sexist term; that is referring to any human being who is a believer—may be complete, thoroughly equipped—there’s our word—for every good work.”
We are not thoroughly equipped for every good work, which is tantamount to ministry, which is what we’re studying in our passage, unless we have gone through the process of learning what the Bible teaches, being reproved, being corrected, and being instructed.
All of that has to happen before we realize that we’re thoroughly equipped. It’s the Bible that equips us, teaching us and training us how to think, so we can learn how to live.
Ephesians 4:12, “for the equipping of the saints …” which comes from the Word of God.
The next prepositional phrase uses the word “ministry.” The word for ministry is DIAKONIA, meaning service or ministry. A lot of translations use “ministry:”
What does ministry mean?
How are you going find out the meaning of the word “ministry?”
Most people will look at a dictionary, either online or a hardback. For example, if you look in the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, there is as a subset of the third meaning, which is “spiritual service to others provided by the Christian church.”
But everything else in the previous main definitions 1–3, before you get to that sub point, is related. For example, Definition 1 of the Collins English Dictionary is a little more expansive and says that this word refers to the profession or duties of a minister of religion.
Well, that certainly is not what this passage is talking about, because that buys into the idea that there’s a distinction between the profession of ministry and the laity. It’s an artificial distinction between the clergy, who do the ministry, and the laity, who are passive. That’s found in many sacramental churches in, how they handle it. We will look at this in more detail in a minute.
1. Definition; also, the performance of these duties.
2. Ministers of religion or government ministers considered collectively. Well, that doesn’t apply.
3. The tenure of a minister; ministry may refer to how long he is in his position. If you think of a minister of state or a foreign minister or someone like that, then the ministry would refer to his time period in office.
4. A government department headed by minister, or the buildings of such a department.
That covers the gamut in Collins English Dictionary. Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary basically says the same thing. But none of those except for that one subcategory in the Concise Oxford English Dictionary even comes close to how the word “ministry” is used in Ephesians 4:12.
That’s why I always say you have to consult your dictionaries before you decide how to translate a Greek or Hebrew word into English, because you have to figure out does that English word really mean what the original language means. And in this case, that’s pretty pathetic.
The meaning of the Greek word has the idea of performing a service, so this is how it should be understood: “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service.” We have various ways in which this word is handled and used in the Scripture.
For example, in Acts 6:4 it is used “to the ministry of the Word.” “Ministry” can relate to the teaching of the Word, the explanation of the Word.
Acts 20:24 Paul says, “But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus …”
That refers to his commissioning as an apostle and the responsibilities to communicate, for example, the mystery doctrine that now there was a new spiritual entity called the church that was made up of Jew and Gentile alike. That ministry, teaching that, communicating that, is what he received from the Lord Jesus Christ—the commissioning to his apostolic ministry.
1 Corinthians 12:5, “There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord.”
That’s in the context of describing various spiritual gifts, which gets us back to all of the individual believers having different ministries related to their spiritual gifts.
2 Corinthians 5:18, “Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us—referring to all believers—the ministry of reconciliation.”
That is teaching people the Scriptures—that God in Christ has reconciled us to Himself; that is the ministry of evangelism.
The word has a general sense of spiritual service to those who are in the body of Christ, other believers, and it ranges from evangelism to teaching the Word to meeting specific physical or spiritual needs.
The next word is “edifying,” the Greek OIKODOME, which has the idea sometimes of a literal building, or the construction of a literal building. Or it can refer to a spiritual building.
For example, Ephesians 2:21, “in whom the whole building—OIKODOME,—being fitted together, grows—it’s a living organism that grows—into a holy temple in the Lord.”
1 Corinthians 3:9, “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building.”
That’s what we are; we’re all part of that building, which is the body of Christ.
Three things are mentioned in relation to the mission or the purpose of these gifted leaders, and for our purposes that’s the evangelist or pastor-teacher.
In Ephesians 4:12 it is “for the equipping of the saints—What’s for the equipping of the saints? Let’s just use pastor-teacher.—“The gifted leader of a pastor-teacher is given for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”
We see that there are three English words “for.” The preposition “for” in English has a range of meanings just like it does in Greek, but in this passage they’re not the same word. In this first option of interpretation, that’s ignored; that’s part of the problem with it.
But this is a typical way in which this has been taught and understood; that is, “He Himself gave pastor-teachers” to do three things.
Notice how I have them all equal to one another. The technical word for that is they are coordinate; equal to one another. They’re doing these three things. The pastor-teacher does three things: equip the saints, the work of ministry, and edify the body of Christ.
That is typical of what you have in a hierarchical church where there is a distinction between clergy and laity. That’s how they will distinguish it. These gifted leaders do these three things.
Well, what do the people in the pew do? They sit there and listen. They participate; they’re passive.
The problem with that is that when we look at the entirety of the rest of this paragraph down to Ephesians 4:16 at the very end, it’s talking about what every joint supplies and that every part does its share.
The Scriptures clearly teach that the body of Christ is not separated into the categories of clergy and laity. We use the word “layman” every now and then just to describe a nonprofessional minister, but in the classical use of that term that doesn’t work.
There is a problem in the way that this is handled, based on two issues:
- It translates the two different Greek prepositions as if they’re the same thing
- There’s no “and,” which is a coordinating conjunction.
There are several coordinating conjunctions in English: “and,” “for,” “nor,” “but” and “yet” are all coordinating conjunctions.
If you’re of a certain age, you may remember Sesame Street and Conjunction Junction, where you’re joining two railroad train cars together—they’re equal. That’s how this is treated, but there’s no “and” to coordinate them—here’s no conjunction to form the junction.
That’s the first option, and it’s got problems. But I also want you to note that there’s a comma in the New King James, but that’s not how it was in the original King James Version of 1900.
You do realize that when you talk to people who believe in King James only, you have to first ask, which King James? Because it was revised many times before the one they have in their hand. If you go back and try to read the original, it’s extremely difficult.
The way it was translated originally “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”
Three purposes as it’s diagrammed.
Who translated the King James Version? The Anglican clergy of England. They were a hierarchical church that believed in a distinction between the clergy and the laity. This shows their theology, and it’s evident by where they put the commas. You just thought comments were just something there to bother you from the seventh grade on, but there’s a distinction there.
1. PROS in the Greek, which points to the purpose of the giving of these gifted leaders.
2. EIS, indicating an immediate purpose for the gift giving of these gifted offices.
The nuances here are pretty esoteric, but they’re significant because it affects how you understand what happens in the local church. That’s not something that’s going to show up in a doctrinal statement. It’s going to show up in how they do what they do in the church. What’s important is not only what we believe, but how we put into practice what we believe.
Methodology is just as important as the actual understanding of doctrine. How you do what you do is as important. A right thing done in a wrong way is wrong. A wrong thing done is in a wrong way is wrong. The only thing that’s right is when a right thing is done in a right way, and methodology is critical.
In the second option, they recognize the distinction, that that first prepositional phrase “for the ultimate purpose of equipping the saints” is stating the ultimate purpose.
The next two are seen as coordinate because they’re even with each other.
What’s missing there? No coordinating conjunction. There’s no “and,” “for,” “nor,” any of the coordinating conjunctions, so that has problems.
Basically, this would mean that Christ provided gifted people “for the immediate purpose of the work of ministry and the building up of Christ,” while the ultimate and final purposes of the gifts are “for the work of ministry and the edifying of the body of Christ” which are seen as coordinate or equal.
3. The third option tries to recognize a little more of this distinction and would put “for the immediate purpose of the work of ministry” in connection and supporting the first purpose. Then then you’d have your second purpose down here.
He gave pastors and teachers, “for the purpose of equipping the saints for the immediate purpose of the work of ministry,” and secondly, “for the edifying of the body of Christ.” So, it’s the pastor-teacher who is given for the edifying of the body of Christ.
Again, there is a problem with that, but this is evidenced in translations like the NRSV and the NASB 1977. The way they do that is the way in which they translate here that it’s “to equip,” showing that ultimate purpose.
Then “for the building up of the body of Christ” is handled a little differently, which you may not see. I had to work through this, read a couple things, and everybody was citing the same distinctives in the translation, but it gets kind of obtuse.
We will just go to the correct interpretation, which is the fourth option.
4. It should be “for the equipping of the saints.” That’s the immediate purpose. The immediate purpose for the pastor is to equip the saints. The first thing he’s doing is equipping them “for the work of ministry.”
The result of that is “the edification of the body of Christ.” It’s a stair step in the way you understand these prepositions here. That really changes the way you look at what people do in church, the meeting of the church. The pastor is to equip the saints, so the saints are then able to do the work of ministry.
Whether it’s evangelism, teaching Sunday School, being involved as a helper in Vacation Bible School, or just in terms of doing ministry to those who are sick, those were shut in, those who are in the hospital, an application of the spiritual gift of mercy.
All of that then produces edification within the body of Christ. We do edify one another. A lot of times people get the idea that all this edification flows just from the teaching of God’s Word, but it also comes from many other aspects, and we are encouraged in Scripture to edify one another just by our presence in church or some other ways.
One of the things that comes across in the Colossians 3 is when it talks about letting the Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom. Well, how does that look? It says by teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.
That’s one of the reasons that we sing what we sing is because there’s content there that instructs and encourages others. 90% of what’s sung in most churches doesn’t teach or admonish anybody. So how can you do what the Bible says if what you’re singing doesn’t teach or admonish anybody? It’s worthless to sing those songs, but “Oh, that’s so important.”
In fact, what you find today among many young people is that that’s the first and most important thing they look for when they go to a church. They want to make sure that it’s got the right kind of music, and it’s on the cutting edge of what other churches are doing instead of asking,
“What does the Bible say I should do in church?
“What is singing supposed to be like?
“What are the words supposed to be like?”
The Bible says a lot about those things but they’re just ignored. When thinking about selecting a church, we have to ask certain questions and find out what the Bible says the purpose of the church is, the purpose of the meeting of the church? What is it that is to take place in my spiritual life as a result of a biblically sound church teaching the Word?”
This is a stair step that Christ gave these gifted people—the pastor-teacher and the evangelist, “for the immediate purpose of equipping the saints” once they’re equipped then they can witness, they can serve, they can teach. The goal is “the work of ministry,” and the result of doing the work of ministry is “the body of Christ is edified.”
A couple of other things; for example, this from the NIV, “to equip His people for works of service …” Notice they distinguished the first one and made it a purpose clause that the purpose of this gift is to equip the saints. That’s good, that’s viable.
“His people.” I have a problem when I hear talk about the people of God. That’s accurate; nothing inaccurate about it. But the people of God today are not the same as the people of God in the Old Testament.
The people of God today are believers in Christ, they are in the body of Christ; they are Church Age saints. So, I think it’s better to use language that distinguishes Church Age believers from those of previous ages.
Ephesians 4:12, the Williams translation expands on it a little bit, “for the immediate equipment—I think ‘equipping’ is better—of God’s people for the work of service, for the ultimate building up of the body of Christ.”
Notice he distinguishes the immediate purpose from the distant purpose.
I’ve taken a stab at translating this, “for the immediate purpose of training—I think ‘equipping’ loses some aspect of the training—all Church Age believers to do the work of service, toward the ultimate goal of spiritually strengthening the body of Christ—not just West Houston Bible Church, but it has an impact on the entirety of the body of Christ.”
What are the implications for Church Age believers when you’re thinking about choosing or selecting a church?
1. The local church should understand that the role of the pastor-teacher is to train believers to think, act, and live on the basis of God’s Word. He’s not a motivator. The motivation comes from learning the Word of God.
The Word of God is what provides motivation and spiritual growth that provides motivation. The pastor should not be a motivational speaker. That’s not his purpose. His purpose is to instruct and to teach the Word of God. That has to be understood.
He’s not the administrator, he’s not the chief executive offer; he is the trainer, he is the teacher, he is the one who equips the saints by explaining the Word of God.
2. The responsibility of each believer then is to devote themselves to being spiritually trained.
It’s not a lot of fun to try to train somebody when they don’t care. There’re two sides to this. The pastor is the equipper, the trainer, the teacher; and it’s the sheep that are in the pew that need to be responsive and to be trained and to be equipped, so that they can become spiritually trained and effective in ministry in their lives.
3. The local church is not a social, sociological, or psychological institution.
This is big today. Most Christians are operating on the idea that a local church is really a social institution. It’s there for the people to get to know each other and support each other and have a good time together and enjoy the music and the entertainment. That’s a social institution, but that’s not what the Bible says.
4. The Bible says that the local church by God’s definition is an educational institution to train believers in how to think biblically and to remove the false and inaccurate opinions, philosophies, and religious deceptions from our own thinking and our lives.
When many of us—I’m making some assumptions here—went to university, we went there in order to get an education. As a byproduct of that, we had, I hope, a decent social life. (I had a great social life; it was too much of a social life the first year!) But I was there for an education, and at that time universities were still focused on providing education for the students.
They did some things secondarily to enhance some of the social aspects to keep students from just getting out of control, but that was secondary. The purpose for the existence of these schools was to educate the students. Social things were byproducts of being in that kind of environment.
The local church is an educational institution, just like the synagogue. When I look at especially conservative or Orthodox synagogues, they have a lot of teaching and training that’s going on in relation to the Torah, to Judaism, and to the Talmud.
It’s all focused on education. Do they have a social life? Sure, they do. It’s not one or the other; it’s the order in which they exist. The local church is an educational institution, primarily, that has social life as a secondary benefit.
I’ve been in churches that were always accused of, “Well, that church is so cold. They never say anything to visitors.” I probably had a much better social life there than I did churches that were called “fellowship churches” that were supposedly emphasizing social life. Because it was based on a commonality which was understanding the Word of God.
We will look at Ephesians 4:13, “until—that indicates the ultimate goal—we all attain—who is the ‘all’? It’s not all y’all, it’s the body of Christ—to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.”
The bottom line is Romans 12:2, the verse that people today ignore: literally, “Do not be pressed into the mold of the opinions and philosophies of the culture around you [most churches are trying to emulate the culture around them, so people don’t feel uncomfortable. But the Scripture says that you are not to be influenced by the culture around you.
“Do not be pressed into their mold, but be transformed by the renovation of your thinking, in order that your life may give evidence that the will of God is good and acceptable and complete.” (R.L.D.)
The only way to do that is to consistently listen to the Word of God being taught, so that you can internalize it into your lives.
“Father, we thank You for this opportunity to come together this morning and to study about the meeting of the church and the purpose for the meeting of the church, that this is not about fellowship, it’s not how it makes me feel.
“It is about Your Word, learning Your Word, being transformed by Your Word, so that we are not conforming ourselves to the spirit of the age, but that we are being transformed to that which is eternal, that is the thinking of Christ.
“Father, we know that today we live in a world that is very different from centuries before where there is such a huge battle and huge conflict. The pressures on young people, the pressures on all Christians to conform so that they’re not thought of as being something different and being an oddity is there.
“None of us like to be thought of as an oddity, but the world will always think of us as oddities because we believe in a personal, infinite God and because we believe that personal, infinite God has loved us in such a way that He gave His Son to die on the cross for our sins, and that sets us apart.
“We are saints, set apart to You because of our faith in Jesus Christ. The saints are to be taught, the saints are to be equipped for the work of the ministry.
“Father, we pray that anyone listening to this message today, either live or here in person, that they might recognize that the only way to have eternal life, the only way to have a fullness of life, the only way to have any sense of an abundant life as You designed is that we need to internalize Your Word.
“But first we have to be saved; we have to trust in Christ as Savior. That’s the change point, to reject the world and the worldly religions and to trust in Jesus Christ as the Eternal Second Person of the Trinity who died on the cross for our sins, paid the penalty, that by simply trusting in Him we have everlasting life.
“We pray that those who are not saved might clearly understand this and trust in Christ for their salvation. We pray these things in Christ’s name, amen.”