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THE WORK OF MINISTRY – Ephesians 4:11-16

Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on April 30, 2017 under 2017 |

Preached Sunday, April 30, 2017 from

Theme: The work of the ministry of building up the body of Christ is to be done by every member fulfilling their part together with dependency upon Him.

(Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)


his morning’s passage is very important to me. It was the passage that I preached in my first sermon here at Bethany Bible Church—way back when I was first seeking to introduce myself to this church family.

It’s found in Ephesians 4:11-16; and it is, to my mind, one of the greatest descriptions you can find in the Bible of what church ministry should look like. It’s the one passage that I hoped, long ago, would help establish my own personal conception of the ministry of this church.

I have felt led very strongly that we should revisit it together this morning.

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Before I read it to you though, let me ask you do to some imagining.

What do you suppose would happen if, some Saturday night before a pastor preached his sermon, a church member gave him a call that sounded something like this?

“Hello, Pastor. I know you’re probably busy getting ready for tomorrow’s service. But a few of us in the church have been gathering together lately—looking in the scriptures and praying about what we’ve found. We’ve been doing a lot of thinking about your preaching ministry; and … well … we all decided that I was the one to call you and talk to you in advance about tomorrow’s sermon.

No doubt the pastor would be all ears as the caller would then go on …

“You see; we’ve begun to recognize something about your sermons that we hadn’t really considered before—and it may be that it’s something that you yourself might have forgotten along the way. We’ve come to recognize that the Lord Jesus has given you to our church not just to fulfill your own ministerial duty, but also to help us fulfill our ministerial duty. Now; please don’t be unduly flattered by this. It’s not because you are particularly ‘wonderful’ as a preacher and teacher. Rather, it’s because the Lord Jesus is the sovereign Master and Shepherd of this church; and He has seen fit to give you to us to be our pastor and teacher for this time in its history. One of the mistakes we’ve made along the way is that we have believed that you alone are the one who is to do the work of ministry. But we repent of this belief. We now believe that we are meant by the Lord to do the work of the ministry of building up the church along with you; and that your unique role is primarily that of facilitating us and enabling us to do that work. It may be that you and we both have understood things wrongly up to this point—both of us thinking that you alone are the minister; and that we should just show up to church like an audience that simply comes to see a show. But we have been corrected by the word of God; and now we no longer hold to that mistaken belief.”

I’m imagining that the pastor would be listening with intense silence at this point, as the church member on the phone would go on …

“Now; I’m calling because we want you to know that we now recognize your proper role in relation to us; and that we are going to be listening to your sermons and sitting under your teaching from now on in a completely new way. We’re no longer going to simply show up for church, and enjoy the sermon (or not enjoy it, as the case may be), and then go home to life as usual—expecting you to go forth from then on and do all the work as the sole ‘minister’ in our church. From this point forward, we are going to pray for you during the week as you prepare your message; and we are going to then come on Sunday morning expecting that God has given you what we need to hear in order to do our ministry of building up the church. We are going to listen to you carefully and receive tomorrow’s message—and every message from then on—as the necessary equipment that we need, which has been provided to us from our Lord through you in order to do our work of making the church grow. We’re going to listen to tomorrow’s sermon as if our eternal reward for faithful service to Christ depended upon it.

“So; I highly recommend that you preach carefully and prayerfully as God leads you tomorrow—knowing that we are all listening, and taking careful note of what you say; and all in such a way as to receive the necessary provision for our ministry in the service of Jesus Christ and the building up of His church.

“God bless you, Pastor. And please have a good night’s rest.”

If the church doesn’t then have to conduct the pastor’s funeral shortly thereafter, don’t you suppose that such a pastor will preach with a new kind of devotion that next morning?—and from that day forward? It may even be that after such a call, he would have to stay up all night revising his entire sermon with a new sense of dependency upon God. He would, himself, now realize that his sermons weren’t just to fill time. They were to provide the necessary equipment for the people of God to do their work. And the people of God would now listen to those sermons with a new kind of devotion too—knowing that the ministry of God’s word is their necessary provision for their vital, God-appointed work of building up the church.

Well; I suggest to you that that’s the very kind of scenario that ought to result from our passage this morning. It’s truly one of the greatest passages you can find on what true church ministry ought to look like—and a major feature of it is that the ministry of building up the body of Christ is the sacred duty of every believing member of the church itself!

In Ephesians 4, we’re told about how the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ has blessed His church with various gifts; and in that context—in verses 11-16—we read these words:

And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love (Ephesians 4:11-16).

And I guess that I’m preaching this from this passage to you this morning—in part—so that you will NOT have to give me such a phone call. But I hope that you’ll know that you certainly have a right to; because as this passage shows us, the work of the ministry of building up the body of Christ is to be done by every member fulfilling their part together with dependency upon Him.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Now; let’s walk through this passage carefully and note several things that it tells us. And first, let’s notice …


In verse 7, Paul wrote that “to each one of us” in the body of Christ—the church—“grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift”. That’s letting us know that Jesus is vitally involved in the care and nurture of His church; and He has made sure that His church is provided with all the gifts—through all of the gifted individuals He has placed in it—that it needs in order to grow, and to be nourished, and to do effectively what He has called it to do on earth for His glory.

And verse 11 tells us about some particular gifts He has given the church: “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers” (v. 11). Here, you see that among the “gifts” He gave His church are ‘uniquely appointed individuals’ who fill particular roles.

And consider the first two of these uniquely appointed individuals. Paul speaks of some who are given to be ‘apostles’ and some who are given to be ‘prophets’. I take these to be foundational gifts—given to the church at one time only at its beginning—never again to be repeated. ‘Apostles’—or as the name itself actually means, “specially sent ones”—speaks of the Lord’s twelve apostles (Judas the Betrayer, of course, removed from the list; and Paul later added). They were the hand-picked, original ‘eyewitnesses’ to the life, ministry and teaching of our Lord. The witness sent them forth to proclaim to the world is authoritative and final; having been preserved for us by the Holy Spirit and recorded in Scripture. And ‘prophets’ I take to be those human instruments through whom God provided revelation to His people. They would certainly include the Old Testament prophets whose revelations are recorded for us in the Old Testament scriptures; but I believe that it would also include the New Testament prophets who ministered in close conjunction with the apostles.

Now; these gifts are ‘foundational’. Paul says so in Ephesians 2:20; telling us that the church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone”. There are some people who go around today demanding to be recognized as ‘apostles’ and ‘prophets’ of the church; but personally, I do not believe we should ever accept them as such. God has already laid the foundation for the church through the New Testament apostles and prophets; and once you’ve laid the foundation for something, you don’t need to keep laying again and again on top of the rest of the building.

But Paul then goes on to speak of two other types of ‘uniquely appointed individuals’ that Jesus gives to His church; and I believe that rather than being ‘foundational gifts’, these are better thought of as ‘maintenance gifts’. They are given to build upon and maintain what has already been laid as the foundation. The first of these two gifts that are mentioned is ‘evangelists’. We shouldn’t see these as the same kind of thing as ‘TV evangelists’. Rather, these are individuals that God has uniquely gifted to give growth to the body of Christ by going to places where the gospel has not yet been heard or established, and proclaiming the gospel, and bringing people to Christ, and establishing a church. You might think of them as something more along the lines of “missionaries” and “church planters”.

And the second gift he mentions is that of ‘pastors and teachers’. I only say “second”, because I believe the grammar of the original language requires that we understand this as speaking of one ‘gifted individual’ with two functions—that of shepherding and of teaching. This would speak of the servant of the local church who functions as a teaching elder—a pastor/teacher.

Now; I am grateful to the Lord Jesus that He cares about His church and provides these necessary gifts. We cannot do without them. In order for there to be the foundation of the church, we must have apostles and prophets; and for the ongoing maintenance of the church, we must have evangelists and pastor/teachers. They are the necessary provisions for the work of the church.

But here’s where the surprise comes; where Paul goes on to tell us …


It is not so that these ‘gifted individuals’—particularly, in our case, the evangelists and pastor/teachers—can then go on to do all the work of the ministry. Their role is, if I may put it this way, ‘secondary’ to the role that the redeemed members of the congregation—such as yourselves—play. My role as pastor/teacher of this church is important; but it is actually meant to be ‘secondary’ to and ‘supportive’ of your role. Paul tells us in verse 12 that those foundational and maintenance gifts were given, “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ …”

If you were to read verse 12 in the old King James Version, it might give you the wrong impression. The King James puts a lot of unnecessary ‘commas’ in the verse that aren’t in the original text—making it sound almost like a ‘shopping list’ of duties that the uniquely appointed individuals in verse 11 are supposed to perform; as if the evangelists and pastor/teachers are themselves to do three things: (1) equip the saints, (2) do the work of the ministry, and (3) build up the body of Christ. But actually, the correct way to understand this is that the apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor/teachers are to equip the saints—that is, all the redeemed followers of Jesus in the church. And it is those redeemed believers who are then to go out and do the work of the ministry and build up the body of Christ—with the evangelists and pastor/teachers doing the work along with them. That makes every redeemed man and woman in Christ the true ‘ministers’ of the church—with each one having a sacred duty to perform.

God has gifted me in certain ways to serve as the pastor/teacher of this church. But that’s because He has also gifted every believing member in unique ways so that they can do the work. And my role is to give you what the Bible says you need in order for you to do your work. I like how Paul puts this in Romans 12:3-8;

For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness (Romans 12:3-8).

You ought to be praying for me, dear brothers and sisters; so that, by God’s grace, I will be enabled to give you what you need for the work of the ministry of the body of Christ. And I ought to be praying for you too; that you and I will all take up that provision and do our work well together!

And notice also …


What are we all to be working for together? In verse 13, Paul tells us that we’re to do this work, “till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ …”

When you put together a jigsaw puzzle, it helps to look first at the picture on the box—so you’ll know how it’s supposed to look in the end. And this verse gives us the ‘picture on the box’. If we are doing our work properly as a church, then here’s what we’ll end up with. First, we will all come to “the unity of the faith”. When Paul uses the phrase “the faith”, he means the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith that were once given to the saints through the apostles and prophets. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we will all agree with each other on the peripheral matters—like when the ‘rapture’ will happen, or which is the correct mode of baptism. Rather, it means that we will all be unified in the main issues of the Christian faith—the doctrines that truly distinguish the Christian faith as a whole, and which a whole-hearted belief in is essential for salvation. And we will also be unified in our “knowledge of the Son of God”. We will all have a personal relationship of love with Jesus Christ; and that He will be front-and-center in the affections of each one of us; and that we will truly “know” Him—not just with the head, but with the heart. And finally, we will be growing up “to a perfect man”; that is, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”. We will be growing—in our personal and practical lives—to be more and more like Jesus in the way we think, and the way we talk, and the way we live, and in the way we serve—and progressing more toward reflecting His image completely.

Can we really accomplish that? Can we really grow together into such Christ-like perfection? I don’t believe Paul means for us to understand that we will ever be perfect in this life. But I do believe that he means for us to understand that we work together toward that direction—and that such progress becomes the ongoing impact of our church’s continual ministry to one another. Paul put it this way in Philippians 3;

I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind (Philippians 3:8-16).

That sounds very much like our passage in Ephesians; doesn’t it? That’s what we are to be working toward together—with each of us doing our part in devoted dependency upon Jesus.

And as we do, notice next in verse 14 …


There is something that this work together in the ministry of the growth of the body of Christ is to make us stop being. Paul wrote that it was, “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting …” (v. 14).

The word that Paul uses basically means “babies” or “infants”. We’re to stop being helpless little spiritual babies that are constantly tossed around and thrown back and forth by the latest theological and cultural fads and philosophies. “Every wind of doctrine” is the way that Paul describes these faddish things; and to be tossed easily around by them—because we’re not standing on the sure foundation of the faith—is the very picture of immaturity. It’s even more dangerous than just being immature, though; because we’re not only made unstable in our Christian walk by such things, but we’re also made the victims of evil people. These things are often the products of ‘the trickery of men’ who deceive unsuspecting people ‘in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting’. (Take a look at 2 Peter 2 sometime, or the Book of Jude, and you’ll see how serious a threat such deceivers are!)

One of the great dangers of remaining a spiritual “infant”—and not growing up to maturity and stability in the faith as one should—is that it makes someone a helpless victim of false teachers and false doctrines. There are people out there who pretend to be speaking the truth, but who are actually wolves in sheep’s clothing. We have to be very careful who we listen to. That’s why we need each other—and the whole ministry of the body of Christ together—to help one another ‘grow up’ into maturity.

Now; that’s the thing that we’re to cease being—little helpless babies who are unstable in the faith. But look at what Paul says we are to be instead. Look at verse 15 to see …


Paul says, “but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ …” In contrast to the deceit and scheming of false teachers, we’re to speak truth to one another. Literally, we’re to be “truthing”. But we’re also to be doing it in love. As someone has once said very well, love without truth is hypocrisy; but truth without love is brutality. We make progress when we do both toward one another.

And notice where this progress is leading to. It’s toward growing up “in all things” into Jesus—the divine head of His body. We’ll never make any kind of progress if we are disconnected to the head. But if we’re making progress, we’re making it by becoming more and more like the head—the Lord Jesus—in all that we do.

I like how Paul understood his own apostolic and preaching ministry in the light of this. In Colossians 1:28, he wrote of Jesus and said;

Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus (Colossians 1:28).

That’s where we are to be heading together as a church—growing up, in all ways, into Christ our head; working and laboring together in such a way as to help each member of the body grow up into completeness in our relationship and service to Christ.

And that leads us, finally, to consider …


Paul wrote of Him who is the head—Christ; “from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”

You know what a ‘joint’ in a body is, don’t you? You already have a bunch of them. They are the points at which two separate parts of your body are joined and well-knit together in such a way as to serve one another at the point of contact. The joint is the connection that supplies what the two parts need from each other. And that’s what you and I are to be to one another in the body of Christ. Jesus has so joined us together that—at the point of contact—my gifts supplies for your needs, and your gifts supplies for my needs. And when that happens consistently, with dependency upon Christ and through the faithful equipping of the foundational and maintenance gifts of the church, the body of Christ grows—edifying itself in love.

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Brothers and sisters; that’s the only kind of church that will have an impact on this world. It’s the kind of church our Lord wants us to be.

And it’s your ministry to be that kind of church—with complete dependency upon Jesus Christ.

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