Formations 10.26.2014: Serving Together

Ephesians 4:7-16

Ruggles Baptist Church, Boston, MA

Ruggles Baptist Church, Boston, MA

We will never understand spiritual gifts if we don’t see how they relate to the church. Paul is adamant that the purpose of the gifts is “the common good” (1 Cor 12:7). It is by working together, each doing his or her part, that we experience spiritual gifts the way God intended them to be.

Ephesians 4:7-16 links spiritual gifts both to the exalted Christ who ascended on high and gave gifts to people (v. 7) and to the life of the church, where these gifts serve to build up every member in unity, knowledge, and maturity. This passage extends the “body” metaphor we have seen in Romans and 1 Corinthians by explicitly naming Christ as the head, the source of life from which the entire body grows.


• Is Ephesians 4 more about “ministers” or “ministries”? Explain.
• Verse 11 refers to leadership roles in the church. What is the purpose of such leaders (ordained or otherwise) in a context in which every member is expected to exercise his or her own gifts for ministry?
• What does it mean to say that God has given apostles, prophets, and the rest “to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ” (v. 12)?
• How have you been equipped for service by the leaders of your church?
• When have you seen people fail to minister to others because “that’s what we pay the minister for”?
• In this vision of spiritual gifts, what does a healthy, functioning church look like?

Reference Shelf

The Message of Ephesians

The Letter seems to have been written because of the desire of the author to set before the readers a larger vision of their relationship to what God is doing in the universe. As perceived by the author of Ephesians, the redemptive purpose of God, predestined from eternity and executed in and through Jesus Christ, is to overcome the hostility and divisions in the universe by bringing all things together under the headship of Jesus Christ (1:9-10). The church is the concrete evidence that this is his purpose and that it is being executed. It is the “new humanity” created by bringing together Jew and gentile, abolishing the wall of hostility that had divided them (2:14-18).

Ephesians is divided into two distinct parts, each consisting of three chapters. In the first three chapters the author sets forth his vision of the church in God’s purpose. In the last three chapters he gives advice to his readers to enable them to live in a way that is worthy of being the church.

Malcolm O. Tolbert, “Ephesians, Letter to the,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 255.

Offices and Ministers

Ephesians 4:11 identifies the various offices that the author deems essential for the well-being of the Church. This verse has been offered as an argument against Pauline authorship since Paul never mentioned offices. That argument is imprecise; Paul refers to offices: the apostolic office (e.g., Rom 1:1; 11:13; 16:7, 17; 1 Cor 9:1-2; 2 Cor 12:12) and the diaconate (e.g., Rom 16:1; Phil 1:1). Furthermore, Romans 12:5-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 are similar to Ephesians 4:11. All three discuss the diverse skills within the Christian community as an asset to a spiritually healthy community. More precisely, Paul refers to functions more than to offices. In Ephesians alone is it said clearly that these gifts come from Christ. Lincoln correctly makes the point that the Greek requires a list of functions. He offers the following translation: “it was he who gave, on the one hand, the apostles, on the other, the prophets.” Furthermore, these are “ministers of the word” exclusively in contrast to the lists in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12.

As in 1 Corinthians 12:28, apostles and prophets lead the list. Some argue that apostles and prophets were past functionaries for the writer. However, John the Seer, the recipient of the Apocalypse, would argue that prophets were active in the region (Rev 1:3; 22:18). Furthermore, Didache 11-13 and the Shepherd of Hermas, Man. 11, indicate that prophecy continued in the Church well into the second century.

This list is intelligible. The apostles were the founders; prophets, while probably diminishing in numbers, continued to have an influential role due to their particular gift; evangelists continued the itinerant work of the apostles; pastors were resident leaders who performed the more mundane aspects of ministry; teachers were local functionaries who nurtured people in the faith. This list is a catalog of hierarchical roles. The purpose is the edification of the Christian community (v. 12). The phrases “the holy ones” (or “saints”) and “the body of Christ” connote the Church. The work of service represents what the Church does. The writer does not give details of how verses 11 and 12 relate. He operated more in the realm of conceptualization than praxis.

The ministers endowed and selected by Christ shall bring the rest of God’s Church to maturity. These ministers shall enable the lay members to fulfill their spiritual calling. Their calling is
defined in general as “the work of service.” This service
 is self-giving. The edification of the body of Christ is
 the second purpose stated. This is actually a reiteration
of the equipping of the holy ones in Ephesians 4:1.

Thomas B. Slater, Ephesians, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2012), 112–13.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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