Why the Saints Minister to the Body

But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore it says, "When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men." (Now this expression, "He ascended," what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain 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. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

We are going to spend two weeks on this text. Today we will ask the question, "Why do the saints minister to the body of Christ?" Next week we will ask the question, "How do the saints minister to the body of Christ?" Another way to say it would be: today we ask about the aim or goal of every-member ministry, and next week we ask about the ways and means that members use to minister to the body.

Is Every Member to Minister to the Body of Christ? 

But before we can take up either question I need to justify the assumption that every member is to minister to the body of Christ. Why do I think that?

The answer is found in verse 7 and verses 11–12. In verse 7 Paul talks about how each individual Christian is gifted by Christ with various measures of grace; and in verses 11–12 he talks about how the church is gifted by Christ with certain ministering people who equip the saints to minister to the body.

Every Believer Is Gifted by Christ with Varied Grace

Verse 7: "But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift." Here the focus is on Christ's giving each believer varied grace. You are uniquely graced with Christ's gift. This means that you are not an accident in the body of Christ. When you received grace, it was because Christ gave it in a measure suited to his good purposes for you and for the body.

This does not yet prove that every member is to be a minister to the body. But it does lay the foundation for it when it comes in verses 11–12. "Each of us" is given grace not according to the measure of our worth or merit, but according to the measure that Christ decided to give. Romans 12:6 says almost the same thing: "We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us." Our different giftedness is owing to sovereign grace, bestowed according to the will of Christ, the head. The Head knows what is good for the body.

The Church Is Gifted with People in Varied Offices

Now verses 11–12 make the point of every-member ministry explicit. After describing (in vv. 8–10) how Christ rose from the dead and ascended to heaven like a triumphant general with his wagons full of booty, ready to distribute it to his troops, Paul says, "And He [Christ] gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ."

This is different from verse 7. There the point was that every believer is gifted by Christ with varied grace. Here the point is that the church is gifted by Christ with people in varied offices: "some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, some as pastors and teachers [probably one office]." These gifts to the church—these people—are charged with equipping the saints, that is, the believers. (All believers are saints in the New Testament; they are set apart for God.)

The Need for Equipping

The word for equipping usually means fixing something that's broken (as when nets are torn, Matthew 4:21) or supplying something that is lacking (as in 1 Thessalonians 3:10, "We desire to supply, or equip, what is lacking in your faith"). So the point of verses 11–12 is that Christ not only gives varied grace to each believer in the church, he also gives leaders to the church whose job is to repair what's broken and supply what's lacking in the believers.

We will talk more about this next week. But think how significant this is for the nature of the church. Each of you is personally gifted by Christ with varied grace, and yet not so perfectly that you are not in need of fixing and supply by apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. No one may say: "I am gifted and graced by Christ himself, I have no need of apostolic authority (which I believe comes through the New Testament), or prophetic encouragement, or evangelistic training, or pastoral nurture, or human teachers to apply the Bible to my life." This text makes plain that all of you are gifted with a measure of grace, and all of you are in some measure lacking the improvement of grace. The one proves that you are vitally needed by the church, and the other proves that the church is vitally needed by you.

For the Work of Service/Ministry

But the main point still hasn't been made. Verse 12 goes on to say that the leaders equip the saints for a specific purpose, namely, "for the work of service," or, "for the work of ministry." The fixing of what is broken and the supplying of what is lacking in the saints is not an end in itself. The leaders don't stop then and say, "O good, now we have fixed and supplied saints. The work is done." No, the fixing and supplying are meant to make the saints into servants, or ministers.

So this finally is the justification of the assumption I started with, namely, that every saint—every Christian—is a minister. This is why today's message can be titled, "Why the Saints Minister to the Body," and next week's message can be titled, "How the Saints Minister to the Body."

The Body Needs a Lot of Work Done on It 

Isn't it remarkable that Paul's vision of the body of Christ is that it needs so much work done on it? Let that sink in a minute. It will help keep us from being discouraged when we realize how imperfect the church is. It starts with people becoming believers and receiving grace according to the measure of Christ's gift (v. 7). Then all these saints need to avail themselves of leaders who equip them for ministry. But whom is that ministry for? It's for the all those same saints who are ministering—the body of Christ. You see this at the end of verse 12: "For the equipping of the saints for the work of service [or ministry], to the building up of the body of Christ." So in spite of the fact that all the saints are gifted with grace directly from Christ himself, we all need the ministry of the saints to build us up; and, not only that, we need the leader-saints, too, to fix us and supply us in ways that help us be ministering saints to other saints.

The Building Up of the Body of Christ

Now the specific question for today is, Why all this ministry? What's the goal? What are we all supposed to be doing here at Bethlehem? What is it to be church? Or to do church? This is what we have been asking for these weeks together.

Verse 12 sums it up in the phrase "building up of the body of Christ." The goal of all ministry is the building up of the body of Christ. This is what we want to think about for the rest of our time this morning. What is it?

Not the Same as Building Up Individuals

First of all, notice that it is not exactly the same as building up individuals. That is part of it for sure: Paul said in Romans 15:2, "Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, for his upbuilding" (exactly the same word: oikodomen). We are supposed to build each other up in faith and hope and love and holiness.

But that is not what verse 12 says. Here the ministry of the saints is aimed at building up of the body of Christ. What Paul wants to stress here is the aim of strengthening the whole, not just the parts. This is not as easy for us to grasp, but we must try not to let our individualistic bent twist the text. The aim of your ministry as a Christian—and you all have one—is to build up the body as a whole.

The Unity of Faith and the Unity of Knowledge

Now what does that mean? Verses 13–15 give the answer. Look at verse 13 first. It says that we aim at building up the body "until we all attain 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."

This confirms that Paul wants to stress the building up of the body as a whole, not just individuals. It says the aim is unity of faith and unity of knowledge. Don't miss the unmodern flavor of this: unity of knowledge is definitely not politically correct. The key word today is diversity, not unity, especially when it comes to claims to know anything about the Son of God. But Paul would respond to the relativism of our day with these words: building up the body of Christ means ministering in such a way as to create a unity of knowledge as the basis of the unity of faith.

The Shift in the Last 50 Years

Any efforts at unity in the body of Christ that minimize the unity of knowledge will not build up the body. I have the sense that we are reaching the crest of a wave of indifference to doctrinal truthfulness and to the unity of knowledge and the importance of theology. The most recent Christianity Today describes the change over the last 50 years:

Fifty years ago evangelicals were fully engaged in battling modernists' attempts to detach Christianity from historic orthodoxy. This kept evangelical concerns centered on the content of Christian belief—on the propositional truths of Scripture. Today evangelicals seem far more interested in questions of worship. This has led in two different directions: a movement toward the liturgical by the intellectually inclined, and a movement toward the charismatic by the average churchgoer. Both represent a shift in emphasis away from knowledge about God toward the experience of God.

I think that is exactly right. There has been a shift away from interest in the right knowledge of God toward a desire for a more immediate experience of God that does not have to bother with the labors of knowledge. But I suspect that we may be seeing the bottom of this curve.

Open Hostility to the Bible and Christian Truth

Yesterday's Star Tribune published (apparently approvingly) an article by two atheists who defended the aim of Gene Kasmar to remove the Bible from Brooklyn Center public schools. They wrote: "It is true that the Bible has some worthwhile material . . . However, those worthwhile parts could probably be contained in a pamphlet." The reason I say the Tribune seems to have published this approvingly is that the caption under the picture of the Bible, with no quotes around it to indicate it only represented the opinion of the writers, said, "The Bible is filled with divinely approved mistreatment of children."

What I suspect is going to happen in the coming years is that this kind of open hostility to the Bible and to Bible-believing people will increase. Non-compromising evangelicals will recognize that we are not the big, influential force in America we thought we were. And we will begin to re-emphasize the truths that make us distinct instead of constantly omitting hard truths and watering down things to make them appealing to a secular culture that is not taking the bait. When this happens we will rediscover the crucial importance of knowledge and doctrine and theology. We will awaken to the fact that very few people in recent years have been developing an articulate defense of the Bible that can stand before the hostile mockery of the Star Tribune. But it has been done before and it will be done again.

The Mature, Complete, Full Man—Christ Himself

Now notice in the middle of verse 13 the phrase "to a mature man." " . . . until we attain to the unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man." This is the aim of our ministry of building up the body—that the body attain "to a mature man." Now that is not an individual. Yes we ought to all be mature. But here Paul is referring to Christ as a "mature man." The next phrase explains it: "To the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ." The mature, complete, full man here is Christ.

Paul pictures Christ as a mature man, full grown in stature. Then he sees the church as the body of this full-grown man. Only the body is still in the process of being built up. We are to minister to each other with a view not just of helping each other mature, but with a view to the whole body attaining to the mature man. In other words, since we are the body of Christ, we should become mature as the body, the mature man, the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.

Verse 15 uses the metaphor of growing instead of building to say the same thing: "speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ." Growing up into Christ in verse 15 is the same as attaining to a mature man in verse 13.

The Aim of Our Ministry 

The aim of our ministry—your ministry, with your grace and gifts—is to become a body of Christ that is unified in faith and unified in knowledge, and that grows more and more into the kind of unified person that Christ is. I said this is not easy for us to grasp. But I want to say it, even if I don't fully understand it.

The aim of the ministry is not just that individuals be built up, but that the body take on a personality like Christ's and a strength like Christ's and a love like Christ's and a spirit like Christ's.

We have much to learn here. We are, as Americans, utterly devoted to personal individual fulfillment and satisfaction so that the idea of devoting our lives and ministries to building a body of Christ that as a whole looks Christ-like and as a whole has strong faith and as a whole has unified knowledge and as a whole looks and acts like the mature man, Christ Jesus—the idea of devoting ourselves to that, is very difficult to grasp.

But I call you to it. To meditate on it. And to pray over it. And to long for it. And to keep on with me, as we take it further next week in asking HOW we minister to this end.