30: The Purpose of Spiritual Gifts

Lesson 30:

Ephesians 4:12

A chain letter that is making the rounds lately goes like this:

A recent survey concerning the characteristics of the perfect pastor indicate the following: He always: He always preaches exactly 15 minutes. He condemns sin, but never embarrasses anyone. He sings in the choir, plays on the church basketball team, and is noted for his counselling abilities. He works from 8:00 A.M. until 10:00 P.M., and is also the janitor.

He makes $100 a week, wears good clothes, drives a new car, and gives $50 a week to the poor. He is 28 years old, has 25 years of experience in the ministry, is wonderfully gentle and handsome, loves to work with teen-agers, and spends countless hours with senior citizens. He makes 15 calls a day on families of the congregation and shut-ins and is always in his office when he is needed.

If your pastor does not meet these standards, send this letter to six other churches that are dissatisfied with their pastors too. Then bundle up your pastor and send him to the church at the top of the list. Within two weeks you will receive 1, 643 pastors.  One of them should be perfect!”

In our study of the book of Ephesians we have come to that portion that deals with spiritual gifts. And we have looked at “the definition; the dispenser; and the description of the gifts in our previous studies. And these verses indicate that contrary to popular opinion, the work and the “success” of a church do not depend only on the characteristics of its pastor! Because the word of God says in these verses says that God has given to every believer an ability to serve Him in some way – a “spiritual gift.” And it is only as we all understand and exercise our own particular gifts that the church of Jesus Christ can be all that he intends it to be.

In our last study we looked particularly at verse 11, which deals with the gifted men that God has given to the church down through the years: apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers. Now these are the gifts that we are probably most familiar with, but as we will see as we continue our study of the chapter today, they are really only a part of the picture that God has in mind for His church. As we have seen, verse 11 contains “the description” of the spiritual gifts that have been given to churches down through the years. But in verses 12 through 16 we see the dimension of the spiritual gifts – the various ways in which God wants to use them. And the first dimension is as to their purpose in verse 12.

“For the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”

There are two extremely important purposes for the gifts of “evangelist” and “pastor-teacher.” First is “the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry . . .” The word equipping” here is a translation of the Greek word “katardidzo.” An example of the use of this word is in Matthew 4:21, where Jesus was in the process of calling His disciples: That verse says:

Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, mending their nets.

Notice particularly the word “mending.” In secular Greek it is used to speak of “setting” a broken bone. So the first purpose of a pastor-teacher is to “mend” or “repair” or “build up” believers. And how is that to be done? This passage doesn’t specifically say, but there are others that help to clarify. Look, for example, at 2 Timothy 3:16,17:

All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, (17) that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

These are familiar verses about the inspiration of Scripture. But look particularly at verse 17,

at the word “equipped” There is our same word “katardidzo” and our English word “equipping.” So how is the pastor-teacher to “equip” the believers? What better than the teaching of the Word of God?

But there is another means of “equipping” suggested in the scripture also. Look at Colossians 4:12, 13.

Epaphras, who is one of you, a bondservant of Christ, greets you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers for you, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.

Notice the word “perfect.” It is our word “katardidzo” again. But here it is translated “perfect” (meaning “mature” in this context.) Interestingly enough, the very first leaders of the church understood this principle. Look at Acts 6:4: The situation here was that there was a dispute about how the food should be distributed to the widows who were being supported by the church. So in verse 2, the apostles called the church together and said,

It is not desirable that we should leave the word of god and serve tables, (3) therefore, seek out from among you seven men . . . . Whom we may appoint over this business (4) but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the Word.”

So what are we seeing in these several verses? The pastor/teacher’s responsibility is to equip the believers for the work of the ministry. And the primary, Biblical way in which that is to be done is through teaching them the Word of God and praying for them. No matter what else he may do, these have top priority. Because this is where spiritual growth comes from. And to do these properly will leave time for little else.  And no matter how well organized, or even how large a church may be, if it falls in this one area it will never accomplish God’s purposes for its existence.

But actually there is even more to it than that. Notice the rest of verse 12 again: “for the work of the ministry.” Muster all your grace: “the work of the ministry” is not the pastor’s primary job! As we have been seeing, the Pastor’s job is teaching the Word of God and praying for the people of the church. So the question that may come to mind is “well, how is the rest of the ministry going to get done? And that is where the last phrase of the verse comes in: the purpose of that equip­ping is so that the church members will be able to do the work of the ministry! Because that is what happens when people grow spiritually: they just naturally look for ways to share the truth that they are learning with others. Now that doesn’t mean that the pastor never does any of these things, but it is not his primary job, nor his job alone.

So the first purpose for which God has given pastor-teachers and evangelists to the church is that of “equipping of the saints.” But there is another closely related purpose stated in verse 12, and that is “for the edifying of the body of Christ.” The word “edifying” is a translation of the Greek word “oikodome,” which refers to building a house. Interestingly enough, Paul used another form of this same word in Acts 20:32 when he told the Ephesian elders that the word of God was able to “build them up” after he was gone from them. Now here is a very important, but often overlooked point (especially in today’s world) and that is that this is the only kind of “church growth” the Bible talks about. Elmer Towns, the Dean of the school of Christian education At Liberty University,said on one occasion, “today we talk in terms of busses and buildings and baptisms, but God speaks in terms of salvation and spiritual growth. Now this doesn’t mean that numerical growth is not important, but it is should be a “byproduct” of spiritual growth, not an end in itself. We live in a day of tremendous emphasis on church growth. But there is an interesting story from the ministry of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, probably the most outstanding pastor of 19th century London. A young preacher came to Spurgeon and was complaining about the small size of his congregation. But Spurgeon’s reply took him by surprise. He said, “Well, maybe the Lord knows that you already have as many as you can account for in the day of judgment.”

Do you see what this passage is saying? It is saying that you and your pastor are both responsible for the ministry of your church. My responsibility is to study and teach and pray, and yours is to take it in and obey it and reach out to others.        

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