How Can the Bible Relate to Us Today?

Why Does Your Church Exist? – Or Rather, Why Should It Exist? [Ephesians 4: 12-13]

This is the church on the island of Fjortoft in Norway where my great-grandparents and other relatives are buried. The church was built in 1878, thirty-two years before my grandfather left Norway for the United States at the age of 25.

Ephesians 4: 12-13

There are Christian churches all over the world. Some occupy a city block or more. Some are out in the country away from the city such as the church above. Some are on quiet street corners or in storefronts of a strip mall. Still others meet in a rented school gymnasium or in someone’s home. And some are empty and for sale.

What is a church? It is really not the building, as many of us tend to think and as I alluded to above. Instead, it is a gathering of the people themselves. The Greek word that is translated as “church” is “ekklesia” (“Ehk-leh-SEE-ah”) where we get the terms related to “ecclesiastical” – having to do with church. It is a word that was adopted from the Greek word for a town hall meeting meaning “people who are called out for a certain purpose.” Sadly, too many Christians meet together without purpose. Perhaps it is a habit (“we’ve always gone to church”) or a sense of obligation.  It may even be a social matter to meet friends or a business action to develop prospects. All too often, Christians meet without realizing why they are there. With this blog, I hope to broaden your understanding of what a church – an ekklesia – should be about.

If you’ll recall in my last blog on Ephesians 4: 7 and 11, I presented the four types of individuals and their roles that God gave to the church as a gift: apostles/missionaries, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers. However, those gifts to the church are for a reason, and that is to help the church fulfill its God-intended purpose in existing.

“For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:” [Ephesians 4: 12. KJV and the Douay Version for Roman Catholics]

That is how you are used to reading verse 12, if you grew up in a Protestant church reading the King James Version of the Bible or a Roman Catholic church reading the Douay version. What in the world does that mean? Let’s try a more modern translation than from the year 1611.

“to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up”
[Ephesians 4: 12. NIV]

As I have explained in previous blogs, the use of the term “saints” in the scriptures is not for any set of special believers. Instead, it is a term that is used to address all of God’s believers through Jesus Christ. The purpose of these men and women given as gifts to the church – the missionaries, the prophets, the evangelists and the pastor-teachers – is not to do all the work or ministry of the church. Instead, they are given by God to prepare the people of the church to actually DO the ministry! You won’t find the CEO of EXXON at a local gas station pumping gas. Jeff Bezos of Amazon won’t be delivering a package to your door. The CEO of the local grocery store chain will not likely be bagging your groceries. Instead, the leaders of an organization will make sure the right people are hired, trained and equipped to perform needed functions in the organization. Finally, s/he lets the employee do their job.

Why, then, are these human gifts to the church expected to do all the work of the church? That’s not what the passages in Ephesians says. Instead, these leaders are given the task of preparing believers to do the works of the ministry. What is the purpose of the believers doing the work of the ministry? So that the “body of Christ” – that is, the church – is built up like a tall building with a solid foundation. Let’s look at the entire passage of verses 12-13 together so we can see the big picture of what Paul has in mind in describing God’s work in and through the church:

“to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
[Ephesians 4: 12-13. NIV]

Wow! There is a lot going on here in these two verses, and I’ll be pulling in concepts from other non-referenced scripture passages to deliver the big picture to you! These human gifts to the church – missionaries, prophets, evangelists and pastor-teachers – are given by God to perform a talent search in the church, to find people to whom God’s Spirit has given spiritual gifts to carry out his work in and through the church “for the common good.” Then those leaders equip/train/provide resources so the people can do God’s work. The result is that the church will be built up – again, as noted earlier in Ephesians, a reference to building a solid building on a firm foundation.

The purpose of the church (the believers who are the body of Christ) being built up is in order that the people will reach unity (there’s that concept of unity again from verses 3-6) in the faith AND in the knowledge of the Son of God.

The result of all this is that believers will “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” This concept of a whole measure is like a measuring cup filled to the brim for a recipe or for purchasing in a market. You don’t want to receive a partially filled cup if you are paying for a full cup, right? No judgment is intended, but the reality is that too often our churches are not filled with mature believers.

What a great set of verses! If I could figure out how to do it on my blog platform, I would diagram these verses for you with circles and lines to show how all the phrases relate to each other. However, I can only figure out how to do bulleted points.

In summary and to personalize it, the persons who are gifts to the church/group of believers are to prepare us as believers to do the works of the ministry and service (this word is from “diakonos” from whence we obtain the modern word “deacon”). The result of our being prepared is that the church will be built up in size and strength. The end product is that we as believers will reach unity with one another in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God. In addition to our unity with one another, we will become mature in our faith with each of us becoming more like Jesus Christ in our outlook, our behavior and our understanding of God.

In the next blog on this subject, I plan to examine the next three verses of this chapter that tells us how our being equipped for ministry/service will strengthen us in our faith. As I write this, much of the United States and Canada are going through weather extremes. I pray for God’s care over them as they struggle through the weather problems. To you, I encourage you to stay safe and bundled up – unless you are in the Southern Hemisphere as are my friends in New Zealand and South Africa.

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