Ministry in the Church
E W Rogers, Oxford
Paul's method is always first to state the doctrine and thereafter to show its practical implications; neither should be divorced from the other. In this Epistle, Paul applies previously developed doctrine in three directions - among the saints, 4. 1-16, in human society, 4. 17 to 5. 21, and in regard to special relationships, 5. 22 to 6. 9. In verses 1 to 3, the Ephesians are exhorted to
"walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called", that is personal and individual; to show "lowliness and meekness (which marked the Lord Jesus, Matt. 11. 29), with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love", that is relative, having to do with others; "endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the (uniting) bond of peace", that is corporate relating to the whole body.
As the Prince of Wales is destined to be King of England, and his behaviour must be consonant therewith, so now we must individually act suitably to our high destiny as defined in the earlier chapters.
Nor must we forget that whatever defects we find in our brethren, and however much they may try our patience, they have similar feelings towards us. Hence Paul's exhortation that we must be Christ-like, not self-assertive, but marked by "meekness", which is strength under control, for meekness is not weakness; there must be forbearance.
Corporately we are enjoined to give diligence "to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace". We are not called upon to make this unity: that has already been effected as we have seen in previous chapters. But we are to give diligence in seeing that its manifestation is preserved by living peaceably with our brethren. The invisible unity remains intact, but its visible expression has been sadly lacking. In verses 4, 5 and 6 we have
The Unity Detailed. Verse 4 indicates the vital unity; verse 5 the professional unity; and verse 6 the governmental unity.
There is one body, cf. 2. 15 - one new man. There is one Spirit, 2.18, and there is one hope, 1.18. These are inviolable.
There is one Lord whom each believer has confessed, Rom. 10. 9. There is one faith, to which each subscribes, Jude 3, - that once for all delivered to the saints: the objective faith committed to them. There is one baptism. This would seem to be water baptism, since Spirit-baptism, 1 Cor. 12. 13, is implied in the "one body". In the early Christian days of the Ephesians, the believers had been acquainted with John's baptism but that was now superseded, as were all Old Testament "washings", Acts 19. 3. We call these "professional unities" because all Christians subscribe to them, yet the fact that there has been serious departure from the original simplicity of these things cannot be gainsaid.
There is "one God and Father of all" (i.e. of His children), who pervades the whole and to whom all are responsible.
This sevenfold unity is not expressed by any visible headquarters on earth j the saints' oneness stands in their common link with the glorified Christ in heaven. In verses 7 to 16 the apostle deals with
The Diversity Existent in the Church, which indeed characterizes all the works of God, no matter in what direction we look. "But unto each one of us was the grace given", y. 7 R.v., and maturity will be reached "according to the working in due measure of each several part", v. 16 r.v. Paul clearly points out in 1 Corinthians 12, as also our experience confirms, that in the body each particular part has its own particular function, and failure of any one part adversely affects the whole body. Since our function is a "gift" given by the Risen Christ, we have neither ground of boasting nor murmuring, 1 Cor. 4. 7. Prominent or otherwise, large or small, each is necessary to, and interdependent on, the other.
Paul quotes from Psalm 68. 18. The picture is that of a returning victorious warrior, who has received many gifts from those whom He has conquered and who distributes many gifts on His return to His own people. The parallel and explanatory passages of verse 8 are found in Colossians 2. 15 and Hebrews 2.15.
While it is true that the Lord Jesus came to earth, and here died and was buried, yet Paul does not enter here into those details. Another rendering seems to have assessed the meaning of his words: "Now the word ascended implies that He also descended to the lowest level, down to the very earth", v. 9. It is the Jesus of history who is the Christ of glory, the One who went to the lowest depths of shame is He who has been exalted to the highest pinnacle of honour.
In the verses before us Paul enumerates the gifts, and states their aim, their duration, their object and the process by which they operate.
The gifts enumerated here differ from those of 1 Corinthians 12 which are more numerous. The reason seems to be that 1 Corinthians is chiefly concerned with the local church, whereas the Ephesian Epistle concentrates specially on the Church universal. Moreover the Corinthian Epistle had in view, in part, the early days of Christianity, whereas this Ephesian Epistle is not so limited. The "apostles" in their primary sense are no longer with us today; neither are "prophets". The essential credential for an apostle must be that he has seen with his own eyes the Risen Christ personally; see 1 Cor. 9. 1. The essential credential for a New Testament prophet is that he has received revelation of divine truth apart from the written Scriptures, (see 1 Cor. 14. 6 where "revelation" and "prophesying" go together, and "knowledge" and "teaching" go together). These are foundation gifts, Eph. 2. 20. The "evangelists" are such as Philip, whose evangelistic work is well indicated in Acts 8. "Pastors and teachers" seem both to refer to the one individual who instructs the minds of the saints by teaching the Word, and cares for their well-being as a shepherd cares for the sheep. These are elsewhere called "elders" and "overseers", and one requisite qualification for their recognition in a church is that they must be "apt to teach", 1 Tim. 3. 2. If they fail here, how can they safeguard the flock? Acts 20. 28-31.
The aim which God had in view in giving these gifts was "for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ" (see R.V. reading of v. 12). The Scriptures do not recognize a specialized religious order of "the ministry", though they do acknowledge those who are specially called to spiritual work. The Revisers have done well in altering the words "the ministry" to "ministering", for that word denotes service, and in its context, service amongst the saints. These gifts arc given for fitting out the saints, with a view to the work of serving among them, and with the ultimate view of the building up of the body of Christ. Thus there is secured a continuity of operation "until we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a fullgrown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ", v. 13 R.v. Thus adequate provision has been made until the time arrives when the purpose of God has achieved its goal. We may be sure that the Head will not at any time neglect the body; nor will the shepherd neglect the sheep, so that there will always be provided those who will teach and tend the flock of God.
The object in view is stated in verses 14 and 15. God does not want us to remain in babyhood; He desires us to "grow up". It is children who are caught by the subtleties and cunning craft and sleight of hand of tricksters. Who has not seen the open-eyed and open-mouthed children who are watching with amazement the "Punch and Judy show", little knowing that hidden inside the screen is one who is controlling the "show"?
We should note the words "we all" in verse 13, for this maturity not only has to do with each individual, but also with the whole community that constitutes the "body". That is the ultimate goal, but meanwhile the gifts are given so that the individual believer may not remain in spiritual infancy but may grow up. "The wiles of error", v. 14 R.v., are calculated to unsettle the believer and to carry him away as with a strong wind. These are the false doctrines of men who by trickery mishandle God's Word (see 2 Tim. 2. 17,18), which must be resisted in a spirit of love. Lastly we notice
The Process by which the Gifts Operate. Observe the prepositions in verse 16 R.v.: "from", "through", "according to", "unto". The body, being "fitly framed and knit together", as one symmetrical and stable whole, is firmly held together by its joints and ligaments, through which its various other parts are supplied with that which is requisite for their healthy functioning. Each part has its duty, and failure in any one member adversely affects the whole. All the supply comes "from" the Head "through" the joints (the gifts above named), and thereby makes the increase of the body. It is a mutual operation; it builds itself up in love, cf. Jude 20. Where there is discord between the members of our human body, there is general unhealthiness and disease. Paul deals with the various things that militate against the wellbeing of the body of Christ in later passages.