A God of purpose deserves to be served by purposeful people. Paul presents a progression in Ephesians 4:11–14 which illustrates for the Christian the ultimate purpose of making progress in the work a church does. Paul begins by identifying “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers” (ESV) as gifts Christ gives to His body. Paul notes that the goal of this gift-giving is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (ESV). These gifts in the body serve the saints through teaching to produce workers fit to do the work. The reality that follows from this truth is that teachers (particularly evangelists and shepherds) in the body do not work so that saints do not have to work; they work so that saints can work well.
The service rendered by these specifically identified servants, in turn, creates more servants who are able to fulfill the purpose of “the work of ministry” itself, which is “for building up the body of Christ” (ESV). Saints serve each other to strengthen the body as a whole. It is for this reason that the work of a saint is never selfishly motivated. A saint’s service is never to be something driven by a desire for recognition, nor is a saint to desire to be served by others. Bodies full of members driven by selfishness are bodies that cannot grow stronger. In fact, bodies plagued by slothful or selfish saints are bodies that eventually will die.
Just as the purpose of the gifts is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry,” (ESV) and the purpose of this work is “for building up the body of Christ,” (ESV) an edified body has as its purpose to produce unity. This unity Paul defines as “the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God” (ESV). By this statement, Paul indicates that the unity shared between saints is based on an understanding of the truth about Jesus Christ that only comes through embracing His word and experiencing it through the work He has prepared for His body. Knowledge of the Lord is not one of facts but of familiarity. It is this familiarity saints have with their Lord through His word and active participation in His work which promotes a life lived in the faith that He requires and deserves.
This unity in the body points to one goal: maturity. Paul says that body members are to grow up “so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (ESV). The church, where truth is taught through the gracious equipping of teachers and lived by all members of the body, is the community in which Christians are trained to see and separate themselves from destructive influences. Progress in the body has as its ultimate purpose the training of mature members who know Christ, cling to Him, and reject those things that challenge His authority.
The sad truth is that a body without sound, diligent, and effective teaching is a body without hope. Teaching produces the progress God desires by equipping saints to work, to know the Lord, and to resist corrupting influences. The sad truth is that there are churches which have been blessed with teachers but who see little progress, since saints too often see evangelists and shepherds as the primary workers, instead of the ones who equip everyone to do the work. The sad truth is that, given the lack of teaching, working, and resulting growth, people are being lost to the destructive deceptions of a dark world. We can and must do better.