Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Equipping of the Saints

And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— (Eph. 4:11-15).

I've noticed this tendency in many churches today: an overly exhortative attempt to move Christians (or even just church attendees) into action without the balance of regular, in-depth Bible teaching. While the motive seems genuine, this strategy to bring about real and lasting change is ineffective. In fact, I would argue that pressuring people into good works that are not led of the Spirit is detrimental to a Christian's growth in their relationship with Jesus Christ. This false, fleshly exhortation amounts to nothing more than moral cheer-leading or motivational like hoopla. If solid Bible teaching and the moving of the Holy Spirit is lacking, exhortation is lowered from its Spirit led heights to the slums of personal understanding, will, strength and ability. While Christ has given some the gift of exhortation (1 Cor. 14:3), we must be careful to use it exclusively at the Holy Spirit's prompting, and only in love and to build each other up, not to tear each other down (see 1 Corinthians chapters 12-14). And how can we expect people to change if we just keep telling them to change without equipping them? Exhortation is an aspect of prophecy, which also includes encouragement and comfort. But Paul lists three other ministries within the church that need to go hand-in-hand with prophecy; apostleship, evangelism and teaching.

In Ephesians 4:11-15, Paul tells us how the saints of God (all believers) are to be equipped, and for what purpose. The Apostle Paul tells us that apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers have been given to the Church by Christ Himself for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying (the building up) of the body of Christ, the Church. If missing one or more of these aspects, how well is a church going to build up the body of Christ? And how well will we do on our own, without the Holy Spirit?

To bring real change in the heart of the Church, we must teach God's word by His Spirit, consistently and with depth- verse by verse and chapter by chapter, week in and week out. We must exhort each other to spend more time with the Lord in our daily prayer and personal study of the Scripture. We must allow the Holy Spirit to lead us and teach us, to guide and empower us in our lives. This kind of day in and day out relationship with Jesus, in His Word, is the only way to bring about lasting and biblical change in any of us. As Peter, we exhort you to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” This “growing” is a progressive process that takes place over our lifetimes if we, “as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the Word, that you may grow thereby (1 Peter 2:1).” The decision to stay planted at Jesus’ feet, taking in His presence and Word like Mary, is one that we must make several times a day. And, as we are connected to each other in our churches, we are ministered to by Christ’s apostles, prophets and pastor/teachers. According to 1 Corinthians 14:3, “he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort...” And all of God’s servants are to serve by the gifts of the Holy Spirit and “as He wills (1 Cor. 12:11).” The ministry of the church must include teaching and prophecy. And, the apostleship, prophecy, evangelism and teaching must be by the giving of Christ Himself.

Instead of beating each other up about what we think someone else should be doing, let us build each other up in God's love and in truth, in His word and by His Spirit, that we may grow up in all things into Him who is the head- Christ. Let’s allow the Spirit of God Himself, through His Word and His gifts to the Church, to teach and guide each of us personally in our unique and Spirit gifted service.

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