2. “The work of the ministry,” Ephesians 4:12
But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.
In the center of the passage above is contained the phrase “for the work of the ministry.” This is the ministry described in Romans 12:3-8. Romans 12:3-8 is absolutely an amplification of “the work of the ministry” in Ephesians 4:12.
The gifted men—the apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers—are given “for the perfecting of the saints.”
The saints are perfected “for the work of the ministry.”
The work of the ministry is “for the edifying of the body of Christ.”
It is not said that the men Christ gave the church—the apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers—do the work of the ministry. Of course they do (or did) indeed minister, but theirs is not “the work of the ministry” in Ephesians 4:12, above.
The men Christ gave the church are for the perfecting of the saints, in order that these saints may do the work of the ministry, in order that all the rest of the members of the body may be perfected. “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.”
The work of the ministry, then, is done by all the perfected saints in order that the rest of the body of Christ is edified or perfected. These perfected or spiritually mature saints minister to the rest of the church—new converts, those weak in faith, the feeble-minded or otherwise disabled, and the young children and adolescents (this latter being in particular a ministry of parents to their children)—and in doing so accomplish “the edifying of the body of Christ.”
Ephesians 4:12 teaches that a few perfect the many for ministry so that all are edified. While it says nothing about what constitutes “the work of the ministry,” the rest of the New Testament does, especially Romans 12. Indeed, reconciling the two passages—for the Scripture cannot be broken—we find “the work of the ministry” in Ephesians 4:12 is amplified in Romans 12:3-8. For where else does the passage in Romans 12 fit? It does not reconcile with “for the perfecting of the saints,” because the men given the church by Christ do that. And it doesn’t reconcile with “for the edifying of the body of Christ” because those who require edifying are not yet perfected for the work of the ministry.
I conclude that the regular Christian ministry is that which is called “the work of the ministry” in Ephesians 4:12. This does not by any means disparage the work of the men in Ephesians 4:11. Their work is indispensable and it is first in the order of things. What is needed is to reclassify the work of these men. It is either foundational, in the case of the apostles and prophets; or temporary, in the case of evangelists and teachers; or occasional, in the case of teachers; or consistent with, compatible with, and complementary to a mutual ministry of the brethren, in the case of both pastors and teachers. What I mean to say in respect of the work of the pastors and teachers in perfecting the saints is, they perfect the saints in order that the saints can minister, and not in order that they cannot minister. What good are perfected saints if they can never minister in the churches? Theirs is the work that should characterize the work of the ministry in the churches on the Lord’s day.
The work of the apostles and prophets, foundational, was finished by the end of the first century and is preserved in the New Testament gospels and epistles. Evangelists also do foundational work, not in respect to the entire church but to local churches, i.e., they declare the whole counsel of God, preparing the people to hear and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ and then teaching them all things He commanded. In order to finish his work the evangelist ordains elders, thus setting in order “the things that are wanting,” Titus 1:5. The implication of Titus 1:5 is that there is a church prior to the ordaining of elders, but that the ordaining of elders completes the church and thus completes the work of an evangelist. Thus the evangelist’s work in a local church is not only foundational (though not in the same way as the apostles’ and prophets’ work was foundational), it is temporary. The church, meaning the one body of Christ, continually requires evangelists to preach the gospel and plant new churches for the expansion of God’s kingdom. However the local church does not continually require an evangelist, but only during the time of its planting or founding. This is the sense in which an evangelist’s work is temporary. It is not a continuing or perpetual work in a local church. (Note, the church understands “evangelist” today to mean simply a gospel preacher, but that is not its original meaning. Timothy and Titus were evangelists, and they preached and taught the whole counsel of God. Today we call evangelists “missionaries,” we call gospel preachers “evangelists,” and we call teachers in the churches “preachers.” The latter, in particular, is not a harmless error, as will be shown.)
This brings us to the pastors and teachers, men with abiding functions in the churches. Their importance to the churches will be examined in Chapter 21. I do not disparage their importance, but only the way the men we call pastors and teachers function in the churches. The way they function in the churches cannot be ascribed to belief of New Testament teachings but to unbelief. These men are certainly important, but their importance is exaggerated and Christ’s diminished. Their ministries are thought to dominate in the churches, but this cannot be traced to any teaching in the New Testament. Not only so, but “pastor and teacher” is imagined to be vested in one man (with additional “pastors” added as the church grows) in a paid, professional office. But the most egregious error of all is that the church for centuries has not even discerned who its pastors are.
Once the importance of pastors and teachers in the churches is reduced to what is actually found in the New Testament, we find occasion for the work of the ministry in the churches on the Lord’s day. But the assembly on the Lord’s day is more than “an occasion for” the work of the ministry; the work of the ministry is the reason for assembling. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more as ye see the day approaching.” We are not “clearing a portion of the church service” in order that the saints may “express themselves.” No, we want to reestablish what the church service is in the New Testament. It is first and foremost an occasion for the work of the ministry.
The first churches understood the meaning of “the work of the ministry” for the simple reason that they were accustomed to ministering, and the errors concerning church order and function had not yet been introduced, or at least they had not gained ascendance.