Ministry Goals and Roles – Ephesians 4:11-16

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 … Ephesians 4:11-13

Biblical Christian ministry involves more than just being called ‘the church,’ or going to a church building once or twice a week – it is being and living as God’s people in a unified community meant to display the very unity of the Trinity! But we need only look around to see how far short we fall of displaying such unity. However, just as God brings people, circumstances, trials and victories, into our individual lives to conform us into the image of His Son, He likewise has a plan for the corporate church to come to the unity of the faith.

God calls out a people (the church) and separates them from the world and unto each other, so that the corporate church might 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 (Eph 4:13). Toward this end, God gives specific ministry gifts to His church – specific gifts for those whom God ordains as leaders of the body. God’s plan to bring His church to the place of maturity and unity includes human instruments – namely, apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers. These are gifted and qualified men whom Christ gives to the church, as examples and instructors of spiritual growth, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, and for the edifying of the body of Christ (vs. 12). In addition to leaders, every believer in Christ’s body has received a gift to serve the whole body (Eph 2:7), and the ‘ministers’ (apostles, prophets, etc.) are given to direct the church in what these gifts are and how to use them.

It is a most heart-breaking thing in the ministry to see members of the body of Christ remaining spiritual babies their whole Christian lives – never growing up to discover or fulfill their calling. Often what lies at the heart of spiritual immaturity is an errant belief system. But as we submit ourselves to solid, balanced scriptural teaching, error will not sway us – in fact we will be able to identify, and even expose it.  On the other hand, it is perhaps the most frustrating thing in the ministry to see pastors of churches occupied with programs and the busyness of ministry, while neglecting the teaching of the Word; for it is only as Christians grow in the Word of God that they are adequately equipped to grow to maturity. Compare the program-driven ministry of the modern church, to the emphasis of the early church outlined in Acts 2:42 – they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Here is the one and only Biblical program for the body of Christ to attain to the unity of the faith unto mature manhood. Because the disciples of the early church gave themselves to the study of the Word, and the spiritual disciplines taught therein, their love and unity had a profound impact on the Roman world around them. Can the same thing be said of the church today?

Ephesians: A Disappointing Epilogue Revelation 2:1-7

Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Revelation 2:4

With all of the highly exalted doctrine, majestic Christology, and practical teaching on church and family life, contained in Paul’s epistle to the Ephesian church, we might expect the church at Ephesus to have become the strongest in all of Asia, as they read, digested, exposited, and lived this epistle. And indeed as the risen Jesus Christ appeared to John on the island of Patmos dictating His final inspired message to the seven churches, he commended the church of Ephesus to be much about the Father’s business: they are strong in upholding God’s holiness in their midst; they are quick to recognize false apostles and false teaching; they have persevered and have patience, and have labored for Christ’s name sake and have not become weary (Rev 2:1-3).

Nevertheless, Jesus had a very important indictment against them that strikes at the heart of what it means to be a Christian – they had left their first love. (Rev 2:4). Somehow they had fallen from the early heights of their devotion to Jesus Christ and descended to the plains of mediocrity. As Jesus prophesied, “the love of many will grow cold” (Mt 24:12), sad to say, this was true of the Ephesians. What a disappointing end for a church to whom much was given!

Without our first love, the work, ministry, holiness, and doctrinal purity of the church is lifeless. It is significant that 30 years prior to this message, Paul ended the epistle to the church with a prayer for those “who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love undying” (Eph 6:24). By now, a new generation had arisen whose love was faltering, weakened, and dying. They toiled with vigor but not with love; they put the message of their teachers to the test, but without love. Their orthodoxy and orthopraxy had become cold and dead, without the warmth which comes with love for Christ.

Has this not been a pattern in the church over and over again? Wherever there have been revivals of great doctrinal truths, have they not often fizzled out into disappointingly cold dead religion? Just a look at much of Presbyteriansm and Lutheranism today is evidence of how revivals and reformation end up dying. And we are not exempt from this. Just as Jesus warned the Ephesians, He warns us as well, that unless we remember, repent, and resume our first works, that He will remove our lampstand from its place (Rev 2:5). No individual church has a secure and permanent place in God’s kingdom on earth. If we can judge by the letter that Ignatius wrote to the Ephesian church in the second Century, they heeded Christ’s appeal, as he wrote of them in glowing terms; however, by the Middle Ages, it lapsed again and was all but obliterated.

To this warning, Christ adds a promise to the penitent. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God (Rev 2:7). The church has a mission and a work to be done, we have a fight to be fought and creed to be defended, but above all we have a Person to love with love incorruptible. May ours be a church not only about the Father’s business, but continually repenting and burning ever hotter in our love for Jesus Christ.

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Ephesians 6:21-24 Ephesians: Final Greetings

Paul brings this glorious epistle to a close with a few simple parting words, a greeting, and a benediction. We are introduced to Tychicus, the bearer of this letter, and learn a bit about his friendship with Paul, as well as the obvious care that the Ephesian church has for Paul’s welfare. Paul evidently had great confidence and love for Tychicus, as his beloved brother and faithful co-laborer in the Gospel. Due to Paul’s close relationship with the Ephesian church, instead of a few lines of personal nature at the end of the epistle, Paul sends Tychicus, a living epistle, to update the church about his welfare. The personal face to face visit and testimony of Tychicus would encourage the church far more than a mere few lines in a letter.

Obviously Paul had a deep concern for relationships. With all of the high theology and practical individual application that he has just written to them in the 2400 or so words which precede this ending, Paul concludes with evidence of his desire to forge a stronger personal link between himself and the church he loved so greatly. This is the outworking of his exposition on God’s new society – demonstrating that it is more than mere theological theory. Paul wanted the church, to live like the church – to deepen their fellowship, by praying for one another, sending this epistle, and sending Tychicus who would encourage them and carry personal information from Paul. Prayer, correspondence, and personal visitation remain the three major means by which Christians can encourage one another to this day, and so contribute to the building up of the body of Christ.

This being the beginning of a new year, it is a good time for us to reflect upon our own church life. How connected are we to the brethren? How much do we really know about our brothers and sisters in Christ? Do we truly count them as family? Are we being aloof from our spiritual brothers and sisters, giving preference to our physical family and secular friends? How often do you pray for those in your church – not just the pastor, but other congregants? With the advent of the telephone, email and Facebook, we have an unprecedented opportunity to reach out and encourage our brethren far more than past generations – are you taking full advantage of these things to correspond often with your church family? Of course, nothing replaces face to face fellowship – how often do you actually see your brothers and sisters face to face to fellowship, pray for, and encourage one another during the week? What steps might you take this year to strengthen the external ties that bind our hearts in Christian love?

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Ephesians 6:18-20 Praying Always

… praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints — and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel … Eph 6:18-19

Here Paul concludes his teaching on the Christian’s spiritual battle, calling us to all prayer and supplication; he uses both words mainly to add intensity to the idea. The words “with all” which in Greek, precede “praying always,” are linked to the exhortation to stand in verse 14. So although prayer is not linked to any specific piece of armor, it is included in the manner in which we as Christians take a stand against the devil. There are times in Christian warfare where we will feel unable to even wield the sword of the Spirit – at such times, even at all times, in everything, let us call upon our all powerful God in prayer (See Rom 8:26-27, 12:12, Phil 4:6, Col 4:2-3, 1 Thess 5:16-18, 1 Tim 2:1-2).

Paul runs one idea into the next in this text detailing the manner and objects for which he is calling upon us to pray:

a) praying always

b) with all prayer and supplication

c) in the Spirit

d) being watchful

e) with all perseverance and supplication

f) for all the saints

g) for me …

First as the manner of prayer, it is to be offered always – literally in every season. The specific context of spiritual warfare tells us that this is an exhortation to pray under every season of conflict. There are times in every Christian’s life where we need to cry out to God with increased intensity because the dire circumstances necessitate us to do so. In such circumstances we become utterly dependent upon the Holy Spirit in our prayers, as we can only pray with His divine assistance (Ro 8:26, Jude 20). Praying ‘in the Holy Spirit,’ means to rely on His power and wisdom as you pray; it means submitting your thoughts, will, and desires to the Word of God, until we intuitively ‘think God’s thought’s after Him,’ and develop instincts that are keeping in line with His will. To pray with all prayer and supplication, means that we are to offer all kinds of prayers to God including petitions. Philippians 4:6-7 both reminds and invites us to: Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication , with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; promising us that: the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Remembering that the primary context is prayer in the midst of battle, such ‘warfare prayer,’ requires vigilance and perseverance. Do not forget that the ground in which Christ is building His church is a territory occupied by an enemy; so alertness is warranted. The word ‘watchful’ conveys the idea of the military soldier who is on watch, who must stay awake and alert on his guard duty. With all perseverance, suggests determination or resoluteness as opposed to growing weary and giving up (see Mark 13:33, 14:38). Prayer is the expression of the life of a disciplined soldier for Christ who is in constant communion with God.

Secondly the text tells us the object for which we pray: “For all the saints.” Charles Hodge said, “No soldier entering battle prays for himself alone, but for all his fellow soldiers also. They form one army, and the success of one is the success of all.” Every time we address “Our Father,” we address God corporately with the saints, but we are also to pray for the saints – for one another – beginning with those in our local assembly, but then extending to believing peoples of all nations, particularly those living under regimes that are hostile to the Gospel. Sinclair Ferguson writes, “No stronghold of Satan is safe from the remotest saint who knows what it is to pray!” Lastly Paul asks for prayer for himself, in particular that he would be bold in his preaching of the Gospel. Pastors and ministers today need much prayer if their congregations are going to hear preaching with Gospel boldness. Brethren, pray for me.

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Ephesians 6:17 The Sword

And take … the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God Eph 6:17

The sixth and final piece of the Christian’s armor is the sword – a sword made and furnished to us by the greatest of all Artisans! The sword has long been esteemed as a necessary part of a soldier’s vocation. While all the rest of the Christian’s armor is made up of defensive parts, the sword is a weapon that is both defensive and offensive.

On the one hand, the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, is a defensive weapon, in how it keeps the Christian from being stripped from all other graces. Unless Your law had been my delight, I would then have perished in my affliction (Ps 119:92). Christ had only to say, “It is written,” in answer to Satan’s temptations, to put his enemy to flight (Mt 4:4, 7, 10). It was David’s prayer in Psalm 17:4, by the word of Your lips, I have kept away from the paths of the destroyer. The sword is unique in that it defends the whole person from an enemy’s attack; not specific to any particular part of the body, (like the other pieces of armor), the sword can be wielded to hold back the enemy as a whole.

The Word of God, our sword, is also an offensive weapon, with it we can route our enemy! This gives light to verses such as James 4:7, resist the devil and he will flee from you. There is something given us by God that drives the enemy backward, causing him to retreat – it is the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God!

I must qualify these words by saying that the offensive nature of the sword does not give us the right to take on Satan or his demons in any kind of foolish or reckless manner. Jude 9 tells us how even Michael the archangel, … dared not bring against him a reviling accusation, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” Such must be our attitude as well, when it comes to battling Satan; we are not to rail against him, but we are to stand using the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God – and this will cause him to flee.

Another qualification lies in the order in which these pieces of armor are given. There is nothing more abused in the world than the Word of God. So in order to rightly use it, we must have the rest of our armor in place. We cannot use the Word without being girded with the sincerity of truth, without donning an understanding of imputed righteousness as a breastplate, without our feet firmly planted in the Gospel, without a shield of faith, or a proper understanding of the doctrine of salvation as a helmet on our head. When these pieces are not properly in place, we will more than likely misuse the Word of God. But by the same token, a Christian who has all other graces in place, must finally take up the Word of God – from the novice to the Bible scholar – we are incomplete without the Word of God.

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Ephesians 6:17 The Helmet of Salvation

… and take the helmet of salvation Ep 6:16

The last piece of defensive equipment to be named in this armor of God, given to the Christian to stand against the wiles of the devil, is the helmet of salvation. Since Paul is writing to Christians, one might wonder what this refers to – are not Christians already saved?

Remember that the Bible uses the word salvation in three ways, and it is in each of these three ways that we are to put on the helmet of salvation.

First salvation is used to describe what God has done in His finished work in Christ, and our reception of it. Though this is a past action and is complete and final, the Christian is to remain mindful of his or her salvation – he is to focus on the specific objective truths of Christ’s finished work, especially in times of intense spiritual pressure. In the same way then, that a physical helmet protects one’s head, the consciousness of the objective truths concerning one’s salvation, protects the mind of the Christian, particularly when doubt sets in.

Secondly, salvation is a continuing work that God is doing in the Christian progressively – treating us as children, disciplining us, and conforming us into the image of His Son. Putting on the helmet of salvation in this context might refer to our walking in God’s will – becoming sanctified or renewed in our minds as they are transformed by His Word and we are changed into His image from glory to glory.

But then thirdly, salvation is also used of what God will do for us in the future. One day we will be thoroughly changed – we will be raised incorruptible, when this mortal puts on immortality. Acquitted from final judgment, we will spend eternity with God in the new heavens and the new earth. We will finally fulfill that for which He created us – to enjoy Him forever! Since the helmet is placed on the head it suggests that we keep the coming resurrection and final salvation ever in mind. The warfare will one day cease, and we will be released from the battlefield in which we now fight; before long we will be in heaven gazing upon the glorious countenance of our Beloved bridegroom. In the mean time, oh how this glorious thought will make this present warfare appear momentary and light and enable us to fight the good fight well in the here and now!

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Ephesians 6:16 The Shield of Faith

… above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. Eph 6:16

Commentator Peter O’Brien writes:

In addition to the pieces of amour that believers need to wear, they are to take up the ‘shield of faith,’ for by it they will be fully protected against every kind of assault rained upon them by the evil one. The shield referred to is not the small round one which left most of the body unprotected, but the large shield carried by Roman soldiers, which covered the whole person… The large shield used by Roman soldiers was specifically designed to quench dangerous missiles, particularly arrows that were dipped in pitch and lit before being fired.

Proverbs 30:5 says, ‘every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him.’ Throughout the Old Testament the shield is used as an image of God and His protection of His people. For instance, God says to Abraham in Genesis 15:1, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” Psalms 18:30 goes, “He is a shield to all who trust in Him.” Here in our text in Ephesians, it is faith that is the shield. To take the shield of faith is to appropriate the promises of God on our behalf, confident that what He says will come to pass, and that He will protect us in the midst of the fiery darts of Satan. Likewise, Peter admonishes us to ‘be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith …’ (1 Peter 5:8-9)

What kind of faith is being commended here? Certainly it is not mere mental assent to the facts about God. James 2:19 says that even the demons have this kind of faith. Neither can temporary faith be meant – the kind that in a wave of emotions says, “I believe,” but only endures for a while (Mt 13:21) and then disappears. Faith to do the miraculous also cannot be meant, for even Judas Iscariot, as one of the apostles, could cast demons out of others. There is but one kind of faith that remains – a faith that in the words of John overcomes the world (1 Jn 5:4) – it is a justifying faith. Justifying faith more than gives mental assent to the facts of the Gospel, it embraces them for oneself.

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