What does Ephesians 4:12 mean?
ESV: to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
NIV: to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up
NASB: for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ;
CSB: to equip the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ,
NLT: Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.
KJV: For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
The overall mission for every Christian leader is "to equip the saints for the work of ministry." This involves the idea of training believers to serve God here on earth. Notice that this training is not focused purely on academics, but strongly emphasizes practice. Leaders are to train others in the church to serve others. In addition, ministry is "work." It involves expending energy and placing the needs of others first. Ministry is difficult to do from a distance, because personal involvement is required in order to have the greatest impact.
The reason church leaders are to train every believer to serve others is "for building up the body of Christ." In many modern churches, one pastor is expected to provide all or most of the ministry work for those in the congregation. When this takes place, others do not use their spiritual gifts. When the people do not serve, the congregation's growth stagnates. Instead of allowing this to happen, church leaders are called on to focus on training others to serve. In this way, every believer is growing in maturity and making disciples of others.
Ephesians 4:11–16 discusses both the gift of spiritual leaders and the importance of mature, loving, unified Christianity. Some people are endowed with gifts of teaching, preaching, and so forth. It is crucial to the health of Christian congregations that these members use their God-given talents appropriately. At the same time, different members of a church have different abilities. The community of believers functions best when all of those individual pieces are working together, through their unique roles. A healthy church is far more powerful than a ''big'' church.
Truly understanding saving grace, as Paul explained in prior chapters, is the Christian's first motivation for living a godly life. Here, Paul encourages believers to live in way which honors that gift. All saved Christians are part of a single, unified family, part of the ''body'' of Christ. At the same time, different believers are given different talents. Some are called to positions of leadership and authority. All Christians should turn away from the ''old self'' we were prior to being saved. Paul's explanation of the ''new self'' includes some basic, practical steps.
The first half of Ephesians focuses mostly on doctrine, setting up ideas related to the Christian faith. The last half, beginning in chapter 4, puts those theories into practice. Paul begins by emphasizing the ultimate unity of all Christians, regardless of individual spiritual gifts. Paul also begins to explain how knowledge of the truths should translate into action. Chapters 4, 5, and 6 feature specific, real-world applications of Christianity to daily life.
Ephesians follows a theme common in Paul's writings: connecting theory with practice. In this book, however, he goes into greater depth before making the transition. As a letter meant to be read by more than just the believers at Ephesus, this is an important look at how Christian belief should translate into Christian action. The first three chapters lay out spiritual ideas, the last three chapters show how these truths should be applied in the life of a mature believer. Paul focuses heavily on love, the unity of the Christian church, and the incredible value of our salvation through Christ.
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