Sadly, in far too many churches, the people of God are second-class citizens when it comes to the work of the ministry. If a “lay” person makes a hospital visit, that’s OK, but we want to know, “Where’s my pastor!”
Christ’s vision is so different. Pastors serve the people so God’s people can serve the congregation and community. Far too many “lay” people are recruited to fill a position and to fill a need — make the coffee, cover the nursery during the service — but not to fulfill a calling.
Paul’s phrase “works of service” in Ephesians 4:12 elevates the ministry of God’s people. “Works” has a sense of divine calling and meaningful purpose. We could translate it as vocation and mission. The Bible uses it to describe God’s creative work. God the Creator commissions us for creative, zealous, purposeful work — work that glorifies Him as we serve one another.
Paul’s word for “service” is distinct from serving for wages, serving as a slave, and serving publicly. The basic nuance is personal service. It involves love in action through sacrificial ministry modeled after Christ’s own sacrifice.
Christ calls pastors to equip God’s people. Christ calls His people to creative, purposeful, meaningful, sacrificial, personal ministry to one another in His name. In the context of Ephesians 4:11-16, that work is nothing less than making disciple-makers through the personal ministry of the Word.
When pastors and members fulfill their purposes together then the Body of Christ builds itself up in two specific, cohesive ways: doctrinal unity and personal maturity (Ephesians 4:12-13). When a congregation knows the truth not just academically, but personally, then their love abounds in knowledge and depth of insight (Philippians 1:9-11).
We often miss the vital real-life, “how-to” application of every member disciple-making that Paul embeds in this text. How does the church come to unity and maturity? Exactly what are pastors equipping people to do? Specifically how do members do the work of the ministry?
Paul answers: “By speaking the truth in love” we grow up in Christ (Ephesians 4:15). Every word in this passage funnels toward this remarkable phrase “speaking the truth in love.” Christ’s grand plan for His Church is for every member to be a disciple-maker by speaking and living Gospel truth to one another in love.
Paul selects an unusual Greek word which we often translate as “speaking the truth.” Actually, we should translate it both as speaking and living the truth. We might even coin the phrase “truthing.” Paul likely had in mind Psalm 15 where the Psalmist asks the question, ‘Who may dwell in your sanctuary?” He answers: “He whose walk is blameless; he who does what is righteous; he who speaks the truth from his heart” (Psalm 15:2). Who can serve in God’s sanctuary, the church—the one who embodies the truth in relationships.
The word Paul uses means transparent, truthfulness as a core character quality, genuine, authentic, reliable, real, sincere. It describes the person who ministers from a heart of integrity and Christ-like, grace-oriented love. It pictures the person whose relational style is transparent and trustworthy, authentic and genuine. The tense and context indicates that the Body of Christ should continually, actively, and collectively be truthing in love as it walks together in intimate, vulnerable connection. In one word, Paul combines content, character, and competence shared in community!
While the word means more than speaking, it does not mean less than speaking. And while it means more than sheer factual content, it does not mean less than the Gospel. Paul uses the identical word in Galatians 4:16. There he’s clearly speaking of preaching, teaching, and communicating the truth of the Gospel of Christ’s grace applied to daily growth in Christ (sanctification, growth in grace).
Combine Galatians 4:16 with Ephesians 4:16, both in context, and we find an amazing description of Gospel-centered biblical counseling — of the personal ministry of the Word. “Speaking the truth” means communicating Gospel truth about grace-focused sanctification in word, thought, and action through one another relationships that have integrity, genuineness, authenticity, transparency, and reliability, done in love to promote the unity and maturity of the Body of Christ for the ultimate purpose of displaying the glory of Christ’s grace.
What happens when pastors focus their calling on equipping God’s people to make disciple-makers through the personal ministry of the Word by speaking and living the truth in love? In Ephesians 4:16, Paul shows us what happens through picturing the Body in robust health as it is joined together, growing and building itself up in love as each part does its work.
The normal agenda and priority of every Christian is to make disciple-makers. Christ’s training strategy for disciple-making involves pastors equipping every member to embody the truth in love through the personal ministry of the Word (“biblical counseling”).
How will this ministry mindset shift change your purpose in the church?