And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service and to building up the body of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-12
Equipping - Why did the Lord provide the Body with all of these gifted people? What is the purpose of those sent, those who reveal, those who bring good news, those who shepherd and those who instruct? Paul doesn’t leave the question unanswered. It is for equipping. Now, what does that mean?
The Greek word here is a combination of kata and artios. It means “fitted together” or “perfectly complete.” Imagine all of the pieces that go into the construction of a house. Each one is important to the finished product and each one depends on the others. The foundation is not greater than the trusses. The roof is not superior to the walls. Unless they are all fashioned together, the house is useless. It will not serve its purpose. In the same way, an apostle is not elevated above a teacher, nor a prophet above a pastor. Each one has a role to play. There is no hierarchy of importance in house building. It is the end product that matters, not the individual pieces. It’s the fit that matters!
OK, now that we have that settled, what is the end product? If you looked around, you might think that the end product of all this cooperative effort is a building called the church. After all, if you want to meet those who claim to be apostles, prophets, pastors and teachers, you will probably find them in church buildings. But we know, of course, that the building itself is not the goal. In fact, there were no “church” buildings during the entire history of the New Testament. So, the end goal is not literally a construction project. It is about the people who make up the Body. They are to be built up for a purpose and that purpose is works of service. That means that the equipped body, the collection of those who are redeemed, is designed to do something. They are to serve.
Ah, that must be that the body collects the offering, greets people at the door, arranges flowers, sings in the choir and knocks on doors with soul-winning intentions. I don’t think so! Paul intends us to see that we are equipped in order to make a difference in the lives of others. Paul’s Hebrew background adds an element found in Jewish Law. Israel’s social policy stood on the foundation of God’s command concerning the neighbor. Leviticus 19:18 was the inescapable obligation of service as an essential part of the religious experience. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” left no equivocation about the obligation entailed in community. In the Hebrew view, willingness to service the needs of your neighbor are inextricably bound to service to God. The Hebrew culture is defined not only by its exclusiveness in the worship of Yahweh but also by its divinely instituted relationship to the larger community. No man exists simply to improve his own individual self-understanding. His very existence is tied to the well-being of his fellow men.
Contemporary Christianity often finds itself uneasily straddling both the Greek and Hebrew views of a readiness to serve. On the one hand, we have been thoroughly indoctrinated by the post-modern culture where individualism reigns supreme. Freedom is often viewed solely within the Greek mindset as my right to self-determination without obligation to any others. In this view, if I choose to act on behalf of another, I do so from enlightened self-interest, not from a submersion of individual identity into the consciousness of the community. Acts of charity motivated by a Greek worldview may be magnanimous, but they are not expressions of self-emptying in response to a divine imperative. The church falls prey to this cult of the individual when it promotes service as a means of goal accomplishment. Levitical charity does not ask for measurable returns. It demands only unreserved distribution in the face of need. Where budgets, program considerations and political implications blunt the demand to serve the “neighbor”, the church enters into the Greek world of calculated generosity. It hears the Levitical call, but resists unwavering response because it is trapped in the polis of a world conformed to the thought patterns of the Greeks. Even the designation of “neighbor” becomes problematical whenever “neighbor” is subjected to a socio-political calculus.
Jesus strengthened the concept of service. Service is now not only an obligation issued by God; it is the defining mark of true discipleship. Those who resist the call for self-emptying volunteers cannot enter into the true destiny of Man, nor will they find a welcome home with God. Service is the human mission.
So, what does it mean to serve my neighbor? You might want to think about that question until tomorrow.
Topical Index: equip, serve, oikodome, church, body, Ephesians 4:11-12, Leviticus 19:18