Maintaining and Attaining
“[He gave] some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.” (Ephesians 4:11–13)
There’s an interesting difference between verse 3 and verse 13 in Ephesians 4: in verse 3 we are told to maintain unity but in verse 13 we are told to attain unity. In verse 3 it is a reality to be maintained. In verse 13 it is a goal to be attained. The reason for this is not that there are two kinds of Christian unity but that Christian unity has in one sense already been accomplished and in another sense hasn’t.
This text shows that, in a decisive act of atonement and reconciliation, Christ has already made us one. But what he has accomplished at Calvary we should maintain by the Spirit. And yet, in another sense, the unity Christ purchased and guaranteed with his blood must now be lived out and brought to full expression in the life of the church. In this sense it is a goal to be attained.
So there’s a continual journey to be made from what is done in Christ towards what must be developed in the body of Christ.
And how is it developed? The passage is quite clear: it’s through the service (or ministry) of people that God gives to the body of Christ. The point of the passage is the “we” who are working to “attain to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the son of God” but the people who help us on the journey are described as “some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers.”
It’s simply wrong to make these people the focus of our faith and adoration. They are –quite simply- helpers who are working away until the body of Christ becomes what it is intended to be.
In this regard, it’s always worth remembering the words of Jesus:
“Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant.” (Matthew 20:25-26)
So what do these servants do? An old sermon I heard on this always sticks in my mind as a thumbnail sketch of what Paul is talking about. The preacher said: 1. Apostles Govern; 2. Prophets Guide; 3. Evangelists Gather; 4. Pastors Guard; 5. Teachers Ground.
It’s not bad as a start, I think.
Perhaps the problem of self-importance only arises when we attach capital letters to these statements of function.
But the point of the passage is the WE.