A Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians 4:7-12. c). The purpose of spiritual gifts is service.
In verse 12 Paul states clearly why Christ gave these gifts to his church. The RSV first edition (1946) read: *for the equipment of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ*. It will be noted that according to this translation, Christ had three distinct purposes in mind. I think Armitage Robinson was the first commentator to insist that this was a mistake. ‘The second of these clauses’, he wrote, ‘must be taken as dependent on the first, and not…as coordinate with it.’ In other words, the first comma (‘the fatal comma’) – which is ‘without linguistic authority but with undoubted ecclesiological bias – must be erased. If it is allowed to stand, we are faced with ‘a saddening result’, for ‘the verse then means that only the special ministers, not all saints, are called to do “the work of the ministry” and to cooperate in the “building of the body”.’ This interpretation ‘has an aristocratic, that is, a clerical and ecclesiastical flavour, it distinguishes the (mass of the) “saints” from the (superior class of the) officers of the church’.
If the comma is erased, however, we are left with two purposes – one immediate and the other ultimate – for which Christ gave gifts to his church. His immediate purpose was ‘to equip the saints for the work of the ministry’ (RSV second edition 1971) or better ‘to equip God’s people for the work in his service’ (NEB), and his ultimate purpose ‘for building up the body of Christ’. The former expression about equipping God’s people is of far-reaching significance for any true understanding of Christian ministry. For the word *ministry (diakonia*) is here used not to describe the work of pastors but rather the work of so-called laity, that is, of all God’s people without exception. Here is incontrovertible evidence that the New Testament envisages ministry not as the prerogative of a clerical elite but as the privileged calling of all the people of God. Thank God that in our generation this biblical vision of an ‘every-member ministry’ is taking a firm hold in the church.
It does not mean that there is no distinctive pastoral ministry left for clergy, rather it establishes its character. The New Testament concept of the pastor is not of a person who jealously guards all ministry in his own hands, and successfully squashes all lay initiatives, but of one who helps and encourages all God’s people to discover, develop and exercise their gifts. His teaching and training are directed to this end, to enable the people of God to be a servant people, ministering actively but humbly according to their gifts in a world of alienation and pain. Thus, instead of monopolizing all ministry himself, he actually multiplies ministries.
What model of the church, then, should we keep in our minds? The traditional model is that of the pyramid, with the pastor perched precariously on its pinnacle, like a little pope in his own church, while the laity are arrayed beneath him in serried ranks of inferiority. It is a totally unbiblical image, because the New Testament envisages not a single pastor with a docile flock but both a plural oversight and an every-member ministry. Not much better is a model of the bus, in which the pastor does all the driving while the congregation are the passengers slumbering in peaceful security behind him. Quite different from either the pyramid or the bus is the biblical model of the body. The church is the body of Christ, every member of which has a distinctive function. Although the body metaphor can certainly accommodate the concept of a distinct pastorate (in terms of one ministry – and a very important one – among many), there is simply no room in it either for a hierarchy or for that kind of bossy clericalism which concentrates all ministry in the hands of one man and denies the people of God their own rightful ministries.
Tomorrow: Ephesians 4:7-12. c). The purpose of spiritual gifts is service (continued).