By Mark Horne
The work below was used for a lecture
Listen to me, O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar. The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name. He made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow; in his quiver he hid me away. And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified” (Isa 49.1-3)
This is a messianic prophecy. And it reminds us that, while Jesus did more than talk, his teaching and preaching was an essential part of his work.
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians shows us that this continues. In fact, Paul makes a point of emphasizing the role of Christ’s speech in the Church. We begin with Paul’s greeting, which is quite common and yet, in Ephesians, I think it receives some special explanation. Paul writes, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
As a side-note, I point out that Paul’s characteristic greeting sounds a lot like the Aaronic benediction with the repetitions left out. Aaron was to place God’s name upon the people of Israel, according to Numbers 6, by saying: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” Now, if we view the initial statement about blessing and keeping as something that is made concrete in what follows, and if we take away the references to God’s face (the repetitions) what we end up with is grace and peace—God’s favor and the benefit that results.
I’m tempted to speculate about what that might mean regarding Paul’s view of his own office and what he is saying about his mixed Jew-Gentile churches who receive this blessing. (Actually, since during most of Aaron’s ministry, Israel was not practicing circumcision, and they were accompanied by a mixed multitude from Egypt who, by the time they reached the Promised Land, had been incorporated as one people, the situation was not so different as one might suppose). Instead I want to get on firmer ground and direct your attention to Paul’s claim that he is “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God.” To us this simply means that Paul is an Apostle because God has commanded that he have that office and vocation. I wish our modern English translations would interpret this passage as “an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God.” That I think might alert readers to something else that might be going on.
What is going on? Paul is an Apostle through the will of God and we have every reason to believe that by “the will of God,” Paul is nor referring to God’s ethical commands or directives. He is not saying, though it is true, that he is an Apostle by God’s command. Rather, Paul is referring to the plan of God.
he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth (1.5-10).
In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory (1.11, 12).
So when Paul announces his Apostleship “through the will of God,” he does so introducing a letter that, at first, refers to God’s will repeatedly in a way that is centered on the plan and purpose of God to bring salvation to the elect through Christ. Paul does use the term “will of God” in Ephesians to refer to God’s commands. Way later in this letter he will exhort Christian slaves to be “doing the will of God from the heart” (6.6). But that is much later. We ought to at least consider that perhaps Paul is telling us that his Apostleship is part of the fulfillment and execution of God’s redemptive plan that he has brought about in Christ. As I pointed out in our last lecture, while Paul’s gospel is good news about nothing less than cosmic redemption, that cosmic redemption includes God’s kind intention to us who believe. In other words, it includes not only the work of Christ but also his application to those whom he fore-loved and infallibly planned to rescue from sin and death.
How do we determine Paul’s meaning here? I think Paul’s description of the work of Christ on the cross and thereafter (!) in chapter two, verses 13-22:
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
The work of Christ results in us being drawn together and built up as a new Temple. According to Paul, Christ did this for his readers and he did it in the past. Just as he died and rose again in the past so also, as a matter or history, Jesus “came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near” (2.17). Not only did Jesus make peace by the cross (2.15), not only has he become “our peace” by virtue of his death, resurrection, and ascension (2.14), but he himself “preached peace” both to those near and far. Now, it is obvious in context, that the ones who are near are the Jews. So we can imagine that Paul might be referring to Jesus’ actual preaching in Palestine. But when did Jesus ever pack his bags and find a caravan to take him to the region of Ephesus to preach there?
He didn’t. Jesus never came and preached peace to the people to whom Paul is writing. He never reached them in a locally present or corporeal way. The body that died on the cross ascended into heaven and never went to Ephesus.
No, rather than Jesus other people went to the region of Ephesus. Christians went to Ephesus. Apostles and prophets went to Ephesus. Pastors and teachers came to Ephesus. In and through them Christ came and preached peace.
Remember, that Christ died in order to bring together the Church (see 2.18-22 above). That “being built together” is a purpose of the cross. It is true, in a certain polemical context, in arguing with Arminians, and related errorists, we can and must say that salvation is fully accomplished on the cross of Christ. But Paul quite commonly refers to Christ’s work as starting something that has not yet been accomplished. He would emphatically agree that Christ’s work guarantees that God’s purposes will be fulfilled, but he is equally emphatic that that purpose has not yet been accomplished. Just to show you how strongly Paul can express this, and the importance he attributes to ministers of the Word, consider what Paul says in his letter to the Colossians (1.21-26):
And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.
I read all of that so you could see how Paul sandwiched his breathtaking claim to fill up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions by his own sufferings with references on either side to his own calling as a minister of the Gospel. And central to this is the preaching of the Word of God. In verse 23 we read Paul’s reference to “the hope of the Gospel which you have heard, which has been proclaimed.” In Verse 25, we read of Paul’s calling “to make the word of God fully known.”
As Christ’s minister, Paul both preaches and suffers to bring about that for which Christ both suffered and taught. While Christ’s propitiation is completely satisfactory, the purpose for which he suffered has not yet been completed. To bring about that goal, Christ must be preached by ambassadors, not only through their words, but also through their wounds.
And when Christ’s ministers thus preach, they are not simply preaching themselves, but Christ himself is preaching through them. Consider Ephesians 4.17-24:
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Now I just read you a passage that exhorts the listeners to sanctification. And in the middle of this section Paul appeals to what they have learned, to what they have heard, to what they have been taught. V. 21: “assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus.”
But that’s not what Paul wrote. Let me try again: “assuming that you have heard him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus.”
The Ephesians have not heard of Jesus. No! They have heard Jesus’ own voice! What else could we expect? Didn’t we already hear Paul assure us that Christ himself came to us who are far off and preached peace to us?
The Preaching of the Word of God Is the Word of God. Wherefore when this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe the the very Word of God is proclaimed, and received by the faithful; and that neither any other Word of God is to be invented nor is to be expected from heaven: and that now the Word itself which is preached is to be regarded, not the minister that preaches; for even if he be evil and a sinner, nevertheless the Word of God remains still true and good. (2nd Helvetic Confesion, ch. 1)
Is this confession true? Dare we call our preaching, in any sense, the Word of God? If we survey the term, “Word of God,” in Acts and the Epistles, we will find that it often refers, not only to someone either quoting or reading from the Scriptures, nor to someone inspired and kept free from all possible error, but to the ordinary faithful preaching of the Gospel message.
Acts 4.29-31: “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
Acts 6.2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.
Acts 6.7 And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
Acts 8.14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John
Acts 8.25 Now when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.
Acts 2.41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
Acts 4.4 But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.
Acts 11.1 Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God.
Hebr 13.7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God
1 Thess 2.9-13: For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.
Col 1.25 which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known.
1 Pet 1.23 you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God
How can ordinary preaching be declared “the word of God”? If it is not inspired in a way that guarantees that it is entirely inerrant and infallible, how can it be given that name? We know why the text of Scripture is uniquely the Word of God. But what about the use of the same term to describe the result of men preaching the Gospel?
The answer is that God works and even speaks through fallible messengers who, despite their fallibility are appointed and empowered as his ambassadors. Jesus is the preacher of the Gospel. Jesus is the one whom you both learn about and whom you learn from so that you know you must “no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds,” etc. Rather, you must “put off your old self/Adam, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self/Adam, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” It is for this purpose that it is so important that you not simply receive new information about Christ, but that he himself encourage, exhort, and when necessary admonish you to continue to remain and grow in what you have been so graciously given.
Remember, Paul says in Ephesians that “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” The first creation came about through the word of God’s power. We do not sustain ourselves. In the same way we cannot “put off the old Adam” or “put on the new Adam” unless that new creation is made and sustained by the powerful Word of God which speaks a second and better time in the preaching of the Gospel. Unless we are reminded to “no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds” we will never be able to “walk in” those “good works, which God prepared beforehand.” And Christ brings this about by preaching peace—by preaching himself because he himself is our peace. And he does this through ministers of the Gospel.
It would not have been enough for Christ to simply die and rise again for himself. The new creation is supposed to encompass the nations. For worldwide salvation to be possible, many must hear the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believe in him, and thus be sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory (c.f.Ephesians 1.13ff). God wants to encompass millions in that new creation so he continues to speak the word through the Church.
(Remember, by the way, in Isaiah 49.1ff, that after declaring himself have a sword for a tongue and to be a sharp arrow in God’s quiver, the Messianic servant complains that God has forgotten him and what he is suffering. God replies in verse 6 in language that should remind us of the boundary defying love that God holds for the world: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” If Jesus was limited to speaking through his own mouth, resurrected and united to deity though it be, it could never reach the ends of the earth as effectively as he does when his people take up that sharp sword of the Word of God, put on, as shoes for their feet, the readiness given by the gospel of peace, along with the rest of the armor which boils down to being clothed in Christ, the armor of light [c.f. Rom 13.12, 14].)
Paul in Ephesians believes it is important to show how the new creation in Christ Jesus spreads and sweeps up condemned sinners so that they have forgiveness, adoption, life and glory. Just as he explained in chapter 1 that the hearing of the word of truth and the resultant conversion of sinners was by God’s predetermined plan, so he wants his readers to understand that it is also part of the very work of Christ itself. In Ephesians 2.11, Paul travels back over the events of Christ’s death and resurrection, which he summarized in his prayer in chapter 1.20ff. Right after speaking of Christ’s crucifixion, he writes of the Temple built on the prophets and Apostles (with Christ as chief cornerstone) that results from Christ preaching.
That holy Temple of the Lord, corresponds to his previous mentions in chapter 1.22, 23 of Christ being given to the Church his body, and to his point in 2.6 that we have been seated in Christ. Christ has not only died and risen for us, but he has gathered us. How? Through people who share in his work to the point that Paul gives them a foundational role along with Christ as the chief cornerstone: the apostles and prophets.
But the prophets and Apostles are not the only ones who have this role. Notice that we have the mention of Christ preaching and of the Church at the point in the story where Christ has ascended into heaven after his death and resurrection. Paul revisits this later in his Epistle:
But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes (4.7-14).
In chapter two, the Church is founded on the Apostles and Prophets. Here we find that Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, and Teachers build up the body. I realize it has become popular to claim that the prophets equip the saints who then do the work of ministry and build up the body, as the NIV translates verse 12. Paul, of course, is quite capable of speaking of the activity of the whole body in promoting body growth. But, when he does so, he does it by speaking of all the members of the body being gifts of Christ by the Spirit (Rom 12; 1 Cor 12). Here, he obviously decides he wants to emphasize something different. He wants to emphasize certain types in of gifts and not others. (By the way, Paul does not call these people “spiritual gifts” as he does in First Corinthians, but he does say they were given at Christ’s ascension. Since the Spirit was given because of Christ’s ascension we have the same idea being expressed in a different way.) In my opinion, if additional arguments are needed, the parallel reference to the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets should tell us that these people are those who are given for the building up of the body. Christ preaches peace through ministers especially.
Now there is more to be said about this. Paul does believe the whole Church has a role in this. But before I show you that, let me just establish the point that God works representatively through the Gospel ministry. Remember John 20 when Jesus appeared to the Eleven:
Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.” (Jn 20.19b-23)
This reflects several things Jesus said to his disciples earlier in his ministry. Among them: Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me (Matt 10.40). And: The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me (Luke 10.16).
This is why the preaching of the Gospel can be called the Word of God: Because God has appointed people to represent him and has promised his Spirit to accompany their ministry. Which would you rather do? Go hear a really smart and entertaining theologian teach you new and amazing insights from the Bible? Or go here Jesus say something really simple that you already know like, “Little children, we must love one another”? I ask that because when we hear preaching in worship by called ministers, we tend to simply think its value depends entirely on the skillfulness of the speaker or his knowledge. And if we think that way then we really will start wondering why we need to go to church. I am never going to be able to preach with the skill of those I hear on the radio. I will never be able to speak with the same kind of academic authority that is possessed by many of the doctorates in the churches. If a pastor is competing with all that is available at sermonaudio.com, then how can he tell anyone that they ought to show up and hear him on Sunday morning.
But if Jesus has called someone to be his delegate and to speak in his place on Sunday morning, then there is authority there that makes all the doctorates and all the charismatic airwaves nothing but vapor in comparison. If you came to a Church one day, and instead of finding the regular preacher there—if the roof was ripped off and the Lord of Glory descended to the pulpit with a pair of flaming cherubim flanking him—if Jesus spoke publicly and audibly to you, then you would listen. And if, as I mentioned, Jesus decided to say something really simple that you already knew, that didn’t take great intelligence, and that didn’t have a great deal of specific application, you know what? You would value what he said anyway. And you would be amazingly motivated to live according to what he said and to figure out as many applications as possible. And if, for some reason, you weren’t sure what he meant by what he said, you would still be reminded of how blessed you are, and how God has favored you because Christ himself has spoken to you. And you would, even if you weren’t sure of any specific instructions from him in that particular speech, still allow his voice to motivate you to live by faith in the Son of God, and to continue to live out the story of the Gospel.
And every single Sunday, Jesus does talk to you. Don’t forget that. As a pastor myself one of the horrendous sins I can easily commit against the body of Christ when I sit in the pew is to pretend to myself that my M. Div. or my status as a pastor gives me permission to sit aloof of the preaching of the Word of God and critique what he is saying. This is a really dangerous form of arrogance that has no place. It is really convicting to me that I can read in the catechism, “It is required of those that hear the word preached, that they attend upon it with diligence, preparation, and prayer; examine what they hear by the Scriptures; receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the word of God; meditate, and confer of it; hide it in their hearts, and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives,” and find the attitude so alien to what I have found cultivated in circles which emphasize the importance of sound doctrine. While we must all be discerning, because we are talking about Christ ministering through fallible men, we must still understand that it is Christ who is so ministering. Christ is preaching peace to us and we learn Christ not by hearing of him, but by hearing him.
This is why a healthy Church situation will involve a Biblical mechanism for selecting and appointing to office, those who are called by God to preach his Word. Otherwise, we are left at the mercy of those who gain authority from their personal charisma or their persuasiveness. Otherwise there is no reason to listen to them other than whatever perceived gifts or talents they possess. But God wants us to know and hear Christ through others whom he names as pastors and teachers. The establishment of these offices was part and parcel of the redemption accomplished by Jesus Christ!
This is also why we need to designate and mark out the times when we are especially gathered as the Church to be renewed by Christ’s word as His Body. One of the most horrible things to happen lately, in response to a real Reformational awakening to the importance of the Sacraments to the Gospel ministry, is a backlash that interprets this as an assault on the centrality of preaching Christ. This is entirely self-destructive to the centrality of preaching. The whole point is to preach Christ and him crucified and, even more, to recognize Jesus as the true preacher in the Church. But right now we live in an age when the Church is invited to compete with TV, with radio, with tape ministries, and the Internet. If we allow people to think the preaching of the Word of God in the Church is just another guy with a microphone who is trying to be smarter or more entertaining than the next guy, then we are undermining the authority of the Word of God. But public worship isn’t simply a meetinghouse where someone knowledgeable happens to be talking about the Bible. No, it is, in the gathering of the saints, a place where Christ is present and ministering.
The Sacraments are ways that Christ’s delegated authority to the congregation can be recognized. I remember watching Romper Room as a child and hoping the woman would see me in her magic mirror. Occasionally she said my name in the midst of the list of other boys and girls she saw. But of course, that was fake. She didn’t know me. She couldn’t really speak to me other than in the abstract sense of the demographic she was targeting. But, when my children were baptized the pastor addressed each one of them by name. And as much as technology has changed the way we do things, the fact remains that I’m never going to get bread and wine on Sunday morning from the the Hour of Power. I have to go to Church to get that. And if I do, and if the Church is bothering to serve it, then I get to have a man standing where Jesus once stood at a table and to hear him saying words that Jesus said—words that promise to me personally as a participant. And someone who alone is authorized to act in this way in the Church does this.
This does not detract in anyway from the authority and sufficiency of the preaching of the Word! All it does is help us to see that the person preaching to us is not in direct competition with the radio, or the academy, or any other institution. It helps us realize he is not to be listened to simply because of his intelligence or his other abilities. It helps us understand that what he says now might have more weight than what he says in personal conversation or in giving advice. It sets him apart as Christ’s ambassador through whom we hear Christ.
Now I have argued that Ephesians shows Christ continues to preach through offices which are given to the Church as a result of his redemptive work in order to continue his redemptive work. But does Paul exalt these unique offices at the expense of other Christians serving in the Church? I would argue that he does not. There is evidence in Ephesians itself that what pastors and teachers are set apart to do uniquely is partially for the purpose of setting example for others to imitate in a general way. To give an example of the principle I want to demonstrate consider the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is a special meal for the gathered Church. I don’t have the authority to simply practice, or claim to practice, the Lord’s Supper with a group of private friends.
Does that mean that the Lord’s Supper is totally removed from normal life and has nothing to do with it? Not at all! In Romans 14. I would argue, we have Paul arguing that, since God has welcomed all believers to his table without judging or despising them or getting into an argument with them, that believers should welcome one another into their homes around their tables in the same way. The Lord’s Supper is unique, but precisely because it is unique it stands out for all believers as a practice they can implement in different circumstances in a different way.
In the same way, the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, and the continuing offices of Pastors and Teachers, are not meant to be totally removed from normal life as having nothing to teach Christians who don’t hold those offices. Paul’s own ministry, as he says time and again in his letters, involves setting an example for others to imitate in their own ways. And he seems to indicate this in Ephesians 3.7-13:
Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.
Now, Paul certainly believes that his calling is unique. But notice that, while he frames this paragraph with statements about himself, he switches to general references to the Church and the boldness we have. While Paul has been made a minister to preach to the Gentiles, it is the whole Church through whom the manifold wisdom of God is to be made known. Thus “we,” not him alone, are equipped with boldness and access and confidence. This will come up again in chapter 6 where Paul calls the Ephesians to a warfare in which they are all wielding the Sword of the Spirit that is the Word of Truth against the rulers and authorities. That warfare can be equated, in some ways, with simple prayer, which Paul asks them to do for him so that he will have the boldness he needs. But here he has already said the whole Church has that boldness.
I submit that Paul is gently encouraging the Ephesians to realize that they as a community must emulate his own calling in their particular way as the circumstances arise. He asks them not to lose heart over his trials (v. 13) and assures them that he is the least of all the saints (v. 8). If Paul is the least, then no one can say that his suffering is something to which only the greatest are called. No the whole Church needs to become ready to receive the glory that comes through being counted worthy to suffer for the name. They are all going to be bearing witness together.
And we also see this in chapter 4. After naming the special offices who are given for the building up of the body, Paul goes on to say that the whole body is to build itself up by learning from these officers how to speak the Gospel to one another. After warning the Ephesians about wrong behavior in verse 14, Paul gives them a statement of what they should be doing instead:
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (4.15, 16).
This exhortation begins and ends with a plea to do something “in love.” This gives us an indication that “speaking the truth” will enable the body to grow and build itself up. Both are to be done in love?. Between those two actions we find a description of how all members of the body are gifts given for the good of the body. We miss the strong parallel with First Corinthians because here Paul does not speak of “members” but “joints”—the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow.
The body is equipped not only by Apostles or Evangelists, but by every joint. Yet what is the primary means by which all the members each promotes growth? Paul could simply say they each do different things they wa he does in other passages , but instead he singles out something everyone should do generally: “speaking the truth in love.”
Speaking the Truth: the Ephesians were called, remember, by “the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation” (1.13). Just as they see ministers being used by Christ to preach peace by declaring the word of truth, so they should all continually be flowing with Gospel-shaped speech in every way so that through them Christ the head continues to nourish his body. As he says later, “be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (5.18, 19).
The preaching of the word of God is the word of God. We are not simply to listen to Bible CDs or engage in private study. We in our communities are to treasure the Word of God by listening to Christ preach through those he has appointed to have that special ministry as well as by speaking to one another and listening to one another. This is part of Christ’s redemptive work in the Church, and it is essential that it be maintained if we want the body of Christ to grow.
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