If you compare different translations of Ephesians 4:11-13, you’ll find an interesting disagreement. The passage speaks of Christ giving apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers to the church. This is a point of unity among translations. Disunity, however, comes in the reason for this gift. The King James Version reads: “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ…” Newer translations (NKJV, NASB, and ESV among them) opt for a slightly different understanding. The New King James Versions renders the reason for the gift like this: “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ…” Did you catch the difference? The words are almost exactly the same, but the number of commas differs. For the KJV, the reason for the gift of church leaders is three-fold. They are to perfect the saints, work in ministry, and edify the body. For the NKJV and the other translations already mentioned, the roles of these leaders are cut down to two. They are to equip the saints for the work of ministry and edify the body. The placement of a comma seems slight, but the difference in meaning is great indeed! At stake is nothing less than our understanding of ministry. Does it belong to church leaders or to the church itself?
In my opinion, the newer translations are nearer the mark, and all Christians have a part to play in ministry. Unfortunately, things do not always play out this way. Many times, church leaders are understood as solely owning the task of ministry, or small portions of congregations end up doing the bulk of the work. Yet each of us is gifted by the Spirit and has been given a role to play. And it is when we each inhabit our roles that we find a practical outworking of the body of Christ.
This idea of shared ministry throughout the body will be important in the next couple of months as Immanuel’s Nominating Committee seeks to fill different positions of service in the church. As this process unfolds, I invite you to prayerfully consider your own giftings and the role that you might be called to play in the coming year. And I invite you to take your place. As the Apostle Paul said so well in Romans 12:6-8:
We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. (NIV)
My prayer for the coming year is that Immanuel will find itself full of ministers, each working according to his or her gifting, and that we will find that God has gifted us well for this moment in our life together.