And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, –Ephesians 4:11-12
The work of the ministry is the building up or edification (οἰκοδομή) of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12), the people of God. One English definition of edify is “make understand.” Thus understood, the work of ministry is the effort to make the body of Christ a blessing to everyone everywhere at all times and in all places.
The Greek word οἰκοδομή (edifying) is composed of two words: οἶκος, which can mean dwelling or household, and δῶμα, which means to build a roof. The idea is to build households into the body of Christ. And households in Paul’s day were also centers of business, production, manufacturing, research, etc.
We can now understand this verse to say that apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers are to prepare Christians to grow in spiritual maturity so that they can be attentive to Jesus Christ both personally and corporately in order to build (establish) such households into the body of Christ—all for the purpose of blessing others.
Individual Christians are called to manifest and develop their gifts in the world, which means the world of home, work, and leisure. This ministry is the calling and vocation of all Christians. Just as Adam was given work to do in the garden—he was a taxonomist, so each individual has been given a job for which s/he has been gifted to engage for Christ. Some jobs and their requisite giftings are enjoyable and plush, and some aren’t. Most are quite ordinary. All involve work. And all are necessary for the wholeness of the body.
Bodies grow, and during that growth they are always whole, at every stage. Infants are whole people, as are children and adults. This means that whatever wholeness is, it continues to be whole throughout the process of growth and maturation, which involves massive and dramatic bodily changes. And yet, human wholeness can be broken—and has been broken by sin. Sin, which is essentially the denial of God, amounts to the denial of one’s own wholeness. Wholeness is like truth in the sense that the denial of truth doesn’t make truth untrue. Nor does the denial of wholeness make wholeness unwhole. But denial of truth does effect human behavior, in that those who deny God and/or wholeness, cease to act on the basis of God and/or wholeness. Rather, they act on the basis of self. They act selfishly or self-centered rather than God-centered or centered in wholeness.
Individual Christians are called to ministry outside of what we currently think of as the church, in the larger culture in order to redeem the world. It is Christ’s job to redeem the world, and He does it through the church—His people, who act as His body in the world. The redemption of the world is accomplished through liturgy, but not just the liturgy of the church during worship. That’s important, sure. But it’s just the tip of the liturgy iceberg. The bulk of Christian liturgy involves the work of the people through their calling, their vocation, including homemaking. In fact, homemaking (or household management—οἰκουρός) is at the heart of it.
Individual Christians are front line soldiers for Christ, not that they are all actively engaged in evangelism per se (spiritual combat). Most soldiers actually serve in support positions behind the lines, apart from combat. Similarly, most Christians provide support services for the body of Christ. Most Christians are to be actively engaged in the world, in the culture in which they live, in order to apply Christianity to the culture through their work (Ephesians 4:12. ἔργον) and relationships. This is done by actually being faithful Christians twenty-four-seven. And the most important and effective field of evangelism is one’s own home, and second is one’s work.
In fact, no Christian can avoid this responsibility. We either do it well or we do it poorly, but our lives, our jobs, and our families provide testimony every day to the larger culture about the veracity of Jesus Christ. It is not evangelism programs that move the gospel forward, it is ordinary Christians living, working and playing for Christ in the midst of ordinary living. And it is exactly here that Christianity is losing the cultural war. It is not evangelistic tours by great evangelists that move the gospel forward, it is ordinary Christians who truly love Jesus Christ in the midst of their ordinary lives, and who are content to live quite lives for Christ (1 Timothy 2:2).
Super Christians (1 Corinthians 11:5, 12:11) tend to testify about themselves, about their super accomplishments and exploits. It’s not always done explicitly, but is often done implicitly. Ordinary Christians don’t need to speak about themselves when they live in simple faithfulness. In fact, speaking about one’s self brings attention to one’s self rather than to Christ. God loves it when we love Jesus in obedience to His commands and desires, even—especially—when no one is watching, when no one cares. That makes a far better impression because its real, because it happens in the midst of ordinary life, because it is not a performance for entertainment or self-aggrandizement.
This work (ἔργον) is done “for building up (or edification of) the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12) It is important to know who the recipients of this edification are, who are being edified. Or stated negatively, if we don’t know who is to be edified, we can’t possibly get the job done. And to get the job done fully and completely, we must know who they all are.
(from Ephesians–Recovering the Vision of a Sustainable Church In Christ, forthcoming, 2014)