The Edification of the Local Body
According to the apostle Paul, the Lord’s body, the church, is to be edified, is to be built up. The Lord has structured the functioning of the body in such a way whereas each member of the body is to be edified, built up, or made stronger. Based upon the Lord’s design for the body, there are elements within the body to aid in this growth process. If each individual member does his part, then each individual member of the body will grow, being built up and made stronger.
Consider Ephesians 4:11-16.. As we look first at Ephesians 4:11-12, we see the following, “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” According to scholars, Paul wrote this letter in approximately 62 A.D. At this time, the body of Christ, the church, had been in existence for approximately 30 to 34 years. From biblical evidence, men inspired by the Holy Spirit, such as apostles and prophets still walked the earth. These apostles and prophets worked with the various churches revealing the will of God to Christians of that day. There is no doubt that some of the evangelists, pastors (elders, bishops) and teachers were likewise inspired by the Holy Spirit.
These five elements within the body of Christ (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers), served the purpose of “equipping” the saints for the “work of the ministry” as well as “edifying of the body of Christ.” The process of edifying or building up of the body of Christ took place when individual saints, individual members of the body were edified or built up by teachings and instructions of the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. The goal of this process of individual edification can be seen in the following passages of Ephesians 4.
“till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— . . .” (Ephesians 4:13-15)
According to Paul, the expected outcome of the workings of the five roles seen above are as follows: 1) All Christians should come to the “unity of the faith,” 2) All Christians should grow in their “knowledge of the son of God,” 3) All Christians should grow to a perfect, mature person, striving for the “measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” 4) All Christians should mature to the point of no longer being as children, who are tossed back and forth by “every wind of doctrine,” 5) All Christians should speak “the truth in love” and “grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ.” However, the role fulfilled by the apostles, pastors, evangelists, pastors, and teachers only worked when the saints learned and applied the teachings from the word of God.
One may ask the question, “Can the church of Christ be edified in the same fashion today?” The answer is a resounding, “Yes!” The apostles and prophets of the first century fulfilled their roles by recording the word of God in written form. This written form of God’s word, through the will of the Lord, has survived many centuries, carrying the word of God to generation after generation of men. Every time a Christian turns through the pages of the Bible, he is reading the very words which the apostles declared to the saints of the first century.
In accordance to Ephesians 4:11-16, evangelists, pastors (elders, bishops), and teachers are to continue declaring God’s word to the body of Christ in each respective generation. Paul charged Timothy saying, “If you instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed.” (1 Timothy 4:6) In his second letter to Timothy, Paul wrote, “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.” (2 Timothy 4:2)
The edification of the body of Christ rests upon two “shoulders.” First, the edification rests upon the shoulders of those who teach God’s word, upon the shoulders of the evangelists, the pastors, and the teachers. (This responsibility must not be taken lightly. James warns, “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.” (James 3:1)) Secondly, the edification rests upon the shoulders of every member of the body in that every member is to receive the teachings, study God’s word, and apply the teachings that are found within the word of God.