In Eph 4:11-16, pastors and teachers are given to the church for the perfecting of the saints. Saints are perfected for the work of the ministry and for the edifying of the body of Christ. In verse 16, “every part maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of ITSELF in love.” For every part and every joint to grow up and be able to supply the body, to work effectually, and to increase the body, the saints must be perfected.
The perfecting of the saints is a process that involves the cooperative effort of pastors and teachers and the saints. In our lives, in our homes, and in our churches we must work toward perfecting the saints. This is not sinless perfection; this is functional perfecting.
Paul Chappell said, “Salvation is a miracle of the moment; sanctification is the process of a lifetime.” Indeed, I believe that growing into a perfectly functional member in the body of Christ and in a local church is also the process of a lifetime.
There are five stages in this process and these stages are not linear, they are cumulative. That is, you don’t go from one stage to another. But rather, each stage continues as each new stage begins. Ideally, you grow until you are doing all of these things at the same time. To perfect the saints:
The saints must receive the words of God – Prov 2:1-4 – Solomon wrote, receive my words, hide my commandments, incline thine ear unto wisdom, apply thine heart to understanding, cry after knowledge, seek her, and search for her. These are all things you must do when you read and hear the words of God. You must begin to receive the words of God, early in childhood, and continue until you die. 2 Tim 2:15. As Robert E. Lee said, “The education of a man is not complete until he dies.”
Children sing, “Jesus loves me this I know; for the Bible tells me so.” Their knowledge of his love comes from receiving what he said. In 2 Tim 3:15-17, the unfeigned faith that Paul saw in Timothy was partly the result of Timothy knowing the holy scriptures in his childhood. In 1 Sam 3:21, “the Lord revealed himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the Lord.”
In our homes and in our churches and on the mission field, children’s ministries should principally be about teaching the words of God in such a way that children can receive them and know them. New and young believers must receive, believe, and know the scriptures. As pastors and teachers we must preach and teach the words of God with the intent that they will perfect the saints.
The saints must know the fear of God – Prov 2:5-8 – as saints receive the words of God, they begin to, “understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.” Understanding the fear of the Lord and finding the knowledge of God are essential to the perfecting of the saints. Prov 1:7 says, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” Prov 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.” The fear of God is the beginning. Through the fear of the Lord we begin to know God and we begin to understand.
There’s an obvious lack of the fear of God and the knowledge of God among youth and new Christians. Children must learn to fear God. In Ecc 12:13, Solomon wrote, “Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.” If fearing God is our duty, then we cannot neglect it in perfecting the saints.
In Ps 34:11, David wrote, “Come, ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the Lord.” David feared the Lord, Ps 34:7, 9, and so he could teach children to fear God. And we can and must teach the saints to fear God, as well. Of course, if we don’t fear God, then we’re not going to be able to teach others to fear God.
The saints must obey the will of God – Phil 2:12-13 – as we grow in the scriptures and in the fear of God, God’s will for our lives becomes clearer and clearer. We begin to see our gifts and our function as a member of the body of Christ. According to this passage, God is working in you “both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” We must obey the will of God and “work out (our) own salvation with fear and trembling.” You can see that if you don’t fear God by this time, there won’t be any “fear and trembling” in your obedience.
God has his will that he’s working in you. The principal way that God works his will in you is through the effectual working of the scriptures in our lives, 1 Thes 2:13. You can see that receiving the words of God is essential at this stage. In other words, if you aren’t receiving the words of God and fearing God, you’re not able to obey the will of God. By obeying the scriptures and following the leadership of the Holy Spirit in the fear of God, we begin to obey the will of God, day by day and step by step.
The saints must follow the man of God – 1 Cor 11:1- Bro DeMichele said, “You’ll never be over those that are under you until you are under those that are over you.” Paul said, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” Wives are to follow their husbands, Eph 5:22-24. Children are to follow their parents, Eph 6:1-3, Prov 6:20-24. Church members are to follow their pastors.
I originally saw the perfecting of the saints as a progression. Children start learning the word of God, then they get to know God, then they are equipped, trained, and utilized. To be perfected, then, you have to be under the person who can equip and train you so that you can then be utilized. This is 2 Tim 2:2. This is Phil 4:9. Joel Dunbar spent 15 years under Pastor Keck and is now a missionary in Brazil. Chad Wells spent 17 years under Pastor DeMichele and is now a missionary in Papua New Guinea. Bryan Boatman spent 15 years with us and is now a pastor in Beeville. You don’t get where God wants you to be in the body without following the man God gave you to help you get there. This is where a lot of men fail to be perfected.
The saints must do the work of God – Eph 2:10 – as you continue to receive the words of God, to know the fear of God, to obey the will of God, and to follow the man of God, God uses you to do the work of God. This is precisely how Eph 4:16 is fulfilled.
It’s very important that you get this. Saints must do the work of God, not the work that they want to do for God. In several instances, we have seen saints who are zealous to work for God but they are “wanna be’s.” They have in mind what they want to do rather than what God wants them to do. This never works because they are not set in the body as it hath pleased God, 1 Cor 12:18, and they are not fitly joined together with the rest of the body, Eph 4:16. They are like a jigsaw puzzle piece out of place. And their “work” becomes counterproductive to the work of God.
We must be careful, as saints, to do the work of God and, as pastors and teachers, to help others in the body to do the work of God. We and they must do what we are fit to do, compacted to do, set in the body to do, and created to do. In this way the body can increase “unto the edifying of itself in love.”
Conclusion: Through these five stages, we accomplish the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry and for the edifying of the body of Christ. As a saint, receive the words of God, know the fear of God, obey the will of God, follow the man of God, and do the work of God. As pastors, teachers, and missionaries, teach the saints the words of God, teach them to fear God, teach them to obey God, teach them to follow, and teach them to do the work God created them to do.