Ephesians reveals Jesus’ operational strategy for His Body, or “ekklesia,” poorly translated “church” (the word “church” is a word for a building or structure, but the word “ekklesia” means “called together for a purpose.”) By the time he gets to chapter 4, Paul is discussing the transition from Jesus on earth establishing kingdom to Jesus at the right of the Father establishing kingdom on earth through strategic leaders.
Jesus held it all together while He was here, and He had a plan to hold it together when He left. He is the One who holds it all together, but His plan was for five aspects of His kingdom leadership to be available to the ekklesia, five leadership functions that would equip the “called together assembly” to continue the kingdom of God on earth. The ultimate condition He was after for His Body was a self-sustaining spiritual operation: Jesus designed His Body to have everything it needed to be successful within itself. “Building itself up in love.”
Jesus bestowed upon His “called together assembly” a heavenly pattern. He designed this pattern of leaders so that it would create earthly unity. This leadership pattern moves the whole – “till we all arrive” – toward maturity and unity. These are two dynamics we strive to produce as a Body and tend to fall short, sometimes dramatically fall short, of producing. Often, its is the absence of Jesus’ designed leadership pattern that leaves us falling short.
These leadership dynamics should produce maturity for the whole Body and individual members within. It should produce an order or placement for individual members to produce and an overall order or unified way of operating for the whole. It should enable function in ministry for individuals, moving the whole Body into effectiveness. And it should produce a unified spiritual infrastructure for the advancement of the kingdom of God through the Body of Christ.
It works! It works because Jesus designed it and operates through it. He enables this strategy with spiritual power and authority. To the extent we work it – a two-way street of leadership and submission to the Head – this leadership moves the Body toward maturity and effective operation.
Jesus left five definable aspects of His leadership with us for the distinct purpose of arranging the Body in functioning order – “equipping” means more than handing out weapons and tools – so the Body could arrive at the level of stature of a mature man. The very purpose of leadership for the Body of Christ is to get us working together, the many functioning parts working in concert so that the Body builds up itself in love.
Defining terms is vital to understanding this revelation. Definition of terms must include the strategy behind their use. In this context, for example, “unity” means more than being able to agree on a favorite color, a style of music, or choosing a model of church from among the many valid models for ekklesia function. Unity is a spiritual condition of kingdom purpose, the joining of strategy and assignment toward a greater, eternal goal. Unity is not about being “best buds” ordering the same kind of pizza for our weekly get together…it is more about an army following a strategic battle plan and a organism with systems supporting systems.
The term “love” is, perhaps, one of the most misunderstood of all Bible terms. In this context, “love” is the burning passion of God for His people and purpose, His aggressive jealousy against all claims upon what He desires. The love that the Body experiences is greater than individual members or the sum total of human love combined; it is a motivation of sold-out, all-or-nothing devotion. It is the Love of God experienced by the members of the Body, shared among the members of the Body, and released through the Body toward the desires of God. It is distributed burning among every member for what God wants. (This is only kind of love by which 1 Corinthians 13 can be understood.)
In this context, “equipping” is more than training people to fit into organizational church-anity, Sunday morning operations, traditional volunteerism that fits things like “we need someone to watch the nursery.” Equipping involves the development of spiritual capacity and capability (so watching babies on Sunday releases the passion of God for His heritage!) Equipping creates leaders to do the serving that fulfills kingdom purpose through complex, strategic movements, people set into place to produce, to get God what He wants. It is serving God and others through worship, intercession, and ministry. It is miracles, signs, and wonders. It is a harvest of lost men and women experiencing the passion of God for their lives.
The phrase, “Until we all arrive at a mature man,” says that God wants us to grow up together: as we disciple new people within the Body, and as existing members of the Body continue mature. And, it assumes that Jesus has a strategic plan to accomplish this: leadership functioning in five particular ways. Apostle. Prophet. Teacher. Evangel. Shepherd. Each functioning to accomplish a specific, identifiable aspect of the leadership of Jesus, the Head.
Exaggeration being a greater strategic enemy of truth than obvious error – passion often pushes us to exaggerate, overstate, and press to the point of striving. It is a flesh work that assumes we need to overstate in order to establish, that people won’t respond properly to what we measure as most important without exaggeration.
God’s passion never exaggerates, overstates, or strives – “love seeks not her own.” It is only satisfied when God gets what He wants. Because we are individuals and have individual significance, we tend to get stuck in an emphasis we see as more important.
Jesus directs seasons of emphasis for the Body. He changes emphases and challenges us to place our individual or ministry significance at His disposal in the Father’s seasons.
In some seasons, the Body seems stronger on evangelism, for example. In other seasons, the Body seems stronger on worship. Etc, Etc These seasons are natural to what the Head is emphasizing, and in no case is Jesus emphasizing one at the expense of another. At no point do we need to demand that the emphasis shift to our particular passion. We should be plugged into His passion, dominated by the fire in His eyes, and we should respond to His emphases!
There is never a legitimate need to demand your rights in the Body of Christ. Jesus is never neglecting one thing to promote something else. He is working with particular emphasis during certain seasons so that for a time we may feel that some function of the Body is being neglected.
When we function in our own passion, we exaggerate the importance of our function. We will cry out for more attention to the prophetic, the miraculous, the evangelistic, the intercession, the worship, etc. This is not consistent with the passion of Jesus because His passion is about getting the Father what He wants through all these operations of ministry. His strategy does not sacrifice one at the expense of the other. Our emphasis does.
Remember the missionary speakers you heard in church when you were young? They all seemed to exaggerate a bit in their passion for their assignments: “if you aren’t going to nations like me, you don’t have the heart of God.” Not true, of course, but understablely passionate.
Or, how about those people who are assigned to teach: “if you aren’t study the Scriptures like me, you don’t have God’s heart for Truth.” Or, prophets on hype: “if you haven’t had a word today and two confirmations, you are walking in flesh.” Or, evangels on soul-winning: “it is all about souls, that’s all there is, anything else is religious.” Exaggerations.
Exaggeration comes out of fear or assumption that people need a good earthquake to wake them up every morning else they will fall into ruin. It is really your own passion for your own assignment out of control.
Each and every one of the five aspects of Jesus’ ministry needs to fully function, and every member of His Body needs to be positioned to fulfill the role each is assigned. That’s the only way God’s passionate love can be the heartbeat that unites the Body; the love spoken of here is the passion of Jesus for what the Father wants.
Paul reveals the Truth in Ephesians 4 about how Jesus designs His Body to function. Leaders, who work to get each member into position, equipped and ordered in their places to achieve kingdom assignments, face the severe challenges of hell and flesh! hell says, “Anything but that!” Flesh says, “Hey, what about me?”
This week, working with leaders in another nation, I was struck with the universal need for humility: “I am what I am by the grace of God.” The deception of pride is a work of hell to push you to be and do anything but what you are created and assigned. Anything but that. It produces such a distraction you empty yourself of emotional energy trying to get attention for your ministry, so that you have no strength to do your ministry.
It is evangels crying for people to win souls who have little time or energy left to win them themselves. It is teachers demanding more attention on learning weary from crying out for attention, who have little time left to write, learn, and release themselves. It is prophets so broken by rejection and misunderstanding they operate from the soul more than the spirit.
During some years working with the prolife movement in the US, I began to see that while millions agreed that abortion was morally wrong, they had very different opinions about what needed to be done about it. The strategies ranged from fundraising dances and dinners to elect prolife leaders to chaining themselves to operating tables. Along the spectrum we have picketers, intercessors, marchers, writers, speakers, and a host of other strategic responses. All agreed about the sanctity of life but had massive differences about what to do about it. Strategy.
Apply this to the Body of Christ. We get ridiculous about it. We exaggerate with clueless and careless overstatement to make a point. “I was born to worship.” How true! The Body is called to worship in spirit and truth. Father is looking for those who will. This is not an excuse for avoiding the heavy lifting of winning the lost and preaching the Gospel, walking away from warfare because you haven’t grown up enough to accept your responsibility to fight.
“We need to know the Word!” So true! This is not an excuse for wasting hours and hours researching trivia, however, or substituting systematic theology for real life experience because you have a form of godliness but deny the power of living in the Spirit.
Our individual passion for personal destinies can press us into exaggerations of what is more important, most valuable, or what pleases God. We get a bad case of the “if only’s.” We cry out, “If only everyone would–”
Everyone is not going to do any one thing if everyone is obeying the Head! And, we play right into hell’s strategy for disunity as kingdom people when we insist upon a narrow definition of ministry that everyone needs to fit.
When revival comes, it has an emphasis. Jesus is the One putting the emphasis on that season, not us. No matter what the emphasis is, Jesus is moving every member into a greater flow of the assignment each has been given. Revival doesn’t touch people who insist that “true revival” make everyone emphasize what they want emphasized!
Revival resets the priorities of Jesus. Where revival is happening, Jesus is making that place a priority. The emphasis of revival is the emphasis of the Father’s season for the kingdom.
The spiritual warriors have no right to tell the prophetic intercessors they are wimps if they don’t beat up something every day. Nor do the soakers have the right to tell everyone to lay on the floor and God will fight all your battles for you.
Everyone needs an element of war, prophetic, and meditation, but each of us will have an assignment that emphasizes one over the other. We always worship and war. Despise not prophesying. Wait on the Lord. Etc. But when Jesus is emphasizing something in the season, we must make His priorities our priorities! That’s why we have leaders in the first place.
When Jesus is emphasizing war, get your boots on and fight! When Jesus is emphasizing Glory, get into the Holiest Place! When Jesus is emphasizing evangelism, reach out to your family, friends, and whomever more than you normally do.
What will happen then is a maturity in the Body? Revival will then produce a unity that causes all the functions to flourish simultaneously. When we see the emphasis of a move of God and criticize that emphasis because it doesn’t match ours, we short-circuit the strategy of Jesus to get the whole man maturing into a self-supporting, spiritual perpetual motion, organism. If we flow with the emphasis, Jesus will bring the whole of His Body into functioning balance.
Seasons of sowing are required. Seasons of plowing are required. Seasons of weeding are required. Seasons of harvest are required. None is less important than the other. In fact, the harvest in America is slim because the sowing has been slender, the weeds have choked out growth, and the ground has gotten hard.
A season like Amos 9 is upon us now when sowing, plowing, reaping, and weeding are happening at the same time! Wow! That’s a time when every member can fully appreciate the other. We can say, “I need you!” because we can recognize all the facets of kingdom functioning at the same time.
This is the unity available when we submit ourselves to the greater goals of Jesus and cease exaggerating the importance of our specific assignments. This unity is available at the same time Jesus is calling the Body back to His original design and strategy for leadership. This unified kingdom advancement is possible because we are learning how to function with apostolic and prophetic foundations.
The Lie of Envy
Consider the politics of envy: if anyone is prospering, they must have something that is mine. This falsehood is based upon the premise that there is a limited pie and if you have a bigger piece, you have some of what belongs to me. It is the idea that everyone needs to have an equal piece of pie. This is not God. This is not kingdom. This is not Truth.
When I rejoice only when any one emphasis flourishes, I set myself up to flow without the strategy of Jesus. When I submit and surrender, I embrace His strategy, a strategy that brings every member of the Body into the greater maturity and unity, that plugs me into the passion of God. His passion overwhelms my passion and I begin to burn with His all-consuming fire!
Apostolic unity means that the fullness of Jesus’ leadership design is available and functioning, producing unity of operation within the Body and creating a spiritual condition that simultaneously benefits the whole and the individual members.