Just as an eye needs a hand and a foot needs a leg, so each of us need each other, with our unique and diverse giftedness, in order to grow in our relationship with God. This is true for our Christian lives in general, but it is particularly true for the corporate gatherings of the church, which is exactly how Paul applies the principle in 1 Corinthians 14. In a chapter specifically about what we should be doing in the corporate worship services of our church, Paul emphasizes over and over again the purpose of our services: “In church” (v. 19), “when you come together” (v. 26), Paul says, everything should be done for “upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (v. 3), to “build up the church” (v. 4). “Let all things” in a worship service, Paul says in verse 26, “be done for building up.”
Last week we saw that since all who are in Christ are priests who are able to draw near and offer sacrifices to God, therefore, all believers should be active participants in worship.
But there is a second biblical reason that all believers should actively participate in corporate worship, and it is connected to the formative purpose of corporate worship. In previous posts I have stressed the fact that what we do when we gather for corporate worship is not only expression toward God, but rather, corporate worship is a weekly time in which we cultivate our communion with God through renewing our gospel vows, and the Word-centered elements of our worship help to continually sanctify us and mature us in our relationship with God.
In Ephesians 4, Paul continues to discuss this nature and purpose of the church and in particular emphasize the importance of all the members of God’s temple working together to accomplish the purpose for which God created the church. Only here, instead of using the temple metaphor, Paul uses the metaphor of a body:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.
Notice that Paul begins by affirming the existence of God-called, set apart leaders of the church—apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherds and teachers. The medieval church was not wrong to insist that some men are especially called out by God and equipped to lead God’s people, first the twelve apostles and prophets who declared the Word of God before the full Bible was completed and served as the foundation of the church, then evangelists, which are church planters like Paul and Barnabas and Silas, and finally pastors, who teach the Word of God and shepherd his people.
But notice also the purpose of these church leaders. Their purpose is not to minister on behalf of the people; their purpose is not to worship on behalf of the people. Rather, as Paul says in verse 12, their purpose is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” That word saints is used in the New Testament to connote the set apart, priestly role of all believers, which is why Paul opens his letter to the Ephesians with “to the saints who are in Ephesus.” Church leaders exist, not to minister on behalf the people; since all Christians are saints, all Christians are priests who are able to minister, church leaders exist to equip those saints for the work of ministry.
For what purpose? “For building up the body of Christ,” he says at the end of verse 12. Now, instead of describing the church with the image of a temple, he describes us as a body. And the purpose of the ministry of all the saints, is to contribute to the building up of that body.