The gospel of the Lord is the good news of his kingdom — his kingship restored to the earth in his anointed. Here it is in summary:
Ephesians 4 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe. (NIV)
The Bible’s whole story in that verse. Our heavenly sovereign entrusted his earthly realm to people who rebelled against his kingship and ended up as captives to evil instead. Instead of using force to defeat force, God’s anointed ruler joined us in our captivity, dying at the hands of the rulers who were puppets of evil. When God raised him out of death, the captives enslaved under death were set free — free to live in the reign of God’s anointed. When the king was restored to us, his kingdom was restored to the universe.
Since God designed humans to be agents of the divine sovereign’s reign in his earthly realm (Genesis 1), the Messiah restored this mandate to humanity. The resurrected king gave gifts to humanity. His gifts were people — people entrusted with the responsibility to share in his management of the planet, by leading humanity into communal life under his kingship:
Ephesians 4 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (NIV)
This is unique. Any other ruler would have been wary of trusting power to ex-rebels, but Jesus entrusts his regal dominion to people, servants who empower the whole of humanity to grow up into Christ, our king.
These “five-fold ministry gifts” are a favourite in church ministry training. Most courses teach that these “offices” exist to equip the church to do its ministry. There’s a danger here. We can end up turning people into our servants — free labour for whatever we need done to keep the church running.
When Paul spoke of equipping his people for works of service, he didn’t mean parking cars, ushering, and playing guitar. Those things may be desirable for a good church experience, but they are not the works of service Paul had in mind. Jesus’ kingship is not about getting people to serve us in the church. It’s about empowering the church to be the community that’s doing what King Jesus wants in his world.
The body of Christ is his corporate presence. For thirty-something years, Jesus had a body that limited him to one place at a time. What he did in that body was to reconcile humanity to himself through the cross (2:16). Because he entered our death, we were “in him” when he rose out of death. He is present in the new humanity that rose up in him — one body, co-participants of the promise fulfilled in King Jesus through the good news [of his enthronement] (3:6). The reunification of humanity in him forms us into one body, one Spirit, called to one hope (4:4).
That hope is explained in 4:13 as humanity restored to what God always intended, unified and functioning as the global community under divine governance (as the kingdom of God). We had lost track of what it meant to be human until we saw it in Christ. Now, under his leadership, humanity can finally mature into what God intended, bringing to fullness his life in his community, filling his world.
When Jesus gave gifts to this earthly realm, it wasn’t so we could get people to serve us. That’s the power-problem that has permeated all forms of society in God’s world, including the church. No, the gifts Jesus gave are to equip his people for works of service. As church leaders, we’re called to equip people to implement what King Jesus wants done in his world, to see the need, and address it with acts of service on behalf of the king.
This is a radical form of government. It isn’t intuitive. We’re used to a system with high taxes to pay for the bureaucracy employed to sort out all the communal issues: education, health, welfare, security, and do on. The kingdom of God doesn’t work like that. Jesus runs a grass-roots kingdom, where all his citizens are empowered to implement his reign.
And when humanity grows up into Christ, that’s what the world will be like. Can you imagine what human society will be like when we’re all imaging God to each other and to his world — attaining the whole measure of the fullness of Christ?
So the question for the church is this: How do we equip people to do these works of service for our king?