Seaborn Hall, 8/01/20
During the 1990’s when I attended the Anaheim Vineyard, the Senior Pastor John Wimber used to say that ‘equipping the Saints’ was the focus of the church’s ministry. By that, he meant that training people to ‘do the stuff’ – pray for people to be healed, delivered, and saved, engaging consistently in what he coined ‘power evangelism’ – was the true work of the church and ministry.
Is that what the term, taken from Ephesians 4, really means? We don’t think so – here’s why.
Equipping: The Greek Word, History, And Meaning
The phrase ‘equipping the Saints’ comes from the translation of Ephesians 4:11-13 that is used in many Biblical versions. Here is the one from the New American Standard Bible:
4:11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. [bold text ours]
The basic Greek word for ‘equipping’ is katartismos, and looks like this in its accusative form, as its used in this passage (in English, that means used as an object) – καταρτισμὸv (Katartismon). Katartismos has an interesting history that is filled out in first century Ephesus.
Ephesus was a healing and a medical center during this time. Today, you can visit the ancient ruins of Ephesus in Turkey (or, you could before Erdogan and the new radicalization of Turkey) and view its medical history in the local museum. The city was an ancient orthopedics center that specialized in the healing of bones. There on display you will find (or you could still find, around the year, 2000) an explanation of katartismos – it means the bringing back together of the splintered parts of a single bone. In other words, unifying a bone that has been split into two or more parts.
It is true that katartismos can be translated ‘equipping’ or ‘training.’ A fuller explanation of the word might be ‘a perfectly adjusted adaption’ or ‘training for a specific purpose.’ But the history of the word and its use in Ephesus remains. Bauer affirms this meaning in his Greek-English lexicon as the ‘setting of a bone.’
Perhaps a better translation for katartismon than ‘equipping’ would be ‘preparation.’ So, Ephesians 4:12 would better read, “for the preparing of the saints for the work of service.”
Equipping Of The Saints And Racial Healing
This meaning is interesting in the larger context of the book of Ephesians, which is about attempting to bring unity between two disparate groups of believers – the Greeks and the Jews. The history of the Greeks and the Jews in the first century was generally similar to the history of the blacks and whites in the Unites States today.
By the first century there had been several wars between Greeks and Jews, and the Greeks had held Jews as slaves more than once. There was much abuse and animosity between the two people groups. Bitterness, hate, and lack of forgiveness were constant problems.
The Apostle Paul speaks into this situation and declares that Jesus has bridged the dividing wall between the two groups by bringing reconciliation by His blood.
“But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off [the Greeks] have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity [the bitterness and hate], which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity [the bitterness and hate and lack of forgiveness] (Eph. 2:13-16 NAS95).”
Paul then goes on to explain that the means of bringing this about is delegated to the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, who have been given to the church to ‘prepare’ them for the ‘work of service’ that will result in unity (Eph. 4:1-16). This unity will be brought into being as they learn to confront their sins and to put hate and bitterness aside and to embrace love as they forgive each other as Christ has forgiven them (Eph. 4:17-32).
In other words, the function of the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers was to prepare the Greeks and Jews by teaching them the foundational love of Christ which would enable them to love and forgive each other. This would ‘prepare’ them (or katartismos them) for service, or enable them to reach out to other individuals and parts of the Body of Christ to love and serve them, thus promoting unity in the entire body. This is how the healing and the unity of the Body of Christ results from the top down.
What The World Needs Now
What the world needs now is true ‘preparation’ – the love of Christ that enables personal responsibility for the sin of hate and bitterness that brings forgiveness, true healing, and love of those that were formerly enemies.
This is different from ‘training’ – or what has been thought of as ‘equipping’ in the past.
When individuals and different ethnic groups come together in relationship with Christ differences fade in the shared freedom of forgiveness of sin and the unity of service that new life in Christ brings.
The Greek word for ‘work’ means an act or a deed. The word for service implies just that…the works together become a ministry or service that builds up another person and enables their joining, participation, and contribution in a new community.
We can only serve – do the ‘work of service’ – when we have been properly prepared. This ‘preparation’ is the gospel of Christ. We have sinned, but He has forgiven. In turning to Him our bitterness and hate can be broken and we can finally love others again. We learn and choose to forgive and love ourselves and forgive and love those who have wounded us.
This is true racial healing.
Only then are we are truly equipped to ‘do the stuff.’