And He gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…. (Ephesians 4:11–16—NKJV)

The Bible emphasis is on the local body of believers rather than the church universal. This passage is one of the key passages teaching the primacy of the local church. Jesus Christ gifted to the churches four offices. The list of offices includes two (apostle and prophet) that were necessary at the nascent stage of the church until the Bible was complete. They are now are passé. Then the list includes two offices, that of evangelist (traveling missionary) and pastor/teacher (protecting instructors) that remain to this day. Since there are no church universal offices of missionary and pastor (just as there is no deacon of the church universal), the main burden of the passage is to explain the primary focus and work of every local body of believers until the great ingathering of the church universal at the rapture of the saints.

The text states that the work of each officer and each local body of saints is to continue until all believers are all united and are all perfect, and are all mature! Since the Bible is not given to overstatement or exaggeration, the Holy Spirit must have a specific time in mind. We know that what deeply distinguishes between churches ought to be a matter of holy conviction and we also know that not everyone who calls himself a believer is going to be a “high-class” Christian. So this must not be a call to unity for unity’s sake, it must be something else. No believer should give up his Bible-inspired convictions for the sake of unity just as no person should beat himself up for not yet achieving perfection. The general unity and perfection predicted will happen in glory!

There is a two-fold application for today. The church is to be busy working the tasks set forth in the passage, all the while recognizing that the plan of God will be not be really fulfilled until the rapture when positional sanctification becomes practical sanctification. God has a plan and He will bring about unity, perfection, and fullness in Christ in His time and by His power. Until then, the local body is to stay true to His Word, focus on equipping for service to the Master, and stay busy about His work.

Verse 13 outlines the primary focus of local church work. The saints are to be equipped to serve together and become a “built-up” body (real “body-building”) by unity forged upon a common doctrinal belief, by striving to gain full knowledge of the Son of God, and by persistent growing into full-grown spiritual adulthood to match the maturity found in Christ, the Head of the body. Churches do not operate in blind faith but, as the passage states plainly, in knowledge. Any local church’s serviceability to Jesus Christ before this lost world will only be determined by the individual devotion of each saint earnestly applied within the corporate body of believers.

What this primary focus looks like is explained in greater detail in verses 14–16. The verses answer the question, “What does it mean to be equipped, to be serving, and to be built up?” On the part of the church leadership, and the part of every individual believer in the local body of Christ, there must be a concerted effort to become mature in faith and function. Verse 14 answers: It means to be mature in belief so that you cannot be swayed from solid, biblical truth, no matter what may come. Verse 15 says it means to be mature in usefulness, fully available, like any member of a healthy human body—ready to do the bidding of the head, instantaneously, adroitly, and successfully. Verse 16 explains that it means to be mature in every relationship among believers. The harmonious work of the local church is to be accomplished with the skill of a symphony (the body working together like the “poetry in motion” of an athlete), every instrument playing from the same score, in concert with the other instruments, whether seated in the first chair of the section or somewhere down the line, so that the audience (the world) may hear the worshipfulness of the music and feel the full effect of it.

Verse 16 further illustrates the way the focus of the church must become the focus of each individual believer. He must have a heart for mutual cooperation (“joined and knit together by what every joint supplies”). He must share a mutual motivation (“according to the effective working by which every part does its share”). He must provide mutual strengthening (“causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love”).

Have you embraced the primary, biblical focus of your local church? Has it become the primary focus of your life in concert with the brethren in your church for the glory of God? Trust and obey.