Katartismos

Ephesians 4:11-12 was an important passage in my early Christian development. By the time I was out of high school, I knew I was on the road to being a pastor, and I saw Ephesians as a kind of short job description.

“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”

As I read it at the time, I had three responsibilities. First, I was to perfect the saints. I had heard teaching on the word “perfect” and thought it meant “bring to completeness or wholeness.”

Second, I was to do the work of the ministry. I assumed that meant the things that pastors do with their time, such as preaching, preparing sermons, counseling people, visiting the sick and performing weddings and funerals.

Third, I was to edify the body of Christ, which I understood to be a general term for building them up. I wasn’t positive what that looked like, but I suspected it meant being encouraging and uplifting whenever anyone needed it.

I later found that little I encountered as a pastor fit very well into my original concept. I also realized I had not even come close to understanding Ephesians 4:11-12. First of all, the purpose of pastors (and apostles, prophets, evangelists and teachers) was only one thing: the perfecting of the saints. As they were perfected, the saints would carry on the work of the ministry, which involved every part of the life of a church. They would share the gospel, pray for each other, encourage one another, support, exhort and heal one another. As they did these things, the body of Christ would be built up by their efforts.

The only thing, then, that I had to do was focus on perfecting the saints. (Except, of course, for the fact that I was supposed to be one of the saints, so I was expected to do the same work of the ministry that they did.) The word translated “perfecting” was not the same word that is used for “perfect” in other places, however.

The word here is katartismos, from the verb form katartizo. Used in a variety of ways in classical Greek, the word generally has two basic meanings. First, it means to adjust or to put in order, to restore. The second means to equip or prepare.

As an example of how the word is used in writings other than the Bible, katartizo is generally a medical term. It describes setting a fractured or dislocated bone. It refers in such cases to joining two broken pieces together. Paul used the word in this sense in 1 Corinthians 1:10, when he urged believers to be perfectly united.

In Luke 6:40, katartizo means to be equipped. In non-biblical writings, the word is used to describe a ship being fitted out for a voyage and of an army being fully equipped.

With these meanings in mind, it became easier to understand what I am supposed to do as a pastor. My task is to put things in order, that is, help people find their strengths and their purpose so that they fit together in an orderly way to accomplish the work of the ministry. Equipping them means to empower and instruct them in whatever is necessary to accomplish their calling in life.

And along the way, I occasionally get to preach and do a random wedding.

Katartismos

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