The Misplaced Comma
Dr. Jim Denison
Have you heard of the Wicked Bible? This was an edition of the King James Version published in London in 1631. The word “not” was accidentally left out of the seventh commandment. As a result, Exodus 20:14 commanded, “Thou shalt commit adultery.” For this, the translation was appropriately called the “Wicked” Bible. William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, ordered the printers to pay a fine of 300 pounds.
In 1716, thousands of copies of another Bible edition were printed before someone noticed that the command of John 8, “Go and sin no more” had been printed, “Go and sin on more.” And a mix-up in gender in a 1923 version produced this command: “A man may not marry his grandmother’s wife,” a difficult task anyway.
Some translation mistakes are humorous and harmless enough. However, there is another mistake in a biblical translation which is not so funny today. For centuries it has had a devastating effect on the church, and still hurts us. It’s not a sentence or even a word, but a comma. Just one little comma. But it’s been disastrous.
This morning I need to show you why this is so, and the enormous and crucial significance this comma holds for your life and soul today, and for eternity.
The worst typo in history
The worst typo in history is found in the King James Version of the Bible. Now, I have a high regard for the KJV; it was the translation preached when I came to Christ, and is still the most popular version in English today. I don’t want you to worry if you read the KJV.
But there’s a major problem with this passage: “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” (Ephesians 4:11-12).
What’s wrong here? We’ve discussed this text before, but never as a morning sermon. The issue is so important, I want us to revisit it and give it our full attention today.
Verse 11 is fine. God did indeed call some leaders to be apostles, others prophets or evangelists, still others to be pastor-teachers. The problem is with verse 12, which describes the work of these leaders. According to the KJV, my first job is the “perfecting of the saints.” This means to mature the saints, to train or “feed” God’s people. This is my first responsibility.
My second job is to do “the work of the ministry.” I am to witness, to visit, to counsel, to comfort, to serve. And my third job is “the edifying of the body of Christ.” I am to build the church. Now, isn’t this how the typical church member evaluates the pastor? Did he “feed” me? Did he do the ministry? Did he grow the church?
But as you may remember, the first comma of verse 12 was a mistake. It simply didn’t exist in the Greek original. It was inserted by Anglican translators, men who wanted to preserve the power of church officials.
And so they reinforced the greatest single mistake in church history: the “clergy.” A class of “ministers,” separate from the members. A disaster. And they gave us three jobs: equip the Christians, do the ministry, grow the church.
But take out the first comma, and what do you have? The job of the pastor or any church leader is the “perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry.” Or as the NIV puts it, “to prepare God’s people for works of service.” And that’s a completely different thing.
This comma has given birth to an entire mindset in the Christian church which is wrong. Simply put, it is the idea that effective personal ministry and witnessing, passionate commitment to Jesus, and sacrificial stewardship are wonderful, but optional. Once you’re saved, you’re fine. Everything else is extra credit, reserved for the super-Christians who are called by God for “special service.”
For the sake of our church, and our souls, I must show you how wrong that is.
Two jobs, one vocation
God’s strategy for a healthy church and soul is really very simple: leaders who are equippers, and members who are ministers. Two jobs, one vocation, to help people follow Jesus.
First, let’s look at the job of leaders. If you are a leader in this church, here’s your job description: to “prepare God’s people for works of service.” “Prepare” translates a medical term, which means to “set a bone” or heal something broken. It describes a trainer who wraps the ankle of a football player so he can send him back into the game. Someone who gets others ready to play.
This is how God will evaluate our performance one day. Not by how well we do the ministry, but by how well our people do. The coach is not judged by his own ability, but by that of his team. Pastors and leaders will not be evaluated by how many people we won to Christ, but by how many people our people won; not by how well we pray, but by how well our people pray; not by how much Scripture we know and practice, but by how much our people do.
This week I found an odd military term: “attack oilers.” The USS Savannah is one of these, for instance. She provides fuel, ammunition, missiles, and other essentials to the fighting ships. Without her, they cannot win the battle.In the same way, we in leadership are “oilers”—we exist to help you find and fulfil your ministry calling. As we will see in a moment, God will hold us accountable for this, his purpose for our lives and work.
So God needs leaders who are equippers, and members who are ministers.
Every Christian has at least one spiritual gift (v. 7). You have a calling from God, a specific ministry you are to perform to help people follow Jesus. You need to be equipped for this ministry. You need to be reading Scripture daily, praying as a lifestyle, worshiping God across the week. You need to practice the various spiritual disciplines. Scripture is clear: “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).
Then you can perform what our text calls “works of service” (v. 12). Winning the lost, teaching the saved, comforting the hurting, helping the troubled, guiding the confused, helping lead God’s family. Regardless of your age or past, you have a ministry. And you’re not finished 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” (v. 13). Christians are never done, we never retire, until we all become like Jesus.
This text is the reason we have made ministry training one of our three key purposes as a church, and have set four values by which we will do it. We will accomplish ministry training which is:
Biblical, equipping believers for discipleship and personal ministry.
Intentional, addressing ministry opportunities, spiritual gifts, and current issues. We will not train our people in abstract ways, but for specific ministries as God is calling them.
Innovative, employing multiple technologies and methods to equip our members and the larger Christian community. For instance, we plan to offer our first LIFEtime course on the Internet this fall.
Comprehensive, networking with other organizations for resources and leadership. We will work with any Christians who want to be part of this ministry.
Why sign up?
Now, why does this call to ministry training matter to you? You’re trying to keep your marriage together and raise your kids, to get ahead at work, to deal with the daily crises of life. Why should you care about any of this?
Your soul needs to grow (vs. 14-15). You need to take responsibility for your personal spiritual growth, the sake of your own soul. A youth minister once asked our youth group a challenging question: “If I were to snap my fingers and you would become as old physically as you are spiritually, what would happen?” What would happen? Is your soul an “infant, tossed back and forth by the waves” (v. 14)? Or do you “speak the truth in love, in all things growing up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ” (v. 15)?
Do you have a personal discipleship plan? A personal discipline in prayer, Scripture, and worship? Have you used the other disciplines of fasting, solitude, silence, accountability, meditation? You likely have a plan for your finances, your family, your physical health. What about your soul?
Your church needs to grow (v. 16). Only when every member is a minister can the church grow effectively. Church health leads to church growth. If you don’t do your part, we cannot be as healthy as we need to be. A person can get along without an arm, but it’s hard.
The bottom line is simple: the “clergy” can never replace the “laity” or do the work of the church. Imagine a baseball team where only Johnny Oates touched a baseball, a Microsoft where only Bill Gates touched a computer, a Baylor Hospital where only Boone Powell touched a patient. You need to take responsibility for your spiritual growth, for our sake.
Would you rather have one million dollars today, or a penny doubled every day for a month? Take the penny—in thirty days you’ll have $10,737,418.24. The church grows by multiplication. Are you a multiplier?
There will be a test. Remember the billboards which attracted so much attention earlier this year? “Loved the wedding—invite me to the marriage.” “What part of “Thou shalt not” didn’t you understand?” Here was my favorite: “Have you read my book? There will be a test.” Hebrews 9:27 states it bluntly, “man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.”
Listen to 1 Corinthians 3:11-15: “No one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.”
Scripture could not be plainer: “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).
We exist to help people follow Jesus. We do this first by following him ourselves. Then others see in us something they want in their lives. I will always be grateful to God for leading me to a church filled with youth who were growing spiritually, committed to personal discipleship, being equipped for their personal ministries. Because they were, I am here today.
Who will come to Christ because they see Christ in you?
Billy Graham said it well: “The early church didn’t have printing presses, radio or television, or fast planes to take them from city to city—and yet they touched the world. I think the main thing people are looking for is what a man told me years ago. He said, ‘I would become a Christian if I could see one,’ and he was looking right at me. That is one of the greatest sermons I’ve ever heard preached. People want to see a Christian. It’s not just accepting Christ, but being a Christian every day—all the time, constantly—that makes a difference.”
Will the people you know see a Christian this week?