THE PRACTICE OF PERFECTING THE SAINTS
In the book of Ephesians, Paul tells us that the gifts—the apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherds and teachers—are for the perfecting of the saints (4:11-12). Then Acts 20 shows us how the writer of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul, perfected the saints in Ephesus. The book of Ephesians presents the teaching given to the saints in Ephesus, while Acts 20 presents the practice of the writer. The teaching in Ephesians 4 and the practice in Acts 20 are by the same apostle. Paul taught the perfecting of the saints and he practiced it.
The record of Paul’s practice in Acts 20 opens a window for us to see how to perfect the saints. In Acts 20 Paul said that he did not shrink from declaring to the saints in Ephesus all the counsel of God (v. 27). According to his word in Acts 20, Paul surely taught prophesying to them. If Paul had not taught the Ephesians to prophesy, how could he have said that he declared all the counsel of God to them? According to 1 Corinthians 14, prophecy is a great thing. Prophecy is the excelling gift, the gift above all gifts. Surely Paul taught the Ephesians concerning the excelling gift of prophecy as a part of the entire counsel of God. Furthermore, Paul wrote his first Epistle to the Corinthians from Ephesus (1 Cor. 16:8). While Paul was in Ephesus writing to the Corinthians concerning the excelling gift of prophecy, he was surely teaching the Ephesians the same thing.
In Acts 20 he told the elders of the church in Ephesus, "You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you all the time" (v. 18). Paul was with the saints in Ephesus for three years. He not only taught them publicly in meetings but also taught them from house to house (v. 20). Night and day, he did not cease admonishing each one of the saints with tears (v. 31). This teaches us how to perfect the saints. When Paul was teaching the saints publicly and from house to house in Ephesus, he surely instructed them how to prophesy.
If you ask me how to perfect the saints, I will tell you to read Acts 20. The way is there. First, we need to be with the saints. If I have the burden to perfect the saints in a certain locality, I need to go there, following Paul’s pattern to stay there for three years. Paul even went to Ephesus and stayed there without being asked or invited by the brothers. He volunteered to stay with the Ephesians for three years. Second, we have to teach the saints everything we know concerning the counsel of God. We need to be like Paul, who did not shrink from declaring to the saints all the counsel of God (v. 27). While we are staying with the saints, we have to open up all the things concerning God’s New Testament economy, His eternal plan. We would share how, according to His economy, He became a man, acquiring humanity in addition to His divinity, and how He died on the cross in a sevenfold way to solve all the problems in the universe. We would also teach many other things concerning His economy.
(Elders' Training, Book 09: The Eldership and the God-Ordained Way (1), Chapter 8, by Witness Lee)