October 8, 2017
Do you take every call that you get on your cell phone? I know people that if they don’t recognize the number or if the number is not in their contacts list they don’t take the call. How many times have I received a call from Julie who want to inform me that I won something! On the other hand there are calls that I will always take no matter what the situation. If Angie calls me and I’m in a meeting I will step out to take the call. She’s my first and only lady.
Last week we were reminded that we have a calling in Christ to live holy and blameless lives. We also noted that part of our calling is to maintain unity in the church. This requires that we practice humility, gentleness, patience, and bearing with one another in love. Today Paul explains more about this unity and it involves every believer. This is a call that no believer can afford to let go. The truth is that Jesus Christ calls every believer to build up the church.
I. JESUS HAS GIVEN GIFTS TO THE CHURCH. 4:7-12a
Verses 7-12 show us that Paul is talking about spiritual gifts. And in v.7 he tells us that grace is given to each one of us. I believe he is referring to spiritual gifts. He quotes from Ps.68:18, giving Old Testament background concerning Christ’s victorious ascension, having defeated sin, death, and the demonic powers referred to in Eph.6. In light of his ascension, Jesus is Lord of all and he is bestowing spiritual gifts of grace to his people in the church. We can see here that the church has cosmic significance. The church has to do with Christ and his Lordship. The church has a key role to play in the new creation work of God in the world. What we are doing here is not just for our own benefit. It is also for the benefit of this dying world and God’s glory.
In Rm.12 and 1Cor.12-14, Paul makes it clear that every believer has been given spiritual gifts from the Lord. But in Eph.4 Paul focuses on four specific gifts. In v.11 Paul says, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherd-teachers.” Many think that shepherds and teachers are meant to be combined into one because of the grammatical construction.
Personally I don’t think Paul is saying that these four gifts make some people more important in the church than others. I don’t think Paul is setting up four offices in the church. This is not meant to divide professional clergy from the laity. No. We are all one in Christ. We are all part of the body of Christ. Instead these gifts prepare the way for the proper expression of all the other gifts.
All four of these gifts involve preaching and teaching. It is not easy to give hard and fast definitions to these words. As I best understand, apostles refers to those who had a foundational ministry in establishing the early churches and the content of the faith. Prophets also had a ministry of exhortation and sometimes gave a word concerning future events. Evangelists were those who focused on proclaiming the gospel primarily to unbelievers. Both Philip and Timothy are called evangelists. Both had ministry to unbelievers and to believers. Pastor-teachers refer to those who cared for the congregation like a shepherd would care for his sheep and who taught the Scriptures.
God gave these spiritual gifts for the purpose of equipping the saints. Obviously a lot has changed since the days of Paul. We live in a consumer society that is highly individualistic. We pick churches like we order at Burger King: “Have it your way.” With the rise of the mega church we have pastors who are very entrepreneurial. They are strong leaders who function as CEOs of the church. I am not criticizing this. I believe the Lord uses many of these pastors. However, when a congregation becomes a mega-church, there is a lot of marketing and money that is required to keep things growing and expanding. One can lose the simplicity of the calling of pastoral care and teaching the word. In addition to this the emphasis on mega-church growth helps to create an inappropriate expectation that every church needs to be a potential mega-church. Obviously a congregation needs to be able to support itself and its ministries, but in the United States one wonders if things have not gotten a little skewed.
In Eph.4 we see that God has provided these leaders so that all the believers can be equipped. In what way do believers need to be equipped? Well, the kind of equipping Paul is referring to is helping others learn to walk worthy of the calling to which we have been called. The most important part of this ministry is providing teaching and practice on how to live or walk as believers in the church and in this world. At the time when Paul wrote these words, there was no New Testament and most people could not read anyway. They learned by listening and doing. These gifts were given to the church so that the church could learn how to live godly lives.
Two things: It is very important that those who have teaching ministries in the church cultivate a life of integrity and faithfulness to Christ. If the life we live does not support the teaching we give, we undermine the church. And then, it is important for believers to avail themselves of the teachings available in the church. Today, we have access to the very best teachers through Christian radio, pod casts, and books. All of that has its place. However being part of a local congregation and entering into the teaching ministry of that congregation is also important. The goal is not just to have knowledge. So let me expand on this by saying that…
II. Jesus Christ has given gifts to the church THAT ALL BELIEVERS MAY HAVE MINISTRY IN THE CHURCH. 4:12
Verse 12 tells us why Jesus has given these gifts to the church. The purpose is so that all in the local church will be equipped to use their gifts. Earlier I suggested that the idea of being equipped has to do with our learning to live out the Christian life in the church and in the world.
Why is this so important? It is because every one of us has been gifted by God to have ministry in the church. And a very literal way of saying what Paul says, is that all believers are to be equipped to wait on tables. It is the word, διακονία. In other words, all of us have a serving capacity in the church. We are to have the mindset of being a servant. And we are to serve one another in humility, gentleness, patience, and bearing with one another in love. The church family offers an amazing opportunity to grow in Christ. Serving one another, serving with one another can be trying. I believe that just about everyone who serves in the church has the best of intentions. But even with good intentions we can easily annoy each other. Are you equipped to handle that? The way to become equipped is to learn through the teaching ministry of the church.
Now I am not so concerned about whether or not you know your spiritual gift. I don’t see any place in the New Testament that says we must discover our gift. When Paul lists various spiritual gifts I believe he is giving examples of the kinds of gifts the Holy Spirit empowers. In my understanding a spiritual gift is any ability, skill or talent that the Holy Spirit uses in our lives to build up the body of Christ. I believe we should use every ability we have to the glory of God. As we do this the local congregation should not be weaker as a result of our service, but richer, fuller, and encouraged. We are building something up, not tearing down.
My sense is that the church in the United States has developed some unhelpful habitual ways of thinking. We have been equipped to be spectators and not committed participants. Earlier I mentioned how we all have access to hear the very best preachers and Bible teachers in the world through T.V, radio and podcasts. Many are listening to Charles Stanley, Beth Moore, James McDonald, Kay Arthur, Tony Evans, Ann Graham Lotz, Colin Smith, Priscilla Shirer, Erwin Lutzer, Nancy Demoss Wolgemuth, Tim Keller, John Piper, or one of my favorites, Dr. James Ford, or Alistair Begg. Okay. I’m good with all these people. These are all wonderful teachers. They are some of the best. But let me ask. Are these teachers equipping you to serve and build up the local church? Why did Jesus give these gifts? It is so that we are equipped to serve and build up the body of Christ where we worship. If by listening to these gifted teachers you are more equipped and encouraged to invest yourself to serve and build up the body of Christ in a local setting, then by all means listen. My fear is that we listen to these teachers because they are good and that is about as far as it goes. We are not necessarily any different.
There is great value in learning to listen to the teachers God has given in a local church. They may not be the most scintillating, knowledgeable or interesting teachers, but if they are committed, conscientious, faithful, and take a humble interest in the welfare of the congregation, that is a gracious gift from God. I realize that not everyone who teaches in a church ought to be teaching. But I also know that it is easy to compare local church teachers with the cream of the crop and I don’t think Paul or Jesus would see that as a positive thing. As we yield ourselves to the teaching ministry of a local church and we serve others in the church we grow together. And in v.13-16 Paul explains what he means.
III. Jesus Christ has given gifts to the church, that all believers may have ministry in the church FOR THE MATURITY OF THE CHURCH. 4:13-16
The ministry we have with one another is for the purpose of our becoming mature followers of Christ. What does this look like?
In v.13 we read about unity in the faith and knowledge of Christ. These ideas are not only information based. Our unity in the faith has to do with our daily trusting, believing. It is as much about exercising our faith as it is about the tenants of our faith. Knowledge of Christ is not just information about Christ. It is our growing experience with Christ. Our serving one another and building up the church has much to do with how we encourage and influence each other to continue in our believing and growing in Christ.
Think about how it is in a family. No matter how your family is configured there is a lot of day to day interaction that teaches us how to live as we grow up. Not everything we learn is positive, but much of what we learn is positive. We are daily rubbing shoulders with each other and engaging each other. Eventually we become mature adults. Yes, there is dysfunction and brokenness in every family. Some families are very dysfunctional because mom and dad are deeply broken people. They also probably grew up in dysfunctional homes. My point is that we learn to live by living with each other.
In the church ideally everyone has fully embraced Christ as Lord. And everyone is committed to growing in Christ. And when we are together everyone is invested in building up the body of Christ. As we build the body up we are built up.
In v.14-16 Paul points out that in building each other up we are seeking to help one another learn to discern the dangers and deceptions that lead us away from Christ. There are many things in the world that will do this. I think about how comfortable our society is with moral permissiveness. This same permissiveness is often found in our churches. Over the last 40 years there has been a deepening reliance upon political power by the evangelical church. There is the prosperity gospel that teaches us that God wants us to be wealthy in this world. These are just some of the deceptions that pose a hindrance to our becoming mature in Christ. We ought not to be surprised at the moral and political decline in this country. It’s not a Christian country. We must help each other discern these things.
And the way we help each other is to exercise the gifts we have for the good of the body. In v.15 Paul points out that this will involve telling the truth in love. When we are together as the body of Christ we speak the truth. We speak the truth about ourselves. We speak the truth about the gospel and Jesus. And we speak the truth to each other. We do this as humbly and gently as we are able because we need each other in order to mature in Christ.
In v.15-16 Paul uses the metaphor of a body to help us see that we are all connected to Christ and to each other. Just as the human body is dependent upon the head (brain), so we, the body of Christ are dependent upon him for life and living. And our union with Christ unites us to one another. Each believer is living out the same eternal life given to us by Christ. Not only that. Because we are connected to Christ and each other, we help one another as we use the gifts given to us by Jesus. The Holy Spirit ministers in us and through us. And you note that through this process we are built up in love.
Jesus Christ calls every believer to build up the church. But there is one thought in v.16 that I want to challenge us with. Paul observed that this building up can only take place when each part is working properly. Well, we all have been blessed with gifts and abilities and talents to use to build up the church. How do you think God would like to use you in the church? What part can you see yourself playing to encourage us in Christ? Are you a part in the church? Is your part working properly? This is really a question about your relationship to Jesus Christ. If you know Jesus you can be sure that he desires to see you be an integral part of his church for his glory and our maturity in Christ. Amen