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Today we are in Week Two of this five-week series called “WE ARE…,” where we’re discussing some of the most foundational parts of who we are, and honestly, more who we’re aiming to be. We have not arrived in many of these areas, but this is what we’re aiming to be. Last week, we looked at how we are Word-Centered, how we’re striving for the Word of God to be central in everything that we do.
Today, we’re looking at the ultimate evaluation for whether or not we’re doing what we were created to do as a church. There is a particular question that really sums up whether or not we’re living according to Scripture as a church, and you might be a little surprised at what it is.
Are we, as Christians, maturing? Are we growing spiritually? By God’s grace and the Spirit’s moving, are we looking and thinking and acting more like Jesus Christ? Not are we growing in numbers? Though that will happen if we’re maturing. Not do we have ministries for every single life-phase there could possibly be. Or do we have lots of programs and schedules that make us a busy church, but, simply, are we reflecting the life of Christ more and more? Are we pursuing holiness? Are we growing in Godliness? Are we making disciples like Jesus did, which is a huge part of maturing and becoming like Jesus? That is the ultimate evaluation question for whether or not we are a healthy church. Are we maturing?
And if that’s the main evaluation question for the church, then a question of equal importance is: How do we get this going? How do we become more like Jesus Christ? Paul gives us the answer to that question in Ephesians 4:11-16. Paul is in the middle of explaining the role of gifts in the unity of the church. It may surprise you, if you want to read all of chapter 4 later on, just how important different gifts among us are in growing as a church! But let’s read, starting in Vs. 11-16, having in mind the question: How do we mature as Christians in the Church?
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
This is one of my favorite passages in the entire Bible! The first thought that comes to my mind as I read this is to say that you and I are not meant to stay spiritual babies, right? In the same way that we know something is wrong if a child stops developing, we can know something is wrong if a Christian isn’t developing and growing! The problem, however, is that maturity seems to be a thing of the past. Growing in knowledge and character just doesn’t really seem to matter anymore to the average Christian. Now, sure, we would all say that we want to grow in our faith, and in Godliness, but: do our priorities reflect that? Does how we spend our time and energy reflect that?
As Christians, we were made to grow up into Him who is the head of the church, Jesus Christ. You see, the Gospel is this truth that Jesus died on the cross bearing our sin, and then rose again defeating death and sin. That Gospel, when we repent and believe, truly, we are immediately counted among the righteous, the redeemed. God no longer sees our sin when he looks at us, but instead sees Christ’s righteousness! It’s a beautiful thing. But, even though Christ has washed away our sin truly and completely, that does not mean that we no longer struggle with sin, or that suddenly our character is 100% like that of Christ’s. In fact, it was Martin Luther in the 16th century who coined this formula of sorts: “simul Justus et peccator.” This is Latin for “simultaneously righteous and sinner.” Or “sinner and saint.” We are at the same time both sinners and saints. In one sense we are justified and righteous because of Christ, and in another sense we’re still sinners who need help in living righteously.
It’s the beauty of the Gospel, that when we die we will not be judged by our own righteousness. How many of you are grateful for that?! We’d all be condemned if that were the case! If we were judged by our own actions and our own righteousness that we’ve worked on all our lives, none of us would add up. But, because we have turned and place our faith in Christ, we will instead be judged according HIS righteousness that has been imputed to us, as if it was our righteousness. How does that all happen? Repentance and faith. It’s a beautiful thing. So, we are righteous, truly! We are saints, truly, because of Christ! But, in another very real sense, we still need sanctification, we need spiritual growth and maturing. And it’s only because of the Gospel that are we now empowered to pursue Godliness and maturity.
God’s Process for Building Up the Church
The question for today is, “How?” According to Scripture, how do we mature in our faith? From Ephesians 4, the text we just read, I want us to look at God’s process for building up the church in spiritual maturity. Step One:
- God gives gifts to individuals in the Body.
Vs. 11- He gives gifts. Usually when you get a gift or like a present, you are the one who benefits, right? But the gifts that God gives are not for the individual who receives the gift! He gave particular people particular gifts for the church. This means that the spiritual gifts of the person next to you are not just God’s gifts to them, they’re God’s gifts to US! Isn’t that a beautiful thing? Now verse 11 is not a comprehensive list of all the different types of gifts by any means; you can find a more comprehensive list in 1 Corinthians 12; this one focuses more on the gifts of church leadership, who ultimately are to help the members of the body capitalize on their gifts.
- He gave the apostles. The word apostle in the New Testament was used overwhelmingly for the 12 disciples, and a few others who were given this very special designation, like the Apostle Paul and a few others who were with Jesus a lot.
- He gave the prophets: The prophets were those gifted in proclaiming the truth. Once or twice in Acts, they tell the future, but the high majority of their time, like the prophets in the OT, was spent forth-telling as opposed to fore-telling. Forth-telling, as in telling the truth, as opposed to foretelling, as in telling the future. That’s a common misconception about the gift of prophecy is that it’s all about telling the future. But that’s really a very small portion of what we see in the Old Testament prophets and especially those we see in the NT. Not to mention that supernaturally receiving a direct word from God– there’s not much of a need for this anymore, at least not prophets with the same type of authority as in the first century when they didn’t have the written Word yet. They were particularly helpful before there was a New Testament canon. In the more general sense, those gifted with prophecy are gifted in telling and explaining the truth of God, His Word.
- He also gave evangelists. What we know about this gift is that it’s not just a gift in sharing the Gospel, but moreso a gift in proclaiming to different groups, almost like missionaries or even itinerant preachers, at least in the early church.
- And lastly he gave the shepherds and teachers. These are those who are over a particular flock. The “shepherds” are over feeding the flock with spiritual food, the Word, and protecting the flock from spiritual danger. So who are the shepherds at Raintree? The elders are the shepherds. The elders are praying for you, by name, regularly. The elders, hopefully, are doing everything they can to help guide and protect the flock.
Now, again, this particular list of gifts is focused on leadership gifts. But, there is no doubt that what Paul is about to say about these gifts is also true of all spiritual gifts, given to all believers! It is a sobering thought that God decided to use individual people in the Body to build up the church. It’s a sobering thought that there are spiritual gifts in this church that haven’t yet been used for building up the body. Now, sometimes, the reason we don’t like trying to figure out our gifts, or simply where God can use us, is mainly because we’re busy with other things. But I think at times it’s also because some of us don’t want the attention that might come with really using your gifts and abilities for God. For those of you who are more introverted, maybe at times you’re afraid of being seen as a leader, afraid of jumping up and doing something, because we don’t want to be seen as pushy or strong-willed.
Here’s the problem with that: God gave you these gifts. God gave you certain abilities. God gave you a knack for teaching, mercy, hospitality, service, shepherding, or any other gift. When we hold back for fear of coming off as pushy or arrogant, we’re holding back a gift that God gave you, yes, but a gift that is not just for you! It’s for us! Don’t hold it back. As your pastor, I beg of you, don’t hold it back. I want my present. The people around you want their gift from God. In some ways, every Sunday should be like Christmas where we all get to experience the gifts and abilities that believers have in building up the body! We’re encouraged, we’re taught, we’re called out straight up, we’re served, we’re loved. Don’t hold back.
Even if you don’t like your gift or your abilities, you’d rather do what’s he’s doing or what she’s doing, realize this: it is because God gave the gifts that that there is no reason for envy or ambition. Our ambition should be the same as God’s, which is the building up of the body toward maturity fulfilling any and every role he has given us. I love the main passage in Scripture on spiritual gifts, 1 Corinthians 12- when Paul makes the point: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ “ We must have all of you with all your different gifts to be a functioning and healthy church. So a bit of a side-point here: We need to be grateful for the gifts God has given the people in this church, because they were given for YOUR edification. Step 1 of Spiritual Maturity: God gives gifts to individuals in the church. The 2nd Step of God’s process for spiritual maturity:
- Church leaders see to the spiritual maturing of members of the Body.
So now we’ll focus in on church leadership, because that’s really what Paul is focusing on here. While we are all to use our gifts for the church, the pastor-teachers, in other words pastors and elders, are to “equip the saints for the work of ministry,” that’s what verse 12 says. Now the word “equip” is not just in the sense of getting tools for ministering to others, but actually getting tools for personal growth. In fact, the word “equip”, means perfecting or maturing. It’s the same idea we find in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, part of the passage we read last week, which tells us our primary tool in maturing believers: “All Scripture is God-breathed, and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Being equipped means maturing, progressing toward completion. I know when we hear “equipping the saints for the work of ministry,” that sounds like we’re getting tools with the main purpose of going out and doing ministry out there.
But the context here is clear: it’s actually speaking of YOU as a Christian maturing, and, as we’ll talk about in a minute, ministering first to the Body of believers! You see, there are a lot of trends in churches right now that are turning the church to being outwardly focused. Let me just say: it’s about time. Truly! Many churches, if not most, have historically struggled, to put it mildly, in reaching outside of their walls. So, this trend is a good one. BUT, we must have in mind God’s way of reaching out. This may sound unusual, but never once do we see the purpose of the pastoral role in the church being to reach the community. I know that sounds odd, but let me explain: the only responsibility given in the Bible for pastors, specifically, is to see to the maturing of the members of the flock that God has given him! That’s it! My job as your pastor is not to plan all of these outreaches and events where we can get our church name out there and perhaps get lots of more people to come on Sundays. My job is to see to your maturity.
I’m not saying it doesn’t matter if we’re not reaching the lost. Quite the opposite! I’m saying that the biblical model for doing so, as your pastor, is to focus in on how I can see to your maturity through the Word of God in such a way that every individual person in here can’t help but share the Gospel with lost people. If we’re not sharing the Gospel as believers who are part of Raintree Community Church, the problem is not that we need to organize or program more outreaches or attract more non-Christians. The problem is that we are being disobedient. We are stunting our own spiritual growth by buying the lie that says, “Pastor Ryan’s sharing the Gospel with people on his own, so I don’t really need to.” Or even the lie that says, “I really need to just share with him about Jesus, but I can invite him to church.” Please, invite them to church. Invite anyone in your circle and outside to church, Christian or non-Christian. But don’t forget that God has called YOU to make disciples.
That’s kind-of one of our big things we say here at Raintree sometimes: “We’re not really a come-and-see type church, though anyone is always welcome to come and see. But we want to be a “come-be equipped- and GO” church. Not that the early church is the perfect example that we’re to follow or anything like that, but I do think we can learn a lot from the early church, particularly in the book of Acts. And I just can’t picture the early church Christians going around and inviting everyone to the temple! “Hey, come on, come on! We’ve got great music, great activities for your kids, a really, funny, young, hip, pastor. I mean, he’s a millennial; that’s how cool he is!” Again, I’m not saying don’t invite people here. I praise God that we are seeing so many new faces, some Christians, some not! And because the whole Bible is about Jesus, non-Christians will hear about Jesus every single week here. Don’t be mistaken.
What I’m saying is that my job as your pastor, and our goal as a church, is aiming at growing believers, so that we all mature in such a way that we are going out and sharing the Gospel. We, ourselves, are leading people to the Lord! Invite people to Raintree, please! But don’t let that be your cop-out for not learning to lead someone to the Lord yourself. Just a little side-note, on Wednesday nights, 6:30-8pm, we have the prayer and the outreach team. The outreach portion of the team, especially right now because it’s so cold, is going to be 100% training on how to share the Gospel. We’ll all be starting together and praying, and then those of you who would like to learn to share the Gospel will go with me and I’ll teach you. And for the next, at least two months, we won’t actually be going out, but instead just training. So, come!
I think it’s a pretty important question for any pastor or church leader to ask: What is my ultimate goal in the ministry? Can we narrow it down to one thing that the elders and I are to have in mind when shepherding the church? What is the ONE goal that sums it all up? Through the Word and the power of the Holy Spirit, it’s to bring to maturity the saints God has placed under our care. My purpose is not to fill the building, although we may fill the building. My purpose as a pastor is not to even get people saved, though this will definitely happen if we’re fulfilling our main purpose. We are here to perfect, mature, and equip the saints for ministry. We’re to bring you to maturity, to full-blown mature disciples of Christ, who minister inside and outside of the church. That sums up this 2nd step for God’s process for building the chruch. The 3rd step is this:
- All Church Members see to the work of ministry.
This perfecting of the saints, this maturing of Christians that the leaders, in particular, are to faithfully pursue, it’s not the goal in and of itself. At least it’s not the only goal. The purpose of equipping the saints, or perfecting believers, is that THEY may do the work of ministry! Verses 11-12 again: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”
Every one of us in here, are in the business of ministry. In a very real sense, I am called to minister no more than you are called to minister. I am called to follow Christ no more than you are called to follow Christ. I’m called to use my gifts for the church no more than you are called to use your gifts for the church. Hear me: I’m not downplaying my role, I’m hoping you see the significance of YOUR role in church ministry and in the maturing of other Christians in this church. We all, in using our gifts, are called to serve and help each other mature in the faith. I’m talking Elementary-age, Youth-age, young adults, middle adults, mature adults, home-bound and those in nursing homes. My job is to help YOU in maturing and using your gifts to help in the maturing of the people around you.
Unfortunately, this is not the norm in modern churches. We live in a specialized world. What I mean is that when the modern church needs something to be done, especially with anything involving ministry, most of the time they’ll hire someone to do it! They’ll jump to getting someone with a degree; paying for a professional. And while sometimes you do need to hire people, of course, the great majority of what the church is to do and be should be developed and executed from within its own membership! We can’t limit the ministry to those who have it as their full-time vocation, and to those who might have a seminary degree or even just lots of experience in a particular area. Doing that will hinder the spread of the Gospel in our community and around the world. Real growth in the church happens when we’re all being perfected, and we’re all maturing, and when we’re all doing the work of the ministry.
This is why I can’t help but think it’s a great day to challenge you to serve. Oftentimes, we think our ministry or our service is limited to areas where we’re gifted. Our greatest need, for January-through May, this serve cycle we’re starting, our greatest need is with children. And I’m speaking now organizationally, as a church. Don’t think everything I just said about how we’re to mature and build each other up in the Body is speaking primarily about volunteering. Most of this is organic. Most of this is when we’re spending time with each other talking right after the service, or in small groups, or in our homes when we’re eating together and fellowshipping organically. BUT, it does also translate into the organization of the church.
Our greatest need is with children. And you may think, well Ryan, I’m not gifted with children. Just an encouragement for you: You read 1 Corinthians 12 and any other place in the New Testament where it talks about gifts: it says nothing of the gift of working with children! Some people are definitely gifted with children, and that’s a God-given gift, but that’s not one of the spiritual gifts listed in the Bible. What I’m trying to say is that you can use whatever your gifts are, even if you don’t know what they are, when investing into children. There are very few in the world who are truly “gifted” with children. If we only had those people working with children, we wouldn’t have enough teachers for our public school system, and we definitely wouldn’t have enough leaders for our children’s ministry here at Raintree.
One of the most direct ways to apply this text is by being willing to invest into the lives of people who are so impressionable and teachable and are constantly developing, our children! We have a really neat long-term plan for training children in the Word, during the 9:15 hour for Bible Study on Sundays, in Children’s Church during our main worship time, and on Wednesday nights when we’re helping children memorize God’s Word (that’s what Treehouse is on Wed. nights). We want to really teach our kids who God is!
So if you think it’s important for us to as a church to intentionally teach children about who God is, you qualify to volunteer, even if you don’t feel particularly gifted with children. That goes for all of those volunteer positions back there. We have some positions filled, and we’re excited about that, but no position on that wall is unimportant. I know many of you don’t want to miss our worship time, even once a month, which all the positions during this time are for once a month, but let me just say: you’re not missing worship! You’re worshipping in a different way, by building up the Body in a small way. And just, speaking practically, we put all our sermons online, both audio and even a written-out manuscript. So consider serving in our children’s or youth areas, being part of building the Body, especially by building relationships with the most impressionable people in our church. We have training tonight during the Family Meeting so you can know what to do, even if you’ve never done it before.
So, again, the big question I want you to ask: How are you using your gifts for the maturing of other Christians in this room, including the maturing of children?! Because the result of doing so is too wonderful for us to miss! Let’s look at the result of God’s process for building up the church. It’s pretty straight-forward:
The Result: When all are maturing and ministering, the Body is built up.
When I say “built up,” I know our minds jump to numerical growth, but that’s NOT what I’m talking about. That may very well happen, but I’m talking about building each other up as the body of Christ. When we’re ALL maturing and ministering, the Body is built up, how? 1st:
- UNITY in doctrine and faith. We see in verse 13 that one of the primary ends of the church being built up is “unity of the faith and the knowledge of the son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Have you ever noticed, where there is disunity in the church, there is almost always immaturity of some kind? And I’m not talking on my high horse here; I’m saying I’ve been part of it, too. But almost never is there disunity where there is not also immaturity. Mature Christians are unified! That doesn’t mean we agree on everything, but that even if we disagree on secondary things, we’re unified in purpose! We should be aiming for that kind of maturity and that kind of unity. The 2nd way the body is built up:
- Being GROUNDED in the Gospel. Vs. 14: “that we may no longer be CHILDREN tossed to and fro,” as in having not chosen which way to go. Children hesitate. They don’t know what they want. Maturing Christians are not like that! Why? Because they’re growing in discernment! Children don’t have much discernment, do they? There’s tossed to and fro by every wind of desire, right? As Christians, we are not to stay baby Christians forever. We’re consistently maturing. Not every once in a while, but consistently. Steadily, maturing Christians are growing and are heading in the same direction. 3rd:
- SPEAKING THE TRUTH IN LOVE, from vs. 15. We cannot let each other just be off spiritually. We can’t! We can’t let each other be ignorant of God’s Word! We can’t avoid the truth just because we want everyone to feel good, or to avoid hurting feelings. Sometimes, feelings, they need to be hurt. Sometimes, the truth hurts. But the truth MUST be spoken, and it must be spoken in love. And love doesn’t mean sugar-coating, but it means our clear motivation for speaking the truth is because we love our brother or sister. We must speak the truth in love. We must be maturing and growing and letting others in this room help us with that!
Those are the results! Verse 13-16. They sound pretty good, right? A beautiful picture of the church when we have the priorities Paul is laying out. When leaders are seeing to your maturity, as much as we can, and when you are taking seriously your calling to help the person next to you mature, and your calling to minister to each other in the Body? What happens? Middle of verse 15 and following: we “Grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped when every part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” When we’re unified, when we’re grounded in the Gospel, and when we speak the truth in love, serving and helping each other really mature, the church is built up.
Don’t misunderstand today: Christianity is about the Gospel. But the Gospel isn’t just a one-time thing you do, you repent from your sin and place your faith in Christ. The Gospel is FREEDOM we receive, when we repent and believe, to live like Christ now, which is a journey that never ends. This process of growing and maturing and being equipped and being a part of maturing others, it will never end until we die.
It’s such a BEAUTIFUL thing to learn and be guided toward a Christ-centered identify and influence, trusting more and more not in my power to change, but in the Holy Spirit’s power to change me! This won’t happen without the church. There’s no such thing as growing alone. We weren’t made to mature on our own. In fact, it’s impossible. Saying you can mature as a Christian without the church is like a baby saying he can survive on his own. Imagine a newborn baby opening his mouth and saying, “Excuse me, I’ll take it from here.” It doesn’t work.
We’re all in different places in our journey. Some of us are new Christians, praise God! Some of us might be advanced children, or teenagers on this journey. Wherever we’re at, we must never stop growing and developing and maturing. And we do this with each other’s help, not just a pastor or an elder’s help, but the help of the person next to you. Our primary goal as a church is to help you mature as you help the person next to you mature. Our primary aim is to equip YOU for the work of the ministry.