So far in our “Why Church?” series, we’ve covered, Why Preach and Why Pray. Today is, “Why Equip?” We’re going to see what that means very shortly. We’re looking at, again (we do this every few years), the ultimate evaluation for whether or not we’re doing what we’re called to do as a church. There is a particular question that really sums up whether or not we’re aiming to be a biblical church, or whether or not we’re on that trajectory:
Are we, as Christians, maturing? Are we growing spiritually? By God’s grace and the work of the Holy Spirit, are we looking and thinking and acting more like Jesus Christ? Not are we growing in numbers? Though that might happen if we’re maturing and reaching out to those around us. 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 more like Jesus? This is the ultimate evaluation question for whether or not we are a healthy church. Are we maturing? Not, are we mature? Or have we arrived? Because none of us have. But, are we maturing?
And if that’s the main evaluation question for the church, then a question of equal importance is: How do we see this happen? How do we become more like Jesus Christ? Paul gives us the paradigm to seeing this happen in Ephesians 4:11-16. Paul is in the middle of explaining the role of gifts in the church. I encourage you to read all of Ephesians chapter 4 later today, but let’s read verses 11-16. And as we read, have 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 remain spiritual babies, right? There’s nothing wrong with being new to the Christian faith, obviously, but to remain the same is a problem. 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, no matter how long they’ve been a Christian! Maturing is often not a very high priority in church life. Growing in knowledge and character just doesn’t really seem to matter anymore to the average Christian. I mean, we’d 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. And this doesn’t undermine the Gospel (who we already are in Christ); this is part of the Gospel. 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. And this isn’t like you’re 90% redeemed, or you’re almost there. No! 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.
Martin Luther in the 16th century coined this formula of sorts: “simul Justus et peccator.” Everyone say that: “simul justice et peccator.” This is Latin for “simultaneously righteous and sinner.” Or “sinner and saint.” We are at the same time sinners and saints. According to Scripture, we don’t wait for canonization, like in the Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Church, where they will declare someone a saint after they die, if they lived a particularly holy or noteworthy life. In Christ, we are all saints! Isn’t that awesome? In one sense, we are justified and righteous because of Christ, and, yet, in another sense, we’re still sinners who need help in living lives of holiness. We still need to grow up into Christ. And it’s only because of the Gospel that are we now empowered to pursue Godliness and maturity.
The question for today is, “How?” According to Scripture, how do we mature in our faith? From Ephesians 4, the text we just read, we see how God builds up the church in spiritual maturity. So how does it start? First:
- God gives gifts to members of the Body.
We saw it in vs. 11, right? He gives gifts. Usually when you receive a gift or like a present, you’re the one who benefits, right? But the gifts that God gives are not only for those who receive those gifts! He gave particular people particular gifts for the church. This means that the spiritual gifts of the person next to you are not only God’s gifts to them, they’re actually God’s gifts to US! Isn’t that a beautiful thing? Nowverse 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 theirgifts. Let’s go through these briefly:
- 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’sa 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. I just think that’s important to clarify. 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 of Raintree? The elders are the shepherds, primarily. 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 going to say next 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.
Here’s the problem with that, when it happens: Godgave you these gifts. Godgave you certain spiritual proclivities. Godgave 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, or we’re just distracted by other things; we’re holding back a gift that’s not just for us; it’s for everyone part of this body! 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. Turn to the person next to you and say, “I want my present!” Then turn to the other person next to you and say, “Give it to me!” In some ways, every Sunday should be like Christmas where we all get to experience the gifts that believers have in building up the body! We’re encouraged, we’re taught, we’re straight-up called out, we’re served, we’re loved, and we serve and we love. 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 us these gifts that there is no reason for envy or ambition. We need to be grateful for the gifts God has given the people in this church, because they were given for OUR edification. Don’t be envious that God gave her that gift, she’s just so merciful. Don’t be jealous; you’re the one that’s going to be shown mercy, right?! God gives gifts to members of the body, for our edification. Then, 2ndly:
- 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 just two weeks ago. There we find our primary tool in helping each other mature: “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, equippedfor 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! 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 wayof reaching out. This may sound unusual, but never once do we see in the Bible 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 them! 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. There’s nothing wrong with doing that, of course. We do that. But, the biblical mandate for pastor 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 none of us cap help but share the Gospel with lost people. If we’re not sharing the Gospel as believers, 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 you know 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 Christians in the early church thinking that the main way to make disciples is by going around and telling everyone, “Hey, come on, come on! We’ve got great music, great activities for your kids, a really, funny, young, hip, pastor (he even wears sport coats now, apparently).” Again, I’m not saying don’t invite people here. I praise God that we are seeing so many new faces. And we’re going to focus in on the gospel every week, because the whole Bible points to Jesus; non-Christians will hear about Jesus every single week here. Don’t be mistaken.
What I’m saying is that our goal as a church, is aiming at growing believers, so that we all mature in such a way that we then go out and share Jesus! We, ourselves, are leading people to the Lord! That’s the goal! Invite people to Raintree, please! But don’t let that be your cop-out for not learning to lead someone to the Lord yourself, no matter how scary that might be to some of us.
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 see to the maturing of the saints God has placed under our care.My purpose is not to fill the building, although we may fill the building. We are here to perfect, mature, and equip the saints for ministry. We’re to be part of bringing 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 how God matures us. The next step is my favorite:
- All Members of the Body see to the work of ministry.
This perfecting of the saints, this maturing of Christians that we’re pursuing—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 is called to the 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. Our job, as leaders, is to help YOU in maturing and using your gifts to help in the maturing of the people around you, including us!
Unfortunately, this is not the norm in most 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 (I’m guessing we’ll hire another pastor within the next year), even though that’s a need sometimes, 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. That’s when the church is built up.
So, here’s the question I want to ask: How are you using your gifts for the maturing of other Christians in this room? Because, listen: what happens when we actually do this—it’s too good to miss! Here’s what happens. Number 4:
4. When all are maturing and ministering, the Body is built up.
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 results 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 from a 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, generally speaking, are unified! That doesn’t mean they agree on everything, but that even if they disagree on secondary things, they’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:
- We’re 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. Children don’t have much discernment, either, do they? There’s tossed to and fro by every wind of desire, right? Maturing Christians are not like that! Why? Because they’re growing in discernment! We’re consistently maturing. Not every once in a while, but consistently. 3rdly:
- 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 need to be hurt because the truth sometimes 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 motivationfor speaking the truth is because we love our brother or sister. We speak the truth in love. We mature and grow and let others in this Body help us with that!
This is what happens when we are maturing and ministering amongst each other in the body. 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. 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 walks with Christ. Some of us are new Christians. Some of us might be 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.
Particularly, if you are gifted in a particular area, you should not leave this place on any Sunday not having encouraged someone else in this Body. And every single one of us, even if you don’t feel like you’re gifted in a particular area, you should be asking the question, “How Can I Serve the Body?” Not just in programmatic ways, but simply in gathering together. How can I encourage someone around me? How can I pray for someone around me? Don’t just sit there. Do something. Do not come here thinking, “What am I going to get out of this?” But instead, “How can I build up the Body this Sunday?”