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Archive for the ‘Ephesians’ Category

The following is a sermon preached on Sunday morning, July 20, 2008, at Sunnyside Baptist Church.

Over the past two weeks at Sunnyside Baptist Church, we have been looking at the New Testament Church and trying to discern from Scripture how the church is built up.  We have seen that Jesus Christ is the One who builds His church and nothing can stop Him… not even the gates of hell (Matt 16:18.)  From Acts 2:42-47, we have seen the birthmarks of His church.  We have seen that the church which Jesus is building is… 

o   A learning church… committed to the study of God’s Word.

o   A loving church… committed to caring for one another.

o   A worshipping church… committed to praising the God who has given us everything.

o   A witnessing church… committed to proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ to a world which is lost in sin and bound for hell.

In our passage today we will try to answer the question…what role do we play in building the Church of Jesus Christ?

Ephesians 4:11-16 (ESV) – 11 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 passage of Scripture begins with the statement “He gave.”  Who is this talking about?

This is a good example of a place where context matters.  In order to identify the Giver here we have to look back to verses 7 and 8 and then it becomes clear…

Ephesians 4:7-8 (ESV) – 7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.”

Christ is the Giver here.  When He ascended into heaven, He led a host of those who had once been held captive to sin and death to freedom and He gave gifts to men.  Jesus has given gifts to His church and these gifts are people… specifically church leaders.

Depending on how you divide them, there are either 4 or 5 different types of church leaders described here.  Let’s look at these different gifts described here…

First, we see that Christ has given the church apostles and prophets.  Back in Ephesians 2:20, Paul states that these men are the foundation upon which the church is built… with Jesus Christ as the Chief Cornerstone.

The apostles were those men who were handpicked by Jesus to begin the proclamation that He is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  They laid the foundation for the church by being the first ones to proclaim the gospel to the world.  They announced, time and again, how all men and women are sinful and how, apart from a Savior, we all deserve the wrath of God.  Yet through Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, there is salvation, for He died for our sins and rose again so that we could be saved from the judgment to come.  We may be saved if… and I stress if… we repent of our sins and trust in Him alone.

This is the message which Jesus Christ entrusted to His apostles and it is the message upon which they laid the foundation of the church.

1)      It was through the proclamation of the gospel by the Spirit-empowered apostles that the church was born on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2.)

2)      It was through the ministry of the apostles that the Holy Spirit first fell upon the Samaritans (Acts 8.)

3)      It was through the apostles that the gospel first went to the Gentiles (Acts 10-11.)

4)      It was through the ministry and oversight of the apostles that the gospel went forth to the uttermost parts of the earth (i.e. the apostle Paul.)

These men were uniquely handpicked by Jesus Christ Himself… and they were all eyewitnesses to the risen Lord Jesus (Acts 1:21-22), therefore this office doesn’t exist today.  There are those who engage in similar functions today… proclaiming the gospel and planting churches… but there are no apostles in the formal sense today, in part because there are no eyewitnesses to the risen Lord Jesus today.

The second group described here are “prophets.”  The New Testament prophets were those men who were messengers of God to His people.  A prophet is the mouthpiece of God.  God communicates directly with the prophet, who in turn speaks this message to God’s people.  Therefore, when the prophet speaks, he can honestly say, “Thus sayeth the Lord.”

Now it is debated whether or not this gift continues today.   I’m not going to enter into that debate today other than to say that I believe this was a unique role assigned to some in the days before the completion of the New Testament, Therefore… personally… I do not believe there are prophets in the same sense today.

But that doesn’t mean that we do not still benefit from these gifts which Christ has given to His church.  We have the message of these apostles and prophets recorded for us here in God’s Word.  We are still blessed today by these men through the inspired Word of God which has been passed down to us.  They are still the foundation… the only foundation… upon which Jesus Christ builds His church.

The next group listed here are “evangelists.”  This speaks of men who were uniquely gifted in sharing the gospel with others… men like Philip in Acts 8… (see also Acts 21:8.)

This gift has continued down through the ages.  We see it throughout history in men like George Whitefield and John Wesley.  More recently, we would see it in men like Billy Graham.  We see this gift in people who are uniquely gifted by God to spread the good news of the gospel.

Yet we need to be careful here.  Just because Christ has gifted some with a unique ability to share the gospel doesn’t mean that the rest of us are off the hook where evangelism is concerned.  For example, although Timothy is never called an “evangelist”, Paul tells him to “do the work of an evangelist” (II Tim 4:5.)  It seems that although he is not specifically an evangelist in the formal sense, he is still to strive in the work of evangelism.

The same is true for all of us.  As Christians, we are all commanded to make disciples (Matt 28:18-20) and the first step in that process is to spread the gospel where ever Christ sends us.

We are all called to do the work of an evangelist.  Yet praise God for those who are uniquely gifted by Him to powerfully share the gospel with others.

Next we come to what I believe is the last group of gifts described here… shepherds and teachers.  Some people divide these into two gifts, but, grammatically from the Greek (τος δ ποιμένας κα διδασκάλους -note the absence of the definite article before διδασκάλους), I believe these actually form one group… shepherd (or pastor) / teachers

Now think with me for a moment… what does a shepherd do? 

The quintessential passage of Scripture describing the work of a shepherd is found in Psalm 23

Psalm 23:1-4 (ESV) – 1 A Psalm of David. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. 3 He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

1)      The shepherd provides for the need of flock… so that they shall not want.

2)      He leads them to peace and rest.

3)      He nourishes them with water and food.

4)      He restores their souls… caring for their spiritual needs.

5)      He guides them in the paths of righteousness for the glory of God… for His name’s sake.

6)      He walks beside them as they go through the valley of the shadow of death.

The shepherd is a blessing to those he cares for.  And if we follow the model of Jesus… who is the Good Shepherd… then the shepherd must lay down his life for the sheep (Jn 10:11.)

The shepherd must give himself wholly to this work and sacrifice on behalf of those entrusted to his care.

As a pastor, I find this incredibly daunting and I know that I do not always live up to this standard.  Praise God for Jesus Christ who died for all my sin and shortcomings.  But this is the goal to which all shepherd/teachers are to strive. 

 These are the responsibilities of the shepherd, but there is one other specific task which is emphasized here by Paul… the shepherd is a teacher.  The New Testament is clear that those called to function as pastors in the church must be “able to teach” (I Tim 3:2, also Titus 1:9.)  In fact, Paul later commands Timothy to “preach the Word” both in season and out of season… even if people don’t want to listen (II Tim 4:2-4.)  Paul himself modeled this behavior, teaching the whole counsel of God to those entrusted to his care (Acts 20:27.)

In our modern context, shepherd/teachers are to take the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets and teach it diligently to the church.

At the risk of sounding self-serving… shepherd/teachers (i.e. pastors) are gifts which Jesus has given to the church in order to lead, feed, protect and care for the flock, so that the saints (i.e. those who are Christians) might be equipped for the work of ministry.

This is what Paul says the result of our ministry is supposed to be…the saints… that is you if you are a Christian… are to do the work of the ministry as pastors equip you or train you up for service.

In many ways, pastors are supposed to function like coaches.  The coach trains the players, but who actually plays the game?  The coach sharpens the players the techniques.  The coach teaches them the plays.  The coach strives to mold them into a cohesive unit.   But come game day… who goes out on the field?  It is the players who go out in unity and meet the competition head on, fully equipped to meet the challenge before them.

Now this is not a perfect illustration… because pastor/teachers play the game as well.  But we aren’t supposed to play it alone. 

Unfortunately that is the way that many churches run.  The pastors run around playing the game.  They preach the sermons and teach the classes.  They knock on doors and share the gospel with the community.  They contact the visitors and go see the sick.  They clean the church and fix the toilets and sweep the sidewalks.  They are out the playing the game… while the saints watch from the sidelines.

Paul says that this is not the way it is supposed to be.  Pastors train up Christians in the church so that they can do the work of ministry and, as a result, the body of Christ is built up.

 What is the church being built up to become?

The goal of our ministry is described here in several different ways… both positively and negatively.  In other words we see what we are supposed to become… and what we are to avoid.

This work of building up the Body of Christ is to continue until we allnote the all… every one of us… until we all attain to the unity of the faith.

This speaks of being doctrinally united.  The work of ministry continues until each and every one of us is united in “the” faith.  Note the definite article here.  We are to be united in “the” faith.  I take this to mean primarily that we are all in agreement in our understanding of the gospel.  We continue to pour the good news of Jesus Christ into one another until there is no question in our hearts and minds as to who Jesus is and what He has done.  We are never done doing that.  In I Corinthians 15, Paul says this is “of first importance.” 

Last week we saw that that the early church was committed to fellowship which was defined by remembering the gospel together (Acts 2:42.)  We are to remind one another constantly that we are sinners and that we deserve the punishment of hell.  We are to remind one another that God has been gracious to us.  He loved us and sent His only begotten Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for our sin.  Through repentance and faith, this salvation is freely given to us.  This is the only faith which saves.  This is the faith around which we must be united.

Secondly, as a result of the ministry of the saints, we all grow into a full knowledge of the Son of God.  The word used here is πίγνωσις and it means to know personally in the fullest possible sense (Louw-Nida, πίγνωσις.)  In other words, the goal of our ministry is not just to communicate facts to one another… it is to foster a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  We are called to live out our lives together in such a way that we all come to know Him more.  We are to share Him with one another… through our time in the Word of God together… through our time in prayer together… through our fellowship with one another.  Our goal in serving one another is that our brothers and sisters in Christ would grow to know Him more.

This process is never done in this lifetime.  In Philippians 3, Paul says that he was willing to consider all things loss that he might know Him… that is Jesus Christ… and the power of His resurrection… and the fellowship of His suffering… being conformed to His death… so that he might attain to the resurrection from the dead (Phil 3:10-11.)  He was willing to give up the things of this world so that He might fully know Jesus Christ.

Let’s merge these two thoughts here and ask the questions…

1)      Am I willing to count all things loss so that I might help others know Jesus more in every aspect of the Christian life?

2)      Am I willing to consider others more important than myself, so that, through my sacrifice and service, others may know Jesus more fully?

We are to serve one another so that we might all grow in unity around the gospel and come to know Jesus Christ more fully and, as we do so, we will all grow to mature manhood.  We will no longer be infants… as we will see in a moment… but we will grow to the full measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.  We are growing up to be like Jesus.

The picture here is of children growing to physical maturity.  Think about this for a moment… all children see, to be obsessed with getting bigger.  They all want to grow up.  When our children are young, we get those growth charts and we stick them on the wall.  And every day, the kids want us to measure them against it, just in case, they might have grown a little bit last night.

Almost all children want to be grown up.  My daughters are constantly measuring themselves against their mom.  They want to be as tall… or taller… than she is.  They want to attain to the full measure of the stature of a grown up.

Paul says here that this is what we should want as a church. We should be seeking to grow up to be just like Jesus in every way.  And that happens as we serve one another within the Body of Christ.

This is not only for our blessing, it is also to keep us going astray, because, as we grow to full maturity, then we will no longer be like children who are tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine.

Children are easily led astray.  Every parent knows this is true.  That is why we teach our children not to talk to strangers… certainly not to take candy from them.  As our children grow older, we take care to make sure that our children’s friends are good influences upon them, because we know how easily they can be led astray.

We aren’t much better as Christians.  We are so easily led astray from the truth.

Not only are we prone to wander, but Paul states here that there are forces at work intentionally trying to lead us astray.  It is the result of “human cunning”… “craftiness in deceitful schemes.”

There are forces all around us seeking to lead us astray.  This has always been the case.  You can go all the way back to the Garden of Eden and see the devil successfully working to lead God’s people astray (Gen 3.)  We see this all throughout Scripture.  Most… not all… but most of the New Testament epistles were written in order to offset doctrinal error or sinful practices in the church.

We see this all the time today.  We all know of churches who have fallen away into worldliness and unbiblical beliefs.  Whether it is denying the inspiration and inerrancy of the Word of God… or ordaining homosexual pastors… we see churches all around us being tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine.

This is one of the reasons why pastor/teachers are so important.  A significant part of our job is to do our best to keep the flock moving in the right direction.

In Acts 20, Paul specifically warns the elders (i.e. pastors) in Ephesus to protect the church from those who would lead them astray.

 Acts 20:28-31 (ESV) – 28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears.

The church is precious to God… Jesus Christ purchased us with His own blood.  And the church is always in danger from savage wolves… those seeking to devour the flock and toss us to and fro with false doctrine.  Therefore, pastors much watch out for the flock and protect them from false teachers by being alert to the danger and admonishing the church continuously. 

This is a major part of the pastor’s job.  However, in our text in Ephesians 4, notice that Paul’s primary point here is not so much that they be protected from false teaching, but that the church be inoculated against it.  Pastors train up the congregation and the members do the work of ministry and together we all grow to be like Jesus and then we are not so susceptible to the false doctrine which we encounter in this world.  We are less likely to be led astray, because we are built upon a solid foundation and we cannot be moved.

So we see here that every Christian is to do the work of service on behalf of one another, but what is this service that we are all being trained up to do?  Paul tells us in verses 15 and 16.

Rather than being tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine, we are to “speak the truth in love” to one another.  Literally the Greek says that we are to be “truthing in love” (ληθεύω.)  This is more than simply saying what is true… it is doing the truth.  It is following the truth.  It is living out the truth in our day to day lives.  It is applying the truth of God’s Word to our lives and living it out in relationship with one another.

It is more than just living out the truth… it is doing so “in love.”  We all know that it is possible to speak the truth in an unloving manner.  It is also possible to live out the truth in an unloving manner.  We have to find the balance between truth and love and that is not always easy.  But this is what we see exemplified in Jesus who has demonstrated to us what it means to be full of “grace and truth” (Jn 1:17.)  He never wavered in His commitment to what is right and true, yet He always did so through demonstrating love to His people.

This should describe us.  This is what shepherd/teachers are supposed to train the church up to do… to live out the truth of the gospel in love with one another.

When we do this… when we are lovingly living out the truth with one another… then we are “working properlywhich results in the body being built up.

But notice that we still don’t get the credit for building the church, because this proper functioning is also a gift “from Christ.”  He is the One who joins and holds the Body together.  He is the One who causes each part… meaning you and me… to work properly.  He is the One who brings about the growth, but He does so through us, as we grow to be like Him.

This is how the church is built up…

Jesus Christ is building His Church (Matt 16:18)… but He works through means to do it.  He is working through godly church leaders…who protect and nurture and teach and train.  But He is also working through each and every believer…as we live out the truth in loving community with one another.  And the result of all this is that we as a church become like Him… for His honor and glory.

How do we apply this to our lives?

First, we must understand the proper role of pastor/teachers.  Your pastors are gifts given to your church to lead you… to protect you… to nurture you… and teach you.  Their role is to equip you to do the work of ministry.  This is what you should expect of your pastors… to lead… feed… and protect you.

Secondly, we must also understand the responsibility of each individual member in the church.  If you are a Christian, then you are called to serve one another by living out the truth of the gospel in loving relationships with one another.  You are to be an instrument of growth and change in the church where God has placed you.  It is your job to care for one another… and to remind one another of the gospel… and to encourage one another in having a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.

Pastors are a gift to the church… but so is each individual member.  If you are a Christian, then you are a gift to the church.  Jesus intends to work through you to build us His church.

If you are a Christian, then I would challenge you to ask yourself the following questions…

1)      How can I be used to build up this Body of believers here at Sunnyside Baptist Church?

2)      In what ways do I need to be equipped for service?

3)      Am I living out the truth in love with my brothers and sisters in Christ here at Sunnyside?

4)      Am I serving my brothers and sisters in Christ and are we all growing together to be more like Jesus?

This is how Jesus Christ builds His Church.  May He do so in your local church.

 

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