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The Power of Christ at Work in our Church
MAKING A DIFFERENCE: The entire Church is the training environment
I want to share with you some proverbs. They relate to you individually and to all of us corporately–see if you can figure out the application to you. A liver cannot survive outside the body–each organ has a purpose to fulfill in the body. Uncooperative cells are a cancer to the body–lazy cells are warts on the body.
All the parts of the body do what the head wills, not what the parts want. The wall of the building needs all of its bricks. Every player has a position on the team. Sheep follow the shepherd, not the other sheep. There is no life for an organ outside the body. So what’s the point?
Christians belong to the Church. Biblical Christianity means immersion in a church. There are people calling themselves Christians who do not belong to a local church. There are people thinking they are believers who never serve, never give, never interrelate, never minister and barely attend church–yet the New Testament would say they’re disobedient to God’s clear, design for every Christian.
The church is an organism you are a part of, not an organization you join. The church is Christ manifested on earth, not a club you occasionally attend. If you love the Groom, then you love His bride. If you belong to Christ, you also belong to His church. You cannot redefine the Christian life as somehow removed from a local church. You cannot redefine the church to make it an optional, once-a-month effort. You cannot redefine the Scripture to make the church optional.
All who have been transformed by the Savior will be immersed in His church. You already know–the commands of the New Testament are almost always plural, not I and me, but us and we. Spiritual warfare is done by the church corporately, not merely by you individually. Marriage and parenting were designed to function in the context of the church.
Spiritual gifts are given to each Christian to minister within the church. Discipleship demands intentional relationship within the local church. There are over forty “one another’s” in the New Testament directed at all of you to function as a family. Even eldership is a plurality of men seeking the one will of Christ as the head. And if you are going to be used of God to influence your children for Christ, you and they must be immersed in a local church.
Michael Griffiths says in his book, God’s Forgetful Pilgrims, this shocking statement, “Without becoming properly integrated into and involved in a congregation of God’s people …[believers] will never develop and mature properly as Christians any more than the child or the monkey reared in isolation in laboratory conditions will develop properly.”
Kids are smart–to say you love Christ but not faithfully serve in His church is hypocritical. To not faithfully attend is to convince them Christ is optional. If God would use you to impact another couple, a student, a sister or brother in a community group, or a child in your Sunday school class, then it will be as you immerse them in the body of Christ to be impacted by everyone who is putting Christ on display.
Turn in your Bibles to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians–in this letter, the apostle is pointing to the superior power of God to impact the lives of Christians in the context of the Church. Chapters 1 to 3 describe the powerful position Christians rest in because of Christ. And chapters 4 to 6 describe the powerful practice believers live enabled by Christ.
In line with God’s sovereign control, chapter 4 begins by stating a fact. It’s a declaration that all true believers will walk worthy of their calling. Look at verse 1, “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.”
Paul is not telling the Ephesians to start walking so they become worthy, or even start walking worthy. That is not what Paul is saying. Paul is in prison, writing the Ephesians and urging them to walk worthy. But Paul is not commanding the Ephesians or us here to walk worthy. In fact, he gives no commands in this chapter until verse 25.
Using the mood of fact, Paul is stating facts here and articulating certainties, affirming to his readers walking worthy is what Christians do. Get this–walking worthy is what a true Christian will do because they’ve been transformed. God is describing what a church full of genuine Christians will do. This is how they will live. This is their walk–born again Christians will walk worthy.
If the Christian life were a sport, right now in this room we’d be in the huddle. We’re commanded to huddle as God’s team. Every Sunday, every believer is commanded to gather for corporate worship. I love huddling—huddling is good. We need to encourage each other and hear what our coach teaches us from His playbook.
But the huddle is not what Paul is talking about here. The huddle is not what wins the game in this team sport. What Paul is describing in chapter 4 is what happens after you say, “Ready, break,” after you leave church and go out into the world. Your walk is what you do when you are not in the huddle at church, but when you’re running the plays out in the world God has for you to run.
Paul’s point here is powerful–he is saying, “If you are a genuine Christian, you will . . .” verse 1, “walk worthy.” Then later, from verses 17 to 24, Paul is affirming you will walk uniquely. This is a certainty, Paul declares–if you are a real believer, you will live a worthy and unique lifestyle. So Paul urges you to live what all true Christians will live–verses 1 to 16, worthy, and verses 17 to 24, uniquely.
Now are you getting what Paul is saying? If I was hip I’d ask, “Are you picking up what I am putting down?” This is radical–genuine Christians will walk worthy. Part of that worthy walk is to minister to the body. Every genuine Christian will want to minister their spiritual gift in the church.
Every true Christian recognizes they have a position to play on God’s team. And being on God’s team means you will care for each other, be unified, and play your position. You realize Christ has given you a giftedness which is to be used to make the team stronger for the glory of God. How will that look in the church? Verses 11 to 16 spell it out–the amazing power of God at work in the church is described. It’s a familiar passage, but it really has an unfamiliar meaning.
“And He GAVE some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of 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 a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who IS the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, CAUSES the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”
Before you fall in love with Paul’s meaning, let me warn you of five mistakes to avoid. The first mistake is thinking . . .
First This passage is written to me INDIVIDUALLY
No, God is writing to a local church and we all are to live this letter together as His Body. Every chapter of this letter either uses the word church or some synonym of the Church, because this letter is about the power of Christ through His Church Body.
God is telling each of you to think of yourself as belonging to a larger team, an eternal family, an organ that will not survive without its body. You can never be what Christ redeemed you to be without your collective, active participation in a local church. The Christian life is not a solo event, but a team sport. You are on God’s team and each of you have a position to play. Avoid the second mistake of thinking this . . .
Second KNOWING the truth is enough
Knowing these verses does little for you–it is only as you are dependently empowered by the Spirit while you seek to engage your will to live these truths that will you be changed and accomplish God’s plan. Your goal this morning is to be a doer, not merely a hearer. Our goal is not to be truth junkies, but transformed, conformed, molded into Christ Jesus. The third mistake of thinking this . . .
Third I can live for Christ WITHOUT Christ
Nothing you do this week will matter unless you are trusting in Christ alone for forgiveness. Nothing you do today will please Christ unless you are moment-by-moment depending on His indwelling Holy Spirit to live through you. Even if you sang songs, no one here this morning will worship Christ unless you are obediently following Christ currently.
Religion is a belief you exercise on your own. Religion keeps you from true salvation. That is why religious people make Christ vomit. You need to turn to Christ in repentance and faith, be indwelt by His Spirit and dependently obey His Word. The fourth mistake of thinking is . . .
Fourth The author’s intended meaning of this passage is EASILY discerned in English
Don’t be discouraged. Most often, over 85% of the time, you can discern the author’s intended meaning by reading an accurate English translation–an NASB or even an ESV. And even though I know Greek, my love of preaching made me think the main message in this passage was about equipping, but it is not. That is not Paul’s main message. The fifth mistake is . . .
Fifth Neglecting your RESPONSIBILITY under God’s sovereign power in providing for His Church
Christ is the focus of these verses, and the emphasis is upon Christ’s powerful, sovereign care for His Church. But even though Christ powerfully provides the Church with what it needs, powerfully leads a biblical church and causes the maturing of a functioning church, every single one of you has a job to do in order for our church to grow healthy and honor Christ.
Look at these verses and feel the weight of what God is saying. There are some stand-out verbs which put Paul’s meaning on display. I highlighted them for you in your outline–see them?
Verse 11, “And He GAVE some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, . . . 12 for the equipping of the saints . . . 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who IS the head, even Christ, . . . 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, CAUSES the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”
As Paul writes these verses, his emphasis is not on equipping, or the functioning of the church body, but on God’s sovereign power and care for His church. Notice verse 11, God is the one who gave the church its leaders in order to be healthy. God is the one who is the head, the leader, the authority of the church to be imitated. And God is one who causes the growth of the body as we increase in sacrificial love.
God is sovereign in the church, and God gives the Church who and what it needs. God powerfully keeps His promises. God does His part–now Paul says, do yours. God is sovereign yes–but you are responsible.
Under the sovereign care of God, if you’re a pastor-teacher, then verse 11, “equip the saints for the work of ministry.” If you’re a believer within the church, then verse 15, “grow up to be more like the head, who is Christ.” If you’re a Christian, then verse 16, function in your role as a part of the body so we can all grow to love like Christ.
You can’t grow to be like Christ by remaining distant or separated from the church. You won’t mature as a believer unless you function in ministry. You won’t grow in relationship unless you serve as a part of the body.
If you hope to train your children, then parents serve and involve your children in the church. If you desire to impact others for Christ, then interconnect them to a church family. If you would train men for ministry, they must be doing ministry in the local church. These main verbs make the main points of what Paul is trying to say here.
#1 God gives the Church the LEADERS she needs Verses 11 to 14
God has been meeting the needs of the Church since day one. He says in verse 11, “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers.”
God gave, God gifted, God presented the Church with apostles–those proxies who carried the same authority and power of Christ. Prophets who gave the Church the Word of God prior to it being written. Evangelists who still proclaim the Gospel and established new churches. And pastor-teachers–the Greek tells the Ephesians it’s not pastors and teachers, but pastors who teach.
Pastor-teachers were never intended to be the men who run the show. Pastors are not CEO’s of the church, the president of the organization, nor the main man. Every time you study church leadership, you end up with a plurality of elders who seek to determine the singular will of Christ as head of the church together in unanimity.
So pastor-teachers are part of the eldership. They are one of the elders who are uniquely gifted to preach and teach God’s Word, like 1 Timothy 5:17, “The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.”
So these offices–apostle, prophet, evangelist and pastor-teacher were given to the Church by God. Jesus emphatically is the one who gives the Church its leadership. It’s His job, it’s His ministry, it’s His design. “But Chris, what about all those bad preachers?”
Sometimes I think the Lord gives the church the leaders it deserves or wants. Those believers who want to be entertained get entertainers for pastors. So-called Christians who want to be jacked up emotionally each week get emotional jacks. Weak, poorly taught, non-doctrinal church attenders often get storyteller pastors–not Bible teachers. They get what they want. Listen, if they wanted different, they’d kick those clowns out and get a Bible teacher.
Now those past offices and current evangelists and pastor-teachers were designed for a purpose–see it in verse 12? “For the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.” To equip is a vivid word–in fact, it’s used several different ways to show you what a pastor-teacher does.
It is a surgical term, used of setting bones which were either broken or dislocated. Pastor-teachers are like surgeons who help keep the body healthy by helping each part of the body to discover its God-given function and heal those parts which are broken.
It is also a military term, for the equipping of an army with men and provisions in order to go to battle. Therefore, elders are those who make sure the army has nourishment to eat and adequate ammunition for the battle.
Equipping is an educational term, used for the full training of a pupil by his teacher. Pastor-teachers are tutors who share the knowledge and instruction they have received from God so their students may become just as trained as they are.
Equipping is a political term for the arbitrating of disputes between warring factions, so the parties might become reconciled. Elder-shepherds are those who act as umpires, bringing reconciliation among God’s people so all are aligned with the purposes of Christ.
And to equip is also a commercial term for preparing of nets for continued use. The Church is a fishing net which is prepared, patched and deployed by pastors in strategic locations for the catching of men. Thus pastors are those men who equip others to reach unbelievers with the Gospel.
Look at verse 12 again–equipping is to prepare “the saints for the work of ministry.” The Amplified says, “they should do the work of ministering.” This passage teaches–if you want the Church to be built up, if you want the body of Christ to grow, if you want the bride to reflect the groom . . . then the saints must do the work of the ministry. If the Church is ever to be what God intended, everyone is to be engaged in spiritual labor.
Ministry is not optional, it’s obedient. First Corinthians 15:58 says to the Church, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” It amazes me God does not view ministry as optional for any part of the Church.
I was shocked to read, God even has some very tough things to say to those who choose not to carry their load of ministry. In 2 Thessalonians 3:11 he says to us, “For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies.” Every church has some like that.
When you’re idol in the church, the result is you’ll find yourself meddling in other people’s affairs. One theologian said, “There are never to be drones in the church, only busy bees. Attendance is a poor substitute for participation. Ministry means lowly service, sacrifice, dependence, and a unique place of function.”
One reason the church is ineffective today is because some view the church as a group of professionals who are paid to do the ministry, rather than a team of servant leaders who equip all the saints to do the work of the ministry. And the end of verse 12, when each of you minister, then the body of Christ is built up stronger. Like the pumping of weights, as you serve, you build spiritual muscle.
What happens when we all serve the way God designed? Verses 13 to 14 get radical. “Until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ. 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming.”
As you each serve, there is unity, teamwork, and togetherness. As you each express Christ in this body through your own unique ministry, then you all will get to know Christ intimately, relationally, deeply and fully over time. As you are equipped in the Word and serve Him in ministry, then you will all grow stable. You will no longer be like children who are easily tricked–no longer influenced by the latest doctrinal craze, distorted by creative communicators or deceived by false teachers. Paul adds–as you function in service to the body of Christ, then . . .
#2 God leads the Church towards its goal of becoming LIKE Christ Verse 15
“But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who IS the head, even Christ.” In contrast to false teachers and bad leaders, true equippers and genuine Christians speak the truth, but do so in love. As we do, the entire body grows up, becoming like the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ Himself.
See the phrase in verse 15—“in ALL aspects.” As a church, we are to grow as truthful as Christ, as gracious as Christ, as compassionate as Christ, as pointed as Christ, as simple as Christ, love children like Christ, more holy like Christ, hating sin like Christ, loving good deeds like Christ, to serve like Christ, to minister to the undeserving like Christ, to proclaim the Gospel to the lost like Christ—all aspects of Christ.
God is the one who makes this happen, but some are to equip and all are to function in ministry in order for each of you and all of you to grow in every aspect like Christ. This is what Paul says in point #3.
#3 God causes the Church to grow MATURE as a body Verse 16
“From whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, CAUSES the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” God causes the growth, God gets the glory–God is the one who has blessed us, but each part of the body is to minister in the place God designed you to fit.
You are fitted to function in a unique place in the body. You are to be working properly, function the way God pre-planned and God will cause the growth. We will all grow spiritually. A mature church is a loving church. A loving church is not an emotionally sappy church, but a sacrificial, giving, serving, truthful and a compassionate church. But never love without truth. Never sacrifice without responsibility. So take this home . . .
ONE Are you RESPONSIBLE or FLAKEY?
God is sovereignly caring for His Church. He will give the church the leaders it needs and He will cause the church to grow to be like Christ and He will cause the church to mature in love. But each of you are responsible to do your part, to do the work of ministry, to function in your service. Trusting God is sovereign is not enough–are you responsible?
TWO Are you IN or are you OUT?
Are you the isolated Christian monkey in a lab, or the integrated believer in the body? You can’t grow mature unless you are involved, giving, serving, functioning in ministry. You won’t see your children grow healthy unless they are integrated into church family. To disciple a student, train a man, impact a community group, they must be integrated in.
So today, are you ready to take the bib off and put the apron on? You are the Church–you were baptized into her. You belong to Christ and to His bride. Do you act like it or are you still making excuses. Are you in or are you out?
THREE Are you HEALTHY or are you HURTING?
Sick Christians are welcome here at FBC. If your life is beaten, broken and battered, we’re glad you’re here. We mean it, cause we desire this church to be a hospital of grace. But I don’t know any hospital in the world that will let you come in with your illness and make you comfortable being sick.
Every hospital I know goes into motion when you are sick to make you well. You can’t go into a hospital and say, “Don’t mess with me–I just want a bed, three meals a day and cable TV.” Listen, you don’t need to go to church for that–just go to jail. If you’re hurting, stay–sit under God’s Word, let people love you, but not forever.
Good hospitals do surgery, they cut, mend and sew. That’s why, if you attend your home church and leave happy every Sunday, then something is wrong with your church. The Word of God is supposed to do surgery–it’ll cut and sometimes it will hurt, but always change your life.
Hebrews 4:12 is scary. “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of the soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
God has not called His church together to massage our egos, but to transform our lives. God wills for you to use your unique gifts to build up the church body, make it stronger, to contribute to its cause in order to score for God’s team.
FOUR Are you willing to WORK or are you LAZY?
You say, “I am tired, I have six kids, I work fourteen hours-a-day–I can’t serve, I’m tired!” A pastor friend of mine used to play football and he’d come home after practice and say, “Mom, I am so tired, I’m going to take a nap.”
His mother would say, “Boy, you had better get your big ugly self down here and do your chores and help me in the kitchen.”
“But mamma, you don’t understand. I’m tired.”
And she’d say, “If tiredness were a criteria of function, your breakfast wouldn’t be made, your lunch wouldn’t be made, your clothes wouldn’t be washed, your room wouldn’t be clean. If tiredness were a criteria of function then I would have gotten rid of you the day you were born.” You were born again to do the work of ministry–are you willing to work?
FIVE Are you SELFISH or SERVING?
People around you need to see Christ through you. People in the church need to experience your giftedness expressed. Giftedness is your way of putting Christ on display in a powerful and unique way. But it is only seen when you exercise your giftedness in service.
Are you a functioning organ or a cancer cell? Cancer cells don’t cooperate. You say, “I am not causing any trouble. So you’re benign–harmless, just along for the ride. That makes you a wart. If you are part of the body, you will sense the needs around you. Just like the body runs to protect its hurting parts, so you will seek to minister to others in our midst.
Why is this so important? Simple–Christ came to serve. Every Christian will do the same. If you know Christ, then you will desire to serve like Christ. Maybe today you will see you really don’t know Christ. Then turn to Him to be forgiven and born again. Let’s pray.