(Delivered Sunday, January 25, 2004 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotes are taken from the New King James Version.)
I felt led to this morning's portion of Scripture for an unusual reason. Often, I feel led to preach from a particular passage in order to encourage the church to begin doing something that it isn't currently doing. But God has already begun to lead our church in a certain direction, and several of you are already beginning to take the action I'm going to propose this morning. I have been watching what's been happening with a growing sense of excitement and anticipation; because it's something that I've been praying for many years. And today, I am merely sharing with you what God says about what is already beginning to happen.
The Bible's description of what's happening is found in one of my favorite passages in the New Testament concerning the church. I believe it would be hard to find a more liberating and encouraging word to a church like ours than this passage; because, in it, we discover that every believer is responsible for doing the ministry of the church - and that the church grows when everyone does his or her part.
In Ephesians 4:11-16, the apostle Paul writes of Jesus Christ and says;
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head - Christ - from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love (Eph. 4:11-16).
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You may not remember this; but this passage is the very first passage I preached at Bethany Bible Church - almost twelve years ago. I felt led to begin with this passage; because I believe it established that everyone in the church family is responsible for doing the work of the ministry of the church. And I still believe I was right to begin my service in the church by pointing it out.
But do you notice that it says that we're to be characterized by 'speaking the truth in love'? Well, this morning, I need to speak the truth about a failure on my part that I believe has, to some degree, hindered the church over the past twelve years. Some members of our leadership team have testified - and I also feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit that their testimony is true - that, in spite of the call this passage presents us, I do a very poor job of sharing the work of the ministry. I do not delegate the work of the ministry very well; and have tried to shoulder far more of the work of the church than I ought to.
Many years ago - at the start of my ministry here - my very wise father-in-law gave me a great piece of advice. He may have given it to me because he knew my specific weaknesses better than I do. He said - and I can remember what he said almost word for word - "Greg; delegate! Delegate all the work that you can to other people. Delegate so much, that there's nothing left for you to do but to sit around and think up new jobs to delegate. And then, the church will grow." My father-in-law is not a teacher; but I believe his advice on delegating the work of the ministry should be made into a required course at every seminary!
Moses also had a great father-in-law. As he was leading the people to the promised land, Moses' father-in-law - a priest from the land of Midian named Jethro - visited; and saw the great things God was doing for the people of Israel. But Jethro also saw how poorly Moses was managing his work. He saw that Moses sat from morning to evening every day, judging the people and settling their difficult disputes for them. Because Moses was just one man - crowds of people stood in line all day long to see him. It was amazing how much was NOT getting done!
Jethro graciously confronted Moses and said, "The thing that you do is not good. Both you and these people who are with you will surely wear yourselves out. For this thing is too much for you; you are not able to perform it by yourself" (Exodus 18:17-18). And do you know what Jethro suggested Moses do? I'll give you a hint: It begins with the letter "D". He said,
"Listen now to my voice; I will give you counsel, and God will be with you: Stand before God for the people, so that you may bring the difficulties to God. And you shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and show them the way in which they must walk and the work they must do. Moreover you shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. And let them judge the people at all times. Then it will be that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they themselves shall judge. So it will be easier for you, for they will bear the burden with you. If you do this thing, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all this people will also go to their place in peace" (vv. 19-23).
By following this advice to delegate the work - and if, as Jethro carefully said, the Lord so led - then not only would Moses be able to endure, but the people would be blessed. Dear beloved of Christ; I confess that I have done poorly at following the advice of either of those two great fathers-in-law in my service to you. I believe that, to some degree, I as the pastor of this small church, and you as the congregation, have had not had the kind of healthy relationship that the Lord would want us to have; because I have been willing to do more of the church's ministry than I should, and you have been willing - to some degree - to let me. I believe that the fault has been mostly mine, however; because I so rarely delegate the work over that rightly belongs to you, and urge you on to works of service. In the course of it all, I have often stretched myself far too thin; and have done a poorer job than I should have in the things that were my legitimate ministry responsibilities. And at the same time, I have robbed many of you of the ministry opportunities that should have been yours all along. All of us, to some degree, have hurt for this; and I ask your forgiveness.
But at the same time as I say that, I also praise God because I see things changing very quickly. More and more, I have seen many of you in the church family feel the prompting of the Holy Spirit to take on roles of ministry in the church family; and it's clearly not because you've been asked by me, but because you have felt the Lord's own leading to do so. That's why I say that, today, I'm not so much exhorting you from this passage as I am reporting to you what God says about what you're already beginning to do. I believe God is about to change our church in some very dramatic ways; and I want to align myself properly to what God is doing in our midst. I want to encourage you to do so also.
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To sum it all up, dear brothers and sisters in Christ; I'm not the only one in the church who is 'called to the ministry'. Every one of us who are believers in Christ, and who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, are also called to minister. If Bethany Bible Church grows, and sees more and more people coming to know Jesus Christ as Savior through its ministry, it will never be because just a few of the leaders did it all. It will only be because those of us who are in leadership cease trying to do it all, and because all of you - the saints of the church - faithfully take on the work of the ministry; with the leaders doing the work along with you.
Did you know that church growth experts speak of something called the 20/80 principle? It's a rule of thumb that seems to be typical in almost all small churches: 20% of the church family does 80% of the work of the church's ministry, while the remaining 80% does only 20% of the ministry. In larger churches that have a bigger budged for paid staff, it's even worse.
Those percentages are not what God wants, dear brothers and sisters. But I and several of the leaders in our church family have a strong sense from God that our situation is changing. The percentages are beginning to even out; as more and more of you are stepping out into active ministry. Let's look closer at this passage and see what it is that God is helping us - as a church family - to increasingly become. Let's give ourselves over to His design for our church, as it's found in this passage; and let's pray together that it will become realized in us more and more.
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If you were to read the verses that precede our passage, you'd read that Paul describes the wonderful unity we share together as believers. He says that, for us, there is "one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all" (vv. 4-5). We are given a great unity in Christ. You'll notice that we aren't commanded by God become "unified" (and it's a good thing we're not; eh?); but rather to endeavor to "keep" the unity that we have already been given.
But this unity is a unity expressed in the wonderful diversity of individually gifted believers. Paul goes on to say,
But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore He says: "When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men" (vv. 7-8).
Paul is here quoting from Psalm 68:18; and he is presenting our Savior to us in the image of a mighty, conquering king who returns from battle with his enemies in his train. Often, such conquering kings would shower the gifts of his conquest upon his people; and so Jesus is present as having led 'captivity captive', and of giving 'gifts to men'.
And this leads us to the first thing we see in our passage . . .
1. WHAT GIFTS HE HAS GIVEN TO THE CHURCH (v. 11).
Paul speaks of Christ, and says, "And He Himself gave some to be apostles, and some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers . . ." And I'd like you to notice a few things about this verse.
First, notice that the "gifts" Jesus gives His church are certain people. Some translations have inserted the words "to be"; making this say that Christ gave some people "to be" apostles, prophets, and so on. But in the original language of Paul's words, the words "to be" are not there. He is literally saying that Jesus has given some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists and some pastors and teachers to His church as 'gifts'. (I like that. It's not to often that I, as your pastor, am able to say that - in spite of all my faults - I am literally God's gift to the church! But now's my chance, because there it is in black and white!)
Second, I want you to notice that it is emphasized that Jesus Himself has given these legitimate servants as gifts to His church. These servants - rightly looked upon as leaders in God's church, and entrusted with the authority to care for it and protect it - didn't simply raise themselves up and appoint themselves as leaders. They should never be looked upon as unnecessary, or as if they have obtained positions of authority illegitimately; because Paul literally says of Jesus that "He Himself" gave them to His church as gifts.
And third, I want you to notice who it is that He gave. I look at the list as describing two different groups of "gifts" to the church. First, He gave what I call "foundational" servants to the church. He speaks of 'apostles'; who were personal eyewitnesses of Jesus Christ and His resurrection. They were sent by Him personally to proclaim to the world who He is and what He did. He also speaks of 'prophets'; and I believe that Paul is here referring to the Old Testament prophets, through whom God spoke and bore witness of Jesus before He came into the world. In Ephesians 2:20, Paul says that we - the church of believers - are God's household; "having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone."
And if the apostles and prophets are Jesus' "foundational" gifts to His church, I believe the second group should be considered "supportive" gifts to His church. They build on and maintain what has been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. First, we see that Jesus gave evangelists to His church; and these would be those who continue the witness begun by the apostles. They serve the church by going out into the world, seeking the lost, and bringing them to Christ. What we would traditionally consider "evangelist" would certainly fall into this category; but I believe that missionaries should also be included. And second, we see that Jesus has given pastors and teachers as gifts to His church (which I believe to be one office described by the two different functions of shepherding and teaching). They continue the ministry of the prophets of old, in that they provide the needed care and nurture of those formerly-lost people who are now brought into God's family; speaking forth what God has said, and training and teaching the believers in the things they need to know in order to follow and serve Jesus faithfully.
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Now, it would be easy to think that these "gifts" from the Lord Jesus Christ are the ones who are supposed to be doing all the work of ministry in His church. After all, they're the 'ministry' professionals. But that's when we come to the surprising truth presented to us in the next verse. There, we discover . . .
2. WHY HE HAS GIVEN THESE GIFTS TO THE CHURCH (vv. 12-13).
Paul says that these servants were given by Jesus Himself as His gifts to His church, "for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ."
Now please follow what I'm about to tell you very carefully; because this truth from God's word can - if we grasp it - utterly transform not only our church, but our own individual lives and our sense of purpose in God's plan.
We are often accustomed to reading that verse as if it were a 'grocery list' of duties that are to be fulfilled by the apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastors and teachers. We often read it as if they had three main duties: (1) equip the saints, (2) do the work of the ministry, and (3) edify (or build up) the body of Christ. But that's not what Paul is saying! Rather, he is saying that those "gifts" were given to the church for the "equipping of the saints" - that is, to furnish the believers in the church with the things they need, and to prepare them and help qualify them for service - and it is, then, those saints who are to go out and do the work of the ministry and edify the body of Christ.
Do you understand the significance of that? In other words, it's my role and the role of the leaders of the church to serve its true ministers - and that's you, the saints! And it's you who are to, then, go out and do the work of the ministry as the Lord leads you, and build up the church! If you wait for the "gifts" to do that, it'll never get done; because it's not their job to do for the saints what the Lord has given the saints to do. It's simply the leaders' job to equip the saints to do their job - to provide what is needed in the way of instruction, and training, and support; and to give a clear vision of God's will. But it's the job of the saints - every man and woman and child who is a believer in Christ and is indwelt by His Holy Spirit - to do the work of ministry!
The Super Bowl is coming up next Sunday. You tell me: what would you think of a coach who gathered his team into the locker room, gave them a stirring pre-game pep-talk, then ran out to face the opponent on the field all alone - while the team went off afterwards to a restaurant to talk about what a great 'pep-talk' the coach just gave? As they carried the coach's battered body back into the locker room on a stretcher, wouldn't the kindest thing you'd say at his funeral be that he apparently didn't understand his role? And likewise, wouldn't you say the same about the team?
Wouldn't you like to see our church grow? Well; look at what Paul says at the end of that description of the duties of the saints: "for the edifying [that is, the building-up] of the body of Christ." That's what happens when the "gifts" equip the saints for ministry; and then, together with the "gifts", the saints themselves enter into the work.
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By the way; how long is the work to last? Paul goes on to say, ". . . till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ . . ." (v. 13).
This is a wonderful verse; because it not only tells us how long the work is to go on, but also tells us what the focus of that work is to be. We're to keep on working until every believer, first of all, attains to "the unity of the faith". This speaks of the ministry of each individual believer helping other individual believers grasp ahold of and fully believe the fundamental theological truths of the Gospel; so that we are all united in the basic doctrines of the faith and are faithfully proclaiming them in our ministry.
Secondly, we're to keep working until every believer attains to "the knowledge of the Son of God." Earlier, Paul said that he prayed for the Ephesian believers, that they, "rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height - to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God" (Eph. 3:17-19). This isn't speaking of a mere 'intellectual' knowledge of Christ. It's not enough that we all know the fundamental doctrines of the faith; but we must know Jesus Christ personally. Each of us must have placed our trust in Jesus as our own Savior; and must have a personal love-relationship with Him in which we commune with Him daily. We must, each one, know Him experientially; and it's our ministry to help each other do that. Good friends of Jesus are to help other good friends of Jesus become even better friends of Jesus.
And third, we're to keep on working until we grow to be more and more like Jesus in the way we live. Paul says that we're to keep working as each believer progresses into "a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." This speaks of the ministry of personal discipleship, in which one believer builds into the life of another - helping him or her grow to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit, to study and obey God's word faithfully, and to display the image of Christ through every aspect of life.
I hope you're familiar with the verse that we have adopted as our church 'mission statement'. It's Colossians 1:28; ". . . Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus." That, you see, is the ministry God has called every believing member of our church into; ". . . till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ . . ." Jesus has given this wonderful ministry to every believing member of this church; and the "gifts" were simply given to the saints to help equip them for the work that the Lord has given them to do.
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Now as I have stressed, it's vital that the saints (that's you) be faithfully about the work Christ has given them to do. The church simply will not grow unless the saints fulfill their ministry; because the Lord has provided no other plan for the growth of His church except through all the saints faithfully doing their part in the work. This leads us, finally, to . . .
3. HOW THE CHURCH IS TO LOOK AS A RESULT (vv. 14-16).
When the saints do their work, the church will grow in two ways. Paul tells us about the church's growth, first, in a negative sense. He says that the saints should be faithfully doing their part in the work of the ministry, "that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful scheming" (v. 14).
Notice the details. First, he says that the saints will "no longer be children". I believe Paul deliberately used that word as a contrast to what he says in the previous verse about growing up into "a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." He uses the Greek word for "infants" - those who are immature, and vulnerable, and unable to discern truth from error. He says "no longer" because we all start out in the faith as "children"; and one of Jesus' great goals for His saints is that they cease from being "children" and grow into Christ-like maturity.
Second, he says that we need to cease to be children, so that we will no longer be tossed around by false doctrine. Paul mixes metaphors; and now uses the figure of a ship being tossed at sea by winds and waves - completely helpless and utterly subject to whatever comes along and hits it. (Imagine a tiny infant in a little row-boat out in the midst of a storm - tossed helplessly about by the wind and waves!).
And thirdly, we see the character with which Paul describes those "winds" of "doctrine" that toss "children" to and fro. He uses a whole pile of similar words: "trickery of men" - which describes their source; "cunning craftiness" - which describes their manner; and "deceitful plotting" or "scheming" - which describes their true nature. False teaching often uses all the words and phrases of Christian truth, because that's how it deceives God's people.
These words from Paul remind me of something that came my way just the other day. I received an email note from a movement that calls itself "Neo-Christianity". It was seeking to spread its teachings, apparently, to churches it could reach on the internet. Its website speaks much about "love" and "spirituality" and "Jesus"; but those who are sufficiently-grounded in the truth can immediately recognize its teaching as being neither "Christianity" nor "Neo". It was nothing but the old Cerinthian heresy that plagued the church in ancient times - only dressed up now in the trappings of California-style Hinduism. It maintained that "Jesus" and "the Christ" are two different entities; and that "the Christ" came upon the man Jesus - just as it did, they claim, upon other great spiritual "teachers" in history. Yet the Bible clearly teaches us, "Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ?" (1 John 2:22). Because this movement deceitfully uses the "language" of the Christian faith and misapplies Bible verses; I fear that it will cause some who are "infants" in the faith - who are not yet sufficiently grounded in the truths of the Bible - to stumble.
This is a dark world; and we have an enemy who roams around in it - seeking whom he may devour! The church shows growth when all God's people are are strong, stable, and able to discern God's sure truth from the devil's cleverly packaged lies. How important it is, then, that all the saints faithfully do their part in the work of the ministry; so that we can stand strong in the truth!
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But there's also a positive sense of church growth that Paul speaks of; and it's truly a beautiful and exciting picture. In contrast to the picture of our being thrown around by the devil's lies, Paul says, "but speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head - Christ - from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes the growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love" (vv. 15-16).
Do you notice the wonderful figure of speech he uses? He describes the church as a living organism - a body. A body is composed of diverse parts with diverse functions; but they all fulfill their individual functions for the service of the whole body. And these individual parts fulfill their individual functions under the direction of the head; who, in our case is Jesus Himself.
And once again, notice the details. He first describes the growth of the church in the context of "speaking the truth in love". Because we are all parts of the same body, we are all vitally connected to one another. There's no longer any reason to try to hide the truth from one another; but we can speak the truth to one another in love. What a contrast that is to "the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting" that once characterized our lives apart from Christ's body!
Second, notice how we're joined together in this body; "joined and knit together by what every joint supplies". To me, this is an amazing picture of how Jesus has put us together and made it such a blessing for us to minister to one another. A "joint" is the point of contact at which two different parts of the body are made to relate to one another. And in the case of the body of Christ, the point of contact is established by what one part is able to supply to the other. Literally, Paul says that we are joined and knit together "through every joint of supply". I have needs that you are equipped by Christ to meet; and you have needs that I am equipped by Christ to meet; and what joins and knits us together in the Body of Christ is "what every joint supplies"! By our mutual ministry of meeting each other's needs, we cause "the growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love." (By the way; I can't help but notice that this description of the healthy function of the body of Christ begins and ends with love. It begins with speaking the truth in love, and it ends with edifying itself in love.)
And third - and as a matter of very great importance - notice how the healthy growth of the body happens: "according to the effective working by which every part does its share . . ." Dear brother or sister; don't you ever think that you are not needed in the body of Christ! Every part of Jesus' spiritual body is joined and knitted to the others for a reason. As someone has said, the body of Christ has no appendix - and no tonsils, for that matter! There are no parts of His body that can be dispensed with; but they all have a purpose in His great plan. The body only grows when every part faithfully does its share.
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Dear brothers and sisters - members together of Christ's precious spiritual body - God is doing something new and wonderful in our church. And as I have said; I wasn't led to this passage to exhort you to do something you're not now doing, as much as to encourage you that I and the leadership of the church are already beginning to see it happen. And I just wanted to tell what the Bible says about it, and to encourage you to keep at it.
And let me tell you how I'm going to apply what we've learned. I'm going to work, with the Lord's help and the help of the other church leaders, at doing less and less of the things that He means for you to do; and I'm going to concentrate on turning more of the ministry over to you, because it belonged to you all along. I'm going to concentrate on fulfilling my God-appointed role as pastor/teacher; and seek to provide what you need to do your work. And as I do so, I'm going to work more along side of you as a fellow-minister of God's work in the midst of many faithful ministers.
And I'm going to ask you to study this passage carefully, and allow the Holy Spirit to get it into your thinking. I'm going to pray for you; and ask that you to give yourself over to that thing that God is calling you to do - that part He has designed for you to play - in the work of building up His church.
My desire is that every believer in our church will be led by God into a clear sense of 'their' ministry - that particular task that God has called them to do in His service to the body - and that they do it with great joy and great passion, as unto Him. I believe that, as that happens more and more, our church family will indeed grow into Him who is our head - Jesus Christ.
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