We have been looking at the church being described as a body. Last week we focused on unity, on the fact that there is one body. The first part of our reading today is a repeat from last week and you will hear the word “one” repeated over and over again. But then, in v.7, we have a “but”. The church is one but…
READ Ephesians 4:1-16
In that passage we have a chain of purposes. God gives some people certain gifts, why? So that they can help all God’s people serve. Why are all God’s people to serve? So that the body of Christ might be built up. What is the result when the body is built up?
Let’s start with the end result and work our way backwards seeing how that end result is accomplished.
This passage finishes with a vision for the church, from v.13 onwards.
- Until we all reach unity in the faith
- And unity in the knowledge of the Son of God
- And we become mature. How mature? Attaining to the while measure of the fullness of Christ.
This is what God’s church can be like. This is God’s plan and why he has given spiritual gifts. Are you inspired by this vision for the church?
- It is united
That is worth dreaming of and working towards isn’t it? Imagine being part of a church where the people were of one heart and one mind and committed to each other in love.
People often speak as if broad diversity in the church is a positive thing. It is good to have a diversity of views – even conflicting views. This is all part of our individuality and our freedom to believe what we want. But God doesn’t think that way. Acts 4:32 says that all of the believers were one in heart and mind – same beliefs, same passions and hopes, same vision. United in achieving it.
That verse (Acts 4:32) then says, “No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.” That is a measure of their unity and their love for one another.
- United in the faith
What does “the faith” mean? It could refer to saving faith. In other words, everyone in the church has been saved. Everyone has come to saving faith in Jesus. The church is a united group of people who have been born again.
Sometimes “the faith” means the things we believe – the Christian faith. In that case, this unity would be a unity of belief. We all hold to the same things.
Or faith could refer to our trust in Jesus in everyday life. We live by faith. We act because we believe Jesus will keep His promises. If Jesus says “Go” we go. So, imagine a church where the members are all people of faith trusting Jesus and obeying Him, because we trust Him.
Let’s assume Paul intends all three of those things. This is a church of saved people who know the truth and who live adventurously and obediently each day, trusting God. Wow! What would that look like on a daily basis?
- United in the knowledge of Jesus
Remember that, for Jews, knowledge was not about having facts in your head. It was about experience. You know because you have experienced. Here is a church where everybody is experiencing Jesus. These Christians hear Jesus speaking – through the scripture or through the Holy Spirit or whatever. They are talking to Jesus and knowing their prayers are being heard. They are experiencing answers to those prayers. When they go through hard times, they experience the comfort and the faithfulness of Jesus. As people of faith, they are obedient and so they minister to others and they see Jesus doing things. They experience the living Jesus changing lives. They walk each day with Jesus.
- They become mature
What does maturity look like? It looks like Jesus. Maturity is being like Jesus. That is what it says here: we become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ; becoming just like Jesus. There are various passages that show that the goal of our growth is to be like Jesus: Christ-likeness.
This is fascinating to think about. What would a church be like if it was filled with Jesuses? Imagine what the relationships would be like if everyone imitated Jesus. Imagine the knowledge of the Bible. Imagine the wisdom and the learning in conversations. Imagine the love for the disadvantaged. Imagine the passion for reaching out with the gospel, calling people to follow Jesus. Imagine the lack of problems and the lack of any need to deal with bad behaviour. Imagine the impact on our community when people see this group of people who are just like Jesus. Imagine how the community would come to the church for help, just like they came to Jesus. Or maybe not come to the church but the church would go to the community, like Jesus did. Imagine the dedication to making disciples just like Jesus did.
It is worth thinking about what we would be like if we were like Jesus. And what would our church be like? How would we think? What sort of people would we be? What would we do each day if we were like Jesus? If you want to ponder this and imagine the church as God intends it to be, I have printed a sheet on which you can record what Jesus is like and what a church of Christ-like followers would be like. I would love to hear your thoughts. This is God’s vision for His church.
As this passage says, the result of that is individuals who know what is true and are not influenced by every latest teaching or conned by false teacher – deeply rooted, not tossed back and forth by the waves. They live the truth in love. Their actions, their interactions, their speech, everything is truth combined with love. That is Christ-like. As a result of that there is continued growth towards Christ-likeness – growing up into Him who is the head. Growing up into Christ.
Can you imagine a church like that? Is it possible? How does that happen? Well, let’s work backwards through the chain of causes.
How is the church built up towards this goal? V.12.
The church is built up in this way when the people of God serve. It doesn’t say it here but from other passages, we can be pretty confident that we can say, “when the people of God serve using their spiritual gifts”. As God’s people minister to each other and minister to the community, using the supernatural gifts God has given, the body of Christ is built up.
God’s vision for the church depends on God’s people serving. That is reinforced at the end of this section.
Ephesians 4:16 From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up, as each part does its work.
The growth comes from God but it is also true that the body builds itself up. We cannot sit back and just wait for God to do it. The body has a responsibility to build itself up. Every ligament is important. The body is joined and held together by every supporting ligament. The body builds itself up in love as each part does its work. God’s church grows as each part does its work. In other words, you are a part of God’s plan. Just as our physical bodies are not healthy, or not fully able, if some parts close down, so it is in the church. The church is not healthy if some members are not serving. If you are not doing what God has called you, and gifted you, to do, we all suffer. The whole body is weakened.
So, let’s keep working backwards. What is required for the members to be equipped to serve? V.11
Amongst the spiritual gifts Jesus give people are these five (or four): apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. I say “five or four” because it is unclear whether the last two are two distinct gifts or one. See how it is “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers”. The last two might be bundled together. Just for simplicity sake, let’s assume that it is five.
Why does Paul lists just these five? If we look at Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 and 1 Peter 4, we find a list of twenty spiritual gifts. From other passages we could add another 5. And even that is not necessarily exhaustive. The might be yet other things that are spiritual gifts. So, why these five here?
It seems that these are leadership gifts. All of the gifts are about serving in one way or another but these ones seem to be about serving as a leader. One of the reasons for saying that is that the passage explicitly says that these gifts are given “to equip His people for works of service”. We are all called to serve, using the gifts God has given us but these five gifts are designed to equip people to serve.
I’ve been using “serving” and “ministering” interchangeably because “ministering” means “serving”. The Prime Minister is literally the Number One servant. Some translations of v.12 say, “To equip His people for works of ministry.” In fact, the Greek word used here is diakonia, from which we get the word deacon – very appropriate today as we ordain Glenys as a deacon.
So, let’s assume that God sees me as a leader and has given me one of those five gifts. My responsibility is to equip you to do what God has called you to do. I am not the minister. You are the ministers. I am not responsible for doing your work but I am responsible for equipping you to do it. Maybe a parallel is that you are the team but I am the coach – or maybe a player-coach. And, if the team doesn’t perform, you know who normally gets the sack! The coach, because he/she is responsible for training the team. Don’t blame the team; blame the coach.
Fortunately, in our situation it is not me alone. Blame Rachel as well! And, in fact, the elders. Our responsibility is to equip you for ministry.
So, working backwards, what makes that possible? God equips leaders. God gives these spiritual gifts. Using me as an example what gift has God given me? (I recognise that, if I say what gift I believe I have, you might be horrified at my lack of self-awareness) However, all of my experience would suggest that my primary gift (out of these five) is teaching, with perhaps a little bit of the apostolic and a little bit of the prophetic, but very little of the pastor or the evangelist. This would be a very sick church if you relied on me for pastoral care. But that is the nature of the body. Rachel, and others of the elders, are obviously much more pastoral, than I. That is why we need all the diverse parts. The elders have all done an exercise to identify which of these gifts we have. Other people have gifts that I don’t. I have gifts they don’t have. But as each part does its work, the body is built up.
That brings us back to the “but” in v.7. The church is to be absolutely united – in every sense “one”. There is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, but God has also designed diversity. God doesn’t care what race we are, what age we are, whether we are male or female, rich or poor, what social status we have. None of that means anything to God. What does matter is that we are Christians. As Christians we all stand before God on exactly the same basis: we are forgiven sinners who have been adopted as His children.
But God does care about our different ministries. We all have different callings and different gifts. That diversity is important because it requires that diversity for the church to grow and be united. All of the different parts are needed. When each part does its work, the church grows and becomes more united.
Our physical bodies grow and mature. Likewise, the body of Christ is to grow until we are united in faith, united in our knowledge of Jesus, and mature – like Jesus. That growth happens when the parts of the body are healthy and doing what they were designed to do. Every Christian has spiritual gifts that are to be used but some have particular spiritual gifts designed to equip God’s people for their ministries.