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Faith Bible Church, NY
October 6, 1996
Equipping the Saints for Ministry
Turn with me again to Ephesians chapter 4 where we will pick up our study again in verse 12.
By way of a very quick review, remember that Paul is now dealing with the practical ramifications of the doctrine that he has taught in the first three chapters. Because God has extended His grace to us in choosing us before the foundation of the world and redeeming us from our sins through the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross we are brought into a new relationship with Him and with one another. We now have peace with God and brotherhood with other believers. All the barriers that separated us have been broken down because the reason for those barriers, the sin in our lives, has been dealt with.
There is now to be unity among every true Christian because we are all part of one body and share in common the same spirit, hope of our calling, Lord, faith, baptism and God & Father. We are also to all demonstrate the fruit of having the Holy Spirit in our lives and be developing the characteristics that from the practical standpoint, must exist for peace and harmony to flourish, namely humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, love and diligence in preserving the unity God has given to us.
Within this unified body, God has also designed diversity. Each individual member of the body is given by God’s grace a spiritual gift or gifts by which they may serve Him as He desires. In order for all these gifts to work together, God has also given gifted individuals to the church as listed in verse 11. Apostles and prophets laid the foundation upon which the rest of us build (Eph. 2:20). Their work has been completed, so men gifted in that way have passed from the scene, but continues to provide the church with men gifted as evangelists and others gifted as pastor-teachers. The ministry of telling the world the good news of Jesus Christ and seeing people saved is still needed. Also still needed are those that will shepherd those people and “teach them whatsoever things [Jesus has] commanded” (Mt. 28:19).
We last week just going over all the various duties of the pastor-teacher and so will not be doing so again, but in short, the main responsibility of the elders is to shepherd and to teach because in that way they “equip the saints for the work of the ministry.”
Now note again that each of these offices, apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor/teachers, were given to the church for the purpose of “equipping the saints for the work of the ministry.” “Equipping” means “to render fit, sound, complete.” It is to bring something that has limited value and use and make it into something valuable and useful. Elders are part of a team effort to cause believers into become what they should be, for them to fulfill God’s design for them.
The apostles and prophets laid the foundation by writing the Bible. Pastor-teachers only build on what has already been laid. They can only explain and encourage you to live by what the apostles and prophets have already revealed as the word and will of God. And when you are trying to bring the gospel into a new area, you don’t send in a pastor-teacher, you send in an evangelist and then follow-up with a pastor-teacher who will then use their gifts in maturing the new babes in Christ.
The pastor-teachers do not do it all because cannot do it all, and if they did, then they would be in contradiction to God’s plan for them. They are to be about the business of doing their part in equipping the saints, but the actual work of the ministry belongs to all the saints because God has also called you in the pew to His work of service!
THE WORK, vs. 12
The work of service is ministry. The words here mean to do the work of a servant. The particular work done by an individual varies with the particular gifts he or she has received from God, but all of it together makes up the work God has given to His Church. The work of the church is done by the people of the church, not a paid staff!
What is the work of the church? I’ll give you a few ideas that arise from the gifts that are listed in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12, along with some of the ways I have seen these things carried out, but my list is by no means exhaustive, as it will really only scratch the surface of all the ways that we can serve God.
Among the gifts Paul mentions in Rom. 12:6-9 and I Cor. 12:8-10, 28 are: helps, teaching, exhorting, giving, leading, administration, mercy, giving, wisdom, faith, and distinguishing of spirits. There are certainly many more gifts but Paul mentioned these are samples to those whom he was writing. How each of these gifts can be used is nearly unlimited. Let me give you a couple of examples.
Let’s say you are gifted in mercy. That can be used in medical facilities, jails, orphanages, ministries to the homeless, or simply personal ministry to hurting people. The gift of exhorting can be used in public ministry like preaching or singing, or it could be in more private groups like a bible study or other small group. It could be used in personal one on one encounters as well. It might be used with every age group or only one. It might be manifested in encouragement, admonishment or a combination of the two. If you are gifted in administration, that could include the ability to deal with very complex organization, or it could be handling smaller groups. It might manifest itself in organizational ability, people skills, writing ability or keeping the financial books. The gift of helps is so diverse it defies categorization, but the basic gift is joy in doing whatever needs to be done as a service to the Lord. Certainly it involves maintenance around the church facilities, but it includes helping in the office, cooking a dinner for someone in need, listening to children say their memory verses, raking leaves for your neighbor, fixing the car of a widow, watching the kids of a single parent, or just being there to lend a hand in general.
Again, these ideas barely scratch the surface of all the different types of spiritual gifts given and how they could be used. You do not have to identify what your gift is before you use it, in fact, you really do not know what it is until you start using it. You move out of complacency into action and you start doing something that interests either you or the Lord puts on your heart. You will find out what your gifts are when you have joy in what you are doing, you sense the Lord using what you are doing to glorify Himself, and others confirm the Lord using it.
The work of ministry belongs to all the saints and Paul describes that work as “building up the body of Christ.” The work God has given us to do is to build up the body of Christ. And how is the body of Christ built up? By fulfilling the great commission with everyone doing their part. We are commanded by Jesus to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.”
The body of Christ is built up numerically as disciples are made. People come to salvation and join in as part of the church. The body of Christ grows in maturity as each Christian is taught to “observ e all that [Jesus] commanded.” That takes everyone using their gift, but to “observing” Jesus’ commandments is different from knowing about Jesus commandments.
It is fairly easily to stand here and tell you all that Jesus said and how He wants you to behave, but getting you to believe and behave that way is a different story. That takes everyone using their individual gifts in mutual ministry. It takes people getting to really know you, learning how to encourage you, exhort you, admonish you, pray for you, give you an example to follow and hold you accountable. It takes personal involvement in a host of areas.
THE GOAL, vs. 13
How long will the church be at the work of building itself up? Verse 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.”
In a sense these goals will only be reached at the end of the age when the church enters into its glorification, i.e., the church will always be moving towards complete spiritual maturity this side of heaven because 1) the church will continue to add new believers to the body which will have to mature, and 2) every Christian, regardless of how long they have walked with the Lord, will still be growing in Christ. It will only be after we exchange these temporal bodies for heavenly ones that our struggle against our sin nature will cease and the positional righteousness with have in Christ will be matched by actual righteousness. The church will continue to mature until we all reach heaven, yet these are also supposed to be the goals we presently have.
In much the same way that every individual is commanded to “be holy for I am holy, says the Lord God” (Lev. 11:44; 1 Peter 1:16), and we strive to live holy lives though we will not be perfect until we are in heaven, so the church continues to strive for these goals though they will not be fully reached until heaven.
What are these goals?
1) Unity of faith. This is what Paul talks about in 1 Cor. 1:10, “Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree, and there be no divisions among you, but you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgement.” Paul had already said there is only “one faith.” God is not fragmented and divided against Himself and neither is His truth. Doctrinal ignorance and spiritual immaturity lead to disunity, but as every part of the body does what it is supposed to do, then apostles doctrine is taught by the pastor-teachers and all the people help one another to live accordingly. Unity of faith and practice is then attained and God is glorified.
2) Related to unity of faith is knowledge of Christ. Again Paul is not referring to the knowledge needed for salvation, but rather the deep or full knowledge of Christ that comes through a personal relationship cultivated with Him in prayer and in study and obedience to His word. This is the knowledge Jesus spoke of in John 10 that “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them.” Paul had already prayed for the Ephesians to gain this kind of knowledge of Christ (Eph 1:17), and it was his own goal to “know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings” counting everything else in his own life as “rubbish” in comparison to this (Phil 3:8-10).
Again, this kind of intimate knowledge of Jesus Christ comes as the whole body is fulfilling its various ministries, because much of this knowledge only comes in serving Christ by serving one another and taking the gospel message to those that have not heard.
3) The third goal is spiritual maturity which is measured by the standard of Jesus Christ Himself. The very purpose of our salvation is to be “conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29), to “walk in the same manner as He walked” (1 John 2:6), to be “imitators of God, as beloved children (Eph. 5:1). We long for the day when “we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). Each of us moves closer to this measure of maturity as we each fulfill our part in the body of Christ. We “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24), we “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2) and “admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, and help the weak” (1 Thess 5:14).
We will not reach perfection this side of heaven, but we can and should become “complete” or “mature” in Christ as Paul says in Col. 1:28-29 for that is the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil 3:14).
THE RESULT, vs. 14
What is the result of pursuing these goals? Verse 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…”
Spiritual maturity means you are no longer easy pickings for the cults and false teachers. Individually you increase in wisdom and understanding so that you can pick out who is speaking the truth and who is not, and corporately it even better because where you lack someone else in the body is strong and they will both warn you and help you overcome the wiles of the false teachers.
Notice the description of the immature. First is children. Children are characterized by ignorant trust. That is why parents spend so much time trying to teach them discernment, when to trust someone and when run away. It takes awhile to teach them to obey some people like policemen and firemen and yet to runaway from a stranger that offers them candy. New believers are susceptible to anyone that seems friendly and acts like they know what they are talking about including the cult knocking at their door or the false teacher on television.
Paul also describes the immature as being tossed around as in a storm. They go and believe whichever way the wind blows. They think it must be okay because so many others believe it or are doing it, yet God’s people have always stood out from the crowd. We are called to walk with Him regardless of what the rest of humanity is doing. It takes a mature faith to do this as James 1 points out. We have to know what we believe, why we believe and then hang on without doubting. You do not arrive there in a day but only after being diligent like the Bereans of Acts 17 to study the Scriptures for yourself. If you believe something simply because I or some other “pastor” has said it, then you are someone who could be blown to believing something else when someone else comes along.
We must always be careful of false teachers because they come with the “trickery of men” and “by craftiness in deceitful scheming.” We get the word, “cube” from the word “trickery” here. It was often used of dice and refers to the way in which professional gamblers would “load” the dice to their own advantage. They “rig” the game so that they will win. Similar ideas are conveyed in “craftiness” and “deceitful scheming.” “Craftiness” refers to the careful and clever manipulation of facts to make error look like the truth. “Deceitful scheming” is used of the devil’s efforts against us in 6:11 and refers to a systematic effort to lead astray. False teachers are good at all these things.
Unless you are mature and are well versed in the Scriptures, you are no match for the cultist and false teacher. They can easily and quickly pull verses from here and there to confuse you and make you believe what they are teaching is the truth. It really does not take long for a false teacher or cultist to take the Bible and twist it to lead the immature into believing all sorts of half truths and outright lies, like the lie that Jesus is not the eternal God but instead a created being, or that salvation comes by your efforts, or that sickness is a sign you are out of God’s will and material wealth is the sign of God’s blessings, or that they are the only ones who can understand the Bible.
The good news is that as the whole body does what it is supposed to do those that would be susceptible to being lead astray or blown a bout are protected. Warnings are given, false teachers are held at bay, and wavering saints are surrounded and encouraged back into the fold. Unity of faith, knowledge of Christ and spiritual maturity stand strongly against the trickery, craftiness and deceitful scheming our adversary plots against God’s people.
THE METHOD, vs. 15
In verse 15 we find the method by which the body grows. “but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspect into Him, who is the head, even Christ.” Rather than be tossed around by false teachers, we speak the truth to one another in love. This love is not some fuzzy warm feeling, but rather a committed, sacrificial concern for one another because believers are part of the same family.
True love, agape love, is always kind, humble, patient, and willing to forgive, but it does not back down and will warn, admonish, and rebuke as needed. Mature Christians are to be marked by the joining of these two qualities of truth and love. They are blended together into a powerful testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ living within them. They themselves are growing and they encourage others to also grow up in all aspects into Christ, who is the head.
A false teacher will always lack one of these qualities, and usually both. 2 Peter 2 talks about false teachers, their greed and how they exploit their people, but there are also those that have great compassion, but they lack truth so they lead people to hell.
Mother Teresa of Calucutta is such a person. She had wonderful compassion and great personal sacrifice on her part which is to be commended, but since she does not have the truth she let the Hindus, Muslims, animists and other she serves slip into eternal without ever hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ which could have brought them to salvation.
True Christianity has its goal in growing into the likeness of Christ who is our head, our leader, our commander, our Lord, and so it is to be marked by truth spoken in love.
THE POWER, vs. 16
Where does the power come for all these things to be accomplished – 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.”
“Fitted” and “held together” are two passive participles indicating that it is Jesus Christ that has designed and holds the body together. This cannot be accomplished by human effort. It is not the individual Christians, their leaders or their church structure, but the head, Jesus Christ Himself that accomplishes this. The analogy here is that of a body where every part is fitted and joined together. No individual part can exist by itself, but must be attached to the body. The body did not design itself, but Christ designed it and it is by His design that the whole thing functions and grows.
This does not mean that the individual parts are not important, but simply that for them to work they must be crafted in by Christ. In fact, each individual is important for as the text says, “each joint supplies.” Every part of your physical body adds to the rest of the body its strength – again, by itself, it is nothing, but when all the parts are joined together in unity the body becomes powerful. When every part fulfills its proper function the body will grow, but it takes all the part otherwise the body is left handicapped.
For this church or any church to fulfill its design, every aspect of it has to be doing its part. Yes, church needs the evangelists and the pastor-teachers, but the work of the body is done by all the members of it.
Do you know where you fit? Are you doing your part? If not, you need to do so. Find out where you fit by looking for a way to serve other people, and as you do you will discover your spiritual gift or gifts and see how God can use you to bring glory to His name.
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