Passage: Ephesians 4:11-16
I promise not to do this often, but I’d like to begin this morning with a poem by Emily Dickinson.
Some keep the Sabbath going to Church—
I keep it, staying at Home—
With a Bobolink (kind of bird) for a Chorister—
And an Orchard, for a Dome—
Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice (liturgical robes)—
I, just wear my Wings—
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton—sings.
God preaches, a noted Clergyman—
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of going to Heaven, at last—
I’m going, all along.
In this poem Dickinson expresses her preference to avoid the meetings of the church and to worship God privately in nature. It’s a thought-provoking poem, and it expresses how a lot of people feel in our individualistic society. Community is something we value less and less all of the time. Getting along with others and being patient with their faults is hard work, and Dickinson asks a question many people ask. Why do I need to be engaged in the life of a church and defer to others when I can worship God on my own the why I prefer? To put it more bluntly, if God has given me the ability to relate to him personally, then why do I need the local church? Hopefully, most of you can immediately think of a few answers to that question. For one, God commands us to participate in the life of local church when he says, “do not forsake the assembling of ourselves together.” But the NT picture of the Christian life reveals a problem with Dickinson’s thinking that goes beyond disobeying a command. It’s not just that she ignored the command to go to church; she failed to appreciate the very nature of being a Christian. While the NT clearly teaches that Christians enjoy an individual relationship with Christ, it also teaches that Christianity is necessarily a community faith and that there is a significant hole in our faith if we are not engaged in the life of a local church. Maybe you think that sounds strong, but there are several NT principles that justify the statement. One simple reason is this. The church needs you. If you know Christ, he designed you to fulfill a role in the life of the body. And if the church is going to be healthy, it won’t merely be because we have good preaching or slick programs. It will only be healthy when the people of the church are busy using their spiritual gifts to serve the community of believers. In light that, the last priority, I would like to consider in our series, “Foundations for Church Ministry,” is the priority of “People-Centered Ministry.” I’d like to demonstrate this priority from Ephesians 4:11–16.
My outline of this text will consist of three questions. The first question I’d like to answer is…
Why does God give the church spiritual leaders (vv. 11–12)?
In other words, what is the basic purpose of pastors and other gifted leaders?
Gifted Leaders (v. 11):
Verse 11 lists 4 and potentially five different gifts or offices that God gave to lead the church. The apostles were the founders of the church. They had personally seen Christ and who were commissioned to establish the church. The NT also talks several times about prophets within the early church. For example, Acts 11:28; 21:10–11 mention Agabus the prophet. Prophets served an important role in the early years of the church because they didn’t have a complete Bible yet. Therefore, God gave revelation to the prophets to fill in the gaps. However, the need for apostles and prophets ended with the completion of the NT (Eph 2:19–20). According to these verses, the apostles and prophets laid the foundation for the church. We don’t have time to talk about it completely, but we believe as a church that once that foundation was laid and the Scriptures were completed, that the offices of apostle and prophet ceased. Paul adds three more gifts that continue to feed the church. “Evangelist” is a derivative from the word gospel, and it seems to refer to someone gifted of God for sharing the gospel, especially in places where the gospel isn’t established. The closest parallel in our day would be a missionary who takes the gospel to a new place. But 2 Timothy 4:5 indicates that this gift belongs to anyone especially gifted with bringing new converts to Christ. The fourth gift is pastors. This term is derived from the term shepherd, and it creates a valuable picture of what a pastor should be. He is not just a preacher; he is a leader of people who is to love them and protect them according to the pattern of Christ. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep (John 10:11). There is some debate about how pastor relates to teacher. This is because the word “some” appears before the first four terms but not before teacher. Paul also uses a different conjunction between pastor and teacher. Because of that, it seems that pastor and teacher are closely related though somewhat distinct. As others have said, every pastor must be a teacher, but every teacher isn’t a pastor. God has given the church men who are gifted to pastor and to teach. But what is their purpose? What is the primary goal Pastor Kris and I are to pursue?
The Goal of Gifted Leaders (v. 12):
Verse 12 gives the answers through three prepositional phrases, which all begin with for in the NKJV. There are two basic views on the relationship of these phrases to each other, and which view we take has significant impact on how we view the church. One view would be to see all three phrases as relating directly to the gifts in v. 11. According to this view, it is the responsibility of pastors to do all three. They are the ministers in the church, and those who take this view see a pretty big distinction between the clergy and the laity. The second view sees only the first prepositional phrase as being the direct responsibility of the gifted leaders. They are responsible to equip the saints so that the saints will do the work of the ministry leading to the edification of the body. In this view, everyone in the church is a minister and is responsible for edifying the body. I believe the evidence is clearly on the side of the second view. For one, Paul uses a different preposition with the first phrase, which indicates that he intends to set it off. But as well, v. 16 clearly contradicts the first view. Verse 16 again mentions the edification of the body, and it says this happens when “every part does its share.” That’s a description of every-member ministry, not clergy-only ministry. With that in mind, the primary job of the pastor is the …
Equipping of the Saints:
The word equipping is the same word that we saw 3 weeks ago in 2 Timothy 3:17, which says that the Word “equips or prepares us for every good work.” It speaks of preparing someone to fulfill a task. In our text, the pastor’s job is to train the congregation to use their spiritual gifts. This equipping involves several things. It involves teaching because you have to know the truth if you are going to minister accurately. It involves helping people identify their gifts and develop them. According to this text one of my primary jobs as a pastor is to equip you for the second phrase.
For the Work of the Ministry:
The word for ministry simply means service. There’s nothing about the term that indicates a professional or specialized role even though we tend to use this term of professional ministers. In this context, it refers to all of the work that is done in the church. It includes grunt work jobs like cleaning or moving chairs. It includes prayer and acts of encouragement, administrative work, teaching, discipleship, and evangelism. The ministry is everything that needs to be done to accomplish the last phrase. And Paul says the job of the pastor is not to do the entire ministry, but to equip the entire body to work together to do the ministry. Every Christian is to be in the ministry with the ultimate goal of…
The Edifying of the Body of Christ:
We talked last week about the fact that the word for edify pictures a building project. Therefore, this phrase describes the growth of the local church. All of us working together leads to discipleship and the development of spiritual maturity.
Let’s review. God gifts pastors and teachers to equip the members of the church so that they can together do the work of ministry leading to the growth of the body. Our first question was why does God give the church spiritual leaders? The answer is to equip the saints to build the church. This is a very different picture of church ministry from how we often think. Most churches are pretty good about recognizing that people need to jump in and help with the grunt work of the church—preparing meals, running children’s programs, cleaning, etc. But when it comes to evangelism, discipleship, encouraging the sick, and confronting sin, those things are the pastor’s job. But God is clear that the edification of the body is your responsibility if you are a Christian. You are responsible for the spiritual growth of your spiritual family. That’s a great thing because if it were solely up to Pastor Kris and I, the church could go no further than what our gifts and time can take it. That’s not very far. But if all of us are engaged in the ministry of building each other and reaching our community, we have much more potential. God’s design of people-centered ministry, rather than professional-centered ministry can be incredibly effective. Are you engaged in the work of the ministry? How are you contributing to the edification of Life Point Baptist Church? BTW, your answer to that question should be deeper than what titles you hold because the most important ministry in the church often has little to do with a title and much more to do with how we are edifying people. Who are you evangelizing, who are you discipling, who are you praying for and encouraging? Maybe you know about a sin in someone’s life, and you sure hope the pastor notices and confronts it. I recognize there are times when people need more help than you can give, and Pastor Kris and I need to be involved. But our primary job is not to do the ministry but to equip you for the ministry. Take the mantle. Take responsibility for the health of your spiritual family and see where you can contribute.
Verses 13–15 then describe in detail the goal of edification. The second question I’d like to answer is…
What does maturity look like (vv. 13–15)?
Unfortunately, we’ve got to move quickly through these verses today, but there is a lot here to ponder.
These verses describe maturity both positively and negatively. Verse 13 gives a positive description.
Positively (v. 13):
It does so through three statements which all of us are to pursue together, as the beginning of the verse states. The first phrase is “the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.” The faith in context is right doctrine, and the knowledge of Christ is the practical application of Christ’s character to life. Together, these phrases describe right doctrine and genuine godliness. A mature church is not united by personalities or worldly interests but by common beliefs and common godliness. The second phrase is “a perfect (i.e., mature) man.” We are to minister with the goal of building maturity. Think of an adult, versus a child, whose mind and body are fully formed and able to function at a high level. Again, this is talking about the church as a whole, not individuals. The third phrase is “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Stature refers to height. The idea is that a mature church measures up to Christ. Obviously, we will never do that perfectly as long as we are sinners, but we should to a degree reflect his perfections. According to v. 13, the goal of ministry is to produce unity, maturity, and Christlikeness.
Verse 14 follows with a…
Negatively (v. 14):
Verse 14 paints a picture of instability. In contrast to v. 13, which mentioned maturity and full stature, v. 14 talks about being children who are immature. Spiritual immaturity makes someone susceptible to evil influence and false doctrine. Paul pictures an immature church as a small boat on a stormy sea that is being thrown all over the place by powerful waves and strong winds. The immature believer and church isn’t equipped to evaluate and confront false doctrine or philosophy and is easily deceived or knocked off the path by these things. The implication is that maturity brings the ability to discern error and to confront it.
Verse 15 follows with another positive description.
Positively (v. 15):
The phrase “speaking the truth” pictures more than just what we say. It describes our whole way of life—what we believe, how we live, and what we say.” The answer to the immaturity of v. 14 is to be well grounded in the truth, but Paul adds that we must hold the truth with a spirit of love and grace. It’s very possible for a church to have everything right but to dishonor God because it is arrogant or unkind. A mature church is not mean or harsh. It is rooted in truth, but it is also full of love. This leads to growth in Christlikeness. Again, think of a child growing into maturity. For the church, we are to grow more and more into the image of Christ.
And so vv. 13–15 state that the goal of every-member ministry is to produce a mature body where we are well-grounded in right doctrine and where we reflect genuine godliness and love in every area of practice. Clearly God isn’t just concerned that we get bigger. He wants us to grow into maturity where we have a depth of godliness. This depth isn’t just that we can understand hard concepts and root out error. It is also that we are living our faith. We know Christ and we reflect Christ. May God help us to continue growing to maturity.
The final question I’d like to ask and answer is…
How does the body grow (v. 16)?
I’d like to answer this question in two parts. First,
Through the Design of God:
Verse 16 serves as a summary of everything Paul has said, and it also drives home some key points. It does so through picturesque language that points us to the human body and to a building. These are both common biblical pictures of the church and the dependence the members have on each other. They are used here to point out God’s detailed design of the church. Verse 15 concludes by noting that Christ is the head of the church, and v. 16 then adds that Christ has very intentionally put the body together so that it functions well. The human body is an incredible creation isn’t it? There are 206 bones in the human body, and 650 muscles. That’s a lot of bones and muscles. Doing a cartwheel is pretty incredible when you think about all of the muscles involved. As well, the average human body consists of 100 trillion cells that are all alive and all fulfilling a function? We could go on, but my basic point is that there are many diverse parts of the body, and they all have a purpose and they all depend on each other. And Paul’s point is that when Christ saves sinners, he gives them a diversity of gifts or functions. We all have different strengths and weaknesses. But Christ didn’t just design us as individuals; he also designed us as a church. He takes all of these different parts, and as v. 16 states, he joins and knits them together into a body. The word translated join is a construction term that is used in other contexts of fitting stones together in a building. It speaks of a careful, detailed process of design. God has done the same in the church. He made us all different, but he made us all with a purpose to fulfill. What an incredible picture. The church isn’t made effective through us all being the same, but through our diversity that Christ fits together into an effective body. The body grows through God’s design. Second…
Through the Proper Function of Each Part:
The first part of the verse notes that God has put the body together carefully, and the verse concludes by describing how the body parts work together to build the body. It notes that the church is united by each joint or ligament doing its part. God uses our giftedness to bring unity and as well to bring growth. The verse states that it is through the “effective working” of each part that the body grows and edifies itself. We grow each other and we grow the whole as we fulfill our purpose in the body. Paul again makes it clear in this verse that the growth of the church is not solely the responsibility of the pastors or of a select few who are very active. The church grows best when every member is fulfilling its function.
The overall message of this text is that the church reaches maturity through gifted leaders equipping members to fulfill their role in building the body. So what is the significance of this for how we want to function as a church?
We need to build a culture of people-centered ministry.
This text is clear that the primary means by which God matures the church and individual lives is through people who are walking with Christ faithfully using the gifts God has given them. This is a truth that can easily get lost in church ministry. Churches and Christians easily fall in love with their program or their system, and they begin to depend on them. We can think that creating a mood in worship will inspire godliness, that a kids program will create life or that an event will save souls. I’m not saying that God doesn’t work through sharp worship or good programs. These things can be very effective tools. But what makes them effective is the people they deploy to serve. For example, AWANA is a good program, but AWANA itself will not create godliness in children. However, when AWANA organizes and directs spirit gifted believers to teach children God’s Word and puts these adults in a position to model godliness to the kids, well then something powerful can happen. We better never think that it happens any other way. People change lives, not programs; therefore, a core priority of our church must be to equip people to minister and to put them in a position for impact.
Find your role and fulfill it.
This text is clear that church ministry is not a spectator sport where we sit back and watch the pastor and his posse do the work while everyone sits back and watches. If you are saved, God has uniquely gifted you to fulfill a role in the church, and the church will not grow like it is supposed to if you are not fulfilling that role. We need you, so I’d like all of you to consider are you fulfilling your role? Are you being a good steward of the gifts God has given you and using them to serve the body? As I said earlier, I’m not necessarily asking you what titles you wear because much of the most important ministry in the church doesn’t involve a title. You don’t need a title to share the gospel, to disciple a new Christian, to encourage someone facing a trial, or to confront sin. But all of these are crucial to the health of the body. Find your role and fulfill it. If you aren’t sure what it may be, then jump in somewhere that interests you and find out if that’s where you are gifted. Or ask me or someone you trust where you might fit. We’re actually going to have some sign up sheets out after church today with areas where we have needs. Find a place and serve; don’t sit and wonder what you should be doing.
Grow yourself and your family through meaningful relationships in the body.
The focus of this text is on how we grow as a church through the gifts of the body, but I think it also implies that this is how we grow as individuals as well. Christianity isn’t a hermit faith; it’s a community faith. Grow meaningful relationships where others can encourage you and you can encourage them.
Praise the Lord for the church. It is a beautiful creation, and it is a great gift to each of us.