Redeeming God https://redeeminggod.com/ Liberating you from bad ideas about God Sat, 24 Sep 2022 20:44:06 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=6.4.2 https://redeeminggod.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/cropped-Redeeming-God-Logo-jpeg-32x32.jpg Redeeming God https://redeeminggod.com/ 32 32 What a Non-Violent Atonement reveals about Scripture https://redeeminggod.com/non-violent-atonement-and-scripture/ https://redeeminggod.com/non-violent-atonement-and-scripture/#comments Sat, 24 Sep 2022 20:44:06 +0000 https://redeeminggod.com/?p=54594 (#AmazonAdLink) I am taking a short break from teaching through Ephesians to record an audiobook for my book (#AmazonAdLink) The Atonement of GodA reader has generously offered to sponsor the recording of this audiobook. This podcast episode provides a preview of the audiobook by giving you Chapter 5: What a Non-Violent View of the Atonement Reveals about Scripture.

In this podcast episode, you will learn how to read and understand the violent portions of Scripture in light of Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

On this cross, Jesus shows us how to properly read the Bible. If you struggle with the violent portions of Scripture, it helps to read them through the lens of Jesus Christ on the cross.

If you want to sponsor a reading of one of my books into audiobook format, please reach out to me through the contact form.

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The Task of the Church (Part II): Growing Adults (Ephesians 4:15-16) https://redeeminggod.com/ephesians_4_15-16/ https://redeeminggod.com/ephesians_4_15-16/#comments Thu, 08 Sep 2022 21:03:08 +0000 https://redeeminggod.com/?p=54514 In Ephesians 4:14-16, we have some clear instructions on what the church is supposed to do. There are two parts to these instructions of God about the task of the church, and so we will consider them in two different studies. I previously considered Ephesians 4:14, and this study looks at Ephesians 4:15-16.

(#AmazonAdLink) Both of these studies, along with all the others in this series, are drawn from my book, (#AmazonAdLink) God’s Blueprints for Church Growth.

The Task of the Church (Part II): Growing Adults (Ephesians 4:15-16)

“… 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.”
Ephesians 4:15-16

When the majority of people in the United States think of “church growth” they think of a church that has more people attending the Sunday morning service this year than last year. Such numerical growth in the pews leads to a larger budget and maybe a larger building.

So it is not surprising that one popular book on church growth begins with the following statement:

Since 1966, [our church] has grown from 125 to over 13,500 in worship. We have gone through five building programs and two complete relocation projects, the last of which cost over ninety million dollars (including land, construction costs, and architects’ fees). We have gone from an annual budget of eighteen thousand dollars to an annual budget of eighteen million dollars.[1]

This is the popular definition of church growth. According to most, church growth is measured with bodies, bucks, and bricks, with more people, more money, and bigger buildings.[2]

Since growth is one of the top priorities of every local church, those who measure church growth with bodies, bucks, and bricks will often use whatever means necessary to get such things. I have a comic strip in my office showing a pastor asking his elders for ideas on how to grow the church. He says, “Besides calling every Sunday ‘Easter,’ does anyone else have ideas for improving church attendance?”

I also have an article from TIME magazine about a church whose “Ultimate Goal” was to get 40% of the people in its area back to church within one year. The article reported that in order to accomplish this, the pastor sang and danced the Lord’s praises in an “electric whirlwind” which he termed, “Aerobics of the Lord.” He executes choreographed jumps, leaps, and twists that the faithful try to copy. And when the Spirit really moves, he pours buckets of holy water on his ecstatic audience.[3]

Yet this is fairly mild compared to what some churches do. One pastor in California collected a file of news clippings about how churches were employing innovations to keep their worship services from becoming dull. In only five years’ time, “some of America’s largest evangelical churches have employed worldly gimmicks like slapstick [comedy] … wrestling exhibitions, and even a mock striptease to spice up their Sunday meetings.”[4] If churches want more bodies, bucks, and bricks, these are some of the things that churches can do to accomplish this kind of growth.

However, just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should. But maybe the real problem isn’t so much in what these churches are doing, but why. Maybe the problem is that they are chasing after the wrong type of church growth. What if numeral growth is not biblical church growth? What if God’s idea of church growth is not measured with bodies, bucks, and bricks, but with some other measurement entirely?

If this is the case, then most of what we do in church could possibly be wrong! After all, if our definition of church growth is wrong, then the methods we use to achieve this growth will also be wrong.

Thankfully, the solution is relatively simple. If a poor definition of church growth leads to flawed methods to achieve this growth, then the simple fix is to get a right definition of church growth. Once we properly define church growth, then our methods will fall into place as well.

What Church Growth Is

The definition of church growth proposed in chapter 1 of my book, (#AmazonAdLink) God’s Blueprints for Church Growth. I state that church growth occurs when we teach and train the people who are the church to become what God wants them to be so they can do what God wants them to do. This definition of church growth is drawn primarily from Ephesians 4:15-16. These verses show what church growth is and how church growth is accomplished.

The definition of church growth was foreshadowed in Ephesians 4:13, where Paul described the model that church growth is patterned after. A completed building should end up looking like the model. The model in Ephesians 4:13 was Christlikeness. This is what Paul states in Ephesians 4:15 as well. While the first part of the Church program requires us to protect the spiritual children, this is primarily so that the second part of the church program can be accomplished, which is to grow the children into adults. Paul wants his readers to grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ. In other words, a church is growing when the people in the church are becoming more and more like Jesus Christ.

Remember, the word “church” is not defined by how many people meet, or even when or where they meet. The church consists of the people of God who follow Jesus into the world. Church growth happens when spiritually immature Christians (the spiritual children of Ephesians 4:14), are corrected, trained, taught, encouraged, and equipped (2 Tim 3:16–4:4) in such a way so that they become spiritually mature Christians.

Church growth happens when the individual Christians who make up the church grow into spiritual maturity as exemplified in their Christlike behavior toward other people. They grow by learning the Bible and learning to obey the Bible. They grow by learning what their spiritual gifts are and finding ways to put them into practice so that they become who God made them to be. Church growth, therefore, is about building up one another to Christlike maturity and service.[5] Ultimately, they do this by learning to live and love like Jesus. That is biblical church growth.

Logically, this means that it is possible to grow a church and actually shrink in size. If a church of 100 loses 50 members, but these 50 become more like Jesus Christ, then that church is growing. Alternately, if a church of 500 doubles in size, but few mature into Christlikeness, then that church is not growing, even though they have gone from 500 to 1000 in attendance. With this understanding, it is entirely possible that a church is still growing even if they lose most of their people, hardly have any budget, and have to sell their building. A local church with few bodies, bucks, and bricks can still be a vibrant and growing church. A church in which the people are maturing is a growing church, regardless of how many people there are, where they meet, or how much money is in their ministry budget.

It is helpful to think about church growth the way we think about family growth. Nobody believes that only large families are successful. While I myself come from a family with ten children, and while I believe my parents were very successful in raising all ten of us, my family was not “successful” because there were ten children. Similarly, we don’t think a family is a failure because they don’t “grow” from two kids to four, or from four kids to eight. A family with only one child, or even no children, can be successful if the members of that family grow together in unity, love, and faithfulness to each other and to people in the world. This is true of a husband and wife with no children just as it is true for a family with ten or more children.

Furthermore, we don’t think that a family is a failure because the parents don’t get raises at their job every year or buy bigger houses. Some of the richest families in the world are also the greatest failures at being a family. Family “growth” and success is not accomplished by increasing the size or wealth of the family, but by growing in maturity and love with each passing year.

Just as with a family, so also with the church. True church growth occurs when Christians grow up into Christlike maturity, so that they love God, love each other, and love the world more with each passing year. The goal of the church, according to Ephesians 4:15, is for Christians to grow up into maturity, becoming more and more like Jesus Christ. When this happens, church growth happens as well, for the people are growing into Christlike maturity.

How Church Growth Is Accomplished

The entire paragraph of Ephesians 4:11-16 has been building up to this single point. Once the spiritual children in the church have been protected from false teachers and false teachings, it is time for them to mature and become spiritual adults. How does this happen? Paul writes that growth into maturity comes through speaking the truth in love. The primary method to accomplish church growth is by speaking the truth, and speaking it in love.

Speaking the Truth

The phrase speaking the truth is one word in Greek. This word is used only one other time in Scripture (Gal 4:16), where it refers primarily to teaching the Word of God or preaching the gospel (cf. Gal 4:13). If the phrase means the same thing here, then Paul is writing that the primary way church growth is accomplished is through speaking the truth of Scripture with an emphasis on gospel-related truths.[6] This means that teaching and learning about Scripture is one of the primary keys to church growth. One reason God provided Scripture is so that His people could learn it and grow into maturity as a result.

church growth principlesYet the preaching, teaching, and learning of Scripture is often the one thing that many Christians do not want or desire. Many local gatherings of believers tend to focus on everything but the teaching and learning of Scripture. Yet this is simply a sign of spiritual immaturity. While new Christians desire only sweet milk, mature Christians crave the meat of the Word of God. It is the teaching and learning of the truths of Scripture that turns baby believers into mature adults, and helps guide adults into the proper way of life.

Yet although the church has the largest and most fascinating collection of infallible truth that exists in the world, we tend to keep the light of God’s truth locked up in the closet so we can focus on the latest fads of entertainment and newest insights from popular psychology. Walter Kaiser writes this:

In the midst of all the feverish activity to restore the church once again to her former position of influence and respect, all sorts of programs and slogans have appeared. But regardless of what new directives and emphases are periodically offered, that which is needed above everything else to make the Church more viable, authentic, and effective, is a new declaration of the Scriptures with a new purpose, passion, and power. This we believe is most important if the work of God is to be accomplished in the program of the church.[7]

If the church is going to protect children and grow adults into spiritual maturity, we must focus on the truth of Scripture. Though the church doesn’t have a monopoly on truth, and while many in the world are not ready to hear the truth, it does seem strange that the church is often cautious about boldly proclaiming the truth of Scripture to the Christians in the church. Rather than offer the one unique and shining jewel that we do have, we try to keep people’s attention with poor copies of worldly music, entertainment, and social clubs … and we will always fail.

The one thing the church can offer, and the one thing the church is instructed by God to offer, is also the one thing we fail to offer. What is that one thing? It is truth. The truth of God is the one thing that sets the people of God apart from all other people on earth. We have something they need, and something they crave in their inner-most being. We should, therefore, be focusing on the truth, and specifically, the infallible truth of Scripture. When people start to hear the truth, and when their lives begin to get transformed by the truth, they cannot get enough of the truth. They soak it up like rain in a dry and thirsty desert.

Only truth transforms lives. Only the truth of God helps people grow spiritually.  And when lives are transformed and people begin to mature, then the church begins to grow. But speaking the truth by itself is not enough. Paul goes on to clarify that when we speak the truth, it must be presented in love.

Speaking in Love

Some Christians seem to focus primarily on speaking the truth, yet with a lack of love. If they see someone who is in sin or who has a false belief, these Christians feel it is their responsibility to point it out. We all know Christians who always seem to be critical and judgmental of others. They are on the lookout for those who say or do something wrong, and when they find some real or imagined fault in others, they feel it is their responsibility to point it out. Such Christians believe that truth is the highest ideal and that they are God’s appointed defenders of truth in this world.

This tendency is sometimes found in those who claim to have “discernment ministries.” Such ministries seem to do little more than point out the errors of other ministries. A while back, in the span of a few weeks, I watched one of these ministries attack James Dobson and his “Focus on the Family” ministry, Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” Rick Warren’s book, (#AmazonAdLink) The Purpose Driven Life, the theology of several well-known pastors, and the phenomenon of contemporary Christian music. Such ministries see themselves as defenders of the truth who help keep Christians on the “straight and narrow” road to heaven. Yet they do little more than divide the church.

Of course, there are some who err on the other side. The opposite extreme is found in those ministries and Christians who just want everybody to get along, to love one another, and be in agreement on all things. They only want positive words to come from their pulpits and out of their printers. They never want to rock the boat or stand up for the truth. Their greatest fear is that someone might get offended by something they say.

Jay Adams has noticed this modern tendency and writes:

In some circles, the fear of controversy is so great that preachers, and congregations following them, will settle for peace at any cost—even at the cost of the truth, God’s truth. The idea is that peace is all important. Peace is a biblical idea (Rom 12:18 makes that clear: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with everybody”), but so is purity. The peace of the Church may never be bought at the cost of the purity of the Church. That price is too dear.

But why do we think that we can get along in the world or for that matter, even in the Church, without conflict and controversy? Jesus didn’t. Paul didn’t. None of the preachers of the apostolic age who faithfully served their Lord were spared controversy. Who are we to escape controversy when they did not? The story of the advance of the Church across the Mediterranean world from Jerusalem to Rome is a story of controversy. When the gospel is preached boldly, there will be controversy.[8]

These two approaches reveal two extremes. Some teach the truth without love, and others teach love without truth. But in Ephesians 4:15, Paul calls for both. He calls for a balance between truth and love. To err on one side or the other causes great problems. Truth without love is harsh judgmentalism and dogmatism. Love without truth is blind sentimentality. But truth in love is compassionate concern.

Truth without love makes Cactus Christians: they’re full of good points, but prickly, and painfully difficult to be around. Love without truth makes Cotton Candy Christians: they’re sweet and look good, but there’s nothing of substance to anything they say or do. They’re just a lot of fluff. But truth in love makes Christlike Christians. They are not afraid to speak the truth, but know that such truth must be spoken in love, and that sometimes, love requires a person to not speak at all, but live the truth instead. A Christlike Christian seeks to balance truth and love. Truth, as important as it is, must always be taught in a loving manner.

Truth in LoveThe difficulty, of course, is that every “truth-telling” Christian thinks they are speaking the truth in love. I have heard Christians say the most hateful things, and when challenged about it, have defended their words by saying, “The loving thing is to tell them the truth, no matter how painful it might be.”

But when it comes to speaking the truth in love, the question is not whether you think you are loving, but whether the other person thinks you are loving. If you speak something you believe to be true, and the other person believes your words or actions were hateful and harmful, there is a good chance you were not speaking truth.

When we properly understand God, Scripture, and correct theology, it will always lead us to love. This is why love is the litmus test for correct beliefs. If our beliefs, doctrine, and theology are leading us to be judgmental, mean, and rude toward other people, then the truth is not in us. Where there is no love, there also is no truth. If someone truly knows the truth, they will be the most loving person you know.

This is exactly what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13. He says that even if you have all knowledge, but have not love, then you have nothing. This means that even if you can win at Bible trivia, can recite hundreds of Bible verses, and can argue theology with the best theologians in the world, but have not love, then you have nothing. Without love, there is no truth. Without love, knowledge counts as nothing. If you know the truth, it will lead you to love, and love provides evidence that you know the truth.

Furthermore, I would argue that love is the main truth which Christians should be preaching, teaching, and revealing through our lives and actions. Since God is love (1 John 4:8), all truth about God will be wrapped in love, focused on love, revealing love, and leading people to love. If the church could focus on only one truth to teach and practice, it should be the truth of love. The main truth presented by the church should be that God loves us, accepts us, forgives us, and desires nothing more than to be in fellowship with us.

As always, Jesus is the perfect example of how this is carried out. During His life and ministry, He never avoided the truth, but spoke it plainly in the most loving words possible. Though Jesus often had disagreements with the religious leaders of His day, and though He spoke many hard words to them, I doubt that a single one of them ever thought that His words were hateful, mean, or cruel. Though the words of Jesus are often read in harsh, accusatory ways today, it is possible to read the “hard” words of Jesus with a loving, pleading, and beseeching tone. When you do this, the words of Jesus take on a completely different meaning, which better matches the overall tenor of His life and ministry. The tone and demeanor of Jesus were always full of love, even when He had hard truths to speak.

God behaves similarly, which is not surprising, for Jesus perfectly reveals God to us. What is surprising about God’s revelation of truth to us, is that He rarely speaks truth to us until we are ready and willing to hear it. God does not sit us down on the first day of our Christian life and beat us over the head with every wrong thing we do and incorrect belief we hold. Instead, God reveals His truth to us slowly, over time, as we mature and become ready to hear it and respond to it. This means that it is loving for God to withhold the full truth from us. It is loving of God to slowly reveal truth to us over time.

Sometimes, God will not point out our faults to us unless we honestly ask that He do so. We all sin in various ways all the time, and often, we are unaware of the myriad ways we disobey God. But in His patience and loving kindness, He waits to reveal our faults to us until we ask for Him to search our hearts and see if there is any wicked way in us. Even then, He gently whispers to us by the Holy Spirit about the skeletons in our closet, or He kindly takes us to Scripture to reveal our faults to us. But God never beats us over the head with some harsh judgmental attitude or hurtful words. Softly and gently, tenderly and kindly, He washes our feet with the water of the Word and cleanses us from all sin.

When we seek to speak the truth in love, we must seek to follow the example of God. Just because we see faults in someone else, this does not mean we are obligated to point it out. And even when we are invited, within the boundaries of a close friendship, to lovingly correct someone else, we must never do so in harsh, judgmental, or accusatory words.

Speaking the Truth in Love

It is also critically important that we seek to be part of the solution. When we correct someone, we must also be willing to take the time and effort to help that person through their faults and mistakes. We must never “hit and run.” When Jesus set out to wash the filthy feet of His disciples, He didn’t simply point out the dirty condition of their feet, but actually got a basin and a towel and knelt at their feet to wash them Himself. Jesus took the role of a servant and came alongside them to wash their feet for them. When we see somebody with “dirty feet,” we must be willing to help them wash their feet. If we are not willing to help, then we should keep our mouths shut.

Another example is found in Acts 9:10-13. God tells Ananias to go see Saul who has been blinded. Saul’s reputation of persecuting Christians has preceded him, and so understandably, Ananias is a little scared. He says, “God, I don’t think that’s the best idea. If Paul doesn’t kill me, he’ll imprison me for sure!” Ananias clearly and blatantly rejects God’s command.

Now if we were God, most of us would do one of two things in the face of such disrespect. We would either flat-out rebuke the man, saying something like, “You sinner! Away from me you evil doer!” This response would be truthful, but not very loving. This kind of response would be truth without love. The other way to handle such disobedience would be to ignore it in the name of love. In this case, God could have said, “Ananias, I understand your fear. I would be scared too. So it’s okay if you don’t want to obey me right now. Maybe someone else will come along.” This seems to be loving, but there’s not much truth. In fact, in the name of love, such a statement actually contains a lie. It is not okay to disobey. Very often, when love is the goal at the expense of truth, lies creep in (which is not very loving).

These are two of the possible responses to Ananias’ disobedience. The first is to be so focused on the truth, that we beat people over the head with it saying “Obey or else!” The other is to be afraid of offending people, and say, “Okay, I understand that you’re scared. If you don’t want to obey right now, that’s fine.” These are the two extremes. One reveals truth without love, and the other reveals love without truth.

But God speaks the truth in love to Ananias. In Acts 9:15, God said, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” God says, “Go. And let me give you some reasons why you should. I am not rebuking your lack of wisdom for resisting My viewpoint. I am also not denying your feelings of fear. Instead, I am telling you why you should obey, and also telling you that everything will be okay.” This response is both truthful and loving. So in Acts 9:17, Ananias went.

This is how God deals with us as well. He never gives us truth without love, and never hides the truth in the name of love. Instead, He always speaks the truth in love. Scripture repeatedly tells us that God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and wrath (Exod 34:6; Neh 9:17; Ps 86:15; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2). When we resist and rebel, He gives us reasons to obey. If we continue to resist and rebel, His reasons slowly but surely become much stronger, until, after a while, He begins to discipline us. Truth balanced with love is how God deals with us and how we are to deal with one another.

Here are eight tips on how to achieve this balance between truth and love. If you sense the desire to correct someone who is sinning, there are several things you need to think through before you talk to that person.[9]

  1. First, remember what the ultimate source of truth is. If you feel someone is in sin, you had better have a strong biblical case. You cannot base truth on what your opinion is, or on what your traditions are, or on what some pastor, teacher or author said. God’s word is truth. Jesus prays in John 17:17, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your Word is truth.” Before you confront someone with the truth, make sure you have a biblical case.[10] This helps too, because then it is not you saying “I think you are wrong” but it is God’s Word saying “Here is what you are doing wrong.”
  2. Second, make sure God is actually calling you to address the problem. Maybe He just wants you to pray about it. In fact, it might be a good idea to do nothing but pray about it for a whole month before you say anything—just to see God work. Also, it is often true that when God points sin out to us, it is actually our own sin He is pointing out, but we often project this conviction of sin onto others. Recognize that when you become aware of sin in others, it might actually be your own sin that God wants you to see.
  3. Third, ask yourself what you might have contributed to the problem. Often, the problem you see in others is a problem that you yourself contributed to (Paul wrote about this earlier in Ephesians 4:1-6).
  4. Fourth, try to discover what your motive is in pointing out the error. Maybe you simply want to get noticed, or maybe you want to get back at someone, or maybe you have had a bad day and feel like lashing out at someone. If you are unsure of your motives, spend a lot of time in prayer before going to the person.
  5. Fifth, if you confront, are you doing it in a biblical way? Have you gossiped about this to anyone or, according to Matthew 18, are you following the steps for church discipline? Always try to keep the circle small.[11]
  6. Sixth, you might want to ask yourself if you are demanding perfection. Nobody is perfect except Christ – not even you. And remember that with the same measure you use, it will be measured out to you at the judgement day. Are you overcritical and judgmental, or are you gracious and understanding about other people’s failures because you know you have your own struggles?
  7. Seventh, if you do confront the person, can you give input in the form of constructive suggestions rather than outright criticism and complaint? Rather than just point out sin, provide some steps to correct it, or explain how you yourself struggled with this problem in the past, yet was able to experience victory over it.
  8. Finally, are you willing to be part of the solution? God may be showing you this error because He wants you to help out, not to criticize. This final point is critically important. Since we are all part of the church body, we are all supposed to help and love each other into wholeness. If we are not willing or able to love and serve others in their areas of sin and weakness, then we probably have no business pointing out their sin to them. It is not loving to point out someone’s sin if we are not also willing to help love and help them through it.

These eight ideas will help you balance truth and love, which leads to personal growth.

Since God wants His church to grow, and since the church consists of the people of God, this means that the first stage of church growth involves the personal growth of individual Christians. And people grow mentally, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually when they encounter the truth of God spoken in love. In other words, speaking the truth in love leads to the personal growth of those who hear it

Personal Growth

In the last half of Ephesians 4:15, Paul writes that we will grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ. This statement reveals two truths about personal growth. First, it reveals that when we grow, we grow up in all things. This is growth into complete maturity. When we grow in this way, everything about us changes. God wants us to grow and change from spiritual children into spiritual adults. But this requires going through spiritual adolescence.

spiritual growth - guarding children

The teenage years are a rough time for most people because it is a time in which they transition from children into adults. It is during these years that people change mentally, emotionally, and physically. Many teenagers think they have all the answers, even when they don’t. Also, hormones begin to rage, which causes numerous changes. Male voices start to deepen. Hair grows in strange places. There are physical changes as well. Legs and arms get longer. Muscles begin to grow, and female bodies start to develop curves. Some kids become quite awkward as they learn to deal with all these changes.

Something similar happens as Christians mature. Our tastes and desires start to change. We develop different interests than those we once had. Like teenagers, we sometimes become “know-it-alls,” condemning and criticizing everyone who believes or behaves differently than we do. We might bounce around from group to group, theology to theology, trying to find “the one.” We might also enter into a stage of spiritual awkwardness. But God wants us to grow up into all things, and although He gives us everything we need for life and godliness, we need to grow into these areas so that we can become mature adults.

The second truth about growth from verse 15 concerns the goal. The goal is to become like the Head of the church, Jesus Christ. This is quite humbling, of course, since no person will ever fully be conformed to the character of Jesus while in this life. This means that we will never fully mature. Any Christian who thinks they have “arrived” in their spiritual maturity is deluding themselves. As long as we compare ourselves to Jesus Christ, we will always fall short.

Teenagers provide another good example. Teenagers often have heroes, whether they are musicians, sports stars, or movie actors and actresses. It is not uncommon to see Junior High girls trying to look and act like some famous female musician or movie star, while Junior High boys attempt to emulate NFL quarterbacks or rock stars. As a result, teenagers often copy the behavior and antics of these “heroes,” whether good or bad. However, regardless of how well a fourteen-year old boy throws the football, he will fall short of throwing like Tom Brady. There is always room to grow.

It is the same for us as Christians. Our hero should be Jesus Christ, and we should want to talk like Him, be like Him, and live like Him. But we should also realize that there will always be room for growth and development. We can never stop striving after the goal of maturity in Jesus Christ. We should make decisions and choices in our lives with this goal in mind. When people look at us, they should be reminded of Jesus Christ. With Jesus Christ as our head, we will experience personal growth into all things.

This finally leads us to church growth. When individual Christians grow into Christlike maturity as described above, the church grows as well.

Church Growth

Paul concludes this revolutionary passage on church growth by summarizing and reminding his readers that all growth is accomplished only when every part does its share. Just as a body will never mature if the arms refuse to work, so also a church will never grow if certain members refuse to take part in God’s work. Paul writes that:

… 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.

Ephesians 4:16 is a summary of everything Paul has taught up to this point. He previously mentioned the spiritual gifts God provided to help church leaders train the rest of the church body to carry out church ministry. Here, Paul basically says the same thing, and points out that when each member does its share, church growth will occur.

church growth Gods way Ephesians 4:15-16

Church growth is not primarily when more and more people are added to the church, but when each individual person in the church grows into Christlike maturity and starts using their spiritual gifts to love and serve other people within the church. When every part does its share, the church grows into health and love. This causes the growth of the body, which is true church growth.

A healthy and mature body knows what each part does best and how to use those parts correctly. An eye does the seeing, the ear the hearing, the mouth the talking, the feet the walking, and the hands the working. And according to verse 16, every part, even down the joints, needs to do its share if the body is going to grow into health and effectiveness.

God is the one who created the church, just as He created our physical bodies. And He put the church together the same way He put our bodies together. Each part of our body is like each person in the church. Each part serves a purpose and has a function, and each part is connected to every other part so that the whole body works together as a whole to accomplish what God wants and desires. When every part does what it is supposed to do, then the body grows into a healthy, mature, and complete person, glorifying God and serving the world. It works exactly the same way for the church body.

Furthermore, when it comes to the health and growth of the church, it is best to follow the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If you feel like you are not being helped, loved, served, or fed in the church, rather than complain about it, make sure you are doing what you can to help, love, serve, or feed others. It may be that you are not being edified in the church because the person who should be edifying you, is not being edified by you.

In this way, church relationships are symbiotic. Other parts of the body of Christ may be weak and sickly because you are not doing what you are supposed to be doing to help them. And since they are weak and sick, they cannot do what they are supposed to do to help you. Since someone needs to step up and serve, it might as well be you. The best way to have your own needs met is to start meeting the needs of other people. When you help, love, and serve others, this allows them to grow in health and maturity, which allows them to start helping, loving, and serving you.

When each part does its share, then each part is cared for by all the others and so the body remains healthy. The mouth could not eat if the hands did not bring food to the mouth. But if the mouth refused to eat, the hands would not have enough energy to bring food to the mouth. When every part does its share, the entire body is strengthened, so that every part can function for the benefit of every other part. When every part serves, the whole body grows.

This is when church growth occurs. Whether we’re talking about two people, two-hundred, or two-million, when those people love and serve each other, it causes the church to grow. This type of church growth does not require gimmicks, ingenuity, creativity, cleverness, or fancy marketing schemes. Every part of the body has a task, and if every part does its task, the church grows. It is so simple—only God could have designed it. These are His blueprints for church growth.

The End is Love

Paul’s instructions on church grown ends with love. As Paul laid the groundwork for what he would write about church growth, he frequently mentioned the importance place of love in the life and health of the church. We are to be rooted and grounded love (Ephesians 3:17), to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge (Ephesians 3:19), and bear with one another in love (Ephesians 4:2).

love othersAs Paul concludes the section of his letter about church growth, he returns to the centrality of love. We are to speak the truth in love so that we may all work for the edification of the body in love. Church growth only happens within the context of love.

Love is the beginning, middle, and end of church growth.

Love causes Christian maturity, and Christian maturity results in love.

If you want your church to grow, don’t focus on programs, budgets, or attendance numbers. Instead, just focus on love. As we love and are loved, we will all grow into the love of Christ, and each person will become mature spiritual adults, who are able to love God, love each other, and love the world just like Jesus Christ. This is true church growth.

Notes:

[1] Bob Russell, (#AmazonAdLink) When God Builds a Church, (West Monroe, LA: Howard, 2000), 3. On page 8, he does qualify this statement by saying that “Although we rejoice over our numerical growth, we know that God doesn’t measure success in terms of attendance, offerings, or size of buildings. He measures effectiveness in terms of faithfulness to His Word, conformity to Jesus Christ, and ministry to those in need.” The rest of the book is excellent in laying out 10 principles to grow your church, but still, it seems that the basic message of the book is “Do these 10 things, and you too can have a church that grows numerically.” Cf. p. 10-11.

[2] See my book, (#AmazonAdLink) Church is More than Bodies, Bucks, & Bricks (Dallas, OR: Redeeming Press, 2015).

[3] Sol Biderman and Sao Paolo, “Padre Marcelo Rossi” TIME Magazine (Feb 28, 2000).

[4] John MacArthur, (#AmazonAdLink) Ashamed of the Gospel (Wheaton: Crossway, 1993), xvii.

[5] This is seen partly by the noun “growth” in verse 16: auxesis is only used of spiritual growth (cf. Col 2:19). The verb in Ephesians 4:15, auxano, is sometimes used of physical growth, but always has in mind factors outside oneself, or an element of life placed within a person by God, which brings about the growth. This kind of growth is never a self-achievement.

[6] The gospel, of course, is not simply the message about how people can go to heaven when they die. The gospel is every truth from Scripture related to the person and work of Jesus Christ. In other words, all biblical truth is gospel truth. See J. D. Myers, The Gospel According to Scripture.

[7] Walter C. Kaiser Jr., (#AmazonAdLink) Toward an Exegetical Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), 242. Italics mine.

[8] Jay Adams, (#AmazonAdLink) Preaching to the Heart (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Press, 1984), 17.

[9] Modified from Cathy Miller, “Ten Questions to Ask Before you Complain to Church Leaders” (Moody Magazine, Issue 96, 1996), 80. See also, Ken Sande, (#AmazonAdLink) The Peacemaker (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997).

[10] Cf. Bob Russell, (#AmazonAdLink) When God Builds a Church (West Monroe, LA: Howard, 2000), 153.

[11] This does not hold true for predatory sins that harm others, such as rape, murder, abuse, or threats of physical violence. In such cases, it is your responsibility to go straight to the police or authorities.

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The Task of the Church (Part I): Guarding Children (Ephesians 4:14) https://redeeminggod.com/ephesians_4_14/ https://redeeminggod.com/ephesians_4_14/#respond Fri, 02 Sep 2022 01:27:42 +0000 https://redeeminggod.com/?p=54473 What is the church supposed to DO? If you ask 10 Christians this question, you’ll get fifteen answers. Is it to send out missionaries and evangelists to share the gospel? Maybe it’s to attract the unchurched to our Sunday morning event so they can hear about Jesus? Maybe it’s community involvement so we can serve the poor and needy. Or political involvement to change the world for the better. Or maybe the church is to provide top quality worshipful experiences for the believers who gather on Sunday morning? Or maybe it’s high quality biblical teaching to help Christians grow in the knowledge of Scripture.

Thankfully, in Ephesians 4:14-16, God, through the pen of Paul, provides some clear instructions on what the church is supposed to do. There are two parts to these instructions of God about the task of the church, and so we will consider them in two different studies. This study will look at Ephesians 4:14, and the next one will look at Ephesians 4:15-16.

(#AmazonAdLink) Both of these studies, along with all the others in this series, are drawn from my book, (#AmazonAdLink) God’s Blueprints for Church Growth.

First, however, I want to invite you to download an app that has recently added my YouTube Channel to their recommended resources. The app is the Grace Zone. It is a free app available on the Apple store and the Google Play Store. Along with my YouTube Channel, the app also contains hundreds of recommended resources from other Bible teachers and authors. I highly recommend you get the Grace Zone App.

The Task of the Church: Guarding Children (Ephesians 4:14)

“… 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 …” (Ephesians 4:14)

Anyone who has been around children for very long knows that they can say and believe some of the most amazing things. One little boy came home from Sunday school very excited about the lesson he had learned in Genesis 2 about how Eve was taken from Adam’s side. But a few days later, he came home from school in a very distressed mood. When his mother asked what was wrong, he replied, “My side hurts. I think I’m going to have a wife.”

Another little boy, after being told that God is One, asked when He would be two.

I also read about a group of children who were asked what God does all day. One responded, “He walks on water.” Another said, “He lives! He lives!” A third said, “He organizes heaven, sending people down here in cloud elevators so they can help us earth people out.” One of the little boys said, “He builds boats. All kinds of boats. Nobody knows why.”

When this same group of children were asked what God creates, one little boy answered, “God makes bees with little wings all day. Probably out of mud.” A different child said, “He makes grass a lot of the days. That takes up a lot of hours. Did you ever see how many pieces of grass there are?”

Then they were asked if they could name any of the Ten Commandments, here is what a few of them said:

“Buckle up for safety!”

“Don’t smoke in the bowling alley.”

“Don’t drink beer.”

“Brush your teeth.”

“Don’t go to work on Sundays. And if your boss says she’ll fire you, call in sick.”

“Don’t copy someone else’s paper.”

“I think ‘Don’t kill’ is one. But maybe not.”

“Don’t eat when you have a fever and feel like throwing up.”

“Say ‘No’ to drugs.”

“Don’t talk to strangers.”

“Thou shalt not stab.”

This is part of the wonder and joy of working with children. They are so trusting and have such vivid imaginations. But at the same time, children have some of the most amazing misconceptions and misunderstandings. Sometimes this is the result of their own immaturity and innocence, while at other times, it is due to their gullibility. Children are easily deceived. Children can be told the most outrageous lie and they will believe it because they often don’t know any different.

There was an old Peanuts comic strip where Lucy told Linus that snow didn’t fall from the sky the way most people thought. Rather, it grew up from the ground in the night like a flower and then the wind blew it around. Linus, because he didn’t know any different, believed her.

Children are easily tricked. Easily deceived. And most of the time, it’s a cute characteristic that children have. Almost any story can captivate a child’s attention. Almost any magic trick, no matter how silly, can amaze them.

But it is far from cute when adults have the same gullibility. What is adorable in a child is not at all adorable in an adult. Children are not supposed to stay children forever. Children are to grow up and mature so that they become productive members of society. Sadly, many adults, though they may have matured physically, are still mentally, emotionally, and psychologically immature. It is a sad state of affairs when this happens.

The same thing can happen when it comes to spiritual maturity. When people first believe in Jesus, they are born again into the family of God, and are spiritual babes in Jesus Christ. No matter how old they might be physically, they are spiritual children. And just as humans are supposed to mature as they get older, the same thing is supposed to happen with people the longer they are “in Christ.” But just as physical maturity can sometimes be stunted, so also, some Christians never mature into spiritual maturity.

In fact, it is a sad reality in the church that many modern Christian adults are childish in their thinking. While immature spirituality should be expected from a new believer, many Christians remain childish for far long. While every Christian starts off as a baby Christian, some Christians remain that way for most of their Christian lives.

God wants baby Christians to become mature Christians. He wants Christians to move on from “milk doctrines” that make us feel warm and fuzzy, and start ingesting the meat truths of the Word that we mull over and think about (cf. Heb 5:11–6:3). It is only when Christian do this that they lose their gullibility, and become able to discern good from evil, truth from falsehood, correct doctrine from heresy.

As we think about growing the church God’s way, we have learned that God’s church grows as the people of the church develop into Christlike maturity. And believe it or not, this maturing process is the main activity which God desires for the church. Though people often say that evangelism and world missions are the primary activities of the church, effective evangelism and world missions only take place as Christian mature in the faith and develop Christlikeness in their beliefs and behaviors. All of the activities of the church in this world depend upon Christians growing into spiritual maturity. The task of helping baby Christians grow into mature Christians is to be the primary program of the church.

One of the important parts of planning and constructing a building is the “Architectural Programming” phase. This phase of the design process usually begins before the blueprints are drawn up or the ground is broken. This phase of the construction process helps determine what kind of building will be planned and built. Architectural Programming determines how large the building will be, what materials will be used, how many people the building can hold, the number of rooms it will have, and a whole range of similar details. Therefore, it is appropriate to think of the programming of the church. And as we have just seen, “The Program” of the church is to turn baby Christians into mature followers of Jesus Christ.

God’s Program for His church is not primarily about a music program, an educational program, or a youth program. God’s Program for the church He is building centers around helping people mature in the faith. While music, education, and youth events might help people mature, they are not the only ways that people do mature. God does not care so much about the number of meetings at the church, or the frequency and variety of church events. He doesn’t even care about the number of people. The primary thing God cares about in the church is whether or not the people within it are developing into spiritual maturity.

So when a local gathering of believers is trying to decide whether or not they are accomplishing God’s will for the church in their community, they must not look at the numbers of bodies who sit a pew, the amount of money collected in the offering, or the square feet of the building in which these things take place.[1] The only Program God wants to know about is whether or not the people who make the church look, act, and love more like Jesus this year than they did last year.

This is exactly what Paul writes about in Ephesians 4:14-16. Back in Ephesians 4:13, Paul wrote about the model for the church, which is the measure, stature, and fullness of Jesus Christ. He now turns to describing the two steps for accomplishing this Program in the church. The church must first seek to guard and protect new believers (Ephesians 4:14), and then it must seek to help guide and grow mature believers into greater depth and Christlikeness (Ephesians 4:15-16).

These two aspects of the church Program will be considered in two different studies. This study looks at the topic of guarding the spiritual children in the church (Ephesians 4:14), and the next study will consider Ephesians 4:15-16 about guiding and growing spiritually mature Christians into greater depth and Christlikeness.

No Longer Be Children

When Paul wrote about children in Ephesians 4:14, he was not thinking about those members of the church under the physical age of ten. He had spiritual children in mind, regardless of whatever physical age they might be. A new believer is a child in the faith, whether they are five years old or ninety-five. When we first believe in Jesus, we are born again into the family of God, and start our live as a spiritual babe in Jesus Christ. But we are not to remain in such a state.

The sad fact, however, is that many Christians remain in the infant stage for far too long. While many Christians sit in pews and sing worship songs on Sunday morning for decades on end, some of them remain immature the entire time. So Paul calls the church to help these Christians grow up so that they will no longer be children.

But how can you tell who is a spiritual child and who is not? Christian maturity comes down to two things: beliefs and behaviors. Christian maturity is not measured by how much time a person spends sitting in a pew or reading their Bible. It is measured by how well a person understands the life of God and how well their own life imitates His. Let us briefly consider both aspects, beginning with beliefs.

Beliefs are critically important for growth into maturity. We are what we know. Furthermore, sociologists and psychologists have discovered that a person’s view of God largely determines how that person lives. People who believe that God is vengeful and angry will often be violent and unforgiving. People who believe that God is gracious and loving will more readily love and serve others. So the beliefs of a person help guide that person’s behavior.

Yet how can we know which beliefs indicate maturity? Scripture helps us in this regard. For example, Hebrews 6:1-3 contains a list of six key doctrines which are foundational for every new Christian to understand. The author of Hebrews states that people must understand these six truths in order to move on to the true “meat” of Scripture. These foundational teachings are (1) repentance from dead works, (2) faith toward God, (3) the doctrine of baptisms, (4) the laying on of hands, (5) the resurrection of the dead, and (6) eternal judgment. Do you understand and comprehend what the Bible teaches about these six areas? If not, then according to the author of Hebrews, you are still a Kindergarten Christian. This is not wrong; it just means you have some learning to do.[2]

Sadly, by using this one instrument to measure the maturity of modern, western Christianity, it appears that the majority of Christians might very well be classified as immature. Earl Radmacher was exactly right when he once said that American Christianity is a mile wide but an inch deep.

Similarly, A. W. Tozer said that much of the failures of our Christian experience can be traced back to our habit of skipping through the corridors of the kingdom like children through a marketplace, chattering about everything, but pausing to learn the value of nothing. The church has great power and influence in society, and our presence is evident by the vast number of church buildings and Christian slogans that dot our cultural landscape, but few Christians have progressed much past a milk diet of basic Christian truths.

These basic truths are a great first step, but they are only the first step. We must move on to maturity. We must grow up.

But it is not just theology that indicates maturity. It is not just about what we believe. It is also about what we do. Proper Christian behavior is also required for growth into Christian maturity. Earlier in Ephesians 4, Paul revealed that spiritual maturity can be measured by involvement in ministry. Each member of the church is part of the work Crew on God’s construction site, and each person only grows into Christlikeness as they discover the ministry to which God has called them and start practicing it in their life.

Church ministry is not fulfilled by sitting in a pew on Sunday morning while trying to stay awake during the sermon. Christian behavior does not consist in smiling happily while chatting with friends in the foyer for twenty minutes on Sunday. True Christian ministry and behavior consists of how we live our day-to-day lives with our friends, family, and coworkers. It is measured by how we interact with our neighbor, the server at the restaurant, and the check-out lady in the store. Ultimately, the true test of Christian maturity is love.

In fact, love brings us full circle, back to our beliefs. Christianity is known for its large diversity of beliefs. This is one of the reasons there are so many denominations. How can we know which beliefs are right and which are wrong? The answer is love. Love is the litmus test for good theology. More specifically, love that looks like Jesus Christ is the litmus test for good theology.

If our beliefs do not lead to loving behavior toward others, then we can be sure that our beliefs are wrong. Since God is love, and everything God does is focused on revealing His love, this means that when God’s life is working through us, we too will live with love for others.

But sadly, once again, much of Christianity is not known for its love. Though we Christians often describe ourselves as loving, the average non-Christian rarely describes us in similar terms. Instead, words like “hypocritical, judgmental, and mean” are more often used.[3] Therefore, on this basis, much of modern Christianity can be described as immature. Christians who do not have a ministry and who are not lovingly serving others through the daily and weekly use of their spiritual gifts are not living the way a mature Christian would. Many Christians are immature Christians because they are not doing what God intended the members of His church to do.

Many people seem to think that the longer they are Christians, the more mature they become as a Christian. But this is just not true. Maturity in Christianity is not measured by the length of time one has been a Christians. While it is true that a new Christian cannot be a mature Christian (1 Tim 3:6), a long-time Christian may not be a mature Christian either. A man who has been a Christian for forty years is not necessarily more mature than one who has been a Christian for two. Maturing in the faith takes discipline, correction, training, teaching, instruction, and lots of practice (2 Tim 3:16–4:4).

It is like anything else in life that takes time and practice. For example, I play bass guitar. I’ve been a bass player for thirty years. When I first started playing bass guitar, I remember talking to every bass guitarist I could about how to play the bass. I wanted tips and suggestions on how to improve my ability no the bass. One question I always asked was how long they had played bass. Most of the answers I got were in the eight to ten-year range. So as I set out to learn bass, I couldn’t wait to be able to say that I had played bass for ten years, because by then, I would certainly be good.

But I never took a single lesson. I never bought an instructional book. I never took a class. In fact, after the first year of playing, I put the bass aside, and have only played about a dozen times since then. Yet I still own the bass, and I pick it up every couple years to play for twenty minutes or so. Yet I can truthfully say that I have been playing bass for almost thirty years. However, I am worse today at bass guitar then I was at the end of that first year. I have not improved because I have not practiced. So also, just as length of time does not guarantee mastery of a musical instrument, length of time as a Christian does not guarantee maturity in the Christian life.

But everybody must start somewhere. And everybody, when they first believe in Jesus for eternal life, starts out as a newborn Christian. They are an infant. A spiritual babe. As new Christians, the first thing they must do is focus on growing up. They must learn what to believe and learn how to behave.

However, just like regular children, new Christians don’t really know what they need to grow up. They don’t know how to talk, eat, get clean, or move around. All they really know is that sometimes they are hungry and sometimes they are tired. Sometimes they cry a lot. If given a choice, many of them would pick candy as the main element of their diet, and television as the main activity. But this is because children simply do not know what is good for them. They must be taught and trained by loving, protective adults. The children in the church must be protected and provided for. Those who are spiritually mature must guard the children and give to them what they need. This is what Paul goes describes in the rest of Ephesians 4:14.

Guarding Children

In Ephesians 4:14, Paul mainly emphasizes the guarding of spiritual children. He writes that there are false teachers prowling about, looking for immature Christians who can be led astray. Therefore it is the responsibility of the spiritually mature Christians to make sure that this does not happen to the immature Christians. It is the responsibility of the spiritual adults to guard the spiritual children from false teachers and false doctrine.

God wants the people in His church to have correct doctrine. And although God makes all believers into new creations when we first believe, this does not mean that all of our incorrect ways of living and wrong ways of thinking are instantaneously and completely corrected. Though we pass from death to life when we believe in Jesus, this transformation does not immediately affect all our beliefs and behaviors. We still retain many bad habits and ideas. It is the responsibility of the church, and specifically the pastor-teachers, to teach and train new Christians about what they are supposed to believe and how they are supposed to behave.

God gave the ability to some Christians to use the Word of God to teach and train other Christians, so that these new Christians can start doing the work of ministry. When new and immature Christians are taught what to believe and how to behave, they grow up in the faith and start loving and serving others, so that the entire church is strengthened. But until new Christians have matured a bit, they often fall prey the false teachings that abound in our fallen world. This is why it is important for church leaders to guard immature believers from false teaching and false teachers. Let us consider both dangers more closely.

From False Teaching

Ephesians 4:14 reveals that when new Christians are not adequately guarded by mature Christians, several bad things happen. First, the immature Christians are tossed to and fro. Like a child in a professional wrestling match, immature Christians get tossed around in the ring when they try to stand against sin and Satan. They are easily defeated and easily deceived. This is because they have not yet been trained to correctly discern truth from error. They fall prey to false doctrine and those who teach strange ideas.

This has been true of new Christians since the very beginning of the church. The early church fought against numerous heresies. One of the earliest was the heresy of the Gnostics. In the Greek language, gnosis means knowledge, so the Gnostics taught that in order to receive all that God wanted for you, you had to be given a special and deeper knowledge of God. This heresy led a lot of Christians astray, and the book of 1 John was written to combat an early form of this heresy.

Sadly, various forms of Gnosticism are still rampant in the church today, especially among those that place a heavy emphasis on gaining special knowledge, blessings, or experiences in the Christians life. Gnostic ideas are also found in the dualistic tendencies of some churches to emphasize the spiritual realm over the physical. Any group of believers that focus more on the Holy Spirit than on Jesus has likely succumbed in various ways to this ancient heresy. After all, the Holy Spirit does not like to take center stage, but always points people to Jesus. So mature Christians today can help immature believers avoid these ancient false teachings.

Then there was the heresy of Arianism. This teaching has nothing to do with Hitler’s sadistic dream of an Arian race. Instead, this false teaching claims that Jesus Christ was not fully God, but was just a human like the rest of us. Many Christians fell into this trap in the early days of the church, and there are some even today who argue that Jesus was not God, but was just an enlightened human who shows us the way that we too can become enlightened.

Later in church history, the church struggled against the heresy of Pelagianism. Pelagius taught that humans were born sinless and that, through sinless living, could attain heaven by good works and human effort. Many followed his path, and indeed, many still do. Any time you encounter someone who teaches that good works are necessary to make it into heaven, you are encountering remnants of the Pelagian heresy. Oddly, many of those who most loudly decry the Pelagian heresy turn around and teach the necessity of good works in order to attain heaven. They say things like “Salvation is by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone” or “Faith without works is not really faith at all.” Such statements show that good works are required to attain heaven.[4] The anti-Pelagians have become Pelagian.

We could go through the centuries of church history and list one heresy after another, one false teaching after another. The truth is that the church is always being attacked by falsehood. But as every new wind of false doctrine rises, the church also rises against it, to teach the truth and call people to hold fast to what we have received. Nevertheless, there have always been those within the church who were immature, who were children, and who fall prey to these false teachings. They are the ones that Paul refers to in Ephesiains 4:14 who are tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine.

The picture Paul describes is of a small boat on a stormy sea getting tossed to and fro by the waves. Those who have been on a stormy sea, or even on a stormy lake in a small boat, know that it is a very frightening experience. Every swell threatens to capsize or crush the vessel. And there seems to be no end to the threatening waves. They just keep coming, one after another, pounding, crashing, and breaking. You expend all of your energy trying to get to the safety of the shoreline without seeming to make any progress. This is how it feels to be caught in the torrential waves of false doctrine. It is frightening and exhausting.

A new Christian reads some book or hears some teacher who says one thing, and the statements seem to be logical and biblical, so the new Christian thinks that what they heard was correct. They often begin to excitedly tell their friends and family about what they have learned. But it is not long before one of these friends questions or challenges some of these ideas, and suggests that the new Christian read a different book or hear a second speaker who teaches the opposite. When the new Christian follows this suggestion, these new ideas also sound logical and biblical. So the new Christian becomes confused, and a little bit scared. They want to believe what is right, but have trouble determining which teaching is right and which is wrong. After a few of these issues pile up in their minds, they begin to feel battered, beaten, and tossed about by the winds of doctrine.

But note that the waves which might toss a small boat back and forth will barely touch an ocean liner. The church is a like the giant ocean liner. Church history, tradition, and teachings provide stability in the storm and firm decks on which to stand, so that there is no fear for those on board. But those who stray from the teachings of the church will get tossed to and fro by the waves, and will face the fear and uncertainty that comes with them. It is the church’s responsibility to call all new Christians to board the ocean liner, where they can gain their sea legs in a manageable and safe environment.

Paul continues this line of thinking by the next phrase in Ephesians 4:14, where he describes these children as being carried about with every wind of doctrine. Again, picking up the imagery of a boat at sea, this would be like a boat which has no sail and no oars. A boat of that kind is at the mercy of the wind. If the wind blows east, the boat goes east. If the wind changes direction and blows west, the boat goes west. A boat without any way to maneuver is a boat that is carried about with every wind. And that is exactly what happens to children who have not been grounded in the Word of God. When people fail to become founded upon the Word, they get carried about by every wind of doctrine (cf. Jude 12; Heb 13:9).

But it is not just the winds of doctrine that blow immature Christians around, it is also the false teachers who teach these doctrines. The false teachers are the true danger that Paul focuses on in the rest of verse 14, for without false teachers, there would be no false teaching.

From False Teachers

Paul continues in Ephesians 4:14 to write about the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting. False teachers are tricky, cunning, and crafty. They are deceitful. They plot schemes and carry them out. Part of this is because they themselves are deceived. Many false teachers, I believe, don’t set out to become a false teachers, and often do not realize they are false teachers.

Most people who teach false doctrine are fully convinced of the truth of it themselves. False teachers truly believe that they are right. This is what makes them so persuasive. They honestly believe that they have discovered a set of truths which everyone needs to believe. But the real truth is that they too have been deceived and tricked into teaching what they teach.

There are, of course, some who purposefully set out to deceive. The old Steve Martin movie, “Leap of Faith,” though intended to be a satire of modern-day healing ministries, also revealed how some false teachers are simply in the ministry for the money and the fame. Some don’t believe a word of what they are teaching, but they teach it anyway because it bring in lots of money.

Nevertheless, for the most part, false teachers do not know they are false teachers, and therefore, false teachers are hard to recognize. False teachers do not wear signs proclaiming who they are. They are, as Jesus said, wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt 7:15). Sometimes, the most vociferous and argumentative defenders of the truth, who go about accusing everyone else of being a false teacher, are false teachers themselves.

Furthermore, just as no false teacher believes they are a false teacher, nobody sitting under a false teacher believes that they are receiving false teaching. After all, if a person knew that they were learning from a false teacher, they would stop listening to them. Nobody intentionally listens to and obeys a teacher they know to be false and deceptive.

So how do false teachers become false? It happens in a variety of ways. Sometimes a teacher gets tired of not getting the attention they think they deserve. So in order to get attention, they invent or develop a brand new idea or an exciting way of teaching, and oftentimes this teaching turns out to be false. Through sly words, fine-sounding arguments, and phrases that tickle the ears, they gain support and popularity.

Though they do not intend to teach falsely, they do not teach with the right motives. Rather than teach to spread the truth, they teach to gain popularity or a following for themselves. They want to be known and recognized. They want to be the largest church in town or the most popular podcast online. Often, money is a factor as well, so that rather than teaching to grow spiritual children into adults, they teach to grow their own wallet and bank account.

This means that two reliable signs of a false teacher is when they only seem to care about growing the numbers of followers they have, or they often talk about giving money to support them and their ministry. Any time a teacher starts talking a lot about numbers, red flags should go up in the minds of the mature Christian. The sad reality is that these false teachers are not just led astray themselves by the lure of power and riches; they also lead astray spiritual children who have not been grounded in good doctrine.

And lest we get too puffed up with pride about our own ability to spot false teachers and sniff out bad doctrine, we must recognize that all Christians (including you and me) have occasionally fallen prey to false teaching. In fact, we can also say with a high degree of certainty that all Christians (including you and me) currently believe some false theology. There is not a single person on the face of the earth who is 100% correct in everything they believe. This is why we must continually be learning, studying, refining, and correcting ourselves under the authority of Scripture.

If you have been caught up in error in the past, or if you are afraid of being caught up in error in the future, you can mature and protect yourself from false teachers by taking time and making effort to study good biblical teaching and listen to good biblical teachers. Ask God to reveal to you where you are wrong in your thinking and theology, and then ask Him to direct you to good resources and teachers who can help guide you into the truth. Most importantly, never be afraid to question or challenge anything you believe. You can only discover false ideas if you question those ideas.

To truly see where you are lacking in your theology, seek to put into practice what you have learned. Only by ministering and serving others will you be able to see if what you are learning is truly leading you into love. After all, love is the litmus test for good theology. When you learn and live this way, you will no longer be spiritual children (cf. 1 Cor 13:11), tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine, but instead, you will become a mature and Christlike spiritual adult.

This is the first aspect of God’s Program. It is what keeps us from false teaching and false teachers. Although Ephesians 4:14 mainly talks about the importance of guarding the spiritual children in church, the other aspect of proper parenting is giving to the children, or providing for them. Paul doesn’t mention this, but it is appropriate to include it because there is so much confusion today about what exactly a new Christian needs.

Giving to Children

Children are not born into this world knowing what is good for them. They need to be trained to eat their vegetables rather than fill up on licorice and Twinkies. They need to be told to not sit too close to the TV, to go to bed at a decent hour, and to treat other children with respect. If parents allowed children to make all their own decisions, few children would live past the age of ten.

It is the same with spiritual children. When we first become Christians, we do not know what is good for us. We want cotton candy sermons that are light, airy, and sweet on the tongue. We want high-energy music that gives us goosebumps. We don’t want to hear about getting rid of sin or practicing spiritual disciplines. We prefer to be carried everywhere, and don’t want to learn how to walk in the Spirit. And oftentimes, when we don’t get our way, we throw temper tantrums and get angry at the leadership of the church for not giving us what we want.

Sadly, most churches today seem to operate under the conviction that new Christians (and even non-Christians) know best what they need. They run surveys to discover what the “felt needs” are of new and non-believers, and then organize the church around these needs. When the church operates under this mentality, it functions like a family that assumes children know what they need. The end result of focusing solely on these “felt needs” is that the young Christians remain weak and sickly children who never grow up or mature.

I agree that it is critically important to meet the physical, emotional, relational, and psychological needs of new and non-Christians. After all, if we only seek to meet the spiritual needs of people, we have fallen into the ancient trap of dualism, thinking that it is only the spiritual aspects of life that matter. The church is to minister to the whole person. Nevertheless, the church must not primarily take its cues from new believers or unbelievers about what the church should be doing and offering. Why not? Because new Christians and non-Christians don’t really know what they need. They know what they want, but this is quite different from what they need.

If parents met only the “felt needs” of their children (as far too many are now doing!), we would be near the end of civilization as we know it. When my daughters were young, they thought they needed a dog, a pony, a kitten, a fish, a horse, a lion, a bird, and just about every other animal they saw. When it came to food, they thought they needed jelly beans, licorice, chocolate ice cream, juice, chips, and green olives. (Yes, my oldest daughter loved green olives when she was two.)

But as parents in the family, my wife and I (actually, my wife more than I) knew what our daughters needed better than they did. Did they need food? Yes, but not junk food. They needed healthy food, and we added in sweets and candy as a treat after the healthy food was eaten. Did they need companionship and something to take care of? Yes. It is good to develop the caretaking abilities of children. But they didn’t need to be Noah, gathering two of every animal they saw. Did they need time to relax and be entertained? Sure. But this doesn’t mean they get to watch television all day long.

The same is true for the church. Those who are more mature in the faith and who know sound doctrine, should be the ones who decide what to teach. And those who, through constant practice, are able to discern good from evil (Heb 5:15), should be the primary decision-makers about what to give to the new and immature believers in the church.

New Christians do not know what they need. Most think they need big churches with numerous options and lots of activities to divert their energy and attention from the troubles of life. They want a large children’s program and youth group, forty-five minutes of quality, heart-pounding music, and a dynamic speaker who takes them on an emotional roller-coaster complete with side-splitting jokes and tear-jerking stories. When they leave church, they want to feel all warm and fuzzy inside and as if God Himself has sung them to sleep.

None of these are bad things. Youth groups and children’s programs are good. Quality music is a must. It is a sin to bore people with the sermon (the ideas in Scripture are the most exciting ideas that exist). And people should absolutely feel closer to God when they hang out with other believers. But these are not the only things that new Christians need.

New Christians, like new babies, need milk—and lots of it. Milk helps newborns grow, and it helps protect them from sickness and disease. There is also a bond that forms between the mother and the infant as the baby feeds. Spiritually, the mother of the new Christian is the church. So with all of these benefits, it is the responsibility of the spiritually mature adults in the church, and especially of the pastor-teacher, to make sure that milk is what new Christians get. Whether it is provided through a special service or in a small-group study, new Christians need spiritual milk.

What is spiritual milk? It is nothing but the pure and simple teaching of the Word of God, and the activity of showing them how to practice these truths in their lives. Peter writes in 1 Peter 2:2 that Christians, as newborn babes, should desire the pure milk of the Word, so that they may grow (cf. also Heb 5:11–6:3). If a church is not giving to its people the clear and systematic teaching of Scripture, complete with explanation and application, and finished off with actual practice in the community, then they are not giving to the people what they need. Such church leaders are starving their children and should not wonder why the Christians in their church never seem to mature.

And note that as a child grows and develops, they eventually should become self-feeders. That is, while it is important for parents to feed their children when they are young, people should not continue to be fed by their parents for their entire life. Part of the maturing process is that children learn to prepare their own meals and feed themselves.  So while it is a valid criticism for new Christians to say that they “are not being fed” by the church, it is not valid for those Christians who think they are mature to make the same complaint. By the time a baby Christian becomes a mature Christian, they should be able to plan, prepare, and eat their own spiritual meals.

If parents continue to feed their children for 48 years after they are born (barring any special mental or psychological factors, of course), that parent is a failure. At some point or another, those parents must show their children the door, saying, “It is time to be an adult on your own.” Yet ironically in the church, it is usually those Christians who consider themselves to be “mature” who complain that they are “not getting fed” by the pastor’s sermons. It is important to be fed spiritually … when you are spiritual baby. But as you mature as a follower of Jesus Christ, you should learn to feed yourself.[5]

And so it is a pastor-teacher’s responsibility along with the other overseers of the church, to protect the church from false teaching and false teachers. The best way to do this is to provide good teaching from good teachers, and then lead by example on how to live out these teachings in our daily lives. It is not enough to tell a child they can’t have Twinkies and soda pop every day. The spiritual leaders of the church must also provide good, healthy meals to the children so that they can grow and mature. These children will ultimately be able to study Scripture for themselves and teach it to others also.

As great as children are, the main goal of child-rearing is to help them grow up to become productive members of society. This involves guarding them from harm and giving them what they need. The same is true for the church. As great as new believers are, the goal of the church is to help new Christians mature into productive members of God’s kingdom. For this to happen, they need to be protected from what will harm them and they need to be guided into sound doctrine. This is what Paul goes on to explain in Ephesians 4:15-16.

Notes:

[1] See my book, (#AmazonAdLink) Church is More than Bodies, Bucks, & Bricks (Dallas, OR: Redeeming Press, 2015) for more on this subject.

[2] I have written a book on all six doctrines, but it is not yet published. Join my discipleship group at RedeemingGod.com/join/ to get notified when this book is available.

[3] See Dan Kimball, (#AmazonAdLink) They Like Jesus But Not the Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan: 207) and David Kinnaman, (#AmazonAdLink) UnChristian (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012).

[4] See J. D. Myers, The Gospel According to Scripture  for a longer explanation of why such statements are wrong.

[5] For a longer explanation of this point, see the article here, which is mostly written by Vince Antonucci: “Waa! I’m Not Getting Fed!

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The Best Model for Church Growth (Ephesians 4:13) https://redeeminggod.com/ephesians_4_13/ https://redeeminggod.com/ephesians_4_13/#comments Fri, 26 Aug 2022 22:31:57 +0000 https://redeeminggod.com/?p=54430 (#AmazonAdLink)

Note: This study is from my book, (#AmazonAdLink) God’s Blueprints for Church Growth.

The Model for Church Growth (Ephesians 4:13)

… 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 … (Ephesians 4:13)

My  brother is an architect, and several years ago, the firm he works for was hired to design an addition to the largest church in town. During that time, I remember stopping into his office when the planning process was in its final stages. He was working on putting together a miniature chipboard model of what the church building would look like with the expansion.

He was almost done with the model at the time, and I remember looking at it in awe. He had cut out all the windows. He had made topographical contour lines and inserted little trees here and there on the model grounds. When I expressed my amazement at the details, he told me that while he didn’t include them on this model, he sometimes adds little cars and people.

Upon seeing the incredible detail, I asked him how much time such a model takes. He told me that while the length of time depends on the complexity of the model. This particular model took a couple hundred hours and cost several thousand dollars.

A couple hundred hours and several thousand dollars? I wanted to gag. What this mega-church spent on a model could have supported my struggling little church for several months. Aside from that, it seemed like a terrible waste of the architect’s time. But I had seen other construction models of this sort before, and so I asked my brother why churches and companies spent money to have these models built. The reason, he told me, was that models help generate interest in the building project. Models help with fundraising and vision-casting. People like to see what the end result will be before they get on board to donate money. Statistics show that money spent on the model generates more money for the actual project.

As I left his office that day, it occurred to me that God also provided a model for His church. God, as the Architect of the church, in His endeavors to expand the church, created a model for us. But God’s model was not for the purpose of raising funds, but was provided to inspire and show us what the church will look like. God’s model helps generate interest in the building project so that we serve in the church as God intends. As we continue to look at God’s Blueprints for Church Growth, we see in Ephesians 4:13, the model for the church. Ephesians 4:13 says this: “… 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.”

Ephesians 4:13 contains three aspects, or three dimensions to the Model God seeks for His church.[1] Just as all architectural models are made in three dimensions, width, depth and height, God’s model also has three dimensions. The width of God’s model is the unity among Christians. The depth of God’s model is the maturity we develop. The height of the model is our growth into Christ-likeness.

Width: Unity

The first dimension, unity, is found in Ephesians 4:13. This text continues from Ephesians 4:11-12, which inform us that the Foremen equip the Crew to serve in the church until we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.

This makes sense considering the context and structure of the book of Ephesians. Ephesians 4–6 makes up the practical application section of Paul’s letter based on the truths he taught in Ephesians 1–3. Paul begins chapter 4 by instructing his readers to walk in unity. This is what the first 16 verses are all about. He wrote in Ephesians 4:3 that Christians should endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit, and now, in Ephesians 4:13, he writes that the first dimension of the church model is unity.[2] In other words, unity is what should characterize the church.

church unityYet too often, churches are more likely to be characterized by strife, division, and personal differences of opinion. Churches are divided over theology, politics, leadership, music style, finances, ministry opportunities, community involvement, what is and isn’t sin, and numerous other issues. It sometimes seems there is nothing the church will not argue about.

This is why unity is the first dimension of the church that God wants to build. Since division and strife is the default position of most of the world, a church that is known for its love and unity will be a light in the darkness, showing the world how to live in peace.

When unity develops in the church, it allows all people to work together for the common purpose to which we are called. But this doesn’t mean we are all clones. We do not all work in the same way on the same projects. To the contrary, biblical peace enables us to live in our own unique way and with our own unique contribution, allowing others to offer their unique insights and contributions as well. Unity occurs when everybody does what he or she is best able to do in order to serve others. Unity comes when all share a common goal, a common purpose, a common vision, and a common direction, but within a framework of letting everyone be unique.

This is how it works with any building. A building consists of a wide diversity of pieces and parts, yet everything is put together with a unified purpose. Not everything is a window or door, but all the pieces—including the windows and doors, as well as the nails, wires, pipes, beams, paint—work together to make the building functional. Where there is no common purpose or unity of theme and goal, the building will not be functional or safe for those who use it.

Several years ago, I worked as a caretaker at a summer Bible camp. One week I was told that the camp needed a storage rack for the life-jackets and canoe paddles, and I was asked to build one. The person who asked me to build a rack never bothered to ask if I knew much about construction, and I didn’t bother to tell them that I was a complete novice in such matters. In hindsight, I should have asked for a quick introductory tutorial.

Prior to this, I had never really built anything, but I figured that it couldn’t be too hard to build a little rack for paddles and lifejackets. So without any sort of plan or preparation except for some vague idea in my head of what I wanted to build, I started throwing 2x4s together. I didn’t really do any measuring, but just took some scrap lumber lying around that looked “about the right size” and nailed them to some trees. I then decided that since the life jackets were outside, it might be nice to protect them from the rain, so maybe I should put a roof over them. Once again, I nailed a few pieces of lumber together and then fastened some plywood on top, then found some scrap metal roofing to finish things off.

As a result of my lack of planning and knowledge, the “shack” I constructed was anything but unified. It was about eight feet square and five feet high. Yet even this was overkill, since all it had to do was store about twenty lifejackets and ten paddles. It had no foundation except a tree root and two cinder blocks. Since I knew nothing about construction, I was unaware that the 2×4 framing studs for the ceiling needed to be spaced to match the 48-inch sheets of plywood. So the plywood pieces I nailed to the ceiling overhung the 2×4 frame by about 10 inches on each side. To make matters worse, I had failed to measure the metal roofing, so that when I went to screw the metal roofing pieces to the plywood, the pieces were too long. I dealt with this by getting out the tin snips to cut them down to size, leaving sharp jagged edges. Furthermore, when I screwed the metal roofing to the roof, I used the wrong size of screw, and many of the screws punched through the plywood to the underside of the roof.

The end result of my attempt at construction was a building that was not only ugly and rickety, but also quite dangerous. The edges of the jagged metal roofing were at face level so that anyone approaching the shack had to be careful they didn’t cut their face. But the danger didn’t end there. If they ducked their head to get a life jacket or paddle from the shack, they had to watch out for the sharp screws sticking through the roof.

But it was the first thing I had ever built, and initially, I was quite proud of that shack. Ironically, we had a master carpenter at the Bible camp who was constructing an actual building, and so I, in my ignorance, called him over to assess my work. He had spent weeks so far on his building, but I had put mine together in a few hours and wanted to show off my little pile of scrap lumber to the master carpenter.

He was very kind. He looked at my newly-built shack, and said, “Hmm … Well … It’ll work. All we need it to do is store the life jackets and paddles.” Then he went back to constructing his building.

The primary difference between our two buildings came down to one thing: Unity of purpose and planning. I did not build my shack with all the pieces and purposes in mind. I used the same studs, plywood, and sheet metal roofing that the other carpenter used, but he put his together according to a set of blueprints that showed how all the pieces fit together as a unified whole. I had no unified plan or purpose.

Later that summer, a storm blew my shack over and it got hauled away to the burn pile. Last time I was at the camp, his building was still standing, fifteen years after it was constructed. And by all appearances, it should stand for at least another fifty.

This story of two buildings, one with a unified plan and purpose and one without, represents the two ways that the church can grow and develop. Where there is no unity, the church will crumble into chaos and conflict until the first stiff breeze blows it over. But when the church is built according to the unified model that God lays out in Ephesians 4, the church will grow strong and sturdy so that it stands the test of time.

The great problem with unity however, is that few can agree with what unity looks like. Just as Christians argue and debate about everything from creeds to carpet color, so also, Christians argue and debate about how to be unified. Everybody agrees that unity is important, but few agree on how this unity is to be achieved. For example, some Christian groups seem to think that unity can only be achieved when everybody thinks like them, talks like them, dresses like them, and behaves like them. They want everyone to sign on the dotted line, color within the lines, and toe the party line.

Rally to Restore UnityBut is this true unity? Unity is not necessarily the same thing as uniformity. We do not all have to be identical in order to live in unity. God is not interested in cloning Christians. Instead, we can learn what true unity looks like by seeing how God designed unity in creation. All of creation works and functions together toward a common divine purpose and goal, and yet it does this with incredible diversity. Each part of God’s creation allows each other part to function as designed and intended. This is the only way God’s creation works.

This is also the only way God’s church works. True church unity is achieved when each person recognizes that all other people have different tastes, desires, interests, and abilities, and rather than see these differences in others as weaknesses to be exploited or flaws to be fixed, this diversity is celebrated and enjoyed as part of God’s plan and purpose for the church. So rather than seek uniformity, true unity celebrates diversity, letting others be who God made them to be, just as we want them to let us be who God made us to be. Unity is not when we love others in spite of their differences, but in light of them.

This means that we don’t all need to be in agreement on everything or act in identical ways, in order to live together in unity. The church can be as diverse as creation and yet still serve God. Nevertheless, there are a few essentials about which all should agree. Paul lists two of these in Ephesians 3:13. He says he wants us all to come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.

The Faith

The first item a unified church needs to be in agreement on is the faith. As I discuss in my Gospel Dictionary online course in the lesson on the word “faith”, and in my book, (#AmazonAdLink) What is Faith?, the noun faith is primarily used in two ways throughout the New Testament. The first way is the way we most often think of it, as a synonym for belief. Faith is typically defined as a belief, reliance upon, confidence in, or persuasion about the truth of some claim. Therefore, to talk about faith in Jesus Christ for eternal life is to say that we believe that Jesus is speaking the truth when He says that He gives eternal life to those who believe in Him for it (John 3:16; 5:24; 6:47; etc.). We can also believe, or have faith, in the truth claims that God exists, that Jesus died and rose again, and that the Bible can be trusted. This form of the word faith is the most prominent way the word is used in the Bible.

However, there is a second way the word is used as well. At several places in Scripture, the word “faith” is preceded by the article—the word “the”—as Paul uses it here in Ephesians 4:13. In these cases, “the faith” does not refer to believing or being persuaded that something is true. Instead, “the faith” refers to the body of common Christian beliefs or the essentials of Christian life and practice (cf. Acts 6:7; 13:8; 14:22; 16:5; 1 Cor 16:33; 2 Cor 13:5; Gal 1:23; 6:10; Php 1:25; Col 1:23; 1 Tim 1:2; 4:1; 5:8; 6:10, 21).

We use the phrase “the faith” similarly in our own language when we refer to other religions. For example, we might talk about the Mormon faith, the Jewish faith, or the Islamic faith. We could also speak of the Christian faith. In all of these cases, we are referring to the whole system of beliefs and practices which differentiate one system from the others. The Bible uses the term similarly. When the Bible speaks of “the faith” it is speaking of the doctrines and practices which separate followers of Jesus from those who follow something or someone other than Jesus.

So while “faith” by itself refers to being convinced or persuaded that something is true, the phrase “the faith” refers to the set of beliefs and practices that are common to all Christians.  This difference is seen when a person is asked about when they became a Christian, and how long they have been a Christian. In the first case, the question could be phrased, “When did you first place faith in Jesus Christ?” In the second case, the question is sometimes phrased, “How long have you been in the faith?”

Therefore, when Paul writes that God wants Christians to come to unity of the faith, he is giving instructions for Christians to agree on the basic non-negotiables of Christian life and practices. But of course, this is where the problems start, for what are the basics? What are the non-negotiables? I wish Paul would have laid out a few, for this statement of his has created much disunity in the church as we all try to figure out what the central beliefs actually are. If you ask one hundred pastors to name the top 10 core essential beliefs of Christianity, you will likely receive one hundred different top ten lists.

Nevertheless, if we could all sit down and talk things over, maybe we would come up with a few basic fundamentals of the faith. We would, of course, agree that there is a God. There should probably also be a statement about the authority of Scripture (even if we didn’t necessarily all agree on the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture). There would absolutely have to be a statement about the nature and character of Jesus Christ as God incarnate, since He is, after all, the foundation and center of Christianity. Finally, it would also be important to mention one of the main things that separates us from all other religions and cults, which is the foundational Christian teaching that eternal life is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone, apart from works. Without this final truth, Christianity is nothing more than just another works-based religion.

Beyond these non-negotiables, there are other things which Christians might want to include. From a historical standpoint, we could probably do no better than to simply point to the Apostle’s Creed or Nicene Creed, which uphold God as the creator of the universe, the Godhead as existing eternally in three persons, the dual nature of Jesus Christ, the virgin birth, the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, the reign and return of Christ, and the person and work of the Holy Spirit.

There may be others that we should all agree on if we are going to become unified, but those are just a few examples of the essential beliefs of the faith which Paul mentions here in Ephesians 4:13.

faithBut as was mentioned above, “the faith” includes more than just doctrine; it is more than just a set of beliefs. “The faith” also includes how Christians behave and act toward one another. If church members are going to get along, they might need to agree on a few basic ideas on how to live and act in this world and with each another.

Yet here we must be extremely careful. One generation’s morality issues can lead to sin in a later generation. For example, Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 6:9 for masters to treat their slaves well, was used by a later generation as permission for slave ownership.

This is why we must be careful. We must make sure we do not go as far as some churches and denominations do, in having written dress codes, along with rules about drinking, smoking, movies, music, dancing, and cards. Most of these issues are modern parallels to the issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols which Paul writes about in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 10. On such issues, we would be wise to remember Paul’s final admonition in Romans 14:5-14 that we are not to judge each other in these matters. God has given some people freedom to do things which others do not have. The fact that each one will stand before the judgment seat of Christ to give an account of himself to God (2 Cor 5:10) should be enough of a reminder for us to abide by our own conscience and let others do the same. Operating in this way will greatly increase the unity we have with one another.

Therefore, when it comes to issues of morality, it seems that the only rule which should govern our behavior is the rule of love. Love is the guiding principle and ethic of the person who follows Jesus. As we live and exist within relationships with other people, we do so, not with a list of Dos and Don’ts, but with a desire for love. We are to love others and live in a way that invites them to love us. Issues of morality, therefore, are determined with the whole community of Christians in mind and can shift and change from one generation to another, or from one geographic location to another. There are only two ways to live: by law or by love. The Christian way is love.

So these are some of the Christian beliefs and behaviors which will help Christians grow in unity with each other. In a later letter to the young pastor, Timothy, Paul invited him to watch his life and doctrine closely (1 Tim 4:16). Paul’s admonishment to Timothy very closely reflects Paul’s instructions here to the Ephesians. How Christians live and what Christians believe is what makes up “the faith.” The church grows in unity when it agrees on what to believe and how to live in love for one another. But unity in “the faith” is not the only aspect to growing in unity. Unity is also developed as we grow in the knowledge of Christ, which Paul mentions next.

Knowledge of Christ

The second area which allows Christians to grow in unity with one other is the knowledge of Christ. For growth in unity, there is nothing better than gaining a deeper knowledge of Jesus, our Lord and Savior. But we must understand that the knowledge Paul has in view here is not just a superficial knowledge of Christ. Paul is not just talking about “book knowledge.” The normal word for knowledge is gnōsis, but Paul uses the word epignōsis, which is similar, but means something closer to “knowledge upon knowledge.” It is used throughout Scripture as a full, complete, and detailed knowledge (Rom 3:20; 10:2; Eph 1:17; Php 1:9; Col 1:9-10; 2:2; 3:10; 1 Tim 2:4.; 2 Tim 2:25; 3:7). It is to know something exactly, completely, through and through. It is a certain and sure knowledge. It is this kind of knowledge we are to have of Jesus Christ, and which will lead us into Christian unity.

Yet is this kind of knowledge even possible? No; not in this life. Earlier, Paul wrote that he wanted the Ephesian Christians to know that which cannot be known, namely, the love of Christ (Eph 3:18-19). But how can we know that which cannot be known? How is it that we can gain a full, detailed, and complete knowledge of Jesus Christ? How can we have knowledge upon knowledge?

The answer is to recognize that since we can never fully know or comprehend Jesus Christ, we are to do two things. First, we are to add to the knowledge of Christ that we already have. Since epignōsis could be translated as “knowledge upon knowledge,” it could be understood to mean that we are to be constantly adding knowledge to the knowledge we already have. We are to build on our knowledge of Jesus Christ. We do this, of course, through study, prayer, and following Jesus wherever He goes.

But this constant pursuit of the knowledge of Jesus Christ is dangerous if we do not also incorporate the second element of gaining this knowledge, which is humility. Since we can never fully know Jesus Christ, this means that our knowledge of Him is never full or complete. And therefore, we are ignorant of some things regarding Jesus, and flat-out wrong about others. Anybody who has been a Christian for any length of time can think back to a day when they believed something wrong about Jesus. But through study and growth as a Christian, you grew in your knowledge of Jesus Christ, and came to believe something different today. That experience should always keep you humble about what you currently believe today. For it is only a humble student who will always be a learning student, and it is only a humble and learning Christian who will recognize that they don’t know it all, and therefore, they can seek out and learn from other Christians who might have different perspectives or ideas about Jesus Christ and how to follow Him in this world.

So yes, study and learn from Scripture, while putting into practice what you learn. This will slowly and resolutely conform you to the image and likeness of Jesus Christ, which will help you grow in unity with others. But as this process unfolds over time, make sure you also remain humble, allowing the convicting and illuminating work of the Holy Spirit and the sharpening influence of other Christians to teach you ever more about Jesus. This too will help you grow in unity with God, and with other members of His church.

Unity is the first dimension to the model that God has provided for His church. It is something we are to strive for and seek after, especially as we grow in unity in the faith and in knowledge of the Son of God. As we do this, we will also be begin to develop in the second dimension of the church model, which is Christian maturity.

Depth: Maturity

The second dimension of the model that we are seeking to attain is Maturity. This is found in the next part of Ephesians 4:13: to a perfect man. The Foremen of verse 11 train the Crew in verse 12. As the Crew learns to use their God-given gifts for ministry, each one grows into maturity, and the church as a whole becomes perfect.

This does not mean that any one of us will become perfect or sinless this side of heaven. The word Paul uses here for perfect is teleios, which refers to arriving at the end, or goal, for which you were created. It is not so much about arriving at the destination, but about journeying toward it. The quest for Christian maturity is an ongoing journey as we seek to become more and more like Jesus with each passing day.

So Paul’s invitation for the church to become perfect is an invitation to grow into maturity. We know this is what he means because he elaborates further in verse 14 where he writes “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,”

An immature Christian, a baby Christian, is someone who is not biblically and doctrinally grounded. They are not yet able to tell the difference between good theology and false theology, or good teaching and bad teaching. Baby Christians think that as long as Scripture is quoted—the teaching must be okay. Baby Christians think that as long as the pastor or the teacher has some Bible school training, some letters after or before their name, or some pastoral experience, what they are saying must be okay. Baby Christians think that as long as a teacher or a pastor has a few books published or is broadcast on the radio or television they must be correct in what they say. Baby Christians are easily swayed by fine-sounding arguments. Baby Christian do not search the Scriptures to see if what they are being taught is true.

The good news is that a baby Christian can grow up. A spiritual baby can mature just like a physical baby. Human babies mature physically as they eat healthy meals, get enough rest, receive discipline, and are trained to be physically, emotionally and socially responsible. Similarly, a baby Christian can mature by eating a healthy diet of Scripture reading and listening to sound Bible teaching. They can discipline their minds to pray and their wallets to give. A maturing Christian can get involved with other believers so they can learn to serve others. In these ways, the Christian will mature, and the church as a whole will also develop toward its goal and end.

This idea of guarding and guiding Christians will be considered more in the next chapter where we look at Ephesians 4:13. For now, it is important to recognize that Christian maturity is the second dimension of the model for the church. We are to strive toward our goal, or end, for which we were created, the perfect man, the mature Body of Christ, which is what Paul describes next.

Height: Christ-Likeness

The third and final dimension, found at the end of Ephesians 4:13, is Christ-likeness. Paul writes that we are to grow into the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. Previously, in Ephesians 4:13, he told us to gain as much knowledge about Christ as we possibly could. Now he tells us to become as much like Christ as we possibly can. One follows the other. Before you can be like Christ, you need to know what Christ is like. Many people think that Bible reading and Bible study is a waste of time, but we are only able to become more like Jesus as we learn more about Him through Scripture. “We get no deeper into Christ than we allow Him to get into us.”[3] We do this according to His measure, stature and fullness. Let’s look at these one at a time.

Measure

The first way to become like Christ is in His measure. The word measure comes from the Greek metron, which is where we get our word metric. So Paul is saying, “Go to great lengths to become like Jesus Christ in every way. From the smallest little bit to the largest part.” Become like Christ in His measure.

Stature

Christlike GodThe word stature frequently refers to age, or number of years. But Jesus only lived to be 33 years old, so Paul cannot be saying then that all we have to do is live to be 33. Instead, the word can also refer to the reputation one gains for themselves as they grow older. In Luke 2:52, when Jesus is said to be growing in wisdom and in stature, we also see that He was beginning to gain a good reputation with other people. As Jesus aged, He gained stature, or a positive reputation, among others.

This is the way it is with all great men and women in history. Nobody knows who the great men and women are when they are first born. Nobody knew George Washington or Clara Barton when they were first born. But as they grew older and matured, they served courageously and self-sacrificially, and as a result, gained a good reputation before others. This is what it means to gain stature.

Sadly, much of Christianity has bad stature. In recent decades, survey after survey and study after study has shown that the average non-Christian has a low view of the average Christian. Christians do not have a good reputation, but are instead known for being judgmental, rude, arrogant, and hypocritical. But we can work to reverse this stigma if we do the things Paul writes about in Ephesians 4:13. If we live in unity with one another and strive to become mature Christians, we will gain a good reputation among outsiders. We will, like Christ, grow in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men.

Fullness

Finally, we are to become like Christ in His fullness. This means that we become like Him in every way. We cannot pick and choose which parts of Jesus Christ we want to imitate. We are to become like Him in His fullness. God wants every aspect of the church to be like every aspect of Jesus Christ. Whenever you trying to decide how to act, talk, or behave, it is wise to stop and ask yourself which words or actions look most like Jesus. When we ask ourselves this question and live as Jesus lived, we will develop into the fullness of Jesus Christ.

Christ-likeness involves becoming like Him in His measure, stature, and fullness. Although we’ve seen the three dimensions of the model church which God the architect is building—unity, maturity, and Christ-likeness—when we really get down to what the model looks like, it is this last statement from Ephesians 4:13 that is most prominent. The church’s model is Jesus Christ. If you want to know how you should live, think, and act, all you have to do is look at Jesus. If you want to know what the church should look like, what the church should be doing, and how the church should act—all you have to do is look at Jesus Christ.

Back in Ephesians 1:22-23, Paul wrote that “[God] put all things under [Christ’s] feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” Note the word fullness again. The church is the fullness of Christ. The church is Christ to the world. If people in the world want to see and know Jesus Christ, they should be able to look at the church as the reflection of Jesus. Since Jesus perfectly reveals God to us, we are to reveal Jesus to others, so that by looking at us, they see Jesus, and therefore, God in us.

So Jesus Christ is our model. Everything we do, think, and say as individuals and as a church should be patterned after what Jesus did, what Jesus thought, and what Jesus said. And as we pattern ourselves after the model of Jesus Christ, we ourselves become a model of Jesus for the world to see.

Conclusion

When my brother built a model for the church expansion, he said that the model helped people see what the end product would look like, which in turn helped people get excited about where the building was going. God too, has laid out a model for us in Scripture. If we want to know what we’re going to look like, if we want to get excited about our future, then we need to develop a complete and thorough knowledge of Jesus Christ, and then seek to live, love, and serve like Jesus.

Only when we all do this will we all come to a 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. Only then will we become like our Model, Jesus. How are you and your church doing in living like this Model and revealing Him to the world?

NOTES:

[1] In the Greek, eis is repeated three times, showing that there are three aspects listed here.

[2] These two times are the only times this word for unity (henoites) is used in all of the New Testament.

[3] (#AmazonAdLink) Springs in the Valley, May 21, 147.

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Who Does the Work of the Ministry in the Church? (Ephesians 4:12) https://redeeminggod.com/work-of-the-ministry/ https://redeeminggod.com/work-of-the-ministry/#comments Fri, 19 Aug 2022 21:47:45 +0000 https://redeeminggod.com/?p=54417 (#AmazonAdLink)

Note: This study is from my book, (#AmazonAdLink) God’s Blueprints for Church Growth.

The Crew

… for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.
Ephesians 4:12

John F. Kennedy once told our nation, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” And for a while, we followed his advice. But consumerism’s viselike grip upon our lives has us once more asking, “What will the government do for me?” According to the Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer, this me-first, entitlement mentality is the type of thinking that led to the downfall of the Roman Empire.[1] If things continue as they are, this attitude will lead to our downfall as well.

But before that happens, this same mindset will lead to the downfall of the church. Most Christians come to church with the same consumer mentality that motivates them in the rest of life. “What does this church … or that church have to offer me? Whichever one offers to meet my needs, I will go there.” Even the term “Church Service” no longer means, “A place where I can serve” but rather, “A place where I am served.” (See my book, (#AmazonAdLink) Put Service Back into the Church Service).

Pastors and churches that want to be large often cater to this mentality. They give up biblical preaching. They only speak to felt needs. They rarely talk about sin, judgment, the marriage of Christianity and politics, or anything that might make a person feel uncomfortable. Since people do not seem to come to church to get what they really need, many churches have started to offer what people think they want.

Yet nationally, church numbers are still shrinking. Why? Because God did not design His church to be a place that focuses primarily on meeting felt needs. God wants us to meet needs that most people do not even know they have. For unbelievers, their greatest spiritual need is to hear that God loves them, forgives them, and thinks nothing but good about them. They need to hear that they can have eternal life and a relationship with God simply by believing in Jesus. And one of the best ways for the church to share this message of God’s love and acceptance is to show it to them.

The church is the hands, feet, and voice of God, and people primarily learn about God’s love for them by how the church functions in this world. 

But the church also has another function, and that is to teach and train those who believe in Jesus. God designed His church as a place where all believers can be taught God’s Word and be given opportunities to put it into practice.

The Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 commands us to make disciples—not just converts. So the primary functions of the church are to invite unbelievers to believe in Jesus for eternal life, and then to invite believers to follow Jesus in this life.  This entire process is called “salvation” in the Bible, and it is not just about how to go to heaven when you die, but also how to serve God and others while you live on earth. The church must tell people how to be saved so that they can serve.

This understanding is critical for the life, health, and future of the church. If we want to get back to being a victorious, life-changing church, each and every person within the church needs to begin by asking, in the words of John F. Kennedy, not what your church can do for you, but what you can do for your church.

And that is exactly what Ephesians 4:12 calls us to do.

As we look at God’s Blueprints for Church Growth in Ephesians 4:11-16, we have seen that on the construction site that is Christ’s Church, there are four Foremen who oversee the building site. The first two Foremen, the apostles and prophets, led the way in centuries past by writing Scripture. They laid the foundation according to Ephesians 2:20. The third Foreman is made up of all those who have the gift of evangelism. Evangelists speak the Scriptures with power to those who have not heard. As these people believe in Jesus Christ alone for eternal life, they become part of the church structure—they become what we could term the walls and the roof of God’s church. And then we learned that the pastor/teachers are responsible for providing light and heat to the church. They do this by speaking the Word of God to Christians, thereby training Christians not just to know the Word of God, but to apply it to their lives.

In Ephesians 4:12, we learn specifically what the pastor/teachers train the church members to do on the Construction site. If Ephesians 4:11 listed the Foremen, Ephesians 4:12 talks about the Crew. It says that God has provided the Foremen for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.

The first part of Ephesians 4:12 shows us that the Foremen are to do one thing, and one thing only. They are to equip the saints.

The rest of Ephesians 4:12 indicates what the saints are supposed to do.

The KJV has caused much confusion in this area because of an unfortunate comma inserted after the word “saints.” It reads For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. When read this way, it appears that the Foremen are to do all three things mentioned in Ephesians 4:12.

The Foremen are to:

(1) equip the saints,

(2) do the work of the ministry, and

(3) edify the body of Christ.

With this comma placement, many Christians think that everything is the responsibility of the Evangelists and Pastors/Teachers. Those who happen to not be an Evangelist or Pastor/Teacher believe they can come to church and just soak up all the teaching and worship. So they sit back, relax, and enjoy the show. They adopt a “Here I am; Serve me” mentality.” They let others do the work of the ministry. After all, “the ministry” is what the pastor gets paid to do. As people adopt this mentality, the church begins to look like a football game—50,000 onlookers in the stands desperately in need of exercise, watching twenty-two people on the field who desperately need rest. All of this is the result of a misplaced comma.

But with the comma removed (punctuation is not part of the inspired text, but a simple grammatical diagram of the Greek shows that the comma should not be there) we see that the Foremen have only one task, and the Crew have two. When we remove the comma, as it should be grammatically, we get a much different picture. Visually, the verse layout now looks like this:

The Foremen are to equip the saints to:

(1) do the work of the ministry and

(2) edify the body of Christ.

This is different, isn’t it? The comma determines whose job is it to do the work of the ministry. When the comma is left in, all the work of the ministry belongs to the Foremen. But when taken out, the work of the ministry belongs to all the saints, leaving the Foremen to simply equip them to do it. For the Pastor/Teacher, this is quite a relief!

The Task of the Foremen

Ephesians 4:12 shows that God has provided Foremen for the equipping of the saints. The word equipping means to train, to prepare, to restore, to make fully ready. Equipping is basically just providing the tools and training that the crew needs for the job. And just like on any construction site, God has given us the necessary tools for the job.

There are a wide variety of tools, but all tools can basically be boiled down into three categories: tools that cut (saws and drills), tools that connect (nail and hammer, screwdriver and screw, glue, and every man’s secret weapon, duct tape) and tools that cover (caulking, mud, wood putty). For the church, these same tools are present in the preaching of the Word (cut), praying to God (connect) and fellowshipping with other believers (cover).

Cut

Cutting is done by the teaching and preaching of the Word of God. Often times in Scripture, God’s Word spoken “cuts to the heart” (Acts 2:37; Heb 4:12). Sometimes the cutting is painful when things we are quite attached to must be cut off and removed. But other times, the cutting is a relief and a joy as deadweight is removed and burdens are lifted.

Connect

We connect with God through prayer. Prayer is the glue that keeps us in close contact with God. It attaches us to God as we communicate with Him. It helps us remain in constant fellowship. As we pray, God conforms our thoughts and desires to His will so that the more time we spend in prayer, the more like Christ we live. Prayer connects us with God in a way that nothing else can because spiritual intimacy is born when we pray.

Cover

Fellowship among Christians allows us to get to know one another and develop loving relationships with one another. As we do this, we learn to love another. And love covers a multitude of sins (1 Pet 4:8). As we spend time with each other, we forgive one another, and bear one another’s burdens and fulfill all of the “one another’s” of Scripture.

Does your church make these tools top priority? To be properly equipped, you must make sure that you have tools that cut, connect, and cover. An equipping church makes sure that they are teaching the Word of God, praying to God, and fellowshipping with one another. Incidentally, these are the three things the early church focused on (Acts 2:42)[3] and was one of the keys to their power and effectiveness. Churches can do a lot of things, but if these three are not provided then the church is just spinning its wheels and will not get anything done.

If a church is struggling, the first thing pastors and church leaders should do is determine whether they are adequately teaching the Word of God, providing times for prayer and getting the church together for fellowship. Where one or more of these are absent, you will find a church that is either struggling to survive or is built on the power and ideas of man rather than God.

Once the Foremen have adequately equipped the Crew, the church is then ready to send the Crew out to work. But what is it that the Crew does?

The Tasks of the Crew

On a construction site, it is not enough to have the best-trained work crew if they don’t do any work. They may have the necessary knowledge and all the best tools and resources, but if they don’t do any work, there will not be any progress on the building.

When I lived in Chicago, there was a joke among some of my friends that Chicago only had two seasons—winter and construction. It seemed like the construction crews were always doing some project, but they never got any work done. This was especially true of the road repair crews. I remember one crew that went to work at first light every morning right outside my dormitory window for about two months. I was greeted at dawn every morning with the sound of jack hammers, concrete saws, and yelling voices for two whole months. Every morning I looked out my window to see if I could discover what they were doing. I never did figure it out. They worked for about two months on the same twenty foot stretch of pavement. When they were finally done, it looked exactly as it had before.

Many of our churches are like this. They make a lot of noise, cause a lot of commotion, but when all is said and done, not a whole lot gets accomplished. This is because, in many cases, the Crew does not know what they are supposed to be doing. Ephesians 4:12 clears this up by assigning two tasks to the crew.

The crew is to do the work of the ministry and edify the body of Christ.

The Work of Ministry

The first task of the Crew, after they have been equipped and trained by the Foremen, is to do the work of ministry. This is backwards from how most people view the church structure today. Most of us think that the pastors are hired as “the ministers” and they are the ones who are in “full time ministry.” But Paul turns all of that upside down. The ministry of the church leaders is to teach and train the Christians within the church to be the ministers. On a construction site, it is not the Foremen who do most of the work, but the Crew. This should also be the case in the church.

While God has given the Foremen three basic tools to equip the saints, He has also given a special tool set to each Christian to be used for ministry and mutual edification in the local church. These tools may be helpful in secular endeavors, but are not given primarily for this purpose. Rick Warren, in his national best-selling book, The Purpose Driven Life, points out that God has shaped us for service. He uses the word SHAPE as an acronym to describe the five things that make each of us unique for our God-given ministry.[4] They are your

Spiritual Gifts

Heart

Abilities

Personality

Experiences

Let us briefly consider each.

Spiritual Gifts

A gift is something specifically given to you by somebody else. Biblically, we think of these as Spiritual gifts, and they are given to Christians by God at the moment we first believe in Jesus Christ for eternal life. Some people are given only one; others are given multiple gifts. There is a debate among Christians about which gifts there are, how many there are, and which ones are still in use today. There is also a debate on how to discover your spiritual gifts. See (#AmazonAdLink) my book on the Spiritual Gifts for more about how to discover and use your spiritual gifts.

Heart

The heart is where your desires are. The heart contains your dreams and plans for your future. You discover your heart by asking the question, “If I could do anything in life, what would it be?” When you stop and think about this, you are searching for your heart. Frequently, these desires were placed there by God. The Bible says that He will give you the desires of your heart (Ps 37:4). This means both that He has placed them there, and that if you chase after them as He intends, He will bring them to fruition.

Certain forms of Christianity have told us that our desires are evil and sinful. But if we want to follow Jesus and serve God with our lives, and be used in His Kingdom, then our desires are God-given and should be sought after and worked for.[5] Certainly, there are still evil desires within us, but the solution to overcoming them is not to get rid of all desire, but rather, to discern between desires. There is the finest of lines between the greatest of sinners and the greatest of saints. We think they are on opposite ends of the spectrum, but in reality, they are both at the pinnacle of desire. One, however, reaches for the attainment of all his fleshly desires, the other reaches for the attainment of all the spiritual desires. “Desire, a burning passion for more, is at the heart of both … the greatest enemy of holiness is not passion; it is apathy.”[6] What are your desires telling you about your heart?

Abilities

Alongside Spiritual gifts and our God given desires, each of us have abilities and talents. Everybody has these, both Christians and non-Christians. Sometimes these abilities are natural—we are born with them; other times they are acquired—we learn them through education or an apprenticeship.

Often, these abilities and talents are used by business men and women to succeed in their jobs. Some who have a good head for math become excellent scientists and engineers. People with a love for music might become musicians. Those with good people skills do well in management or sales. We all have abilities that make us better at some things than others. Rick Warren says that on average, you possess from 500 to 700 different abilities![7] As we learn of these various abilities, they will help us know more about the particular features of our SHAPE.

Personality

Many of us like to classify personalities. We talk about “Type A” personalities. We take personality assessments. We talk about the four personality types. Sometimes we think that some personalities are better suited for ministry than others, or that certain personalities are ministry handicaps. But the fact is that there is no right or wrong personality for ministry. God made you who you are, and you need to understand that so that you can be who He made you to be in whatever ministry He calls you to do. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to serve God when you act like somebody else. If we try to serve God in areas that require gifts we do not have, the experience is quite frustrating. Be yourself because it is you that God wants; not you acting like someone else.

Experiences

Finally, every single person has a unique life experience. Some people have gone through unimaginable horrors. Others have lived a life of ease and luxury. There are many who wallowed in the depths of depravity, while others lived morally upright lives. Some people experience the loss of a loved one. Some experience daily pain and sickness. Nobody, however, just has an “ordinary” life. There is no such thing. We all have some things in common, but every person has a unique set of life experiences.

God can use these experiences—even the painful ones—to teach and show you the things He wants you to know. These experiences will help you relate with others who have gone through similar experiences. So do not deny them or try to hide them. When you are honest and open about the valleys, mountains and potholes of your life, others who have gone through similar experiences will see and will join you.

Putting the Five Together for Ministry

It is the first task of the saints to do the work of the ministry. But in order to know what ministry they should be doing, every saint should understand their SHAPE. The combination of these five things will help you understand what sort of ministry you would be good at. The combinations and applications are infinite. Your spiritual gifts, plus the desires of your heart, in combination with the abilities and skills you have learned, added to the personality you have developed and the experiences in life you have gone through make you absolutely unique for a certain ministry. If you don’t do what God has prepared you to do, nobody else will.

Maybe you have the gifts of teaching and service, you were raised in a good family, and you have a lot of knowledge and experience in childhood development. In that case, maybe God’s will for you is for you to help other young mothers within and without the church to raise their own children in a Godly fashion.

I know of a man who had the spiritual gifts of evangelism, service, and creative communication, the heart desire to travel and be on the open road, the ability and knowledge to work on motorcycles, a fun-loving and free-spirited personality, and the life experiences of riding motorcycles. He came complete with the tattoos and scraggly beard. This SHAPE made him perfect to start a ministry to Harley riders. And God is using him greatly to fulfill this ministry.

This is also one of the reasons I currently help pastors, authors, and other Christians build websites and their online presence. I have the spiritual gifts of pastor/teacher, and also the experience and abilities of web development and coding, and the heart to coach and help others get their God-given message out into the world, and so I want to help others get their own websites up and running as well.

As each and every saint discovers their spiritual gifts, heart, abilities, personality and life experiences, it will become clear to them and to others what sort of ministry God has prepared for them to do (Ephesians 2:10). It may be unique. It may sound crazy to others. But if God has prepared good works especially for you to do, you need to do them, because nobody else will.

Pastor/Teachers sometimes find that a person knows what they need to do without knowing what their spiritual gifts, abilities or experiences even are. The way this happens is that they often come to the office after the church service, or sometime during the week, and say something like, “You know what this church really needs to do? We need to set up a skate park for all the skaters in town. I was walking downtown yesterday, and noticed signs up all over the place saying, ‘No Skateboarding.’ What if we built a skate park, and put up signs that said, ‘Yes, Skateboarding!’ Can you get started on it right away, Pastor?”

These kinds of “helpful ideas” normally destroy a pastor. He usually tries to sound positive and encouraging, but inside, he is thinking, “Oh no! Not another criticism of what the church should really be doing. I’m swamped as it is. I can’t take on another project.”

When I was a pastor, this used to frustrate me as well. But then I realized that when people came to me with ideas for what we should be doing as a church, these ideas were probably valid, but they were not ideas for new areas of ministry that I should be leading, but ideas for new areas of ministry that should be led by the person who was coming to me with the idea.

Once I realized this, I first affirmed their sensitivity to what God wants His church to be doing. I would say something like, “That’s a great idea! God is really showing you what He wants this church to do. And I really liked your ideas and the suggestions on how it could be done.” I might even show them from the Bible that their ideas are also God’s ideas.

Then I told them that their ideas reveal the way God had wired them. I let them know that God had given them spiritual gifts, and these gifts help them see areas of need in the church, and ministries which the church was lacking. I let them know this is why they saw this need when many other people had missed it. If I was able, I told them what their spiritual gifts might be. If a man said the church needed to reach out more to the community through acts of service, there was a good possibility that man has gifts of evangelism, service, and mercy. If a lady wanted to see more emphasis on prayer, she might have the gift of intercession.

Thirdly, I laid down a challenge. I tell them that God did not give spiritual gifts just to point out weaknesses in the church. He gave the gifts to fill these weaknesses. Seeing the weakness is simply the Holy Spirit working on the individual to find a ministry in the church. When they tell me what the church should be doing, what they were really seeing was something that God wanted them to do. So I told them to change “Somebody else should …” to “God wants me to …”

Frequently, some people just like to come up with ideas, but not really do anything. So I like to see how serious they are. I ask them to put together a plan, or find someone in the church who will come on board and help them put together a plan for this ministry (After all, this person might not be an organizer/administrator).

Then I left it up to them. I did not shoved them off into a dark corner. I didn’t quenched their desire to serve. Instead, I encouraged them in what may be God’s guidance, and I gave them an opportunity to get their ministry started. If they wanted further guidance or ideas, I made myself available. I wanted to teach and train them to do what God called them to do rather than simply do their ministry for them. In this way, they become the ministers. And when they ministered in such a way, they accomplish the second task of the Crew—the edification of the body.

The Edifying of the Body of Christ

Each person is to minister to others for the purpose of edifying of the body of Christ. While the ultimate goal of all service is to bring glory to God, this is the method by which it is achieved. Each person needs to use their SHAPE for the mutual edification of the other members of the body of Christ.

Edification really isn’t a word we use much anymore. It means strengthening, encouraging. In construction terms, it means building up. As the Bible defines it, true church growth is caused by the mutual edification of the believers. The growth of the body of Christ is caused by people using their gifts to edify, or build up, one another. If you want the church to grow, you need to be asking yourself “What has God called me to do so that I can edify others?”

Jesus Christ has specially gifted you to do exactly what He wants you to do. It is not just that He has a will for your life, it is that He has given you the set of tools you need to do what only you can do. Think of yourselves as having a monopoly on what it is Jesus wants you to do.

Imagine how impossible it would be to get your teeth cleaned if there were only one dentist in town. Not only would he always be busy, but he could also charge whatever he wanted for his services. Worse than this, imagine if this dentist refused to work on anyone’s teeth! What if he got tired of people always coming to him with their toothaches, and the teeth they hadn’t brushed or flossed properly? What if he got fed up with it all, and just said, “No more! I’m not going to work on anyone else’s teeth!” What would happen? Two things would happen. He would eventually go bankrupt and everybody else’s teeth would rot.

That’s the way it is when a person either doesn’t realize what their spiritual gifts are, or refuses to use them. Since we are all unique in our SHAPE, it is as if every person is the only dentist in town. Every person has a monopoly on what they offer. If people don’t know what their SHAPE is, or if they refuse to use their gifts, then not only will they become spiritually bankrupt, but everybody else will rot their spiritual teeth. Each person is unique in what they can offer, and when they fail or refuse to offer it, everybody loses.

This is so important to understand. What God desires for you, and what He has gifted you to do, no one else can do! Yes, others may have the same gifts, but no one else has your God-given personality; no one else has your history or your experiences that can put a particular perspective on what you are doing for God. In other words, no one can do what you do better than you. In Christ, you are unique. You have a monopoly on what God has given you.

So what are you going to do with it? God will not force you to obey Him. He will not force you to do His will. But again, if you refuse, you are the one missing out—and so is everyone who needs what you have. And when too many people neglect what they are supposed to do—people and organizations start dying.

This happened to one small community church. It was the only church in town, but the people who attended never got involved, so the pastor had to do it all. One after another, pastor after pastor got burned out and left. Year after year, the church became smaller and smaller.

The church gained quite a reputation. After a while no pastor wanted to take the church. Finally, a young pastor agreed to come. On his first Sunday, he announced to the eight people who attended that on the following Sunday they were going to have a funeral service for the church. The church had died, and they were going to bury it.

He let the local newspaper know so they could run an obituary. The newspaper thought it was newsworthy enough to put it on the front page.

The following Sunday, enough interest had been sparked, that almost the whole community showed up for the funeral service. They wanted to see what a funeral service for a church looked like. As the people entered the building, there was soft funeral music playing. In the front of the sanctuary was a casket surrounded by flowers and soft lighting. The pastor sat up front dressed all in black.

When the room was packed to overflowing, he stood up to welcome the people, and then spoke a short eulogy over the casket about the dead church. He then told the audience that as it was an open-casket funeral, they would each be allowed, one by one, to come and look into the casket to pay their last respects.

So, one by one, each person came forward—out of morbid curiosity—to look into the open casket. And each one, after glancing in, turned quickly away and walked sheepishly back to their seat.

What was in the casket for the dead church? Nothing but a mirror. As each person looked into the casket, they saw their own face staring back at them. Had the church died? Yes, it had. Why? Because the people no longer did the work of the ministry that God had called them to do.

God has given you something to do which only you can do, and if you do not do it, it will not get done, and the church will be worse off as a result. Jesus Christ has a plan to build His church, and you are in it. Will you follow the directions, or will you fall through the cracks? Because you are a saint, you are a minister. You are part of the Crew. And as a minister in this Crew, you need a ministry, a place of service.

Ask not what the church can do for you, but what you can do for the church.

NOTES: 

[1] Francis Schaeffer, (#AmazonAdLink) How Should We Then Live? (Wheaton: Crossway, 1976), 227. He is summarizing Edward Gibbon’s (#AmazonAdLink) Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. There are five stages of decline. The fifth and final is an increasing desire to live off the state. In other words, “What can the government do for me?”

[3] I take the breaking of bread from house to house to be part of the fellowship. It simply refers to going over to each’s houses to eat a meal and hang out.

[4] Rick Warren, (#AmazonAdLink) The Purpose Driven Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 236-248.

[5] Cf. John Eldredge, (#AmazonAdLink) The Journey of Desire (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000).

[6] Ibid, 53-54.

[7] Warren, 242.

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Church Leaders Who Help Church Growth (Ephesians 4:11) https://redeeminggod.com/ephesians_4_11/ https://redeeminggod.com/ephesians_4_11/#comments Thu, 24 Mar 2022 19:09:41 +0000 https://redeeminggod.com/?p=54225 (#AmazonAdLink) Note: This study is from my book, (#AmazonAdLink) God’s Blueprints for Church Growth.

Once upon a time, in a local church, there were four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was asked to do it. But Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.

Then Somebody got angry about it, because it was Everybody’s job. But since Everybody thought that Anybody could do it, and Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it, it ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody and Nobody did the job that Anybody could have done in the first place.

Right about this time, a fifth person visited the church. This person’s name was Confused. He looked around, saw what was happening, and never came back.

All too often, this describes life in the local church. It is unclear who is supposed to do what, and this leads to confusion, frustration, and hurt feelings. But church is not supposed to be this way. God never intended for church to be so confusing. God describes in Scripture who is to oversee the building of the church and who is supposed to do the work. God very carefully delineates in Scripture who is supposed to do what in His church. Since God is the architect of the church, He gets to determine how the church is formed, and how the church grows and functions.

One of the premier passages in Scripture which lays out God’s plan for church growth is Ephesians 4:11-16. This passage describes the leaders on the construction site, which we can think of as the Foremen (Ephesians 4:11), the people who do the work, or the Crew (Ephesians 4:12), the construction Model that we are imitating and turning into a reality (Ephesians 4:13), and the Program goal that the church will fulfill once it is constructed (Ephesians 4:14-16). When all of these pieces are in place, the church will grow as God wants and desires.

who is in charge of church growth - apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastor-teachers

This study considers the first part element to the Construction site, the Foremen. Every construction site has Foremen. On any work site, the Foremen make sure that everybody knows what they need to know, does what they are supposed to do, and does it in unison so that that the task gets done right. They make sure that the foundation is laid correctly, the walls go up square, and that the wiring and plumbing goes in correctly. They also make sure that things get done in the right order—the sheet rock goes on after the plumbing and the electrical work—and that the right people do the right job—you don’t want the plumber doing the roofing. Without Foremen, the construction site would be chaos.

The same is true for the church. There are four specific spiritual gifts God has given to various Overseers so that they can better shepherd the church. Ephesians 4:11 provides us with the list of four gifts. Now, if you don’t have one of these four spiritual gifts, that’s okay. It just means you have some other spiritual gifts. We will talk about that in a different study, but if you wanted to find out more about your spiritual gifts right now, I have an online course about spiritual gifts and a book about discovering and using your spiritual gifts titled (#AmazonAdLink) What Are the Spiritual Gifts?

But Ephesians 4:11 just mentions four spiritual gifts, the four that are key to helping bring the church to a place where it can grow into unity and maturity.

Ephesians 4:11. And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers.

In English, it appears that there are five gifts mentioned here: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. But in Greek, many scholars agree that there are only four gifts listed. The last two, pastors and teachers, are very likely combined in the Greek to form one gift known as pastor-teacher.

Apostles

The first of the Foremen are the apostles. We know the apostles were the twelve disciples chosen by Jesus in John 6. Judas, who betrayed Christ, was later replaced by Matthias (Acts 1:15-26).[1] Yet the number of apostles in the early church was not limited to just these twelve. Paul was an apostle (Gal 1:15-17; 1 Cor 15:8) as was Barnabas (Acts 14:14). Two members of the church in Rome were also called apostles (Rom 16:7), one of whom appears to be a woman. So with these five additional apostles, there are at least seventeen apostles in the Bible. Yet when we discover what makes an apostle and what an apostle was supposed to do, we can assume that there were more than just these seventeen.

The Roman Catholic Church teaches what is known as apostolic succession. They believe that the apostles were able to pass on their position of authority and leadership to other people. This is usually done by the church after an apostle dies, as we see happen with Matthias replacing Judas in Acts 1. In accordance with this, they teach that the Pope is the successor of Peter.

The logical consequence of this is the Catholic doctrine of Papal Infallibility. Catholics teach that since apostles have the ability to speak and write the Word of God, and since the Pope is the successor of the apostle Peter, then anything the Pope says or writes is without error and is equal to the Bible. This has gotten the Catholic Church into some problems over the years, and it all stems back to the belief that there are still apostles today who speak and act with the authority of God.

Yet even many so-called “Protestant” churches and denominations have their fair share of problems even without apostolic succession. Just as apostolic succession has not kept the church free from error and problems, the absence of apostolic succession has not done any better. Some pastors and Ph.D.’s have created just as many problems for the church as have various Popes. There are even a number of “Protestant” churches that are led by self-proclaimed apostles who are thought to speak with just as much authority as the Catholic Pope.

The issue of apostolic authority can be cleared up by learning from Scripture what an apostle is and what an apostle does. When we understand the apostolic requirements and responsibilities, we are then able to see why they are important for the church and what role they serve in the church today.The Apostles Judged Others in their Letters

What Makes an Apostle?

The term “apostle” is one of those English words that has not been properly translated from the Greek. (In fact, there are three of these words in Ephesians 4:11, “apostle,” “prophet,” and “evangelist.” Others such words include “Christ” and “baptism”). The Greek words is apostolos, and rather than translate this word from Greek into English, the word has simply been transliterated, so that the Greek letters are changed into English letters, and then the word is left as it is (minus the word endings). So when we seek to understand what an apostle is and does, we must begin by understanding what the word “apostle” means.

The best translation for apostolos is “sent one.” It refers to some sort of official or ambassador who is sent out by a group or individual to another place with a message to declare or task to perform. When translating this term, words like “messenger” or “delegate” would be good English equivalents. The apostles, therefore, were a special class of believers who were chosen by God to carry out a specific task and deliver a specific message to the world. There could, of course, be different types of apostles who were sent to perform different tasks. Jesus even referred to Himself as one sent (John 17:18; 20:21) from God, and so it could be said that He was an apostle of God.

For example, one type of apostle is the apostle of Jesus Christ, which is someone who was specifically called by Jesus and sent by Jesus to perform a specific task for Jesus. The New Testament records three conditions for being an apostle of Jesus Christ.

First of all, the Bible tells us that an apostle of Christ must have had personal contact with Jesus Christ (Acts 1:8, 21-23). This, of course, immediately eliminates everyone born after 33 A.D. Although we do not know if Paul had any physical contact with Jesus (some speculate that he was the Rich Young Ruler in Matthew 19 and Luke 18), he did have personal contact with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-9, 15-16). This is why Paul refers to himself as one abnormally born (1 Cor 15:8).

Yet there were thousands who had personal contact with Jesus during His thirty-three years on earth, but not all of them are apostles. This is due to the second qualification. An apostle must also have personally seen the resurrected Jesus Christ (Acts 1:21-22; Luke 24:48; 1 Cor 9:1-2). This narrows the number of people down to just a couple hundred (1 Cor 15:5-8).

The third qualification narrows it down to a select few. The final element in becoming an apostle of Jesus is that a person must also have received a direct appointment to the office of apostle by Jesus Christ Himself (Luke 6:13-16; 1 Cor. 15:8-9).[2] Jesus Christ handpicked His apostles (cf. John 6:70).

These three requirements reveal that the official office of “apostle of Jesus Christ” cannot exist today, because nobody alive today can fulfill all three requirements. This does not mean that there cannot be apostles today; there can be. To understand how there can be apostles today while not the official office of “apostle of Jesus Christ,” we must understand what apostles do.

What Apostles Do

Since the word “apostle” means “sent one” the church can send out apostles, or God can send out apostles. We see various instances of these types of apostles elsewhere in the New Testament. Usually, they are called by God, or by a church, and are sent out to an unreached people group with the message of the gospel. I think that the other apostles in Scripture would fall into this category, such as Barnabas and the two apostles in Rome. Yes, these are “sent ones,” but they were sent out by the church, not specifically by Jesus Christ. Hence, they would not carry the official title of “apostle of Jesus Christ.”

These other “sent ones” are typically sent out by the church to carry the gospel to unreached people groups. Therefore, it might be best to think of them as missionaries. Missionaries are sent by the church to carry the gospel to new geographical areas and deliver it to new groups of people. So are there apostles today? In this missionary sense, yes. Just as there were some “apostles” in the days of Paul who were not “apostles of Jesus Christ,” there can be apostles today who can be considered as “sent ones” and yet do not have the same authority as the “apostles of Jesus.”

But Paul is not referring to the “missionary” apostle in Ephesians 4:11. Though Paul only refers to them as “apostles” here, he has in mind in mind the authoritative and foundation-laying “apostles of Jesus Christ.” In context, he refers to the “holy apostles” (Eph 3:5), as a way of speaking about the apostles who were called and sent by Jesus Christ to lay the foundation for the church by teaching and writing about Jesus Christ and the gospel (Eph 2:20). We also know that this is what Paul means because he refers to the “prophets” next, which will be discussed below.

So these apostles in Ephesians 4:11 where the apostles of Jesus Christ. Jesus called them and chose them to carry the news about His life and ministry into the rest of the world. But something happened as they went out performing this task. After Jesus died, rose, and ascended, they travelled around, teaching others about Jesus and the Kingdom of God which He inaugurated. Yet they expected that Jesus Christ would return during their lifetime. They hoped that the second coming of Jesus Christ would occur within a few years, or a couple decades at most. But it didn’t. The years went by, and Jesus did not return. As the apostles aged, they realized that the task of spreading the gospel to the entire world would require more than their lifetimes, and that it was increasingly unlikely that Jesus would return before they died.

So the apostles of Jesus Christ set out to record with pen and paper the message they had been given so that it could continue to go into all the world even after the apostles had left this world. These writings of the apostles are what we now call the New Testament. The apostles of Jesus received, declared, and recorded God’s written word (John 14:26; Acts 11:28; 21:10-11; Eph 3:5).

Therefore, when Paul writes about the apostles in Ephesians 4:11, he is referring not only to the apostles of Jesus, but also to their authoritative, apostolic writings, which has now been complied by the church into the New Testament. Further evidence that this what Paul means is seen by the next term he uses, the prophets.

Prophets

apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastor-teachers

The prophets are the second of the Foremen. Like “apostles,” the term “prophets” is another transliteration from Greek. The Greek word is prophetēs, and refers to someone who declares a message from God. The word is similar to “apostle” but places more emphasis on the spoken message. Prophets were not often “sent” to another people or region (though occasionally they were, as with Jonah). They usually stayed in their home region and declared God’s message to their own people.

There were two main types of messages that a prophet might declare. There are two facets of prophecy. To most people, a prophet is someone who predicts the future, and foretells what will happen. But this is only a relatively small part of what a prophetic message. The vast majority of biblical prophecy is concerned with calling God’s people back to a proper obedience to God. This is not foretelling future events, but forthtelling God’s righteous requirements. While prophecy can refer to telling the future, it mostly refers to telling the truth. It is not primarily about predicting events, but rather about proclaiming God’s Word.

Are there prophets today? Well, just as with the apostles, the short answer is “Yes,” but not in the way that many assume. There are people today who have the spiritual gifts of apostleship or prophesy. But these gifts are used today when missionaries are sent to unreached people groups, or when certain people call the church to repent and return to a proper way of living with God. So while we do have these types of apostles and prophets (we should call them missionaries and preachers), we do not have the types of apostles and prophets that Paul refers to in Ephesians 4:11. The ones he writes about in this verse were those who wrote Scripture. The canon is closed. Scripture is written. So although there can be prophets today, this is not what Paul had in mind when he wrote about prophets here.

Just as with his term apostles, Paul has a very specific type of prophet in mind. Paul did not have in mind the various prophets who might have been alive in his day, but was instead referring to the prophets who wrote the Hebrew Scriptures, which we call the Old Testament. Jewish people typically referred to the Hebrew Bible as “the law and the prophets.” Jesus Himself spoke about the Hebrew Scriptures this way (cf. Matt 5:17; 7:12; 11:13; etc.). The “law” referred to the first five books of the Bible, which is sometimes called the Torah, or the Pentateuch, and the “prophets” referred to everything else.

Modern scholars tend to divide up the “prophets” into three divisions of historical books, poetic books, and prophetic books. Jewish scholars separate the prophets into two categories, the prophets and the writings, so that the entire Hebrew Bible was called the Tanakh (TNK, shorthand for Torah, Nevi’im, and Ketuvim). But since all the historical writings were written by Jewish prophets, it was not uncommon to speak about the writings and the prophets as “the prophets.” In fact, since the law itself was written by Moses, the greatest Jewish prophet (Deut 34:10; Acts 7:37), it too can be considered a “prophetic,” and therefore, included within the overarching term of “the prophets.”

So when Paul writes here about prophets, he is thinking about the people who wrote the Hebrew Scriptures. Just as “apostles” refers to the writings of the apostles of Jesus Christ, “prophets” refers to the writings of the Hebrew prophets, which make up the Old Testament (cf. 2 Pet 3:2). And all of this refers to the testimony about Jesus Christ (John 5:39; Rev 19:10)

Therefore, by referring to the apostles and prophets, Paul reveals his conviction about the centrality of Scripture for the church. No work that the church does can be successful in the eyes of God if not built on the foundation as laid by the apostles and prophets. And as we recall, the foundation is Jesus Christ Himself, but we read and learn about Him within Scripture. This is why the church should place a large emphasis on the Word of God. By doing so, the church is building on the foundation of Jesus Christ as we learn about Him from the pages of Scripture as recorded by the apostles and prophets. This is the good and solid foundation upon which we can build.

Many years ago, I worked at summer Bible camp as a counselor and director. The camp is located on a lake, and about 50 years ago, when they built the kitchen and dining hall, they thought it would be nice to situate the building on the lakeshore so that people could look at God’s glorious creation while cooking or eating. And it was glorious. I have many fond memories of eating my meals while listening to the waves lap at the foundation of that building.

But over the years, the shore of the lake slowly eroded away from beneath the foundation. As a result, the foundation started crumble. But the eroding lakeshore was not all to blame. Part of this problem was due to a poor foundation. They did not dig the foundation hole deep enough, and when they poured the concrete, they failed to use any supporting rebar. As a result, very large cracks eventually developed in the foundation until eventually the building was condemned as being too unsafe to use and the camp had to tear down that beautiful dining hall on the shore.

The apostles and prophets laid a good foundation for the church. The prophets laid the foundation as we find it in the writings of the Old Testament. The apostles continued to lay the foundation through writing about Jesus Christ, and these writings have now been collected into the New Testament. And if the church is going to grow and thrive, we must make sure that we are building upon this good and solid foundation.

So we have a good foundation in the writings of the apostles and prophets. But a building is not done with just a foundation. A foundation is important and necessary, but it is not a building. It is just a concrete slab. A building also needs walls and a roof, windows and floors. It needs plumbing and lighting. So how do all these things get added to the church? How does God’s church get put together? God’s church is not made of wood, concrete, glass, paint, carpet, and shingles, but of people who are called by God to follow Jesus into the world. So how is it that the church as God’s people is built and formed upon the foundation of Jesus Christ as recorded in Scripture?

Well, the first thing needed is to get people into the church and show them how to live. This is done through the work and ministry of evangelists, who are the third group of God’s Foremen.

Evangelists

Just as with apostles and prophets, the word “evangelist” is not a translation from the Greek, but a transliteration. The Greek word is euangelistēs, and is closely related to the word for gospel, euangelion. To emphasize this close connection, I have suggested elsewhere that the term “gospelist” might be a better translation than “evangelist,”[3] but since this word us unlikely to receive wide acceptance, maybe the word could be translated as “one who teaches the gospel.” However, since the gospel is about way more than just words and ideas, and also contains instructions on how to live life as a member of God’s family, it might be best to include some sort of element of “proper living” in the translation of euangelistēs, such as “one who lives the gospel.” Living the gospel would, of course, include both words and actions.

An evangelist, then, is someone who both understands the call of the gospel as found in Scripture and lives it out in their own life as a way to invite other people to believe in Jesus and live out the gospel as well. It would not be wrong to think of an evangelist as a disciplemaker. They live as a follower of Jesus themselves, and through their words and actions, invite others to also become followers of Jesus. Since the gospel is about all of life, then the evangelist who lives the gospel will be showing others how the gospel affects their entire life as well.

televangelistsNotice that when we understand an evangelist in this way, the work of evangelist is not accomplish by preaching in a street corner, knocking on doors, or handing out gospel tracts. The work of an evangelist is not primarily accomplished through inviting people to believe in Jesus for eternal life. While this is certainly part of the work of an evangelist, for the offer of eternal life is part of the gospel, it is not the entire work of an evangelist. Through their words and actions, an evangelist helps bring unbelievers to believe in Jesus for eternal life, and then brings believers to follow Jesus in their life.

This is what Paul means in 2 Timothy 4:5, when he invites Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist.” Paul is instructing Timothy to do the work of living out the gospel in his life. And since Timothy is a leader in the church, this means that Timothy is providing an example to the people in his church about how to live out the gospel in their own lives as well.

So how does the work of living out the gospel fit with the foundation that has been laid by the apostles and prophets? The answer is that just as the apostles and prophets laid the foundation, the evangelist prepares to build upon that foundation by bringing people into the church and then showing them how to live as members of God’s family. The evangelist is the supplier. The evangelist brings the boards and siding and shingles of the spiritual church building so that they are ready and available to be put together into a structure.

And who are the evangelists? The truth is that every Christian is to be an evangelist. Since all Christians are to be living out the gospel in their life, this means that all Christians are evangelists, for “evangelism” means “living the gospel.” But thankfully, as we have already seen, this does not necessarily mean that you have to pass out gospel tracts, go door-to-door, or preach on street corners. Evangelism happens when you live out the gospel in this world in front of your family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. While words might often be used, the gospel can also be lived out in front of others by loving them and serving them in tangible ways, or simply by being a good neighbor, an honest employee, or a cheerful friend. As we live the gospel in various ways, people see our good deed and glorify our Father who is in heaven, and are invited into the Kingdom of God along with us.

So the apostles and prophets laid the foundation of Jesus by writing Scripture. The evangelists prepare to build on this foundation by bringing the building resources to the construction site. Evangelists follow Jesus and invite others to do the same. But of course, we are still missing one element before construction can begin. The foundation has been laid, the construction materials have all been delivered. But right now, all the materials are all just lying around as piles of lumber and boxes of nails. There is no order, structure, vision, or direction for how all the pieces come together. This is why God provided the fourth foreman, the pastor-teacher.

Pastor-Teachers

As was previously indicated, these two terms in Ephesians 4:11 are best understood as complimentary to one another. They are not two separate titles. Linguistically, the Greek indicates that they must at least be complimentary if not synonymous. Greek scholar and teacher Daniel Wallace, in a detailed and thorough analysis of this Greek construct, says that although the Greek does not demand these two terms be synonymous, neither does it imply their separation. Ultimately, he comes to the following conclusion:

In light of the fact that elders and pastors had similar functions in the NT, since elders were to be teachers, the pastors were also to be teachers. Conversely, not all teachers were said to be pastors. This evidence seems to suggest that the [pastors] were a part of the [teachers] in Eph 4:11 … all pastors are to be teachers, though not all teachers are to be pastors.”[4]

pastoral theologyIn other words, while there are various types of teachers in the church, some of them will be of a special type, which Paul calls the pastor-teacher. While not all teachers are pastors, all pastors will be teachers, and therefore, it is best to think of them as pastor-teachers.

So what do the two words mean? We know what a teacher is. A teacher is someone who imparts information to others. But what about the word “pastor”? The word “pastor” is not just a title. It comes from the world of shepherding, and is related to taking sheep to pasture. In fact, the Greek word for pastor is poimenos, which can also be translated “shepherd.” A pastor is to the shepherd of the flock of God’s people under his care. As Philip Keller so poignantly reveals in his book, one of the primary tasks of a shepherd is providing proper nourishment and protection for his sheep.

He will go to no end of trouble and labor to supply them with the finest grazing, the richest pasturage, ample winter feed, and clean water. He will spare Himself no pains to provide shelter from storms, protection from ruthless enemies and the diseases and parasites to which sheep are so susceptible.[5]

A pastor, then, shepherds the flock. When used in reference to shepherding people, a pastor leads people to green pastures where they can be fed, shows them where the calm and clean waters are from which they can drink, and protects them from dangerous predators and thieves who only want to kill, steal, and destroy. Jesus is the great Shepherd, and His under-shepherds are pastor-teachers.

The fact that Paul equates the work of the pastor with teaching indicates that teaching is a primary function of shepherding. All the functions of a spiritual shepherd can be accomplished through good teaching. Through teaching, the pastor guides his flock to green pastures where they can eat healthy spiritual food. Through teaching, the pastor takes his flock to clean and calm water from which they can safely drink. And through teaching, the pastor warns and protects his flock against false ideas, damaging and destructive philosophies, and wolves in sheep’s clothing who want to kill and destroy the flock.

What is it then that the pastor should teach? Well, by inference, since the apostles and prophets laid the foundation for the church through writing Scripture, the pastor-teacher should focus on teaching Scripture. And who is it that the pastor should teach? Here again, since the evangelist gathered together the construction materials which will form the church, and these materials are the people of God, then the pastor-teacher focuses time and attention on teaching Scripture to God’s people (cf. Acts 6:4; 1 Tim 5:17; 2 Tim 4:2). Almost every time the New Testament talks about the roles and responsibilities of the spiritual leaders of the church, teaching Scripture is at the top of the list (cf. Acts 20:28; 1 Tim 3:2; 4:6-16; 2 Tim 4:1-4; Titus 1:3; 2:1; 1 Pet 5:2). For the spiritual shepherd, this feeding and protecting is best accomplished through teaching the Word of God. It is impossible to be a good shepherd without feeding the flock of God with the Word of God.[6]

The apostles and prophets poured the foundation. Through both words and actions, the evangelist gathers together the building materials. The pastor-teacher then explains Scripture in a way to guide and instruct these building materials on how they are to be put together in a logical and useful way for God’s church. He guides and protects the people so that together, they begin to form the church. We could almost say that if it is the evangelist’s job to bring people into the church, it is the pastor-teacher’s job to raise them up in the church. The evangelist brings a person to faith; the pastor-teacher trains a person about the faith. The evangelist increases the quantity of people in the church; the pastor-teacher increases the quality.[7]

Just as with the other three Foremen, the pastor-teacher’s job is vitally important. If the pastor-teacher fails to instruct the people of God about the Word of God, those Christians will never grow into maturity. They will forever be baby Christians. They will always remain disorderly and confusing heap of building materials. If a pastor does not faithfully and systematically teach Scripture to Christians, they will always be bottle-fed Christians who want only milk rather than meat, and who base their decisions on feelings and emotions rather than on the truth of the Word of God. Every pastor-teacher should want the people in his church to become mature Christians, and the only way to do that is to prepare and serve all-you-can-eat-steak-and-potato meals from Scripture.

I believe that nearly all of the blame for the sickly condition of Christianity today can be laid at the feet of those who call themselves pastors, but who have failed to serve as pastor-teachers. Bruce Wilkinson, in his book The 7 Laws of the Learner, states that if the students of a teacher or the congregation of a pastor are failing to learn, it is because the teacher or pastor is failing to teach.[8] This is where the modern church has failed the most. The church is weak because it has failed to understand that the primary role of a pastor is to teach, and to teach effectively.[9]

Part of the problem is that most pastors separate the two terms Paul lists in Ephesians 4:11. When separated, we get the idea that there are some leaders in the church called “pastors” and there are others who do the teaching. In the first case, when we have pastors who are not teachers, but are just care providers, we end up with Christians who feel cared for, but who don’t know much, and so cannot properly live or function as a follower of Jesus. They might be happy, but they are not very healthy. They remain immature babes for most of their life.

At the same time, the other extreme is just as dangerous. Some think that they are teachers who do not need to pastor. While it is possible to have teachers who are not pastors, they should not be given roles of leadership with in the church, but should instead seek positions in colleges or seminaries where they can focus on teaching. Then a pastor says “I am called to teach; not to pastor,” their teaching ends up lacking love and care for their flock, which is essential for their health and well-being. Such loveless teaching often degenerates into bashing sheep over the head with the bat of legalism every week, which leads only to fear, shame, and guilt, rather than into Christlike maturity.

church ministry growth

Pastor-teachers must remember that their two roles are actually one. A true pastor-teacher is one who knows the primary way of feeding and caring for his flock is through faithful and systematic teaching of Scripture, while at the same time, the teaching of Scripture is not an end in itself which is solely an academic pursuit, but is for the purpose of loving and caring for other people. Pastor-teachers will spend a lot of time with their nose in the books, but they will also spend time with the people of the community.

There is no room in God’s church for the unapproachable, ivory tower personality who stands on a pedestal to deliver a message from God and then retreats back to his chambers in order to avoid mingling with the masses. While it is a wonderful idea to have times set aside for the uninterrupted study of Scripture, every pastor-teacher should also have times where people can drop in for a visit, or where the pastor goes out to visit the people where they are at.

Richard Baxter, a great preacher himself, wrote a book called The Reformed Pastor. In it, he said this:

That work which is our great end must be done, whatever be left undone. It is a very desirable thing for a physician to be thoroughly studied in his art; and to be able to see the reason of his practice, and to resolve such difficult controversies as are before him. But if he had the charge of a hospital, or lived in a city where the pestilence was raging, if he would be studying fermentation, the circulation of the blood, blisters, and the like, and such like excellent points, when he should be visiting his patients, and saving men’s lives; if he should even turn them away, and let them perish, and tell them that he has not time to give them advice, because he must follow his own studies, I would consider that man as a most preposterous student, who preferred the remote means before the end itself of his studies: indeed, I would think him but a civil kind of murderer.[10]

Although Baxter first published this in 1656, the truths are the same now as they were then.

George Herbert lived about the same time. When he became a pastor, he set down for himself some rules to live by. His book, called The Country Parson, is filled with sound, practical advice for every pastor. He says at one point that “the Country Parson upon the afternoons in the weekdays takes occasion sometimes to visit in person, now one quarter of his Parish, now another. For there he shall find his flock most naturally as they are, wallowing in the midst of their affairs …”[11]

More recently, in a popular journal on leadership-related issues, Warren Wiersbe gave advice on how to preach practical sermons. “The experiences we preachers go through are not accidents; they are appointments. They do not interrupt our studies; they are an essential part of our studies … It is difficult to preach to people you do not know.”[12]

All of this is simply to reinforce that a pastor-teacher is primarily a teacher of Scripture, but this teaching must be warmed by personal encounters with the people under his care. Through a firm grasp of Scripture, the pastor-teacher will be able to see which building materials have been gathered together by the evangelist, and will then be able to teach, guide, and direct the people of the church to come together and build the church that God wants and desires. This will be the topic of the next study on Ephesians 4:12.

Conclusion

Ephesians 4:11 lists the four Foremen: apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers. Before any church can grow, it needs to have a firm grasp on the identity and tasks of these Foremen, and be committed to following them where they lead. The apostles and prophets wrote Scripture. The evangelists lives out the gospel in front of others as a way of gathering people together as the church. The pastor-teachers gets to know these people so that they can be taught Scripture and trained in how to function and grow as the Body of Christ in the world. With these Foremen in place, the church is ready to understand who does the actual work of the ministry.

Notes:

[1] There is some question as to whether or not this replacement was warranted. After this, the book of Acts never mentions Matthias again. Some think that maybe Paul was actually God’s choice. Or possibly there was not supposed to be a replacement at all. Maybe Judas served his role as an apostle, and so there was no need to replace him, in which case, the Bible does not endorse “apostolic succession.”

[2] Robert L. Thomas, Understanding Spiritual Gifts (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1991), 175-176.

[3] See my books The Gospel According to Scripture (Dallas, OR: Redeeming Press, 2018) and The Gospel Dictionary (Dallas, OR: Redeeming Press, 2018). There are online courses related to both books, which can be found at RedeemingGod.com/courses/

[4] Daniel B. Wallace, “The Semantic Range of the Article-Noun-Kai-Noun Plural Construction in the New Testament,” Grace Theological Journal 4:1 (Spring 1983), 83.

[5] Philip Keller, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23; The Classic Works of Philip Keller (Grand Rapids: Family Christian, 1970), 24.

[6] Gene Getz, Sharpening the Focus of the Church (Wheaton: Victor, 1988), 121-150.

[7] Chester McCalley, Commentary and Outline of Ephesians (Kansas City: Word of Truth, no date), 43.

[8] Bruce Wilkinson, The 7 Laws of the Learner (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 1984), 30-31, 131.

[9] Michael Fabarez, Preaching that Changes Lives (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2002), 5, 19.

[10] Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1999), 312.

[11] George Herbert, The Country Parson (New York: Paulist, 1981), 75.

[12] Warren Wiersbe, “The Patented Preacher,” Leadership (Winter 1994), 70.

 

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Rejoice in Your Differences! (Ephesians 4:7-10) https://redeeminggod.com/ephesians_4_7-10/ https://redeeminggod.com/ephesians_4_7-10/#comments Thu, 17 Mar 2022 18:42:51 +0000 https://redeeminggod.com/?p=54201 Do you want church unity? In Ephesians 4, Paul tells us how. Here is what Paul is saying about how to develop unity in the church:

  1. Ephesians 4:1-3: Check your own attitude first.
  2. Ephesians 4:4-6: Focus on all the things you have in common.
  3. Ephesians 4:7-10: And regarding the things you do NOT have in common, praise Jesus for those, because He made you all different by giving you different gifts.

We have already studied the first two points. This study looks at point 3.

 

What Do You Do when You Have Disagreements?

When you are in a disagreement with someone—it doesn’t matter who, and you want to mend your relationship, what is generally the first thing that you do?

Most of us have been taught that in order to mend damaged relationships, we need to get everyone together and talk it over. Communication is the key. This is what we try to do when we go to visit marriage counselors—the husband and wife go to the counselor in order to talk it over. Parents, this is sometimes what you do when your children get in arguments with each other—you get them both together so you can get a straight story and you can all talk it over.

So it is surprising to discover that this is NOT what Paul tells us to do! So far in chapter 4, he has told us to walk in unity with one another, and he told that if you want unity, the first thing to do is to check your own attitude. In Ephesians 4:1-3, he gave us seven specific attitudes to check ourselves on. These were the seven attitudes for unity.

In other words, he says, “Are you in a disagreement? If so, then what did you do to contribute to it? Where did you go wrong? How did you sin? What were your mistakes?” In other words, when you are in a disagreement, the first step is not better communication. The first step is to point the finger at yourself first.

The second step in a walk toward unity, found in Ephesians 4:4-6, is to focus on what we have in common. In Ephesians 4:4-6, Paul listed seven characteristics that all Christians have in common. These were the seven elements of Unity.

Paul was saying, “If you’ve done step one, you know where you went wrong. Now, in step two, if you still have a disagreement with this person, focus on how similar you are rather than on how different you are. Differences often divide. Similarities unite.”

But now, maybe you are wondering if you ever get to focus on the differences. We can’t always agree on everything all the time, right? So what do we do when there are areas of disagreements? Are we supposed to talk it out until we all agree? Are we just supposed to ignore the areas of disagreement? Are we supposed to “agree to disagree”?

Paul addresses this issue in Ephesians 4:7-10, and he has a surprising proposal.

Grace was Given in the Form of Gifts

Ephesians 4:7. But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

The main idea in the whole paragraph is found here in Ephesians 4:7 with the phrase grace was given. Those three words introduce and summarize the whole paragraph. Paul is about to instruct us on how to deal with our differences, and he begins by telling us that most of our differences we have are because they were given to us, and that these differences are an aspect of grace.

The definition of grace is getting something good which we don’t deserve. Grace is unmerited favor.

So right away, Paul challenges the view most of us have about differences. He says, your differences with each other aren’t bad. They’re good and they are given to you.

In fact, he says grace was given to each one of us. Each one of us has a unique set of differences given to us. Christians are not to be clones of each other. We are not supposed to all be identical. God didn’t intend it that way. He made each one of us different. He made each one of us unique. You are not like me and I am not like you.

The last phrase in verse 7 tells us that these differences given to each one of us are according to the measure of Christ’s gift. This means that the gifts of grace given to us are of nearly the same value and wealth as the previous gift Christ gave to us.

Paul wants to prove what he is saying, so he quotes from the Old Testament in verse 8.

Ephesians 4:8. Therefore He says: “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men.”

Paul appears to be quoting here from Psalm 68:18. Paul’s reason for the quotation is found at the end, namely, that Christ gave gifts to men. But let me deal with the first part of the quotation first.

The quote says, when He ascended. In Psalm 68, this has in view a victorious king returning to Jerusalem from battle. And remember, Jerusalem sits on a hill, so when the king return, he ascends the hill. But here, Paul uses it to refer to Christ’s ascension back to heaven which happened forty days after his resurrection (Acts 1:3-9).

The rest of verse 8 tells us two things that occurred when Christ ascended. He led captivity captive and he gave gifts to men. What does it mean that he led captivity captive?

The verse is very clear—both in English and in Greek. It doesn’t mean that Christ freed those who were in prison, those who were captive. Rather, He took captivity itself captive.

What has captivated us? What has put us into bondage? What has enslaved us? Scripture tell us that we were enslaved by sin and death and Satan. And it is these that Christ took captive. Colossians 2:13-15 says, “And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.”

This is an amazing truth! We were enslaved to sin and death and Satan. And rather than just set us free, Christ took prisoner that which had enslaved us! Because of this, we know that sin, death, and the devil can never come and enslave us again.

Imagine you were living back in the days when enemy nations would invade your land and take prisoners. Imagine you are out working in the field one day, and some enemies come charging in on their horses and take you and your family prisoner. You are carted off to be slaves. For weeks or months or years you are in bondage.

But then, one day, your king comes riding in with his army and sets you free. And then, to guarantee your future protection, he takes as prisoner those who had captured you. This gives you peace of mind, because if he didn’t do this, then it was very likely that these enemies would come back next week, or next month, or next year and take you prisoner all over again. But since your king has taken prisoner those who took you prisoner, you know that they can never enslave you again. You are free!

That is what Christ did when he took captivity captive. He took sin and death and Satan, the three things that held us in bondage, and Christ made them His prisoners so that they could never enslave us again. According to verse 8, that is the first thing Christ did when he ascended on high. He took captivity captive.

The second thing, according to Ephesians 4:8, Christ died when He ascended is that He gave gifts to men. This phrase is the reason Paul quotes this passage. He said in Ephesians 4:7 that each one of us has received a grace gift from God. And as proof he quotes from Psalm 68:18.

Now, there is actually a little problem here, because the verse that Paul is quoting from doesn’t actually say what Paul claims it says. Psalm 68:18 actually says … “You have received gifts among men …”

But Paul seems to misquote the verse by saying that Christ gave gifts to men.

I’m not going to get into the technical explanation of what is going on here. The short answer is that Paul is actually quoting from a Jewish Targum on Psalm 68:18, rather than from Psalm 68:18 itself. A Targum is sort of like a commentary or study aid to help the Jewish people understand the text. You can read more about this here.

Paul’s point is what really matters. We know from history and from the OT that whenever nations battled other nations, the spoils of war went to the victor. The army that won was able to take whatever and whoever they wanted as plunder. The victorious army became rich with possession and prisoners.

Frequently, after such a battle, the king would receive gifts from the army. They gave gold and prisoners to him for him to use to run the country.

Now hopefully, if the king was a good king, the riches would get redistributed among the people to give them a better standard of living. These riches would be given as gifts to the people, and be used to provide better roads, better armies and more food, etc. Again, hopefully, that is what our tax dollars are to be used for today. It’s the same idea.

When Psalm 68:18 says that he received gifts from men, it has in mind this idea of the king receiving a portion of the spoils of war that the army had brought back, so that the king could then turn around and give gifts to men who were not able to go off to war. That is the historical background to what Psalm 68:18 says.

Paul takes that idea, and the related idea from the Jewish Targum on Psalm 68:18, and shows us that Jesus is a good and benevolent king. Through His life, death, and resurrection, Jesus defeated the enemy, took captivity captive, and received all the spoils of war that were due to Him. Rather than keep all these riches for Himself, Jesus then turned around and gave gifts to all of us.

Paul continues to explain this in Ephesians 4:9-10. He continues to use the imagery of a king returning victoriously from battle to distribute gifts to His subjects.

Ephesians 4:9. (Now this, “He ascended”—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth?

Some take this verse and, thinking of the Apostle’s Creed which says “He descended in hell,” they think this verse tells us that Christ descended into hell. But that is not what Paul is talking about.

Verse 9 is showing that before Christ was glorified, He went to the greatest extreme of humility. Philippians 2 describes it beautifully: Christ, although he was “in the form of God … but made himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross.”

And in Philippians 2, Paul goes on to describe how Christ was exalted above all things as a result. He does the same thing here with Ephesians 4:10.

Ephesians 4:10. He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)

Ephesians 4:10 proves to us that the descension of Christ in Ephesians 4:9 was His coming from heaven to earth, because here, in Ephesians 4:10, the ascension of Christ is him going from earth to heaven. These two events, Christ’s descension and ascension are the two bookends of Christ’s life. He came from heaven to earth and then went from earth to heaven. He came from glory to humility, and then from humility back to glory.

The question for some Christians is “Why? Why did Christ have to go back to heaven? Why did Christ leave? Why did Christ ascend? Wouldn’t it be easier to believe in the resurrected Christ if He was still here, walking around on the earth? Wouldn’t it be easier to have an intimate relationship with Christ if you could go to him and talk to him in person? Why didn’t Christ stay?”

The reason is the final phrase in verse 10. Christ left this earth so that He might fill all things. If Christ were here, on this earth, in physical form, can you imagine the line of people who would want to talk to him? Even if you were able to save enough money for travel expenses to go to him, you would have to wait in line for months just to talk to him for a few short minutes because of all the other people who want to see Him. But now, because He went back to Heaven, we can all come before the throne of grace any time we want for any length of time.

Now, because he went back to Heaven, each one of us has the Holy Spirit living within us. Jesus said in John 14:20 and John 16:5-7 that unless He went away, the Holy Spirit could not come. Which would you rather have, the Holy Spirit within you, which allows you constant access to God, or Christ in bodily form, which would allow you only a few seconds or minutes in your entire life? I think the choice is obvious. Christ left so that he could fill all things.

Now, when you do a study of Christ’s power and glory now that He has ascended, you will see that it is even more amazing still. Ephesians 1:21-23 says that the church is the fullness of Christ. One of the ways Christ fills all things is through the church. We are the fullness of Christ.

So now the question is “How? How are we the fullness of Christ?” The answer is in what Paul has been talking about so far in Ephesians 4. I am not Christ by myself. You are not Christ by yourself. This local church is not Christ by itself. All Christians around the world and throughout time are the body of Christ.

Jesus Christ, when He was here, had the ability to teach. He had the ability to show mercy and to serve others. He had the ability to heal. He had the ability to discern the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. He had the ability to administrate tasks to other people. He had the ability to preach the Word of God. He had the ability to lead his people like a shepherd leads a flock. He had the ability to give generously and joyfully from what he owned. He had the ability to lead others to faith.

But when Christ left, He was no longer here to do these things, so He took all of these abilities of His … and passed them out among Christians. He … what is this passage all about? … He gave gifts to men. When Christ ascended, He gave gifts to men.

Now, there is not one person today who has all the gifts. Some people have more than one gift, but the point is that every single Christian has at least one spiritual gift given to them by Christ. And it is the unified church that is the body of Christ, doing on this earth what he began to do while He was here.

And now we have come to the crux of the issue.

Why are there differences in the body of Christ? Because Jesus wants it that way! Jesus planned it that way!

Jesus gave different gifts to different people, and so of course there will be differences! So rather than try to smooth over and get rid of differences, we should rejoice in our differences.

Rejoice in Our Differences!

Paul is in a section where he is giving instructions on how to walk in unity with one another. He has told us to look to our own attitudes first, and then to focus on what we have in common. Now, finally, he wants to tell us how to deal with those differences we have with one another. And he says, you want to know where your differences come from? He says, “Most often, your differences come from God.”

Your differences are due to the fact that each one of you has a different set of spiritual gifts.

One of the primary reasons we Christians have differences is because we have different spiritual gifts. But too often, we allow these differences to divide us, rather than unite us.

Let me explain to you what I mean. One of my gifts is teaching. I love to study and teach the Word of God.

Now, here’s the danger, if I’m not careful, I tend to judge those who do not share my passion. If I’m not careful, I look down on those who don’t desire to study and teach the Word of God. I think that everybody should be like me. I’m tempted to think that if a person does not want to spend all their time in God’s Word, then they’re second-rate Christians. So if I’m not careful, I can cause a lot of disunity by getting upset at people who don’t share my passion. But I need to remember I have this passion because it’s my gift.

When I lived in Denver about 20 years ago, I visited over 60 churches trying to find one that I liked. My number one thing I was looking for and the number one criticism I had with those 60 churches was that “They don’t preach the Bible. They don’t preach the Bible. They don’t preach the Bible.”

You want to know why that was my criticism? Because that’s one of my top spiritual gifts! Now were all of those churches wrong? No. They were doing what God had spiritually gifted them to do.

Some Christians have the gift of service, and so they think everyone should be involved in community service, and that those who aren’t volunteering in the community are second-rate Christians.

Some Christians have the gift of leadership, and so they think that if other Christians are not learning how to be spiritual Christian leaders in their homes, their communities, and their workplaces, then they are missing out on everything God wants for them.

If you have the gift of evangelism, you love to share your faith with other people, and you sometimes get frustrated that other’s don’t share your passion.

If you have the gift of giving, you love to give generously of your money to the church, but sometimes you might feel like you are carrying most of the financial load of the church, and why don’t more people give?

Do you see what I am trying to get at? Spiritual gifts, which are supposed to be for the unity of body, are the same differences that we have with each other which often cause disunity within the body.

When we stop focusing on what we are supposed to be doing, and start focusing on what we think everybody else should be doing, we have stopped using our gift and have started trying to impose our gift on others.

So in Ephesians 4:7-10, Paul is saying, “Are you different? Of course you are! You each have different gifts given to you by the ascended and victorious Christ! These differences can cause disunity if they are not understood and if they are not properly practiced.

In Ephesians 4:11, Paul begins to talk about some of these spiritual gifts, and how they were given by Jesus to the church to help us all grow into unity and love. We will pick back up there in the next study.

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Seven Elements of Christian Unity (Ephesians 4:4-6) https://redeeminggod.com/ephesians_4_4-6/ https://redeeminggod.com/ephesians_4_4-6/#comments Thu, 03 Mar 2022 19:13:15 +0000 https://redeeminggod.com/?p=54192 In Ephesians 1-3, Paul explained that God has given us great spiritual riches so that we can lead the world into peace. In the first part of Ephesians 4, Paul tells us Christians that the first way we can show the world how to live in peace is by living in peace with one other.

This begins, as we learned in the last study, by looking to our own heart first and developing certain attitudes of the heart.

In this study, we learn that as we seek to live in peace with other Christians, we should focus on seven key truths that all Christians have in common. When we focus on what we have in common rather than on on what divides us, we will begin to create peace in our midst.

Seven Elements of Christian Unity (Ephesians 4:4-6)

Ephesians 4:4-6 church unity

As stated above, in Ephesians 4:1-3, Paul taught us to look to our own heart first so that we can develop certain attitudes of the heart that create peace among other Christians.

Now, in Ephesians 4:4-6, we learn that as we seek to live in peace with other Christians, we should focus on seven key truths that all Christians have in common. When we focus on what we have in common rather than on on what divides us, we will begin to create peace in our midst.

The interesting thing about these seven elements is that they form a chiasm. The first item on the list is parallel to the seventh, the second is parallel to the sixth, and so on. This means that the fourth item is the center item and therefore the most important. What is that fourth item? It is the Lord Jesus Christ. The most important thing in the church is that we follow our Head, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. As long as we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, a lot of these other six elements of Christian unity are easier to focus upon.

untiy in the church Ephesians 4:1-6

So let us look at each of the seven elements of Christian unity peace. The first is in Ephesians 4:4.

1. There is one body

This is the first element. One body. Paul means that there is one body of believers. One body of Christ. All people throughout time and around the world who are truly Christians are part of the body. The picture of a body is one of Paul’s favorite ways to describe the church. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul goes into great detail to describe the body of Christ. Paul says there to think of your body. It is an incredibly diverse collection of body parts, but without any one member, the body is not complete. The body is not just a big pile of eyes, or a big pile of hands, or a big pile of feet. Similarly, a body without hands, or eyes, or feet, is not a complete body. All parts make up the body, and all parts are necessary if the body is going to function right.

It is the same in the church. All parts make up Christ’s church, and all parts are necessary if the church is going to function right. We don’t criticize a foot for not being a hand. Nor do we criticize the ear for not being able see. Each part has a unique function, which is necessary for the body to work as a whole. So rather than criticize other people, or other churches, for not being like us, we should look at them as different members of our one body. See what is unique about them, and how they are using their unique talents to do things we cannot. This all gets into the issue of spiritual gifts, which Paul talks about in Ephesians 4:11, so I won’t spoil it by saying more. The first element of unity to focus on is that we are all part of the same body.

Second, also from Ephesians 4:4, we all have one Spirit.

2. One Spirit

Of course, this is the Holy Spirit who lives in each one of us. It is an error to say that some have the Spirit and others don’t. We all have the Spirit within us, and it is the same Spirit the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit within each of us strives to get us all to live in unity with each other. When we fail, it is because we are walking according to the flesh, not according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:4-13).

Let’s move on to the third element, the last phrase in Ephesians 4:4: just as you were called in one hope of your calling;

3. One Hope

The third element for unity is one hope. The hope of every Christian is Jesus Christ who is in heaven. He has promised us that simply by believing in him for eternal life, He will bring us to heaven to spend eternity with him. Now most of us think of hope as a sort of “wishful thinking.” We tend to think of it as an uncertainty. But really, hope can have different levels or degrees of certainty. Let me show you what I mean. Uncertain hope is like saying “I hope I win the lottery, but I know I probably won’t. or “I hope the Raiders win the Super Bowl this year. But they might not.” Now I can also say, “I hope the sun comes up tomorrow,” and in that case, I am nearly 100% sure it will.

So you can see that there are different degrees of certainty in hope. And what causes the difference? What makes one thing we hope for more certain than another? Well, in each case, what is the factor that changed? The only factor that changed is the object of your hope. The chances of you winning the lottery are not very likely. Someone once called the lottery a tax for the mathematically challenged. But still, people who buy tickets, hope they will win but very few do. My hope that the Raiders will win the Super Bowl next year is a bit more likely. But still, mostly unlikely. Again, my hope that the sun will rise tomorrow is an almost certain hope because the sun always rises in the morning. The only thing that could stop it from rising is if it blew up or if the earth stopped rotating. Neither of these things are very likely, so my hope that the sun will rise is a well grounded hope.

Now the Christian’s hope is a hope in Jesus Christ. And since God does not and cannot lie, since Jesus always keeps His promises, our hope in Jesus Christ for eternal life is a certainty. There is no uncertainty because the object of our hope is completely trustworthy and reliable. Paul mentions also here something about a calling. This is the same calling we looked at extensively in Ephesians 1:18 and is related to why we were chosen, which we talked about in Ephesians 1:4. Basically, we were called, or chosen, to be holy and blameless, to be heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, and to be adopted as children. These are all future blessings for the Christian when we get to heaven. So, thirdly, Paul’s point is that we all have hope in one person, Jesus Christ, in order to go to the same place, heaven, where we will all receive the same thing, an inheritance.

We do not place our hope in any other person, but Jesus Christ. We do not place our hope in religious leaders or political leaders. Put no hope in popes, priests, pastors, or people with PH.D.s. Put no hope in kings and presidents. Our hope is in Jesus Christ alone.

 

 

 

unity of the body Ephesians 4:4-6One body, one spirit, one hope, now, fourthly, in Ephesians 4:5, one Lord.

4. One Lord

This refers specifically to Jesus Christ. Paul choice of the term, Lord, shows us that Jesus Christ is God, and therefore, our Master. Now think about it. If we all have the same Lord, the same Master, we will not be getting orders from our Master to be in disagreement with each other. His commands will not contradict or cause disunity among his servants. So the only way disunity occurs is when we disobey our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.

Fifth, we have one faith.

5. One Faith

All Christians have received eternal life in only one way: through faith. We’ve all entered through the narrow door of faith. This means that faith makes Christianity a level playing field.

There are not some people who are Christians because they were really good people, and others who are Christians because they were born into a Christian family. No. All true Christians are Christians by faith alone. This is a wonderful element to cause unity, because since we are all Christians by faith, then no one can boast in themselves for their salvation. I cannot look down on you because I became a Christian by being such a good person, and you well, you just had to enter by faith. No, we all came in, as beggars, asking for something we did not earn, getting something we did not deserve.

There is one and only one way we all joined the family of God… through faith in Jesus. This helps us grow in unity with each other, because we all became Christians in the same way.

Sixth, we all have one baptism.

6. One Baptism

The baptism Paul is talking about here is the baptism of the Spirit; not water baptism. It is not something we are to pray for or something that happens to us after our conversion. When you become a Christian by believing in Jesus for eternal life, one of the first things that happens to you is the Holy Spirit comes in and lives with in you, and in that moment, He washes you, He cleanses you, He purifies you of all sin, and provides us with the power to have victory over future sin. This is the baptism of the Spirit which all Christians have, and therefore, creates unity within us. This baptism is related to the indwelling Holy Spirit from item two above.

We’ve seen six elements, the seventh is found in Ephesians 4:6.

6. One God and Father of all

Paul says God is above all, and through all, and in you all. Paul has been mentioning the essentials. He’s mentioned that we all one body, through one faith and one baptism. We have one Lord, who is Jesus Christ and one Spirit, who is the Holy Spirit. He now includes the final member of the Trinity, one God and Father of all. In Old Testament times, it was the common belief that the gods were territorial. Each nation, and sometimes, each clan or tribe within that nation, had it’s own god. So when nation battled nation, it was really a contest between gods.

Paul reminds the Jewish and Gentile Christians in the Greek city of Ephesus that this is a bunch of hogwash. There is one God and Father of all. They both have the same God. They do not worship different gods. They do not follow commands from different gods. It is the same God. The fact that He is the Father of all tells us about His love. He created all, and He cares for all just as a Father cares for his children.

The fact that He is above all speaks of His control. No matter what things may look like, God is in control. [transcendence and His omnipotence.] The fact that He is through all speaks of His care and providence. He didn’t just set up the world and leave then leave it alone. He is still involved and active in what He made protecting and providing. [immanence and His omnipresence.] The fact that He is in you all speaks of His presence. He is always near us, and wanting a deeper relationship with us. [indwelling presence and personal relationship with us all.] He is the One God and Father of all.

Those are the seven elements. One body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father. These are the seven elements that will help create unity among all Christians, regardless of the other beliefs and practices that might tend to divide us. And this helps us learn to get along peacefully with other Christians, even when we might have disagreements with them about some of the other elements of Christianity.

Maybe you disagree with someone else about their theology, or how they do church, or what kind of behaviors they think are okay to participate in. Well, you can disagree with them on those, but still get along in peace and unity with them by focusing on the seven elements of unity that Paul has laid out for us here.

unity in the church Ephesians 4:4-6

So this is the second step to achieving unity in the church. Remember, we are in the section of Ephesians where Paul tell us how to WALK as followers of Jesus, and Paul is giving us the steps we must walk in.

The first step, as we saw in Ephesians 4:1-3, was to check your own attitudes. In those verses we saw seven attitudes to make sure you have when involved in any sort of disagreement. After we focus on our own attitudes, the next thing to do, the next step, as Paul shows us here, is to focus on the things we have in common. Many of us, myself included, when we are involved in a disagreement, want to immediately go to the other person and show them their faults. But Paul says, “No. The first thing to do is check your own attitudes. After that, focus on what the two of you have in common.”

Let me show you that this is what Paul was saying. In Ephesians 2, Paul called for the Christians in Ephesus to live at peace with each other. And remember, it was a diverse church made up of both Jewish and Gentile Christians. They struggled with being unified because they were so different. They had different standards, different ways of raising children, different diets, different styles of worship, different beliefs, different social patterns. Sometimes, it seemed, they were completely different from one another. In Ephesians 2, Paul called them to be a peace with each other. Now he tells them how. Here is what he is telling them: “Rather than focus on the differences that are between you, focus on what you have in common. You might have disagreement about what kind of meat to eat. You might have disagreements about what kind of people to associate with. But look at what you have in common. Focus on those, and this will help you live in unity and love with one another.”

Today in our day, he would have said, “You might have disagreements about what kind of music should be played or sung in church. You might have disagreements about how best to run the church. You might have disagreements about when meet, and how long to meet, and what to do when you meet. You might have disagreements about what to wear, and what people can or cannot drink, and what people can or cannot eat and what sort of activities you can or cannot do. We might have disagreements of theology and doctrine. But don’t focus on those things. They will always divide you. Focus instead on what you have in common.

One of the best methods of keeping the peace, of keeping unified, is to stop focusing on how different you are, and to focus instead on the similarities. That’s what Paul does here. “You’re not different,” he says, “look what you have in common!” He lists seven elements of unity here. These are the things that really matter. This are the things that will unite us when there are so many things that can divide us.

Back in the frontier days towns would spring up overnight. Some of them would shrink in size as people moved further west. In one of these towns, two churches had been founded. A Baptist church and a Christian church. As both congregations dwindled due to the people moving away from the shrinking town, the pastors of the two churches decided to join forces and become one church. So they called the remaining members together for a meeting to decide what their new church would be called. The Baptists wanted to the church to be called Central Baptist Church and the people from the Christian church wanted to be called Central Christian Church. Finally, one old lady who had sat through many tired hours of disagreement and bickering, stood up in the back and said, “My Daddy was Baptist. My Momma was Baptist. I grew up Baptist. There ain’t no way I’m gonna be called a Christian!”

That’s what happens when we let silly things like the name of a church get in the way of what is important and what really matters. Paul lists here what really matters. As long as we agree on these things, we can agree to disagree on all the others. We can be as diverse as we want. We can have Lutherans and Methodists and Baptists and Pentecostals. We can even get together and have friendly arguments about some of the things that we disagree on. That’s fine. As long as we agree on the essentials as listed here, we all one body; we’re all one family. But if a certain organization claims to be a church and they deny any of these, that is when you know that they are not part of the family. That is when you stop associating with them and start witnessing to them.

While Paul is talking primarily about developing unity within the church, these same principles can be applied to all of our relationships. If you desire to have unity with your spouse, or your kids, or your boss, or a coworker, or a neighbor, the first thing to do, from Ephesians 4:1-3, is to check your own attitude. It is just as Jesus taught his disciples take the log out of your own eye first. But if you have done that, are you then able to go and show your neighbor his or her fault? If, in checking your attitudes, you have seen where you went wrong, and how you caused some of the disunity, are you then in the clear to go and show your spouse, or your coworker, or your fellow Christian his or her faults where they went wrong?

Paul answered that for us today in Ephesians 4:4-6. If you have taken the first step toward unity in checking your own attitude, then the next step is to focus on the things you have in common. Don’t focus on your differences. Focus on what makes you the same. If you focus only on your differences, there will never be peace.

Let’s not focus on what divides us. Let’s focus on the unity we have in Christ.

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The Church Must Lead the World into Peace (Ephesians 4:1-3) https://redeeminggod.com/ephesians_4_1-3/ https://redeeminggod.com/ephesians_4_1-3/#comments Thu, 17 Feb 2022 23:03:18 +0000 https://redeeminggod.com/?p=54175 Everyone wants unity, but nobody really knows how to achieve it.

Most people today seem to think that unity requires conformity. We think that unity is achieved when everybody thinks the same way, talks the same way, dresses the same way, and has the same opinions. Where differences occur, division results, and unity dies. And some people seek to achieve unity by silencing and cancelling those who have different opinions.

You see, when we are in a conflict with someone, we think it is the responsibility of the other person to change their ways, so we can get along with them. We point at their faults and what they said, or what they did, and say that if there is going to be peace, they have to change. Paul challenges all of this in Ephesians 4:1-3. In these verses, Paul shows how we can have unity with others even when there is disagreement.

Sermon Application

Question from a Reader

Can you tell me your position on the Trinity? Do you have a book about your views on the Trinity? Thanks, Ed

I have written a few articles about the Trinity on my website. Here is one called “I’ll define the Trinity … if you Define God.”

I do believe God is a Trinity. That God is three persons in one being. I also go on to state several reasons why I believe in the Trinity.

I like to think that some of my reasons for believe in the the Trinity are a little different than what you might find in a typical theology book, but you can read the article and decide for yourself.

Just one example.

All Christians believe that the essence of God does not change. In theological terms, we say that God is immutable. God is unchangeable.

All Christians also believe that God is relational. That God loves. That God communicates.

But think on this … in eternity past … before there were humans and before there were angels, when it was just God … how could God be relational if God does not exist as a Trinity? It would be impossible. God cannot be relational when there is nobody to relate to.

Therefore, if God does not eternally exist as a Triune being, then God would have not be eternally relational. God would not eternally loving. The relational and loving aspects of God would only be added to God once God created angels and humans.

But this contradicts the central idea of God’s immutability, that God does not change.

So the ONLY way God can be immutable and eternally relational is if God exists as a Trinity. Only in this way God can be eternally loving and relational.

Anyway, that’s some food for thought. Go read that article on the Trinity if you want to learn more.

We are discussing a similar concept in our study of Ephesians 4 today. We will be looking at unity, which is also an eternal attribute of God that could not exist without being a Trinity.

The Church Must Lead the World into Peace (Ephesians 4:1-3)

[Note: This study is drawn from a sermon I preached on this text about 20 years ago. The sermon can be found here: How to Walk in Unity with Other Christians (Ephesians 4:1-3)]

We are now entering the second half of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

Many have noted that the letter of Ephesians contains three key action words: Sit, Walk, Stand.

Ephesians 1-3 frequently contains the keyword “sit.” We learn about how we are seated with Christ in heavenly places, and all the blessings, benefits, riches, and inheritance that belong to us as a result of being seated with Christ. To be seated with Christ means that we have the privilege and power of ruling with Christ over this world.

So in Ephesians 1-3, Paul wrote about all the riches of our inheritance in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:1-21). Paul called us to be the fullness of God in every way in this world (Ephesians 1:22-23), so that we might be a witness to the principalities and powers of this world (Ephesians 1:21) to show the world a better way to live.

And through all of Ephesians 2 and Ephesians 3, Paul wrote about what it means to be seated with Christ and how we are to use this position to show the world a better way to live. We are to follow the example of Jesus in loving our enemies, and even dying for them if necessary. As we do this, we show the world a better way to peace. We show the world the way of God in loving our enemies.

Now in Ephesians 4-6, Paul sets out to provide some practical steps, some down-to-earth application, about how our calling as the church is to be carried out in this world. Since Ephesians 4:1-6:9 is all about these practical steps that we take to lead the world into the way of peace, the key word throughout these chapters is the word “walk.” Paul is going to show us how to properly walk in the footsteps of Jesus.

If you were to scan through Ephesians, 4 and Ephesians 5, and half of Ephesians 6, you would see this keyword “walk” repeated over and over.

Ephesians 4:1-16 is about walking in unity.

Ephesians 4:17-32 contains instructions about walking in purity.

Ephesians 5:1-6 is about walking in love.

Ephesians 5:7-14 is about walking in light.

Ephesians 5:15-21 is about walking carefully.

Ephesians 5:22-6:9 about how to walk in this world.

And ALL of the instructions about how to walk properly as a follower of Jesus have one main focus in mind: The reason we are to walk as Jesus walked is so that we can show the world the best way to live.

God wants the world to live in peace with each other, and the only way God has ordained for the world to learn how to live in peace with each other is by watching the church do it first. We are to be an example to the world of how to live in peace.

Of course, the church fails pretty spectacularly at this primary task, which is why the message of Ephesians 4, 5, and 6 is all that more important.

We begin in this study by looking at Ephesians 4:1-3, where Paul introduces the first way we are to walk, namely, we are to walk in unity.

Walk in Unity (Ephesians 4:1-16).

Ephesians 4:1. I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called,

I beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called. It is that phrase walk worthy that summarizes what Paul is going to say in the next three chapters. In the next three chapters, every time he gives us more instruction, he introduces it by telling us to walk in a certain way.

The term walk is peripateo in Greek, and it literally means “to walk about.” It has in mind the manner of life you live. The way you conduct yourself. It’s like when you walk around your neighborhood, you get to know people, they get to know you. You learn how people behave, and what they are like, and they learn the same things about you. Paul is giving us instructions here about how to behave. What your Christian walk should look like.

And we see here in Ephesians 4:1 that this is what we were called to. This word calling is a controversial word in many Christian circles, because the word is often related to the doctrine of election. Theologians and pastors often speak of our “calling and election.” People debate about a general calling, a specific calling, an effective calling, a particular calling, and so on.  I don’t want to get into that debate right now, but if you want to see what I think of the terms, you can take my lesson on Election in the Gospel Dictionary Online Course.

Let me just say that the word “calling” has nothing whatsoever to do with God’s irresistible call of some people to eternal life. It is not about who goes to heaven after they die. Calling, as we see here, is about God inviting some people to get involved with His purposes for this world. It is call to serve Him and what He wants to do in this world.

Here in Ephesians 1, Paul is saying that as followers of Jesus, God is our boss, and He is calling us to perform a task. He is giving us instructions on how to walk as a Christian. It is not that He is calling us to be Christians. No, we already are Christians, and it is to us that God is assigning a specific responsibility.

And the first instruction or assignment is to Walk in Unity.

The church is supposed to live in unity because this is how we show the world how to live in unity.

But there’s a problem with unity. Though everyone wants unity, nobody really knows how to achieve it.

Most people today seem to think that unity requires conformity. Oh sure, we want unity, but we think that unity is achieved when everybody thinks the same way we do, talks the same way we do, dresses the same way we do, and has the same opinions we do. Where differences occur, division results, and unity dies.

Most often, when we are in a conflict with someone, when we are not at peace with someone else, we think it is the responsibility of the other person to change their ways, so we can get along with them. We point at their faults and what they said, or what they did, and say that if there is going to be peace, they have to change.

But Paul challenges all of this in Ephesians 4:2-3. In these next two verses, Paul shows how we can have unity with others, even when there is disagreement.

How to Be Unified when Differences Exist

The key to unity when differences exist was, not surprisingly, first taught by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 7:3-5, Jesus says that when you see a fault in your brother–Jesus calls it a speck in your brother’s eye–first take the plank out of your own eye. Then you will be able to see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

The implication, in my opinion, is that we will never come to the end of the plank in our own eye, and so therefore, never really get to the place where we confront our brother about the speck in his eye. Because be honest … it’s not that we all have a plank in our eye … most of us have entire lumber yards in our own eyes. We have piles and piles of planks. And taking one plank out of your own eye just clears up your own vision well enough to see ten more planks in your own eye.

So in other words, Jesus is saying that if we want to get rid of sin in the world, … just focus on yourself. There’s more than enough in your own life that needs to be fixed.

And this is essentially what Paul writes here in Ephesians 4:2-3. So you want to live in unity? Well, guess what? The problem with unity isn’t that your fellow Christian is wrong in the way they think or behave. The problem with unity is in your own heart. So if you want to walk in unity, look to your own heart first. Take the plank out of your own eye first.

In Ephesians 4:2-3, Paul lists seven planks that we need to consider. Seven attitudes that we need to develop in our own hearts if we want to achieve unity.

Achieving unity is not about “changing them” but about changing me.  To achieve unity, work on developing the Seven Attitudes of Unity in your own heart.

The Seven Attitudes of Unity

Ephesians 4:2-3. with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

These two verses list seven attitudes that you need to personally have in order to walk in unity. Let’s take them one at a time.

1. Lowliness.

Lowliness means humility, lowliness of mind, the esteeming of ourselves as small. The Greek word Paul uses here was coined by Christians. In Greek, there is no word for humility that does not have some sort of meanness or insult attached to it. Before Christianity, humility was not considered to be a virtue at all. The ancient world looked upon humility as a thing to be despised. The Greek language did have an adjective for humble, but it was always associated with being a slave, being without honor, cringing. If someone was described as being humble, they were looked upon as a cowering, groveling, beggarly, and inferior human being.

And that’s even somewhat true today, isn’t it? It is not always a compliment to be called humble in today’s back-stabbing, self-advancing, look-out-for-number-one corporate economy. But one of the supreme virtues in Christianity is this lowliness, this humbleness. The same word is used only one other time in the NT, in Philippians 2:3 when Paul says that each one of us should regard each other as more important than himself. And there, in Philippians 2, who is Paul’s supreme example of humility?

In Philippians 2:5, Christ is the supreme example! Though he was God, he made himself nothing. Though He had the right to rule, He became a servant. Though He was immortal, He died a criminal’s death on a cross. He who was exalted becomes despised, and He who was high becomes low. Jesus Christ is our example of this kind of humility. Here in Ephesians 4:2, Paul calls us to have this same attitude of humility and lowliness that Christ had in Philippians 2.

Is that how you view yourself? As unworthy of attention? As the servant of all? As less important than anyone else? Or do you get upset when nobody notices what you have done and how much you know? The person who is lowly and humble does not expect recognition or repayment for what they have done. So first, we need to have an attitude of lowliness or humbleness.

2. Gentleness

The word gentleness is a fascinating word in Greek. It comes from the word praotes, which means gentle or meek. In English, when we think of someone as gentle or meek, we think of them as weak. But praotes does not imply weakness. It implies great strength being withheld.

Think of a gentle giant. Great strength under control. I am by no means super strong, but when I hold my newborn daughter, I feel like a powerful giant with her frail body in my hands. So I hold her gently. That is what this word has in mind.

But another aspect of the word is found by looking at its root. In Greek, the root of praotes is praus. Praus is the word used for a tamed beast. In Greek, a praus was an animal, like a lion or a bear, which has been trained and domesticated until it is completely under control. So a tamed man, a gentle man, is the person who has every instinct and passion under perfect control.

As we all know, none of us are able to do this completely. Only one person in history could qualify as being completely gentle, and this man was Christ. In fact, Christ uses the same word of himself in Matthew 11:29 when He says that He is gentle and lowly in heart. Now, would any of us call Christ weak? Hardly! He was God in human form! He has all power, but it was restrained. I mentioned praus means a tamed beast. Another name for Jesus is “The Lion of the Tribe of Judah.”

So when we take all of this, and put it together, we should not be picturing a docile creature. Many of tend to think that being gentle means being compliant, mild-mannered and complacent. It means nothing of the sort. Gentleness is power restrained. Controlled ferociousness. This means that someone who is gentle can till use force, and can still get quite angry when circumstances call for it.

Unty in Ephesians 4Did Jesus get angry? Yes, quite frequently. Remember when he cleared out the temple? Praotes, gentleness, does not mean never getting angry. It means getting angry at the right time, in the right measure, and for the right reason. It is the idea expressed in Ephesians 4:26, which says, “Be angry, and do not sin.”

So being gentle does not mean never getting angry. There are times to be angry, and if you are gentle, if you are praotes, you will know when to be angry, how to be angry and what to do when angry. First, lowliness, second, gentleness.

Third, we are to be long-suffering.

3. Long-suffering

The word here is makrothumia, and can also be translated patience. This word was used when explosives were invented of having a long fuse. Again, it does not mean a lack of power. Does dynamite lack power? No. It has the ability to destroy and annihilate. But a stick of dynamite with a long fuse takes quite a while to explode. And power like dynamite is exactly what you have in Christ as we saw in Ephesians 1-3. So you need to make sure you have a long fuse on your power.

Very possibly, there are people who are trying to provoke you, trying to get a reaction out of you, trying to get you to blow up in anger. But if you are long-suffering, macrothumia, you show a quality of self-restraint. It is when you do not hastily retaliate. You are self-controlled when provoked. You have the power to take revenge, but you do not. You have a spirit which refuses to retaliate.

We have all known people who blow up in anger at the least little thing. That is someone who has a short fuse. Here Paul calls us to have long fuses – the ability to bear insult and injury without bitterness and complaint.

God’s patience toward us is the perfect example. Time after time we sin. Repeatedly we say, “I’m sorry God. Never again will I do that.” But a day later, a week later, a month later, we’re back at it. But God, in His incredible patience works with us, and time after time forgives us. That is true long-suffering.

Fourth, we are called to bear with one another.

4. Bear with one another

To bear with one another means to “put up with one another’s short comings.” That kind of has negative connotations, but Paul meant it in a positive way because we are to bear with one another in love. It is like when you parents put up with your children’s short comings because you love them. You know they are maturing. You know they are learning. And so you bear with them in love.

And that’s the fifth attitude. We are to bear with one another in love.

5. In Love

This love, as I’m sure you can already guess, is agape love. This is unconditional, no-strings attached, unending, eternal love. It is the kind of love Paul describes in more detail in 1 Corinthians 13. It is the kind of love God has for us. It is the kind of love that put Christ on the cross for us, even though we were sinners.

If we love someone with agape love, it means that nothing he or she can do will make us seek anything but the highest good for them. Though they insult us and injure us, we will never feel anything but kindness toward them. It is the ability to love the unlovable, to love those who hate you and to love those who don’t want your love.

It is obvious that this kind of love is not an emotional love. It is a love bound to the will. It is the love that loves a person when all your emotions scream out to hate them and retaliate against them for what they have done to you. It is the kind of love that keeps marriages going when the honeymoon is over. It is the kind of love that allows Christians to walk in unity. Agape love, the fifth attitude.

Sixth, in Ephesians 4:3, we are endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit.

6. Unity of the Spirit

Endeavoring (“make every effort” or “be diligent” in some of translations) means eagerly, earnestly and diligently. It is a word that a trainer of gladiators in Rome might have used when he sent one of his men to fight to the death in the coliseum: “Make every effort to stay alive today!”

And do you think that gladiator made every effort? You bet he did! If he let down even a little bit, it could mean the loss of his life. It is the same for the Christian. But we are not endeavoring to keep ourselves alive. We are endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit.

Is interesting what Paul is not saying here. There is a lot of emphasis today both in the world, and in the church, on making unity. But Paul here is not calling us to make unity with one another. He is telling us to keep what we already have in Christ! Unity does not come from us, it is given to us by God when we become Christians, and it is simply our task to maintain it in the Spirit.

The phrase unity of the Spirit is just a way of saying that we are all one in the Spirit. We all, as Christians, have the same Spirit. The Holy Spirit indwells us when we become Christians. So when we are in disunity, it is like we are trying to divide God. But God cannot be divided, so disunity is contrary to the Spirit living within us. So the six attitudes so far are lowliness, gentleness, long-suffering, bearing with one another, in love, and endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit.

The seventh and final attitude is the last phrase in Ephesians 4:3: The bond of peace.

7. Bond of Peace

Peace with others begins with peace with God. If you are not at peace with God, there is no way you can be at peace with others. It is only when the peace of God rules in our hearts that we can build unity with one another (Col 3:15; Jas 3:13-4:10).

So those are the seven attitudes to do a heart-check up on any time you find yourself in conflict. The first step is to check your own heart. These seven attitudes are much easier said than done. If you have ever been in a conflict with someone, you know how hard it is to maintain an attitude of lowliness, gentleness, long-suffering and love, unity and peace. But, if you find these difficult when you are embroiled in a conflict, don’t forget what you have in Christ from Ephesians 1-3.

Unity in Ephesians 4:1-3

God never asks you to do something without first telling what He has done for you. God never asks you to give something without first telling what He has given to you.

What if I asked you to donate $100,000 to your favorite charity next week? What would you think? You would think, “There’s NO WAY! I don’t have that kind of money!” But what if I first informed you that Elon Musk had just decided to deposit $1 million into your bank account with the minor stipulation that you give 10% of it to your local charity? Then the $100,000 is no big deal, right? You get to keep $900,000.

What made the difference? Both times you were asked to give the same amount of money, but in one situation, you said, “NO WAY!” and in the other, you said, “No big deal.” The difference was that in the second situation, I told you what you already had, and so giving a small portion of it was no big deal.

The same exact thing is going on here in Ephesians 4. Paul has just asked us to do something very difficult. He has said that when you find yourself in a conflict, check your own attitude first. And if this seems hard to do, remember what you have in Ephesians 1-3. You have the power of God to do what you otherwise could not do. On your own, you might not be able to be humble and gentle and longsuffering toward that person. On your own, you might not be able to love that person and to be at peace with him or her. But with the power of the Holy Spirit within you, you can do what would be impossible otherwise.

Remember, Paul was writing to a very diverse church in Ephesus. It was made up of Jewish and Gentile believers who could not get along no matter how hard they tried. In Ephesians 2, Paul called them to be a peace with each other. Now he tells them the first way how. He tells them it begins with their own attitudes. He lists seven of them here.

And you know, although Paul is writing to Jewish and Gentile Christians in the 1st Century AD in Ephesus, we can apply this same principle to all of our present day relationships. Do you have any damaged relationships at home with your spouse or your kids? Do you have any conflicts at work? How are you getting along with your neighbors? Do you dread those calls from your mother in law?

If so, step number 1 is to focus on your own attitude. If we are going to walk toward unity, it doesn’t begin with fixing everyone else. No, it begins in our own hearts with changing out own attitudes. We will continue next time in Ephesians 4:4 with learning more about how to develop unity in our lives, in our communities, and in this world.

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To Love Your Enemies, Know You are Loved (Ephesians 3:18-21) https://redeeminggod.com/ephesians_3_18-21/ https://redeeminggod.com/ephesians_3_18-21/#respond Thu, 16 Dec 2021 20:42:24 +0000 https://redeeminggod.com/?p=54047 Have you ever tried to actually love your enemies? It’s next to impossible, isn’t it? In Ephesians 3:18-21, Paul provides two ways that we can learn to love our enemies. These seem impossible as well, until we understand what Paul is actually saying about how to love our enemies.

But before we look at Ephesians 3:19-21, I want to answer a question from a reader about Matthew 10:28 where Jesus says, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

Question from a Reader

One of the members of my online discipleship group is taking my online course about hell, and had a question regarding Matthew 10:28. Here is what he wrote:

Jeremy, I loved this course and it helped me out immensely, but I’m trying to figure out Matthew 10:28 with this new understanding of hell. Would you be able to explain this passage?

Matthew 10:28 says this:

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

(#AmazonAdLink) What is hell bookI have written about this text previously in connection with the parallel passage in Luke 12:5.

There are several translation issues about this verse which creates some deep divisions in Christianity regarding the meaning of what Jesus says here. The primary question about this text is in regards to whom Jesus is referring when He says “fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Who is the “him”? The NKJV version has the “him” capitalized, which shows that they think the pronoun is referring to God. However, there are many Christian leaders who think the pronoun is referring to Satan.

However, a third option might be that the “him” is referring to other human beings.

The Greek word used for hell in Matthew 10:28 is the word gehenna. This word does not refer to some horrible afterlife experience, but to an experience in this life where all that you hold dear and all that is valuable and important to  you gets destroyed.

In my book (#AmazonAdLink) “What is Hell?” and the online course that goes with it, I says this about gehenna:

When the various texts are considered (cf. Matt 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:8-9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43-47; Luke 12:5; Jas 3:6), Jesus speaks of gehenna, or the Valley of Hinnom in a symbolic way … not to teach about what happens to some people in the afterlife, but rather to teach about what can happen to some people in this life. People who are sent to the Valley of Hinnom (usually because of crime or leprosy) lose their friends and family, and face a life filled with horror, decay, and destruction.

The warnings about gehenna are given by Jesus so that we do not destroy our health, life, family, friendships, and reputation in this life. Rather than live in the Valley of Death, God want us to enjoy everything He has given to us in this life.

In Matthew 10:28, Jesus says that being killed is not as big of a deal as having your life destroyed. If you die with your morals and values intact, and with your loved ones and friends thinking highly of you, the only thing you lose is your life. And since we know that life goes on for eternity, being killed for our beliefs is nothing more than a step from one life into an even better life.

What is much worse, however, is to have your life destroyed while you are still alive. That is, to lose your friends, your family, your health. To lose respect and honor from others. To lose your morals, values, beliefs, and convictions. To lose all that makes you you. 

That is what we should seek to avoid at all costs.

It is far better to be killed for your beliefs than to abandon your beliefs and convictions.

Jesus is saying this: Don’t fear the one who can kill you, because death is not the end for us. But do fear those who can threaten and steal your values, morals, convictions, integrity, dreams, hopes, friends, family, job, health, and everything else of value in this life. That is who you should fear. That is who you should avoid.

This view of Matthew 10:28 and Luke 12:5 fits perfectly with my proposal in my book about hell that hell is not an afterlife experience of suffering and torture, but is rather an experience in this life of living contrary to everything that God wants and desires for us. In these verses, Jesus is warning us against those (including ourselves!) who can lead us into a hellish existence in this life.

You Cannot Love Your Enemies Until You Know You are Fully Loved (Ephesians 3:18-21)

Paul wants the church to lead the world into the way of peace. We are to be an example to the world of how to live in peace with our enemies. In Ephesians 2, Paul showed us how Jesus has done this. In Ephesians 3:1-13, Paul showed how he himself is doing this. And now, in Ephesians 3:14-21, Paul writes about how he prayers for his readers to do the impossible, namely, to love our enemies.

If it seems impossible to love our enemies, we need to know that in Jesus Christ, we can do what cannot be done. We can do the impossible. This is what we looked at last time when we studied Ephesians 3:14-17. Now, in Ephesians 3:18-21, Paul continues to write about what he prays for his readers, and he has two more impossible prayer requests, which are only possible through Jesus Christ.

Let me put these final two prayer requests in a bit of context for you.

Have you ever been told to get along with someone you can’t get along with? Was there ever someone at church whom you avoid Sunday after Sunday? If so, then you understand what the Ephesians were thinking here. Paul tells them in Ephesians 2 to live at peace with each other, and they are thinking, “But Paul, you don’t know what you are asking! I can’t get along with them. It’s … impossible! You don’t know what’s between us! You don’t know that he believes! You don’t know what she’s done! You don’t know what they said about me! I can’t live at peace with them! It’s impossible!”

So Paul prays for them here at the end of Ephesians 3. He says, “I know it’s impossible for you. So my first prayer request is that God will give you power to do what I’m asking you to do.” That’s the first prayer request. The request we saw previously in Ephesians 3:16-17. Prayer for power to do the impossible. Prayer for power to be at peace with those people you’d rather hate. A prayer request to do what you cannot do. That was the first prayer request. The second prayer request in Ephesians 3:18-19 is a prayer for knowledge.

powerful prayer for the impossible Ephesians 3:18-21

C. Prayer for Knowledge (Ephesians 3:18-19)

Ephesians 3:18-19. … [that you] 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;

This prayer of Paul is not a “ho-hum” prayer! In Ephesians 3:16-17, Paul prayed that we would do what we cannot do, in Ephesians 3:18-19 he prays that we will know what we cannot know! He prays that you will be able…to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge. In other words, to know what cannot be known. To know what is impossible to know!

Paul is praying that we would know the love of Christ, which passes knowledge – which cannot be known. He somewhat describes this love back in Ephesians 3:18. He says that you may be able to comprehend – that means know – what is the width – that’s how wide it is – the length – that’s how long it is – the depth – that’s how deep it goes – and the height – that’s how high it rises. By using these terms, Paul is saying that the love of Christ is eternal, it’s infinite. It’s without beginning or end. It cannot be measured or contained. When Paul says width, he means it is wider than the universe. When he says length, he means it is farther than the east is from the west. The depth of Christ’s love – it’s deeper than the ocean. The height of God’s love is higher than God’s Word is above man’s word.

The vastness of God’s love is so difficult to explain – I think that’s why Paul cuts off what he was saying and says in verse 19 that this love cannot be known. How are you supposed to know what is infinite? Yet Paul prays that we would know it anyway. Paul has now prayed for two impossible things. Power to do what we cannot do and knowledge to know what we cannot know. We’re seeing a pattern, and the third request upholds this pattern.

D. Prayer for Filling (Ephesians 3:19b)

Ephesians 3:19b. … that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

How big is God? If you know some theology, you know that God is omnipresent. If we break this word down into two words. No matter where you are in the universe, God is there. He is everywhere. In fact, even when you get to the edge of the universe – where time and matter cease to exist, God does not stop there. He keeps going. That’s how big God is.

How great is God? How powerful is He? Again, in theological terms, He is omnipotent. He has all power. With a mere thought, He could obliterate the universe. With another mere thought, He could recreate it. He can do whatever He wants, wherever He wants, whenever He wants, however He wants. (Thank goodness he’s a loving and merciful God – this kind of power would be terrible in the hands of a tyrant).

So with God’s omnipresence and omnipotence in mind, think of what Paul is praying for here in v. 19! He prays that you, as a teeny, tiny speck of flesh and bones, with life that is but a breath, made from dust, dying, decaying, sinful, insignificant piece of the vast universe, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God! The word fullness is the word pleroma, and it means fullness! When used of God, it means all of His divine attributes and perfection. Every bit of Him.

It is the term used of Christ in Colossians 2:9. Christ was completely God, right? Colossians 2:9 says that in Christ dwelt the fullness of God in bodily form! Fullness means fullness. Paul prays here for us to be filled with all the fullness of God. Try taking something bigger than the universe, something so big it is infinite, something so big it cannot be measured, and stuffing it into a space five or six feet tall, eighteen inches wide, and about a foot deep. Some of us have slightly different dimensions, but that’s not the point. How is something infinite supposed to fit into us? It’s impossible!

Even if the structure were much larger, it is still impossible to hold God in it. When King Solomon built the first temple, he too prayed a prayer on the day the temple was dedicated (found in 1 Kings 8), and he prayed:

O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below – you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way. You have kept your promise to your servant David my father, with your mouth you have promised and with your hand you have fulfilled it – as it is today – but will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!

Solomon, the wisest man who has ever lived saw the truth that God could not be contained in any sort of building or structure. Yet somehow, God was. And that is what Paul prays here. That we may be filled with all the fullness of God. That is Paul’s third prayer request. An impossible request. We have seen three requests. All of them impossible. He prayed that we would do what we cannot do, that we would know what we cannot know, and that we would be filled with what we cannot be filled. Those are the three things Paul prays for.

Putting the Three Prayer Requests in Context

But these impossible prayer requests are the key to doing what Paul asks us to do … namely, love our enemies.

The truth of the matter is that we cannot begin to love our enemies … until we know that we are loved.

Have you ever realized that we were the enemies of God? When Adam and Eve rebelled in the Garden of Eden by choosing to go their own way, they took all of humanity with them into rebellion against God, thereby joining up with Satan in a rebellion against God. We are the enemies of God.

Yet God never stopped loving us. And while we were yet sinners, that is, while we were still the enemies of God, Jesus Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). That was the entire point of Ephesians 2:1-4.

So the first step in doing what cannot be done … namely, loving our enemies … is to know what cannot be known, that is, that we are fully and truly loved by God.

Why can it not be known? Because the love of God is infinite. It is without depth, height, width, or length. But we can begin to know the love of God. We can begin to experience the love of God. And only after we begin to know that which cannot ever be fully known, namely, how much God’s love us, will we begin to have love for our enemies.

Sadly, the love of God is something most Christians think they know and understand, but really don’t. We all pay lip service to the idea that God loves us, but few of us really believe it.

Most Christians think God only loves us as long as we are faithful and obedience. As long as we keep from sin. As long as we regularly read our Bibles and pray. As long as we have pure thoughts and stay away from temptation, and do all the things that good Christians are supposed to do.

But when we stray, well, God turns His back on us. He stops loving us. He turns away from us in shame and disgust. … This is what most Christians seem to think about the love of God.

Which just goes to show that most Christian know nothing of God’s love.

The truth about God’s love is that He loves you no matter what. God forgives you no matter what. Honestly, you could become Hitler and God will still love and forgive you. I know that statement is a shock to many people, but it’s true. And the fact that it’s a shocking just goes to show that we don’t know anything about the love of God.

No matter what you do or don’t do, God will never stop loving you. He will never turn away from you. He will never hide His face from you in shame. He will always be with  you, will always forgive you, will always embrace and accept you. Until you begin to understand this, you will never understand God and will also never be able to show love for your enemies.

You can only begin to love once you know you are fully loved.

Two books I highly recommend about the love of God are (#AmazonAdLink) He Loves Me! by Wayne Jacobson and (#AmazonAdLink) The Misunderstood God by Darin Hufford. Both books will present the true, radical nature of God’s love to you, which is essential for you to start loving others.

And of course, even when we begin to know the love of God, love for our enemies still doesn’t come from ourselves. Love for our enemies is not within our power. This is why the third prayer request is so important, to be filled with all the fullness of God. When we love others, it is God loving them through us. When we love others, this love for others is the love of God working in and through us toward others.

This is the great secret and mystery of the church, that we are the hand, feet, and voice of Jesus. Jesus as Jesus is the incarnation of God, so also the church is the incarnation of Jesus. The love of Jesus is shown to a dying world through the church that if filled with the fullness of God’s love for the world (Cf. Ephesians 1:23).

So those are the three prayer requests of Paul…. He prays that we can do what cannot be done (love our enemies) by knowing what cannot be known (the love of God for us) and being filled with what we cannot be filled (the loving power and presence of God).

Does all of this sound impossible? If so, that is why Paul closes out Ephesians 3 with some final words of encouragement.

prayer for filling with God E. The Encouragement (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Ephesians 3:20-21. Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Paul has prayed for three seemingly impossible things. To do what we cannot do. To know what we cannot know. To be filled with what we cannot be filled. But Paul remembered what Jesus told His disciples – with man, it is impossible, but with God, all things are possible (Matt 19:26).

So Paul says in Ephesians 3:20, “You think I’ve asked for impossible things? I haven’t even scratched the surface of what God is able to do.” He is – v. 20 – able to do exceedingly abundantly more. That phrase exceedingly abundantly comes from one Greek word, which is a double compound adverb. A double compound adverb is a very rare construction. This particular construction begins with a root word. The root word here is perissos. It means abundant, over and above, more than enough. In John 10:10, Jesus says that he came so that we might have life, and have it perissov – more abundantly. But then, Paul takes this word, perissos, which already means abundance, and adds not one,…but two words on top of it to make it a double compound adverb.

prayer is powerful Ephesians 3He has had three prayer requests for the impossible, and then says God can not only do it, he can double do it – He can triple do it. He can run circles around it. He can do it with his eyes closed, and one hand tied behind his back. He can do exceedingly abundantly above all. If that’s not enough, look at the rest of verse 20. He can do above all that we ask or think! Paul says, God can do this and more. He says, if I can ask it, God can do it. If I can think it – or imagine it – God can do that too. In fact, God can do things I can’t even imagine! God can do things I can’t even think about!

Ephesians 3:21. …to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

All of this is done by the church, through the church, and in the church so that God will get the glory to all generations.

This is a concluding remark for the point Paul began all the way back at the end of Ephesians 1. After telling us about all the riches of our inheritance in Jesus Christ, Paul called us to be the fullness of God in every way in this world (Ephesians 1:22-23), so that we might be a witness to the principalities and powers of this world (Ephesians 1:21) to show the world a better way to live.

And now, through Ephesians 2 and Ephesians 3, Paul has shown us exactly how to do this. We are to follow the example of Jesus in loving our enemies, and even dying for them if necessary. As we do this, we show the world a better way to peace. We show the world the way of God in loving our enemies. This is the glory of God. This is the glory of the church. And this is how the love of God is manifested to the world.

It’s a revolutionary call, but Paul is not done. He will go on in Ephesians 4-6 to show more specifically how this calling is carried out by the church. We will pick up next time with the first verses of Ephesians 4 to see how Paul continues to call us peace, unity, and love for one another, so that that the world can learn from us and live in peace and unity as well.

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