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Faithlife

Ephesians 4:11-16 How the church family is built up

Notes & Transcripts

Sunday, August 17, 2008

How the church family is built up!

Ephesians 4:11-16

15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Ephesians 4:15-16 NIV


This morning we continue in our 5 week study of the 4th chapter of Ephesians. My intention for focusing on this chapter at this time is that I believe it has instructions that, if followed, will prepare us as a congregation for effective ministry this fall. September is really the start of new beginnings in a church. A church year tends to follow the pattern of the school year of our children. As our students return to the classroom in September, there is a renewed sense of adventure and new beginnings.

Among those fresh starts that a new school year provides are the re-formations of athletic teams. With the passage of the previous school year, graduates have moved on and under-classmen have moved up. Coaches of various teams are planning, strategizing and recruiting for their particular teams in hopes that this fall they will field successful programs and maybe even a winning record.

These athletic teams provide us an illustration of much of what church is about. We, too, are a team of players coming together in a common purpose so that we will grow together in our love for Jesus Christ, in our love for each other and give ourselves to the mission of introducing and winning people to Jesus Christ.

Our Vision as a church is to: Influence individuals and communities to begin, sustain and grow a personal and corporate relationship with Christ by developing a worshipping, supportive and evangelistic fellowship.

As I mentioned last week, our effectiveness in doing ministry depends on a few very important factors like being faithful, being available and being teachable. But the glue that binds those factors together is commitment.

And so again this morning, I want you to know my purpose in preaching these sermons from Ephesians 4. It is to call us as a congregation to a re-commitment to Christ, a re-commitment to His church and a re-commitment to the work of Christ in this world.

September begins a new season for us as a church. Some of the players we counted on last year have moved on. Most football coaches would love to have their seniors return. But, rarely do coaches spend much time in that dream world. They have a task ahead of them. They have many return players and a goodly number of new and young players. It is with that assembly of athletes that the coach will field a team. And, if the players buy into the coach’s plan and work hard, the entire team will come to the end of the season with many accomplishments to show for their hard work.

Paul in this 4th chapter of Ephesians has outlined a strategy for how a local church family is able to grow and build itself up in love. We will see that his strategy calls for a very intentional focus on Jesus Christ, the owner of the team. Therefore, I am urging you to recommit yourself to Christ as your highest and most valued priority. I am challenging you to take control of your calendar so that your days and your weeks reflect that Jesus Christ truly is your Lord, the Head of His Church.

We will also see that Paul’s strategy calls for a very intentional effort to maintain the unity of the team by expressing support and encouragement at every turn and in every situation. We may like to choose our own teammates. But, to play that game is to call into question the wisdom of our Head for it is Christ who has put this team together. As a result, each of us are brothers and sisters called to humbly serve our Lord side by side in worship and evangelism.

I unashamedly am challenging you to an even higher view of the local church than you may presently hold. For I believe the Scriptures tell us that it is through the local body of Christ where the rubber meets the road, where our love for Christ is given the best opportunity to develop and be employed. It is in the context of a local assembly of believers where our faith is best lived out, not in isolation from the world, but in its most effective impact on the world.

For I am convinced that faithful, obedient, loving Christians, who are committed to the mission of a local church that is faithfully serving Christ, have the greatest potential for impacting the unbelieving world that surrounds them. And, I hope to persuade you through the truth of Ephesians 4 and through the work of the Holy Spirit applying the truth to your life, that there is not one thing that you would want to commit yourself to more than to Christ, to His Church and to His work in the world. And Paul is giving us a strategy to make that happen right here at New Heights Christian Church.

I would like us to read together our text, going back to include the earlier verses of chapter 4. I would like the men to read verses 1-3. The women to read verses 4-6. I will read verses 7-10. Then, I would like us all to read verses 11-16. Would you please stand with me as we read from God’s Word?

Ephesians 4:1-3 (NIV) – [men] 1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

Ephesians 4:4-6 (NIV) – [women] 4 There is one body and one Spirit— just as you were called to one hope when you were called— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Ephesians 4:7-10 (NIV) – [Pastor Dan] 7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it says:

“When He ascended on high, He led captives in His train and gave gifts to men.”

9 (What does “He ascended” mean except that He also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)

Ephesians 4:11-16 (NIV) – [Congregation]

11 It was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

 

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Paul likely wrote this letter while imprisoned in Rome for having too effectively proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Roman leadership thought they could stop the spread of Christianity if they silenced its leaders. Sometimes that strategy works. But, very commonly, it backfires.

Paul writes to a church of which he had served as the founding pastor-teacher a few years earlier and urges them to live up to the calling to which they had been called by Christ. All throughout this letter he has drawn his readers to look again at Christ, to see Him as the source of every spiritual blessing, to understand that it was Christ who made it possible for us to be adopted as sons and daughters into God’s family, to be overwhelmed with gratitude for the gift of salvation made possible through Christ’s death on the cross.

Paul reminded his readers that because of the mercy of God, Christ had obtained for us an inheritance reserved only for the truly righteous and, as a seal of this promise to us, God gave us His Holy Spirit to continue His work of transformation in our lives.

How could anyone reading Paul’s letter to the Ephesian believers not respond with overflowing gratitude to God? Surely we would take heed, then, to his admonishments. We would value his instructions. We would welcome his warnings. Why would we treat these God-inspired words with an attitude of nonchalance, of non-importance or of “we know better?”

No, God has a word for us and He intends that we pay close attention to it. He has given it to us through His servant Paul.

Let’s start with the promised outcome of Paul’s instructions if we obey them. Look at verse 16.

16 From Him (Christ) the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

The promise is that the local church, the local expression of the larger body of Christ, will grow and will build itself up in love. There appear to be two conditions to the fulfillment of this promise. First, the source of the life that causes the growth and the building up is Christ. Our Lord cannot be divorced from His church without taking the life out of the church. He is the source of life and growth and health and love.

Look again at the text in verse 16. Do you see what I see? Is there not a second condition to the promise God makes through Paul?

16 From Him (Christ) the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

What’s the second condition? That each part of the body must do its work.

God promises that His body, the church, will grow and build itself up as each part does its work. Each of us has a responsibility to the local congregation in which God has placed us. Each of us is to do his or her part, make his or her contribution as God has intended.

We’ll get back to that soon. But, first, let’s see clearly that God has promised that His body will grow and will build itself up in love. That’s the outcome God has in mind for His church.

Apart from the issue of winning and losing ball games, such a promise from God parallels what most coaches desire for their football teams. They want their teams to be well bonded and strong in team spirit. They want each player to be supportive and encouraging of all the other players. They want each player to make the contribution they are trained for and practice for. They want each player committed to following the assignments they are given.

And the promise these coaches will make to their players, if they, the players, commit to the team vision and the team goals and give themselves heart and soul to them, follow the instructions of the coaches and encourage and support their fellow players, their team will grow and build itself up in love.

O, guys might not use the word “love,” but they will be committed to doing what is best for the team and what is best for each player. And teams that practice these goals will grow and be built up from within. And win or lose, they will put it on the line for each other and their common objective.

See if you don’t see the parallel as we look at verses 11-13.

Ephesians 4:11-13 (NIV) 11 It was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Pardon the football analogy again, but if we think of apostles and prophets and evangelists and pastor-teachers as specialized coaches, they are assigned to work with each player to prepare them for works of service in order to make their contribution to the achievement of the team vision. Do you agree? Is that a proper understanding of the role of the apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor-teachers?

God wants His team, His body, to be built up. Evidence of being built up will be seen in the same faith that is held in common by all the players or members. There will be a common experience in their relationship with Christ. And this common faith and this common experience in Christ will bring about a rising level of maturity to the body of believers that shows itself best by exhibiting the character of Christ to each other and to all the world around them.

So, here we are, an assembled team of players. The apostles have made and continue to make their contributions to the building up of our team. They were privileged to be personal disciples of Christ and witnesses of His resurrection (Acts 1:15-22; 1 Cor. 9:1-2). They were commissioned by Christ to do works on His behalf and in His name (Matt. 10:1-4). By their testimony, by their preaching, teaching and writing and by their taking the gospel to Judea, Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the world, the apostles have laid a foundation for us and the church for all generations to come.

Old and New Testament prophets have boldly spoken the word of God to God-fearing and God-defying people alike. They have spoken a clear word, a truthful word, a bold word to warn and correct so that the hearers of God’s word would turn to God in repentance and obedience. We have been privileged to hear that word, to repent and are now assembled here for further instructions.

Evangelists have brought the message of hope and good news to those who have not met the Savior. Their focus on the gospel message has built up the body of Christ to be joyful and grateful. We are among those who have been blessed by the ministry of an evangelist. It may have been a parent or a neighbor or a friend. But, someone functioned as an evangelist to us. We heard the Good News and responded.

Finally, rounding out the coaching staff for the church, the pastor-teachers have been assigned the task of lovingly and gently teaching and encouraging and exhorting the members of a local congregation so that the body is built up.

But, it’s the entire coaching staff, not just the pastor-teachers, that equips the church for its works of service. It is true, that the most tangible coaches that congregations have access to are those who serve in the role of pastor-teacher. And wise pastor-teachers are doing their best to connect the members to the apostles, prophets and evangelists.

Now, try to imagine 75-100 players showing up on the football team for the first week of practice. Many of the players already know the positions they want to play. Some have no clue. But all of the players need to be willing to take the assignment of their coaches regardless their initial interest or lack of interest.

In the minds of many players, there are some positions that are glory spots. But reality tells the truth that all positions are necessary and there is no glory without team work. The running back who scores the touch down must never forget he had teammates who laid down their lives for his successful run.

Having spent 9 seasons as a coach on the football field with young players, I rarely saw a student turn out for football and not want to get into the game at some position. “Coach, I would really like to get into the game.” “Yes, I know you would, and I’m going to try to get you in, son.”

We had some players who thought they were really hot stuff and thought they didn’t need to work all that hard in practice. It would come as a surprise to them to find their names a notch or two down the depth chart. O, they may have been faster, quicker, even better than the guy we put in ahead of him. But the guy that started had worker extra hard in practice, paid attention, learned the plays, knew how to listen, did what he was told.

I admit that I’m curious that more players in the body of Christ aren’t more persistent to get into the game. Or why there aren’t more who are saying to the coaching staff, “Would you train me to be a better player?” Or, “I’d like to play in some position on the team. I’ll play wherever you put me. I just want to make our church more successful.”

This word from Paul, my friends, is not just to the coaching staff. It’s for the members of the body, as well.

Ephesians 4:11-13 (NIV) 11 It was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Could we pause right now and pray? Lord, there are some players here this morning who have been longing for permission to say to their pastor or to their elders that they want to play in the game. They don’t want to be spectators. They’re willing to do whatever will increase the effectiveness of the ministry of this church. Lord, would You make them persistent. Would You give them the courage to keep bugging their pastor or an elder with a request to be equipped for some work of ministry in or outside of the church? Please, Lord, stir within this body the unquenchable desire to be a player and not a spectator. Amen.

So, what happens when we here at New Heights have a congregation of players being equipped by the elders and pastors for works of service?

Not only is the body growing and building itself up in love, but, Paul says in:

Ephesians 4:14 (NIV) 14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.

The body will be maturing, as in, taking on more and more of the character of Christ. There will be stability in the faith. Discernment will be common among all the members. And, we will be speaking the truth to each other in love.

Ephesians 4:15 (NIV) 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ.

This chapter started out with the exhortation to bear with one another in love. Here Paul says, speak the truth in love. It may be that the first exhortation is first because that’s how we all must respond to first offenses. Bear them. Endure them. Forgive them.

But here, it appears that instruction, even correction may be needed. This doesn’t mean we cease being patient with a brother. It does mean that when we get the green light from the Lord to speak the truth to our brother, we must always do it in love.

The equipping ministry of God’s coaching staff builds up the body of Christ. Speaking the truth in love grows up the body of Christ.

In all of the growing and building of the body, the focus is on Christ, the Head of the church, which brings us back at the goal of the equipping ministry of the church.

Ephesians 4:16 (NIV) 16 From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

The English Standard Version translates verse 16 just a bit differently than the NIV and it brings out a possible connection with verse 12.

Ephesians 4:16 (ESV) 16 from Whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

The phrase, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, seems to suggest that the equipping ministry results in the body gaining ligaments that pull together other members of the body. So, not only does the equipping ministry strengthen individual players, the equipping ministry strengthens the bonds between players.

I liked what Mike suggested regarding the supporting ligaments that join and hold the body together. He suggested that they could be our commonly held beliefs, our faith and our commitment to our vision. These things bind us together as a team.

Each part of the body has a role to play in the growth process. Each of us is responsible to see that we are employed in the functioning of the church body. No one should be satisfied to simply wait to be asked. It's nice to be asked. It's important to be asked. But, God has placed each of us in a local body to help make it grow and to build it up. That’s God’s assignment, not mine. He did it for the purpose of the proper functioning of the body. He did it so that the body would grow and build itself up in love.

As we stand at the threshold of a new school year, ministry opportunities abound. I am praying that God’s Spirit will tap on your shoulder, speak to your heart, nudge you to offer yourself to be equipped for helping grow this body and build it up.

I’m now asking that you will respond to this teaching from God’s word by saying to your elders, I want to be a player. Will you prepare me to help in some way so that this body grows and builds itself up in love?

Amen.

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