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Weekly Word

Entries in Body of Christ (2)

Friday
Mar032017

Growing Spiritually

Ephesians 4:11-16.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on February 19, 2017.

We have been talking about the purpose that Jesus has for His Church.  It begins with connecting to Him and to His people.  The next purpose comes from the fact that this connection is not intended to be static.  In John 15, when Jesus used the analogy of a vine, he emphasizes that the Father wants each branch to be fruitful.  Thus this second purpose is for God’s people to grow spiritually.  Now this is not just an individual self-help exercise.  Rather, God is working in us in order to help us to grow spiritually as an individual and as a group. 

In our society we see the problem of immaturity everywhere.  It causes problems in our jobs, relationships, homes, politics at every level, and yes, even in our churches.  God’s answer to the reality of immaturity is not that we quit and go down the street, or go home.  Instead, God’s answer is for His people to turn to Him and receive from Him what we need in order to mature.

Now God has some very specific things that He has done in order to help this purpose along.  The first is that He connects us to a group of believers.  The dynamic of learning to love each other fuels this purpose of God.  In Ephesians 4:11-16, the relationship we have with the body of Christ is explained in regards to this purpose of spiritual growth.

Jesus Wants His Followers to Grow

We see the metaphor of growth throughout the Bible.  It points to the changes that happen within us in order to make us more like God Himself.  In Psalm 1 we are told, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but, his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.  He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.”  This is God’s vision for each of us.  He wants to make us into a fruitful tree of life to everyone around us.  Sadly we often fall into a minimal intellectual assent to the Faith.  We only accept so much of what God’s Word says and try to ignore the rest.  We can also settle for a minimal association with God’s people.  When God’s word has a minimal impact on our lives it will not result in spiritual growth.  Ask yourself, “Have I settled for having just a little bit of Jesus?  Am I trying to fit a little bit of Jesus into my life?”  The reality is that Jesus is too big to fit into your life.  You must surrender your life to the purposes of Christ, then you will begin to grow spiritually to become like him.

In verse 11 Paul points out that God has raised up certain individuals to serve in differing capacities within the Church, so that we can all grow spiritually.  The top of this list is the apostles and prophets.  It was important for the teachings of Christ and His purposes to be authoritatively recorded.  The truth is that Jesus did not right any books.  He called and authorized certain individuals with the task of passing on His teaching.  More than that, Jesus even told his disciples that he had far more to teach them, but there wasn’t enough time.  Thus He promises that the Holy Spirit will guide them into all truth.  The reality is that Jesus Himself places a stamp of approval, or guarantee, on the authority and teaching of His apostles.    In this sense there are no more apostles and prophets that are establishing Scripture and the foundation of the Faith.  However, apostles were also used mightily to bring the gospel into new areas along with signs and wonders to confirm it.  This aspect still occurs from time to time as God wills.  As for prophets today, they can be used to speak into our lives by God, but not add new teaching to the Faith that was once and for all delivered unto the saints in the first century.  Paul also mentions evangelists, who typically travel from city to city preaching the gospel.  Lastly he lists pastors and teachers.  It appears that he is putting these together, perhaps as two sides of the same coin.  The term “pastor” is a shepherd term that points to the caring and nurturing they do.  “Teacher” points to the transfer of information that they perform.  Teachers teach the Word of God to His people, not because they can’t read it for themselves, but because it helps us to grow.  The purpose of all of these individuals is not to rule over God’s people, or to control His Church.  They are not given by Jesus to dominate the other believers, but rather to help us.  Some people have been hurt by the domineering tactics of some who call themselves apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.  Yet, we must also recognize the danger of casting off any help in this area.  Without the guarantee of the foundational teaching of the Apostles in the first century, we are intellectually standing on quicksand.

Now in verse 12, Paul explains further why Christ gave these to the Church.  So far I have summed it up under the need for spiritual growth.  Let’s explore further.  The first purpose is for the equipping of the saints.  The King James Version says for the perfecting of the saints.  Equipping is a better translation today, because “perfecting” gives the sense of being done.    To be fully equipped is always done in order to accomplish something.  When you are done gathering all your camping equipment, you haven’t actually camped yet.  You still have to drive to your destination and set up all your equipment.  Equipping is always for a purpose.  Another example is how an Emergency Room is equipped with all manner of tools and medicines.  This is for the purpose of saving a life that is brought into the room.  Similarly God uses these verse 11 roles to equip us.  This leads to the question, “What am I being equipped for?”

Paul next lists several reasons why we are being equipped.  God wants us to be able to do “works of service.”  God has particular works of service that He has for you to do.  Some of that service is towards other believers.  You are to use your gifts out of love in order to help other believers.  However, we are also called to do works of service towards those who are not believers.  Thus I am serving God by going out and serving His people, and those who are still lost.  So what do you need in order to do these things?  First, you need to know what God has already said in His Word.  You also need encouragement and direction in learning to pray and hear from God ourselves.  Ask Jesus each day, “Lord, help me to know the works of service that you want me to do today.”

Next Paul mentions we are equipped for the unity of the faith and the knowledge of Jesus.  Part of spiritual growth is that we are unified as a group of people.  Individual growth is never complete until it enables us to grow in relationship with others.  Today, the concept of unity is held up as essential.  But notice that God is not promoting unity just for unity’s sake.  He actually says unity of the faith.  “The faith” is the teachings that God has revealed through Jesus and His apostles.  Thus, when people talk about finding common ground so that we can unify, they generally mean, “What beliefs can we drop so that we can be one?”  God is calling believers to be unified around the teaching of His apostles.  If you sacrifice the teachings of Christ and the knowledge of who He is, then you have not accomplished the purpose of God.  In fact you have actually rejected it.  You may notice that all such groups that hold up unity and love as their overarching principle, and yet do not adhere to a particular set of teachings, fall apart in the end.  Only promoting love and unity is not enough to deal with the sinful nature of mankind.  Whether it is a leader that tries to dominate the group, or the fact that a person is hurt by another’s concept of free love, we must have a truth that we are committed to that has power against the flesh and is greater than any person today.  The Word of God is the only thing that has demonstrated the power to stop the sinful desires of our flesh.

The third purpose for being equipped is so that we will not be a spiritual child, but instead a mature body of Christ.  This is where we see how the individual weaves with the group dynamic.  If I am individually taken in by every new heresy that pretends to be truth, then I weaken the group.  We are not able to operate as the body of Christ.  Yes, I need to believe the things Jesus and his apostles taught, and I need to live out the things they taught.  But our group has to grow in living these things together.  Together, we can minister, heal, and save far more than any one of us can do alone.  We need each other, but the lost need the Church to be operating as a mature body of Christ.

In verse 14 we are given another reason why God wants us to grow.  He does not want us to be taken in and deceived by false teaching.  Children are easily taken in and deceived.  We see this with Adam and Eve, who had a child-like innocence in regards to sinful ways.  Not all that masquerades as truth is Truth, and not all that masquerades as Jesus is Jesus.  Think about scams that happen in this world.  They are successful because they play on the immature desire to get something for nothing, or at least, the desire to get an inordinate amount of return on minimal investment.  A mature person is often protected by scams simply because they have grown up in regards to working hard for what you get.  Like a person who has already eaten and therefore is not tempted to eat dessert, the mature person can say, “No, thanks.  I am full.”  We need to be so full of the Truth of Jesus that the lies and deception don’t interest us.  We are not hungry for some new, amazing truth.  We already have the amazing truth of Jesus.

Instead of falling into deceptions, Jesus wants us to speak the truth, but in love.  This has been a problem for the Church.  Typically we have not faltered with having the truth, but we have with sharing it in love.  This too is a sign of maturity.  The mature person does not feel the necessity to control how people respond to the Gospel.  They continue to reach out to people who reject them, and sometimes even persecute them. 

Let me just close with emphasizing verses 15 and 16.  Paul points out that it is our connection to Jesus, the head, is what gives us anything to do and share, both as an individual and as a group.  When we are connected to Jesus, His Truth and spiritual Life will not only mature us, but also enable us to be that fruitful branch that has something to offer others.  May God help us to grow spiritually, by keeping our eyes upon Jesus and taking advantage of those gifts that He has given to help us.

Growing Spiritually audio

Monday
Feb132017

Connecting to the Body of Christ

1 Corinthians 12:12-27.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on February 12, 2017.

Here at Abundant Life Christian Fellowship in Everett, WA, we have summed up the mission that God has for our church in these words: Connect people to the Abundant Life found in Jesus.  Last week we talked about how the starting point is for people to connect to Jesus Christ by putting their trust or faith in his teachings and in his work.  Today, we are going to deal with the reality that those who connect to Jesus will be moved to connect to his body, The Church. 

Of course many people scoff at organizational churches and some of them are Christians.  Let’s recognize up front that this has some justification behind it.  We don’t have time to walk through all of those issues.  But it is important to recognize that the Bible reveals that Jesus is creating a group of followers that can be thought of in macro terms, The Church (at all times and all places), and in the micro (a small, local gathering of some of these believers).  We are all part of the universal, macro Church when we are spiritually born again.  But not all are convinced that micro-gatherings are necessary.  Thus they are content to “believe” in Jesus, and yet never face the issue that Jesus is wanting to connect them to other believers.  Suffice it to say, if we are connecting to Jesus then we have no choice of whether or not we are going to connect to his body because this is what his Spirit is trying to accomplish.  If you have put your faith in Jesus, he is working by His Spirit to connect you to his people in some local expression of his greater body.  Let’s look at the passage before us.

Believers all belong to the Body of Christ

In this passage Paul is explaining to the Corinthians why their worldly thinking in the area of spiritual gifts (and many other areas for that matter) was woefully lacking.  They had developed a very fractured and divisive group of believers in Corinth.  Paul explains that there is only one body, and yet many members.  Here he brings up the analogy of a human body.  Jesus, who was no longer here in the flesh, still has an earthly body, and that is His Church.  Thus each believer represents a diversity of gifts and functioning through which the Holy Spirit fits us together in order to operate as Christ’s body.  Now, Paul’s focus is on the individual members.  Even though they are very different, they are still part of one body, just as the individual parts of the body are vastly different and yet all work together for the one body.  Though he doesn’t state this here, in Ephesians 4:11-16 Paul explains that Jesus himself is the head of this body.  Just as the brain sends signals to very different aspects of the body to do very different things, it is all for the singular good of the whole body.  The Corinthians understood the diversity, but not that each part is supposed to be directed by the Spirit for the unified good of the whole.  Ephesians 4 makes it even clearer that we who are connected to Jesus by the Spirit, are also supposed to connect to his earthly body through other believers.

Thus all those earthly divisions that divide this world and are used to gain power for certain ones, is not embraced by the Spirit of Christ.  In verse 13 Paul lists 2 of these divisions: race and economic status.  Whether Jew or Gentile, Free or Slave, those who come to Christ are members regardless of what people may say.  You are a member because Jesus says so, and because the Holy Spirit is working to connect you to it.  We who are believers need to be quick to embrace and welcome new believers.  Of course this is easier said than done.  Do you remember how the believers responded to Saul of Tarsus when he repented of persecuting Christians and became one of them?  They were afraid to associate with him at first.

In verses 15-20 Paul points out that our differences are not meant to divide us.  Now he is not talking about doctrinal differences here.  When it comes to the teaching of the Bible and our interpretations, we need to recognize that certain things have always been recognized as essentials to the faith.  You must repent of sin; that is essential.  Another essential is the deity of Jesus Christ, and His coming Day of the Restoration of all things.  I could go on.  But I hope you get the point.  Some “beliefs” are heretical.  They should never be embraced even for the sake of unity.  Why?  Remember we are to unify with other believers of the faith, not those who believe just anything.  A good statement that has been around for several centuries is this: In Essentials Unity, in Non-Essentials Liberty, and in All Things Charity.  Historically we have often divided over non-essentials and generally without much charity.  Paul on the other hand is talking about our spiritual giftedness and our natural background.  Though they may be very diverse, it is not in order to keep us segregated.  The diversity is on purpose and is meant to strengthen the body and better equip it.  So the differences are meant to strengthen our unity, not weaken it.

Notice in verse 15 that Paul gives some examples.  These first examples all involve a member excluding themselves.  In this case, Paul mentions that they may exclude themselves because they aren’t like another member (perhaps a more visible or “distinguished” member).  The Corinthians saw spiritual gifts as a sort of heavenly commendation.  They all wanted to speak in other languages because in their social context that represented the highest gift.  Of course Paul tells them that they are wrong.  In their mentality, speaking in tongues was a sign that you were extremely close to God.  The more unintelligible something was, the closer to God it must be.  Paul explains to them that this is completely backwards.  The whole reason why the Spirit of God draws believers together is so that they can encourage one another.  Thus Paul, who had nothing against speaking in tongues, counseled them to at least have their “tongues” interpreted so that it could help the other believers.  The Corinthians had it backwards.  The gifts of God (both natural and spiritual) are not given to an individual for their own good, but to enable them to help others.  We need to learn to embrace the natural differences that we have with others, and to also embrace the spiritually diverse ways that God works through us.  When you exclude yourself, the rest of the body goes without the function that God has gifted you with.  No we can’t all be an eye or the lips.  It is not about what I want, but about how God is fitting me into the body.  Don’t exclude yourself because you take away from what God has for others, and you lose out on what God wants to give you through those others.

In verse 21 the example switches.  Notice that here the parts are excluding others.  The proud members can exclude the “weaker” members.  Of course this was being interpreted by worldly thinking and not the mind of Christ.  All new Christians are “weak” in the faith because their faith hasn’t weathered the storms of doubts, fears, and persecution that older Christians have.  Thus those who are strong should not exclude the weak, but quite the opposite.  Your strength is not for you, it is for the sake of the weak.  Help them and strengthen them.  Pride has the tendency to exclude others, whereas shame has the tendency to exclude self.  But in Christ, both pride and shame are supposed to be dealt with at the cross.  The cross speaks to our pride and says, “Only Jesus is worthy of our boasting.”  The cross speaks to our shame and says, “This is how greatly and by whom you are loved!”  Thus the proud come away humbled and the shameful come away healed.  On one hand none of us are anything, and yet, on the other hand, we are everything to God.  This great tension is meant to take vastly different people and help them to be welded into a unit called the body of Christ.  However, it is only possible if we are listening to the Spirit and being led by Him.

Do not look to leadership or being a pastor as something great.  These are not the greatest positions within the Church.  These are actually positions of servitude.  True leaders who are lead by the Holy Spirit will realize that He is asking them to lay down their lives in order to serve the rest.  Why are they being served?  They are served so that they can do the work of sharing Jesus with the world around them.  There won’t be any pastors in the eternal state.  We will all stand side by side as the adult children of God and enjoy His presence forever.

Connecting to the Body audio