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Weekly Word

Entries in Equipped (1)

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