Growing Up

Delivered November 25, 2001 by Rev. Jerome D. Cooper.

Theme: God has graciously given each Christian gifts for ministry. A leader’s ministry is to equip and prepare all God’s people for service. As Christians use their diverse gifts in ministry together, they grow in maturity and Christ-likeness.

Sermon Text:
Ephesians 4:7-16

As a child growing up there was one particular door jam in our house that had all sorts of marks and writing all over it. I don’t know if you had one like that at your home, but it recorded how tall my brothers and I were at our birthdays over many, many years. We’ve actually started a door jam like that in our house right now and it already has a couple of marks. We do it for Joy every six months now, because when children are young they grow fast. We get excited about these marks, because one of the signs you have a healthy child is that they are growing. Every parent wants their child to grow. In fact, if your child stops growing, what do you think? There’s a problem. Growth and health go together, but not just in children. It also is true of churches.

Healthy churches grow. Look at Central over the last ten years. We have almost doubled in our worship attendance. We’ve more than doubled in our budget that funds ministry here and around the world, and we have added a whole new addition to our building. We are doing well in each of the three “B’s” of church growth: Bodies, Bucks and Buildings. We are growing in all three areas. In fact, in the last year we took an extra step of growth with our new third service. Even this [the second] service is larger after adding the third service. It’s amazing how God works, isn’t it? We’re seeing God’s hand of blessing. But measurements by the number don’t tell the whole story, do they?

If you had a child that was growing physically taller and stronger, yet was not growing intellectually or emotionally or spiritually or socially, you would be very disappointed, wouldn’t you? You want the whole package of growth. The problem is that often those other areas of growth are not quite as easy to measure, yet they are even more important than the physical growth, the numeric kind of growth. That is the same in the church. God does desire us to grow, because growing by the numbers means more people coming to Christ and greater possibility for ministry. But if it’s not accompanied by the more intangible elements of growth and maturity, than our Father in heaven is greatly disappointed with us. I imagine each of us wants to grow in maturity, so today we’re going to look at a passage from Ephesians 4, where the Apostle Paul outlines God’s way of achieving maturity and growth in the church.

Please turn with me to Ephesians, Chapter 4, Verses 7 through 16. You can find this on page 828 of your red pew bibles.

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.) 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..

May the Lord add his blessing to this reading from his holy word. Please join me as we pray.

Lord we thank you for these words that you have given to us by your Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul, and we pray now that you would teach us, both as individual disciples of Jesus Christ and together as a community of God here at Central. Teach us what you desire us to know, and mold us into the people you desire us to be, that we might be more faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. For we ask it in his name and for his sake. Amen.

The first thing you notice about this passage is that somebody is handing out gifts – and that someone is Jesus. It talks about how Christ gives us gifts of grace – and not to just some people, but every person. In fact, it says, “to each one of us, grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.” Now there are two kinds of grace that God gives. There is the first grace, which is the grace of salvation, which is the same for all of us. This grace issues in salvation. But there is a second kind of grace, and that grace is for the purpose of serving. That is the grace that Paul is talking about here. It’s a grace that he spoke of just a little bit earlier in this same letter to the Ephesians, in Chapter 3, Verse 2, where he says, “surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me, for you.” There Paul was not talking about the grace of salvation, but the grace of service and ministry. God had given him a special grace. Not to make Paul fat and happy, but it says, “he gave the gift to me, for you.” You see, when God gives us the gift of grace, the gift of service, he does so not for us – God blesses us in order to be a blessing to others. His gifts of grace, are meant to enable us to more effectively serve and love him, but also to serve and love others.

You may remember Paul’s words in First Corinthians, Chapter 12, Verses 7 and 11 where he says, “now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good … All these are the work of the one and the same Spirit and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.” Every Christian is given the gift of grace for service – a spiritual gift as it is often called. And it’s always given for the common good, for service, both to the church and to the world.

Our passage then continues to talk about the giver of those gifts. Jesus Christ. And it wants to make sure that we understand two things about the giver of the gifts. One is that he fills the whole universe. The Lord who fills the whole universe has given to us his grace. He has gifted each one of us, poured his grace in to us. Who are we to deserve such a thing?

No one.

We are no one to deserve his grace – his gifts. That’s why its called grace. Grace means “not deserved,” “not earned,” “purely a gift.” The gifts that we are given are never earned, they are purely a gift.

Not only does the giver fill the universe, he is also the God who descended to earth. Paul says that Christ “descended to the lower, earthly regions.” The idea is that he came and he lived among us. He left the perfection of heaven and came to dwell in the sinfulness of this world. He was humiliated, he was put to death by the very people that he loved and created. He did so because he loves us. He did so because of his grace. If Christ was willing to die for us, why would he withhold anything else that would be a blessing to us, and through us to the world? Christ loves us and he understands us. He has walked on this earth with us, so he knows how to give us good gifts. I am not a particularly good gift giver. I don’t often know what gift matches other people. It’s one of the problems when Christmas rolls around: I have no clue what to get. But Jesus knows just the right gift to give to every single one of us. He gives the gift of grace, and “as Christ apportions it,” we each receive. Christ is the perfect giver.

Paul goes on then, to talk about some of the specific gifts that Christ has given. In Verse 11 he says, “it was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers.” Now the interesting thing here is that when you look at the actual wording, it is not saying he gave the gift of apostleship, the gift of prophecy, the gift of evangelism. The gift in this verse is not the ability, the gift is the person. The gift is the apostle him or herself, the prophet, the evangelist, the pastor or teacher. The gift is the person. So not only does God give each of us this gift of grace, he also gives each of us as a gift to the church and the world. We both have gifts and we are a gift. And specifically here, the gifts that Paul is talking about initially are the gifts of leaders to the church.

Why is it that Christ gave leaders to the church? What is the purpose of those leaders? There are many different metaphors we use for leadership in the church. There is the agricultural metaphor, where the leaders are the shepherds and then the people are the flock and the shepherd is supposed to feed and protect and guide the sheep. We also have the sports metaphor, with the leader as coach, the people as the team and we’ve got a game plan for moving out and doing ministry. We have a military metaphor, where we’ve got a general leading the troops, and we are headed into spiritual warfare. We even have a business metaphor that’s become more popular today, where you have the CEO, you’ve got the organization and you have a strategic plan that’s going to make it all work out right. Each one of these metaphors gets at a part of the truth of what leadership in the church is all about. But verses 12 and 13 tell us clearly what it’s all about. No matter what gifts each individual leader might bring, there is still one purpose for which that leader was given as a gift to the church.

Read with me in Verse 12. It says that he gave these leaders – apostle’s, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers – “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” Now let’s look at that. There is a flow here that I would like us to see (See figure 1). It begins with the fullness of Christ. Out of the fullness of Christ, Christ gives gifts. And he gives, here specifically, the gift of leaders. Those leaders have a purpose. It is to prepare the people of God. To prepare. That term can also be translated “mend,” or “perfect,” or “equip.” All are aspects of preparing God’s people.

But, for what are leaders to prepare, to equip, to mend God’s people? For works of service, works of ministry. In other words, who does the ministry in this model? It’s the people. Or maybe better we should say, all of us. The leaders are doing ministry, but their ministry is to prepare all of God’s people for the work of ministry. But the flow doesn’t end there. The reason for all the people to be prepared is that the body of Christ might be built up. And the reason for that is so we all might reach, it says in Verse 13, unity and maturity, not just as individuals, but it is talking about as a community. As a community we develop unity and maturity as we build each other up, as we work together in ministry, because we have been equipped by the leaders who are gifts from the fullness of Christ. And that maturity and unity also has a goal. The last phrase of Verse 13 says that we might attain the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

s011125_fig1

other words, the gifts originate with the fullness of Christ and the flow of thought goes all the way around until the end result is that we as a community might live once again into the fullness of Christ – that we might live as Christ in the world. Christ lived on earth once. He is now in heaven. He fills the universe. The reason why we are called the Body of Christ as the church, is that we are now, in a sense, Christ incarnate here on the earth. As we minister together, as we are equipped for ministry, as we build up the church, as we serve the world, we grow in maturity and we grow in unity that we might truly live as the fullness of Christ in the world, that the world might see Christ because of how he is using us.

I wish I had a large chalkboard here. I am going to ask you to picture a pyramid, with the base at the bottom, the point on top. An organizational pyramid – you’ve seen them before. Now think of the church. Most of the time when people picture the church as a pyramid, who do they picture along the bottom? Members and attenders. The regular folk, right? And then as you move up the hierarchy, you get smaller, you get to the deacons, then elders, and then you get to the top and who is at there? Well supposedly, the pastors are there. The idea is that the people support the pastor. To do what? To do the ministry. Often the image people have is that the pastors and leaders do the ministry and the people support them and cheer them on. But is that the biblical model? It’s not, is it?

s011125_fig2

You find the biblical model if you take this pyramid and turn it upside down, so now the point is at the bottom and it goes up to the base. And now at the bottom we find the pastors, then elders, then deacons, and finally across the top are the regular folks. You see, scripture says that it’s the leaders who equip and prepare God’s people, all of God’s people, for the ministry. Every single one of us has been gifted for ministry. Every single one of us is a gift to the church and to the world for ministry. You have been gifted, you are a gift and that gift is for the purpose of being a blessing to others.

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Remember Paul’s words, that God gave his grace “to me for you.” Our gifts are for the sake of others. Also the gifts are given that we might grow together in maturity as a people. As we use our gifts, as we allow ourselves to be a gift, we grow in maturity together. But what if we don’t use our gift? What if we withhold our gift from the body of Christ? Two things happen. One, you will never grow to maturity. As an individual, I don’t care how many times you come to church, you can go to worship every single day of the week, you can go to a Bible study every night of the week, you can even go and live in a monastery, if you are not serving you will never be mature, ever. It’s the way God designed us. We only become mature as we give outward. You could picture it as developing gridlock in your heart, if all you do is put things in. Unless you begin to let it flow outward you will actually start to grow dead inside to God.

Not only are there consequences to you, but there are consequences to the church. If I do not allow my gift to be a part of the mix of the community, then I stunt the growth of the people of God. I starve them of a nutrient they need to grow. Without your gift the body is off balance and it cannot be as effective. Every single one of us is necessary. It’s just like this worship service. A lot of people make this possible. A lot of stuff goes in to our being able to glorify God. Like our choir there in front of you. We don’t see the way that they practice on Thursday evenings, but they are equipped to combine their different gifts to bring us wonderful music. We also have ushers who hand you bulletins, and will collect your offerings a little later. We have a guy up there in the sound booth who nobody ever sees. Unfortunately, the only time he ever gets recognition is when something goes wrong. We many other faithful folks working behind the scenes as well. I was here last night and there was someone here cleaning the pews that you are sitting on. And don’t forget, a worship service doesn’t mean anything if you’re not here. We all join together to glorify God.

I want to close with a few disclaimers. First, I am not preaching all this because we need to fill more slots in ministry here in Central. I am not saying that there aren’t some slots that we could fill here, but this isn’t about filling positions. This is about mobilizing the church of Jesus Christ. Not just here within Central, but in the world at large. In fact, if every single person here was living out the gift God made them to be, we wouldn’t have enough jobs at Central Presbyterian Church to hold everybody. We would have to overflow the bounds of these walls and this property. And that is the way it is supposed to be. The point is, if everybody is being equipped and prepared and strengthened and empowered for ministry, and taking upon themselves the responsibility to serve, it would be amazing what we could accomplish for God. Not just for each other, but in the world around us. This is not about filling positions.

It’s also not about making life easier for the leaders. You know, as if I had heard the leaders saying they are too busy so I decided to preach this sermon to help them get a few tasks off of their backs. That’s not it at all. To tell you the truth, moving to this kind of ministry is hard for leaders. Most leaders are used to being the doers, accomplishing things that are visible and measurable. In fact, many of us like praise for doing things well. Becoming a supporting servant rather than the up front doer, is often difficult. And it’s not the way the world teaches us a leader is supposed to operate. It goes against the grain. But this is the way that the leadership of Central Presbyterian Church is moving. Not because it’s comfortable, because it’s not comfortable. But because we have been called to it by Jesus Christ.

Slowly but surely you are seeing some changes around Central in line with this biblical model. One of those changes is through the new AiM ministry which most of you have heard about. The core of that ministry is a class called “Exploring your Spiritual Design,” which helps you to understand how God made and molded you. God gave you as a gift, what kind of gift are you? The class helps you understand more about your personality, how God has molded you in the past, your spiritual gifts, your passions and interests in ministry and where God has you right now in life, for the purpose of empowering you for ministry in the church and in the world. To be a leader in this model isn’t easy. It’s not natural, but it’s biblical, and it’s the direction we are moving.

Finally, all this talk of ministry is not about the accomplishment of tasks. There are a lot of tasks out there, but what Paul is talking about here, especially in Verse 15 and 16, is love. He talks about how we build each other up in love, we speak to each other the truth in love, we build one another up in to the head, which is Christ. We are not just talking about tasks, we are talking about how we go about doing ministry. People oriented rather than task oriented. We could each go out and complete all sorts of tasks, but not be living well as the Body of Christ. In fact, independence is actually a sign of immaturity in the Body of Christ. Independence is a sign of immaturity. Interdependence, however, depending upon each other, is a sign of maturity as we work together in love.

You know we are looking for a new senior pastor, right? I have a question for us. Are we ready for the senior pastor that God is going to call here? You see, the average church calls a senior pastor so he can do the ministry. Or to lead the other leaders so they can do the ministry and we can just cheer them on. We often expect the pastor to be there for each of us, helping us in all sorts of ways. We expect him to be feeding us, caring for us, meeting various personal needs we may have. People ask, “why didn’t the pastor come to see me?” In the biblical model the pastor shouldn’t have to come. In fact, the pastor could not come to 700 people. If so, that would be all that person would ever do – just visit people. Never having the time for anything else. The point is, the pastor we are looking for is a pastor who will empower us. Who will empower us to do the ministry among ourselves – to love one another, to care for one another, to build one another up. That’s the kind of pastor we are looking for. The question is, are we ready to release the pastor to do what scripture calls that pastor to do? Are we ready for the leadership to be equipping all of us to be in ministry together, to be celebrating the gifts that God has given us, to be valuing every gift, not just the gifts of ability but the gift of every person, as a blessing to us all. On this Sunday after Thanksgiving, I am thankful to be here and I am thankful for each of you who has touched my life, because you are a gift from God to me.

Join me in prayer. Lord, we do thank you for all your gifts. We ask that you would open our eyes to see the truth of what you are calling us to be as a church, as your people. Lord, help each one of us to see the grace you have placed in our lives, and the gift that we are to the church and the world. Help us to express that gift in all of life and to celebrate our gifts together. For we ask it in Jesus’ name, and for his sake. Amen.