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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Christ's Gifts to his Church
Text:Ephesians 4:11-13 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Church Building
 
Preached:2018
Added:2018-11-19
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 135:1,2                                                                          

Ps 119:22,24

Reading – Romans 12:1-8; Ephesians 4:1-16

Ps 122:1,2,3

Sermon – Ephesians 4:11-13

Hy 49:1,2

Hy 3:1,2,5

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Brothers and sisters, the elders and deacons of this church are gifts from Christ! They are. Perhaps they don’t look like it. The office bearers would probably be very modest and try to dismiss that idea. Gifts to the church? Not them! After all, they’re only men who know their weaknesses and who have no illusions of grandeur.

Yet I’ll say it again: the elders and deacons are gifts from Christ. For this is the way Scripture speaks of those who serve in the church. Our text says it clearly: “And He himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers” (Eph 4:11). He gave them—and He gave them to the church!

Sometimes gifts aren’t that useful. Maybe you’ve received a present that looked nice, but you really couldn’t do much with it; you just put it on the shelf and watched it collect dust. I always say that the best gifts are practical: something that you actually need, and something that serves a purpose.

That’s the kind of gifts these men are. In providing us with elders and deacons, Christ is looking to our congregation’s need to be faithfully led and lovingly cared for. Through their service, Christ wants us to become more unified, more mature, and more willing to minister to one another. Let’s then consider the message of Ephesians 4:11-13 on this theme,

In his grace Christ gives office bearers to his church:

  1. to prepare God’s people for works of service
  2. so that the body of Christ may be built up
  3. until we all reach unity and maturity in Christ

 

1) to prepare God’s people for works of service: Earlier in Ephesians, Paul has explained how God created a new people for himself. He has brought Jews and Gentiles and all believers together into a marvelous unity. For Christ tore down the middle wall of separation—abolished everything that divides and disrupts—and He made a glorious peace through himself. If you share faith in Jesus Christ, then you have every reason to stand shoulder to shoulder.

Coming into Ephesians 4, Paul’s focus is on what life is like within the church of Christ. He first insists on unity: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (vv 4-6). Christ’s church has a powerful unity, one made even more remarkable by its diversity.

Because not every piece of the body is exactly the same. Paul explains that Christ sends a broad assortment of gifts to his church: “To each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (v 7). There are varying proportions of grace and many different roles in his kingdom. Not every one of us has received the same blessings and opportunities, but this is no accident, it’s according to the Lord’s will.

This is something we understand from other parts of Scripture, like Romans 12, which speaks about gifts of ministry, and teaching, exhorting, giving, and showing mercy. You won’t find a list in the New Testament that includes all the gifts Christ has given, because they’re as diverse as the functions of the human body. The key point is this: Christ gives to each one—each member—a place and ability to serve.

In our text, the Spirit continues to speak about the gifts which Christ sends to his church from heaven, and He zeros in on those who lead: “He himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers” (v 11).

Now, not all these roles are familiar—or even in use—anymore. For example, the apostles had the job of first establishing the Christian church. The apostles provided a solid foundation of eyewitness testimony to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. In those first years of the church, Christ also gave prophets, men who received new revelation about God’s truth. And there were evangelists, preaching the gospel to people who hadn’t heard it before.

More familiar are the roles last mentioned: “pastors and teachers.” A pastor is literally a shepherd; he’s a man who cares for the flock of God. We often call our ministers “Pastor,” but it’s actually all the elders who have this task of shepherding. And a “teacher” is one of the elders, a man set aside for the work of giving instruction in God’s Word, a task that we assign to the minister.

We don’t have apostles and prophets anymore, and Paul doesn’t mention deacons, but the basic idea is key. And this is the principle, that for the benefit of his people Christ will provide men who are filled with the Spirit and equipped for a special work, men called to shepherd and to teach and to show mercy.

Now, I think we all recognize that elders and deacons have a formidable task. The office bearers have to nurture the people whom Jesus bought with his own blood. They have to help us grow in faith and increase in love. Diligently they must minister to the members of Christ’s own body—it’s a serious and immense calling.

Still, don’t misunderstand what their task involves. For does this calling mean that the elders are the only ones who have to look out for the sheep? Does this ministry mean that the deacons are the only ones showing mercy to those in need? Certainly not! Listen to our text again, “And He himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry” (vv 11-12). Underline that: the office bearers are in the business of equipping others, helping the rest of the body to thrive and function.

Let’s look at this more closely. The Greek word that Paul uses for “equip” means something like “to condition for a task, to get ready.” The example that came to my mind was how you might condition your car for a long road trip. There’s a whole number of ways to get your car ready. You do an oil change; you top up all the fluids; you clean the filters; you check the tires; you pack some gear for emergencies. You make sure that things run smoothly when it’s time to hit the road.

In the same way, the elders and deacons seek to condition us. They want to get us ready for a life of sacrifice; they want to strengthen us for the long journey of faith. And we all need a lot of help. The Holy Spirit has been transforming us in amazing ways, but we’re not done yet—we need conditioning: regular repairs and re-alignments, regular topping up and recharging, so that we can continue on in the ways of Christ.

This is the work that office bearers must do, conditioning or preparing God’s people—and for what? For “the work of ministry” (v 12). In the Greek it says literally that the saints have to be prepared for “deaconing.” And that word “deacon” means “servant.” The goal is that we’re all trained to minister effectively, trained to be servants to our brothers and sisters.

Being a servant isn’t something that people aspire to. We spend most of the day thinking about ourselves, so it’s hard to change our mindset. We’re inclined to look to our own interests, not the interests of others. And let’s face it, serving others can be difficult, sometimes embarrassing, even messy. Serving can be complicated, because we don’t know exactly how to help someone in need.

Yet this is our calling. We remember the words of Jesus, “Whoever wants to be great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all” (Mark 10:43). If you’re really a follower of Christ, then you’ll be known for doing works of service, because it was humble service that filled Christ’s life—He who gave himself as a ransom for many.

And yes, because serving is so vital to the Christian life, Christ has given us elders and deacons. These are men to equip each of us for our own work of ministry. They’ll do this by promoting our spiritual growth through the Word and prayer. They’ll come to our homes to encourage us in our giving, and to teach us about serving. They will gently remind you not to exist in isolation, disconnected from the rest of the body, but integrated and active. The elders and deacons want to condition you for service—helping you to help others.

The office bearers certainly aren’t supposed to take over everything that happens in the church. They don’t have to do all that good work by themselves. Instead, these men are given to assist each of us in doing our Christian duty.

This doesn’t make their calling any less serious, but perhaps all the harder. For it’s difficult to train others for a job, and it’s hard to motivate people to take up a challenging task. As managers and employers have often said, “Sometimes just it’s easier to do it yourself.” But that’s not how it should go in the church. Remember, Christ has given grace to each one of us—you have grace so that you can encourage your struggling sister, grace so that you can minister to someone unwell, grace so that you can build up the weak. It’s too big of a job, too important of a job, to be left to a couple handfuls of men.

In fact, an elder, a deacon, a minister will often say this: there’s just too much work. You could always visit more. You could always spend more time with the elderly and go for coffee more often with the young people. In the church there’s more training that could be done, more mentoring, more reaching out.

Yes, it feels like there’s too much work—and there is! It’s too much for these men at the front. So it’s God’s will that we all do the work: it’s God’s will that you get involved too, involved in visiting, encouraging, serving, teaching, and giving. You need to use the gifts that Christ has given you. There should be a spirit of service that lives among us, when fellow members reach out to one another, and brothers and sisters care for each other in word and deed. This is what will build us up as body of Christ.

 

2) so that the body of Christ may be built up: Paul now explains the purpose of our works of ministry. He says that we should do such things, “for the edifying of the body of Christ” (v 12). Now, this is what we call a mixed metaphor. A body is something organic and biological—something made of flesh—but the word edifying describes constructing something, building up a house or a temple with wood or stone. But the point is clear: our aim in ministry is construction! We are God’s people, and we need to be built up.

Let’s be clear on what kind of building this is. But this text isn’t about the physical building. This church needs to be built up, first and foremost, by “works of ministry.” We are built up by brothers and sisters using their gifts. We are built up by people supporting one another. We are built up by some leading, some teaching, some giving, some encouraging—by everyone doing their part.

This is what the Spirit said about the church back in chapter 2. He said that we’re being “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (vv 20-22).         

 That gives a clear direction, doesn’t it? Our blueprint is the Word of God. Our foundation is the gospel of salvation. And our cornerstone is Christ. He’s the most critical piece in the entire house of God, for God has built his church on him and around him and his atoning sacrifice.

It’s only when we build firmly on Christ that we will rise up and be strong. Because if we’ve been humbled by his saving grace, then we’ll use all that we are—and all that we have—to thank him as Saviour. If Christ is our cornerstone, then we’re all building blocks of the Lord, building blocks who want to be stacked together and united in him.

And in this construction project, the office bearers must realize again what is their role. Building the church is for everyone to do, old and young, female and male. Put it this way, the elders and deacons aren’t supposed to do all the spiritual hammering and sawing themselves, all the spiritual lifting and connecting. Rather, they need to show the members the way, like good foremen will do. Under their supervision, the church will be built.

Now, those with experience in the building industry will know that it’s always a process—a construction project can take a long time. You almost always hit snags and obstacles which push out your completion date. That’s true for the church too. Being built up as congregation takes time, because there’s many delays, many setbacks. We’re delayed by our own sinfulness, by our lack of unity, our lack of trust in God. We’re delayed by foolish mistakes. We’re delayed because we have to deal with the hostility of the world and the devil’s temptations.

But this is one of the reasons it’s so good that Christ gives us elders and deacons. They keep us on task. When we’re being delayed and hindered and tired out, they encourage and exhort us. They aim to keep us based firmly on our one foundation.

As a congregation, we’re a work-in-progress: under construction. But we know that one day we’ll be finished, renovated to perfection. The church is like those buildings you see covered in scaffolding with a sign out front: Completion Date – 2021. You look at it, and you wonder if it’ll ever get done. But somehow it does. What’s our completion date? The Day of Christ’s Return. Whenever that is, we know that as congregation, we’ve got a long ways to go. But already now, Christ is among us and He’s working, He’s building. And He has promised to bring us to our goal.

 

3) until we all reach unity and maturity in Christ: When a project takes a long time, it’s hard to keep up the motivation, to keep returning to the jobsite and picking up the tools. Elders and deacons get discouraged too, because of disappointments in the work. We wish that people changed more quickly and showed more signs of growth—it can seem like our best efforts achieve nothing at all. So we can be tempted to give up.

This is why the Spirit reminds us about where we’re headed. As the office bearers lead and nurture, and as the members perform works of service, we do these things, “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” (v 13). When the road is long, we need to keep our eyes on where we’re going.

There are three parts to that, a three-fold goal. The first goal is unity: “till we all come to the unity of the faith.” Remember again how Christ broke down the dividing wall of separation and made peace between all who believe. Those who know Christ, and who share Christ, should be one in Christ. Let’s remember that each of us faces the same spiritual need, and each of us can receive the same gift of salvation through Christ. So the Holy Spirit insists that we be united, like in 4:3, “Endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirt in the bond of peace.”

Unity must be our goal. Being built together as church means we strive to put an end to all personal disputes, an end to petty disagreements. We shouldn’t be separated from each other and hold little things against one another—not if we share Christ!

This unity comes out emphatically, for notice how Paul puts it: “until we all come to the unity of the faith” (v 13). Underline that word “all.” In the church, if we’re truly unified, every member will do his part—the outgoing and the shy; the wealthy and the poor; the families and the singles; the office bearers and each of the members. We can’t grow together if we leave all the work to a few, or if we always find excuses not to get involved. But when we all perform works of ministry, we’ll grow in the unity of faith.

The second goal: that we come to “the knowledge of the Son of God” (v 13). What we really want to do as congregation is grow in our knowledge of Christ. Faith is not just a collection of beliefs from an ancient book; faith does not consist in six years of Catechism memory work. Something deeper and more personal is needed. Each one of us needs to grow in an intimacy and love for Christ. Beloved, as church we should make it our aim to have a greater appreciation of what God has given us in his Son.

And then the third goal of our church-building work: that we come “to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (v 13). We’re intimidated by that word “perfect.” How can we ever reach perfection? But the word means something more like mature, fully developed. Paul is switching from the building metaphor back to the body metaphor, and he’s saying that as the body of Christ, we need to grow.

It’s like when a child enters the stage of adolescence, and his growing becomes very noticeable. He gets taller, and thicker, and stronger in body—and in spirit too, there are changes. As the years go by, he gets a little wiser, maybe a little calmer and more focused.

When this growing continues, there comes a time when a boy becomes a man, a girl becomes a woman. There is full development. This is what we’re aiming for as the body of Christ. We want to grow and mature, so that we reach “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (v 13). Notice how Christ is our standard; He’s the one whom we’re growing up into. He’s like the measuring line on the wall that we stand next to year by year; He’s the one whom we want to reach.

This must the goal of our office bearers as they do their work: the maturity of God’s people. I want the congregation to be increasingly conformed to Christ. I want them to become more like Jesus in their holiness, in their love, in their knowledge, and in their humble service. I want each of the members to grow to be fully like him.

As we said, it’s a long and difficult process. Constructing a building takes time—and growing up is probably even harder. And yet we keep going. No office bearer should be content to leave the task unfinished. Christ has given them to do this beautiful work: equipping the saints, helping our brothers and sisters to grow, to mature, to thrive in him.

This is the goal that the elders and deacons have for the congregation. And for each of us it should also be our personal goal: to grow up into Christ. Beloved, may you desire this, that you develop in your faith, and in your godliness, daily maturing until you attain to the full measure of Christ.

Beloved, Christ is building us. By his Word and Spirit He is nurturing us. And one day He will bring us to completion. With eyes on that goal, let’s help one another. For we belong to Christ. And we belong together.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2018, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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