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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:Gifts for the Body of Christ
Text:Ephesians 4:7-16 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Church Building
 
Preached:2019
Added:2019-02-11
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 24:1,4,5                                                                                 

Ps 106:1,2      

Reading – Ephesians 4:1-24

Ps 68:2,7,12

Sermon – Ephesians 4:7-16

Hy 49:1,2

Hy 40:1,4,5   

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


Beloved in Christ, think back to your last birthday. You might’ve received a gift or two, maybe a whole pile of presents. But isn’t it true that most presents you don’t really need? Another book—add it to the shelf where there’s hundreds more. More Lego—now we have six boxes full. A new fishing rod—better than the one you have, but it was working fine. No, gifts aren’t usually essential. It’s just a bit of extra, something new.

What about God’s gifts? Our God is a generous Father who gives freely to all who ask. And He does give more than we need. But the gifts that He grants are essential! Without them, we would be so poor.

Reflect on what God has given. He’s sent us his Holy Spirit, through whom we have new spiritual life. Without the Spirit, we’d be dead in trespasses and sins; we wouldn’t have faith, love, or hope. God has also entrusted his Word to us. If we didn’t have the Scriptures, we’d know so little about God, what He’s done in Christ, and how He wants us to live—we’d be totally confused, lost in our ignorance. But now we know!

The church is another essential gift. For instance, the office bearers are God’s gift to us.  See verse 11: “And He himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers.” In his hands-on care for us, Christ gives leaders and servants.

Today we’ll look at this part of chapter 4, not so much the verses that relate to the office bearers, but verses around that. And we’ll marvel at how the Lord Jesus is so giving toward us, providing us with everything that we need to remain faithful as a church, and to serve, and to grow. This is our theme from Ephesians 4:7-16,

The exalted Christ sends many gifts to his church.

  1. the giving Lord
  2. the pressing need
  3. the growing body

 

1) the giving Lord: The first part of this chapter is an emphatic statement of what binds us together as church. Seven times Paul uses the word “one:” one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all (vv 4-6). He couldn’t say it any stronger, presenting the strong foundation of the church’s unity in the Triune God. If we believe in Christ, then we do have a blessed communion with each other.

As Paul moves into verse 7, he’s still busy with this idea of unity. But you can tell that he’s beginning a new line of thought, for he begins, “But to each one of us grace was given…” In the church, there’s a rock-solid unity, while at the same time there is a rich diversity.

Christ sends a wide assortment of gifts to his church: “To each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (v 7). Focus on that phrase “each one,” for it means that his gifts are given widely and comprehensively, distributed to everyone. For a contrast, think about when someone has a birthday party. There might be twenty other people there, but he or she is the only person who gets to open any gifts. But Christ gives to “each one.”

In the church, there’s not a special category of people who get all the gifts. In the next verses, the Spirit will mention the office bearers, but remember that their gifts are intended to mobilize the rest of the congregation—to equip the members in using the gifts they have received! In the church there is nobody who misses out on the Lord’s giving.

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

I want to highlight this, so nobody tries to excuse himself from service in the church. The logic of not being involved is simple; a person says: “Christ hasn’t given me a gift, so I have nothing to contribute. I’m not a leader, not a giver, not a talker or a helper—so don’t expect anything from me.” Yet don’t you see how our text squashes that kind of argument? “To each one of us grace was given…” If you’re in Christ’s body, you have a function—you must have!

It’s true that the Lord gives in varying proportions: it’s all “according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (v 7). There’s many different tasks in the church, and to be sure, some gifts and tasks are very obvious. Some are excellent at encouraging. Some can really teach. Some are talented in organizing. Some are excellent at sharing the gospel with their neighbours.

But it’s not always as obvious as that. So a person might wonder what are their gifts, what is their place in the church to serve. And it is something for us to reflect on, to consider prayerfully. Or ask someone who knows you well what they think. But don’t let yourself conclude that there’s nothing worthwhile that you can do. You’re not too young. You’re not too shy. You’re not too ordinary. You possess the abilities that you do, you have the opportunities that you do, because God in his sovereignty wanted you to. Remember: “to each one of us grace was given…” All the parts are important, and we all have a task.

Before we move on, just notice how the Spirit describes the gifts of Christ: “To each one of us grace was given.” If something is given to you in grace, it’s undeserved. You didn’t earn it or pay for it, but it’s a free gift. So when there are ways for you to contribute in the church, remember that it’s only through God’s kindness. You know you wouldn’t have anything apart from his love, which should make you an enthusiastic servant.

And if all our gifts are “graces,” this means we also have no reason for pride. If God has made you a strong leader, or if He’s given you an ability to relate to people, or to be generous with your time and money, or to do something else that helps the church, that’s not to your credit. So we say: “Whatever I have, whatever I can do, it’s a grace, a free gift from the giving Lord. So I humbly serve.”

To make his point about Christ being the gracious giver, Paul quotes from Psalm 68, “Therefore He says, ‘When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men’” (v 8). This is an interesting Psalm to quote, because it describes the return of a conquering king. The king has been away from Israel, making war against his enemies, and he’s recently defeated them. Now he’s come back, and he makes a triumphal entry into Jerusalem by ascending the steep road into the city. Behind the king and the troops comes a group of prisoners, men captured on the field of battle. It’s a grand display of God’s strength through his anointed, and the people along the road cheer and celebrate.

And then God gives them even more of a reason to celebrate, for this king is most generous. He hasn’t only captured men, he’s taken many treasures and riches, and he shares these out. To the joyous people “He gives gifts.” You can imagine him passing out gold coins to the crowd, scattering the spoils of war. It’s a victory for everyone, even if they stayed home and only prayed for success.

Such is our Lord, says Paul. All of Israel’s righteous kings were only faint shadows of the true King, God the LORD, and the King who was promised, Jesus Christ. For Christ went to war and conquered Satan and all his powers of evil. By dying and rising again, He gained the victory, and now He has ascended to heaven where He is exalted as ruler and Lord.

In Christ we have a glorious and triumphant king, and just like the faithful kings of old, He hands out the treasures He won. Christ shares with us his perfect holiness and righteousness. He sends to us his Holy Spirit. He grants us power and wisdom to fight Satan. He entrusts to us his Word of grace. He gives us holy baptism, the emblem of his great victory—an emblem that we all can wear. The ascended Lord gives “gifts to men,” even to those who didn’t lift a finger in the fight, even to those who once were his enemies!

In verse 9, Paul wants to clarify: “Now this, ‘He ascended’—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth?” Mentioning how Christ “ascended” makes Paul think of how he first came down. He descended when He came into this world in lowliness, when He took “the form of a servant, and [came] in the likeness of men” (Phil 2:7). He was a king who conquered by weakness!

Jesus descended in deep humility, then ascended in glory. When his work on earth was finished, Christ went back to heaven. Verse 10: “He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens.” What an immensely reassuring thought! The Lamb who gave his blood for us, the Saviour who went to the lowest place, is the same King now seated in glory. He proved his love, putting his life on the line, and today his amazing love hasn’t subsided—it’s even stronger. He ascended, not to leave this sinful world behind, but to rule it for the good of his church.

Writes Paul, “He ascended… that He might fill all things” (v 10). Christ fills the universe, not in a physical sense, but by his mighty government over all. There is nothing that is not subject to Christ, no place where his presence may not be known and felt. Beloved, this is our giving Lord! He won the victory, and now He gives freely, generously, and in perfect wisdom. He gives, and his resources don’t ever run out.

Let’s think about this means for your life as a disciple of Christ, and about what it means for our life together as church. It means we can ask him for his gifts, and we can rely on him to answer. So often we feel incapable. We feel so weak. We feel like we don’t know how to be a proper parent, or a faithful friend, or a good elder. We wish that we knew how to help someone who is struggling. Then ask Christ for his gifts, to have a share in his wisdom and power. Ask him for patience, for endurance, for encouragement. Ask him to equip you for service, to show you how to serve.

Or pray to Christ for our congregation. Ask him to give us more love for one another, for boldness in sharing the gospel, for unity and peace. Pray that He’d keep raising up servants for himself, people with all sorts of gifts, with the wide variety of gifts that the church needs. Pray these things in confidence, because Christ is willing and He has no shortage of gifts. He’s an exalted and generous king who delights to give. Ask in faith, and you will receive.

 

2) the pressing need: So why is Christ so open-handed with heavenly gifts? Like we said before, we’re used to thinking of gifts as nice, but largely unnecessary. More Lego isn’t going to improve my life. But for Christ’s gifts there is a pressing need.

In verse 14, we find the purpose of his giving; it’s first put negatively: “that we should no longer be children.” Christ blesses his church with abilities, strengths and opportunities so that we grow up! Just in the previous verse, the Spirit spoke about how the church needs to “come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (v 13).

The word “perfect” there means something like mature, fully developed. Like when a child enters adolescence, and his growing in body and mind becomes noticeable. There comes a time when a boy becomes a man, a girl becomes a woman. This is what we’re aiming for as the body of Christ: full development.

Verse 14 puts it the opposite way: “we should no longer be children.” Now, there’s nothing wrong with being a child, but the fact is, an adult—or even a whole congregation—might be childish in faith. And that’s a problem, because if you’re childish you can easily be persuaded by false teaching. Childish people will often crave novelty, and get enthralled with the latest trend or fashion, but then drop it a few months later.

So if as believers we are “children in the faith,” juvenile in spirit, we’re going to be weak. We might be easily confused by what we read. Or maybe we haven’t figured out how to be wise with our emotions, so our faith swings from despair to joy at the slightest change of circumstance. Or we want something new and exciting at church. This isn’t a healthy for a life of faith, so we need to grow up through the gifts of Christ.  

The Spirit portrays the pressing need with another negative image. Don’t be like children, and don’t be like boats, “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (v 14). If you’re out in a small boat on the ocean or on a big lake, and the wind begins to blow hard, you’re in trouble. You’re soon going to be out of control and likely to sink.

If as believers we’re like small, rudderless boats, we’re going to struggle. What way do we go? How do we handle this trouble or that sin? We flounder. All the more so, when people try to lead us astray. Verse 14 mentions “every wind of doctrine,” because wind is changeable. There will always be false teachers who change the true doctrine of God’s Word.

Paul refers to “the trickery of men… the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting” (v 14). Notice the language of deception: trickery, craftiness, plotting. False teaching loves to be subtle, and wrong ideas are often promoted in a most compelling way. And if we’re childish in our understanding of the faith, we can easily be turned from our course.

So the Spirit warns us, “Don’t be fooled. Hold tightly to the true teaching.” And in ourselves, we can’t do this. We need help to discern what’s true and false. We need courage to resist the spirit of the age which gets nervous about absolute truth and which endlessly promotes our individual freedom.

In recent years, we’ve seen some churches compromise on the truth of Scripture. Pointing out errors in other churches can be necessary, but it must be done with a lot of humility. Faithfulness is not because of our insights and strength, but because of the Lord’s gifts. The only way we can stand fast in the Word is through his help!

And that’s a pressing need. If you don’t hold to the truth of Scripture, you don’t have anything left. If your whole life isn’t anchored in the Lord’s Word, you’re doomed to sink. There’s always a world of threats to our faith, if not false teaching, then a love of the world, or complacency, or something else. So pray for faithfulness to the truth. And commit yourself to growing in the truth. Know what Scripture teaches and deepen in your knowledge and love for Christ. It’s only then that we will grow.

 

3) the growing body: Instead of listening to “the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting” (v 14), we need to be busy “speaking the truth in love” (v 15). The Spirit commands us to be intentional about saying things that will help other people, true words that build up and encourage. It’s saying we must do more than simply refrain from lying, but it’s about what kind of words are on our lips. Do we speak gospel-words to one another, pointing to Christ, giving hope? Do you ever have an encouraging word for someone? Are we willing to admonish our brother when he sins? This is speaking the truth in love.

And the two parts of this command have to be held in balance. Sometimes we enjoy speaking the truth, or what we perceive as the truth, because it makes others uncomfortable or it puts them in a bad light. It’s easy to be critical, to point out everything they’re not doing right, or everything that could be better. Speak the truth, says the Spirit, but speak it in love. What’s really motivating your words in the home, or in the church, or when you’re among friends? Does what you say tear down, or does it encourage?     

When the truth is spoken in love, the church will continue maturing. And that’s God’s will for us, that we “may grow up in all things into him who is the head—Christ” (v 15). When Paul says “Head,” think of that amazing New Testament image of Christ’s church: We are the Body, and He is our Head. Together we’re joined under Christ, who is the inspiring, ruling, moving, and uniting power of all believers.

As believers, we have a living union with Christ our Head, where all his benefits and blessings become our benefits and blessings. One implication of that is the importance of being connected to our Head. That’s basic biology, isn’t it? Your body parts won’t do very well if you chop off your head. Likewise, we need to be joined to Christ! You need to have a living connection to Christ by true faith, or you will not live.

“From him,” verse 16 continues, “the whole body [is] joined and knit together by what every joint supplies.” Remember what you once learned in Science, studying the twelve different systems of the body, labelling countless parts, identifying dozens of bones. There’s so many different parts to the body! One nose, two eyes, four limbs, ten toes, 206 bones, more than 600 muscles, 900 ligaments, and 25 feet of intestines. So many of the parts are vastly different from each other, yet “every joint,” or every part, supplies something different for the good of the body. You need it all, because that’s how God designed it. And together it all functions as one.

So for the church. Like the human body with its many different parts and functions, believers in Christ have many different roles. We’re not all the same, and that’s by the Lord’s wise design. And there’s a greater strength through a diversity of gifts. For where one member struggles, the next can excel. What one is good at can be a blessing to those around. When there is a need, the rest of the body can lend a hand.

Because you’re joined to the people in the next pew and across the aisle, you have a calling towards them. You have a task when you’re having a conversation. You have a task in prayer. You have a task to show mercy, and to give faithfully, and to serve cheerfully. Recall what we said before: “To each one grace was given.” Beloved, the exalted Christ has given you gifts to use! If you have a gift, you have a calling. Christ has made you a member of his body, a member that must contribute, that must serve the other members.

On second thought, perhaps “must” is the wrong word. If you’re a living member of Christ’s body in this place, then you will contribute. Think of how it’s a natural function of our bodies that every joint and organ and system will supply something different—all of it widely varied, but essential, and automatic.

In the same way, if you’re connected to Christ your Head and joined to his body—your fellow believers—He can expect this of you. He expects that you will contribute, that you will give, that you will be part of the communion. We are meant to function together, “according to the effective working by which every part does its share” (v 16). Beloved, Christ is looking to you to do this!

The church is only healthy and fit and efficient when every member uses their gifts from Christ, when every member does their part. For it’s this that “causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love” (v 16). As the body of Christ, we’re not meant to stagnate and stand still. We shouldn’t be exactly the same as we were ten years ago, or three years ago. But like a healthy body, we should be growing and strengthening: developing in our faith, our love, our insight and maturity.

When we mature in our personal faith, and when we grow as church in what matters, we can do things. A strong body is an active body! So when we grow, we can support one another better in our times of need. When we are strong, we can be more of a blessing to our unbelieving and suffering neighbours. We can promote the preaching of the gospel in other lands. And above all, when we grow we can glorify our exalted Lord, Jesus Christ our King!  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 2019, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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