This evening in our series on Godly Living, Church Growth & Changing Britain we’ve come to part 2 of Church Growth, which is serving the church and Ephesians 4.1-16. But before we look at that let me briefly remind you of the series so far. Our vision statement at Jesmond Parish Church is Godly Living, Church Growth and Changing Britain, which is based on not our words but on the words of Jesus Christ from the Great Commandment and the Great Commission in Matthew’s Gospel. So what does Godly Living, Church Growth and Changing Britain mean in practice for us as Christians and as a church? It means first trusting in Christ, then obeying the word, telling the world, serving the church, caring for needs and contending for truth. And that we keep on trusting in Christ, obeying the word, telling the world, serving the church, caring for needs and contending for truth. That is and is to be the DNA of this church and its members. You see a great commitment to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission will grow a great Christian and a great church, which brings us back to church growth, serving the church and Ephesians 4.
Baptism services are always so encouraging, aren’t they? It’s been very encouraging tonight to see David and Maria baptised and Laura and Lucy renew their baptismal vows. And in many ways they are a picture of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians so far. And it’s important to note what Paul has already said in chapters 1 to 3 because of the little word ‘then’ or ‘therefore’ in verse 1 of chapter 4. Look back to Ephesians 2.1-10. Look at verses 1 to 3. Once David, Maria, Lucy and Laura were dead in their transgressions and sins and by nature objects of wrath. But (verses 4 and 5) because of God’s great love for them, he, who is rich in mercy, made them alive with Christ even when they were dead in their transgressions – it is by grace they have been saved. And that is true of all of us here tonight who are trusting in Christ as our Saviour and Lord. Paul goes on in verses 8 and 9: "it is by grace you have been saved, through faith in Christ – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no-one can boast." We are not saved by good works but by grace (by God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense) through faith in Christ.
Who here tonight needs to turn to Jesus Christ and put your faith in him? You’ve been thinking that it all depends on you – whether you’ve been good enough, whether you’ve earned enough brownie points to be accepted by God and have a place in heaven. But none of us are good enough. I’m not good enough and neither are you. The Bible is quite clear that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3.23). And the only way to be accepted by God and have a place in heaven is to receive what God has done for you in Christ – his death on the cross paying the price of your sin bringing forgiveness and peace with God, and his resurrection from the dead bringing new and eternal life. As Paul writes elsewhere (Romans 6.23):
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
We are not saved by good works. But we are saved for good works. Paul goes on to say in Ephesians 2.10:
“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
David, Maria, Lucy and Laura and all believers here tonight – please understand this – you are God’s workmanship (so don’t think you have none or little worth or value), you are God’s workmanship – you were created in Christ Jesus to do good works, good works which God prepared in advance for you to do. And those good works will include serving the church to help build it up, grow and mature. Every believer, every disciple of Christ has both a mission in the world (as we saw last week from 1 Peter 3) and a ministry in the church (Ephesians 4.7).
You see when we become Christians we also become part of Christ’s church and its important then to be part of a local church – for your own growth and for the growth in every way of that body of Christ. God gives the growth but each part of the body has its work to do too. Look at Ephesians 4.16:
“From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love [i.e. from Christ alone, as head, the body derives its whole capacity for growth and activity and its direction], as [and note this] each part does its work.”
Do you want to grow as a Christian? Do you want to play your part in helping the church to grow under God? Do we as a church want to grow? Let’s look at what that means in practice. First, (verse 1) Paul urges us to:
First, LIVE A LIFE WORTHY OF THE CALLING YOU HAVE RECEIVED
What is the calling we have received? In 1 Peter 2.9 we read:
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
Now turn back with me to Ephesians 1. In verses 4 and 12 we read that:
“For he [God] chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight… for the praise of his glory.”
In Christ (verse 7) “we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins” and believers, whether Jew or Gentile, whether from different nationalities (as here with David & Maria and Lucy and Laura), different backgrounds or whether Newcastle or Sunderland supporters, are one in Christ. For Christ (Ephesians 2.14) is our peace. He has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility. Consequently (verses 19-22),
“you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”
On Remembrance Sunday and as we look at the conflicts in the Middle East its important to remember where true peace comes from and how two opponents can become one in Christ.
So here at Jesmond Parish Church all who trust in Christ are one in Christ. Whether internationals or locals, whether student or non student, whether from the North or from the South, whether Newcastle or Sunderland supporters, whether rich or poor. We are fellow citizens with God’s people and all members of God’s household. And we are to live a life worthy of the calling we have received. And as we’ve just seen it’s a high calling. In fact to be called by God out of darkness and into the body of Christ is the highest vocation possible. Do we understand that? Has that gripped us? To live for God’s praise and glory. To be holy. To be a witness to him as the body of Christ. To maintain the unity we have. Christ has brought about that peace and we are to keep it. How? By Godly living in the power of the Spirit. Now go back to Ephesians 4. Look at verse 2:
“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”
This takes effort doesn’t it? Look at verse 3. We are to make “every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” and “unity in the faith” (verse 13) – for there is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all – for we are not to maintain unity at the expense of truth. But true unity, the unity of the Spirit is important if the church is to grow both numerically and in maturity. I thank God for the unity there is here at Jesmond Parish Church. It has been one factor in the growth of this church and we must make every effort to keep it if we’re to continue to grow and plant. But (verse 7) diversity is also important if the church is to grow. So,
Secondly, USE THE GIFT OR GIFTS EACH OF US HAS BEEN GIVEN TO SERVE OTHERS
Contrast verses 6 and 7. Paul turns from all of us in verse 6 to each of us in verse 7 – from the unity to the diversity of the church and to the fact that Christian unity is enriched by the diversity of our Christ given gifts. Yes we’re to keep and maintain the unity of the Spirit. But there is diversity in unity. We don’t all have the same gifts and tasks. To make each dependent on others in the body of Christ and for growth, God has ordained not uniformity, but rather a variety of gifts for members of the body.
Note again the first phrase of this verse: “To each one of us”. To each of us, to every single one of us who are members of the body of Christ is given a different gift or gifts to serve others.
Note too the word grace. “To each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.” Paul uses the word grace here in the sense of his use of it in Ephesians 3. There in verses 2, 7 and 8 and here in verse 7 it is literally the “privilege of a special calling in the service of God”. Saving grace is given to all who believe and trust in Christ. But this is service grace – the grace which equips God’s people to serve – and that is given in differing degrees according to the measure of Christ’s gift. In his wisdom the Lord portions out different kinds of gifts to different members. And the word grace implies that there should be no boasting about our different gifts, for none of us has anything other than what we have received unmerited from Christ.
So it’s clear that no-one has all the gifts – not David Holloway – not anyone – and that no member of the body is without some spiritual task and spiritual gift for it.
No member of the body should be unemployed in serving the church. You’ve probably all seen Lord Kitchener’s famous recruitment poster from WW1 saying ‘Your country needs you! Well your church needs you!’
Did you know that we are really all charismatics in the body of Christ? Some of you are looking worried! Well the word ‘charismatic’ actually comes from the Greek word ‘charismata’ which simply means gift. And the word ‘charis’ means grace. So here Paul states that all Christians have been gifted by the grace of God. So according to the New Testament the whole church is a charismatic community. It is the body of Christ, every single member of which has a gift or charisma to exercise or function to perform.
The unity of the church is due to charis, God’s grace having reconciled us to himself, but the diversity of the church is due to charismata, God’s gifts distributed to church members. But perhaps you’re unsure what your gift is or how you can serve and use your gift here at Jesmond Parish Church or at Holy Trinity Gateshead for the benefit of all. Well do talk to me or your small group leader or a mature Christian friend. Try out serving in a particular ministry. You could begin with the sidesmen’s ministry, which is vital to the work here on a Sunday. Please don’t think there’s nothing for you to do. Contrary to what you might think every ministry at a larger church is always in need of more servants. And if you don’t use your gift or gifts then the rest of us are missing out. There are always people needed in the crèches, in the candle teams for Carols by Candlelight, in the Mother and Toddler groups, in the Scouts on a Friday night, in the PA and TV ministry. And I mention the vital ministry of the PA team partly because they have the power to switch me off! So can I commend that ministry to you.
The giver of the gifts is the ascended, victorious and exalted Christ who is filling the universe and ruling the church (verses 8 to 10). Five gifts are now mentioned (verse 11). “He gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists and some to be pastors and teachers…” He gives people who proclaim the Word of God and lead, to build up the whole body into his fullness. All of those five gifts have something to do with the ministry of teaching. For it is primarily teaching which builds up the church. Today we might not have apostles or prophets in the original sense – for apostles were those personally chosen by and eyewitnesses of the risen Lord and prophets were those who were a vehicle of God’s direct revelation. But today there are evangelists to preach the gospel and there are those who are pastors and teachers who tend the flock and expound the Word, those who are gifted for the day to day building up of the church. More evangelists and pastor teachers are desperately needed. Today the need in the worldwide church is great. And if we’re going to plant more churches then we’ll need more pastor teachers and evangelists. Is God calling and gifting some of you here tonight to be teachers of his Word, to be pastors and teachers in his church, to be evangelists?
And verse 12 states very clearly why Christ gave these particular teaching related gifts to his church. Look at that verse:
“to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…”
Firstly to prepare or to equip God’s people for works of service and secondly what is done for God’s people and by God’s people is for building up the body of Christ. So church leaders are not to monopolise ministry. No, they are to multiply ministries. How? By helping and encouraging all God’s people to discover, develop and exercise their gifts humbly so that the body of Christ may be built up. The 5 gifts which we’ve looked at so far are not the only gifts. Paul in 1 Corinthians 12.4 says that “there are varieties of gifts”. In the 5 lists of gifts in the New Testament 20 distinct gifts are mentioned, such as mercy, administration, faith, encouragement, giving etc. And even those lists are probably not exhaustive. We are all to use our God given gifts, which are all service gifts, not for our own selfish use which could be divisive but to build up the body here and we ought to be able to find support and training in those works of service from those who lead.
You see I wonder what our model of the church is. Is it a pyramid model or a bus model where everything is concentrated in the hands of one man? The New Testament model of the church is not a pyramid or a bus but rather a body, every member of which has a different function or ministry. One church in the USA had on its bulletin the names of the Rector, the Associate Rector and of the Assistant to the Rector. Next came the line: ‘Ministers: the entire congregation’. The way the whole body grows is for all its members to use their God given gifts to serve others, which brings us to my final point.
Thirdly, THEN THE WHOLE BODY GROWS
Look at verses 12 and 13:
“… so that the body of Christ may be built up 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.”
The word “until” suggests that the building up of the body of Christ will not happen overnight. Rather it will be a lengthy process, involving much hard work and prayer. The church needs committed, gifted, teachable, humble servants. Those who are willing to teach the truth, lead and serve over the long term. Then the church under God will grow in unity in the faith and in maturity. And if we’re growing in unity and maturity, in the knowledge of and the fullness of Christ, then we will no longer be infants or immature Christians (verses 14 and 15) “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. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.”
So how does the church grow numerically and in unity and maturity? By speaking and living the truth in love. We are to uphold and speak God’s truth, which is so critical today when there is so much false teaching and confusion, in love. There is no other route than this to a fully mature Christian unity. If we speak the truth in love we will grow up into Christ from whom the whole body, verse 16, "joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work." Now the emphasis in verse 16 is on the Head on whom we are to depend, into whom we are to grow up and from whom the whole body grows when each part is working properly. Christ is at work fitting and joining the whole body together. He provides sustenance to it through every contact according to the needs of each single part. He enables the body to make its own growth so that it builds itself up in love. We are to look to, depend on and grow up into him, doing the work he’s given each of us to do. The implication at the end of verse 16 is that when each part is not doing its work growth and maturity take longer. I must conclude.
Someone once said that the church is full of bones: wish bones – who wish someone else would do the work; jaw bones – who talk a lot but do little else; knuckle bones – who knock what everyone else does; and back bones – who get on and actually do the work. Let’s make sure we play our part in Christ and under his headship.