Friday, May 1, 2009

Unified or Unstable?

Unified or Unstable?
Ephesians 4:7-16
Walk in Unity: Part Two

Scripture Introduction:
I’m not sure if you are familiar with Wordle or not. Wordle is a graphic representation of the most frequently used words in a certain text. Recently a research professor named Thom Rainer asked people on Twitter this question: “What do you think when you hear Southern Baptist.” Here is the Wordle:

Looking at this Wordle it is pretty clear that those that responded view Southern Baptist’s as legalistic, traditional, and old; concerned with missions and fried chicken. It does not take a religious scholar to figure out that something is wrong with a Christian denomination when people associate fried chicken with you more than they do Jesus. It certainly is not good that legalism is mentioned way more than Jesus.
This got me to thinking. It got me to thinking about what it means to be a Southern Baptist but it also got me to wondering what would a Wordle look like if we asked people what they think when they hear First Baptist Church of New London.
Remember last week at the beginning we asked a couple of important questions: what is the church, what is the fundamental purpose of the church. Nick reminded us that the church is a blood-bought community of redeemed believers for the sake of Christ. Kelsey pointed out that the purpose of the church was to know God and to make him known. Then we kind of expanded on that and looked at answering this question from an Ephesians 3 perspective. We simplified it and said that the fundamental purpose of the church is to be a billboard that proclaims the beauty of God.
So, how are we doing? When people think of FBC New London do they think of the glory of God, the beauty of Christ, the grace of redemption, the power of the Spirit, love that comes from the gospel, etc.? Or would people say legalism, fried chicken, boycott, tradition, and Disney?
Remember where we are at in Ephesians 4. In Ephesians 1-3 Paul has described the mighty work of God in redeeming broken people and a broken world. Ephesians 4-6 is living out, in experience, what God has done in reality. We are to live lives that reflect the mighty work of God on our behalf. Last week we saw that this meant unity. Tonight we will continue that theme but tonight will be looking at unity in the midst of diversity. Tonight we will look at the church working properly as God designed it to work. What happens when the church is not working properly? Well, one of the things is that you look more like the Pharisees than Jesus. If we are to be an accurate billboard then we must heed what God’s Word says to us in Ephesians 4:7-16.
Read Ephesians 4:7-16
Sermon Introduction:
In order to really understand this text and what we will be discussing in this sermon we have to come to the agreement that you will not effectively grow spiritually apart from the body of Christ. This is the assumption behind every word of Paul in this text. These gifted men are given not for individuals but for the church. The ministry God has given to you is to take place within a community of believers. It is not a solo mission. It does not necessarily mean the institutional church or within the Southern Baptist Convention but your ministry needs to take place within a blood-bought local community of redeemed believers.
Now this is the principle behind this message—as the church goes so goes believers. If the community of redeemed believers is fumbling the gospel, barely staying afloat spiritually, and inaccurately portraying the worth of God then you can rest assured that the individual believers will be the exact same. When the church is not accurately living and proclaiming the gospel then the individual believers will be struggling to live out the gospel. As the church goes so goes the believers within that church. Tonight we are going to look ask two questions. What happens when the church is working properly? What happens when the church is broken?
Paul is not dealing so much with a broken church, his message here is positive. He hints to the possibility of a broken church but mostly his message here is positive. Actually this passage is quite difficult. As you study this text there are quite a few questions and problems that arise. Verse 7 is pretty straightforward. In verses 1-6 Paul has been discussing unity within the body. In verse 7 he points out that even though we are unified it is not an absolute uniformity as if everyone has to wear the same color shirt or speak the same way or be exactly the same. I like what John Stott says concerning this:
To show this diversity and the different gifts that Christ gives Paul points to Psalm 68. Psalm 68 is an absolutely beautiful psalm that celebrates God’s victory and protection for his people. It points to the ultimate victory of God and his enthronement as the ultimate King of the universe. But Paul’s quoting of it gives us a problem. The problem is the Paul does not quote it verbatim. If you read Psalm 68 it says, “You ascended on high, leading a host of captives in your train and receiving gifts among men…” If you read Ephesians 4:8 it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” So, you see Psalm 68 says that God receives gifts, whereas in Ephesians 4, it says that God in Christ is the one giving gifts.
For time’s sake I will spare you the different theories as to why Paul seemingly misquotes this Psalm. Let me say upfront that there is no contradiction here and what I think is happening is that Paul is giving the overall meaning of the Psalm and never really intends to quote it verbatim. There are a couple of reasons why he does this. Psalm 68 is a victory hymn that shouts the praises of the conquering King. Jesus is that conquering King. When you conquer in war you get spoils. For instance if you conquer a nation you get its gold. The image here, then, is that in being victorious Christ receives the spoils of war…as a loving general he then divides the spoils of war to his soldiers. Thus, as John Collins says, “the psalm focuses on the conqueror who acquired the spoils from the defeated, while Paul’s adaptation of the truth of the psalm focuses on how that conqueror distributed the spoils to his own.”
Furthermore we can find a connection between this Psalm and Numbers 8 and 18. Listen to Numbers 18:6, “I have taken your brothers, the Levites, from among the people of Israel; to you they are given as a gift for the Lord, to do the service of the tabernacle of the congregation…” So these captives in this text are taken by the Lord and then given back as gifts to serve the congregation. Both of these could explain why Paul seemingly misquotes this Psalm. It is still difficult to understand fully what Paul is saying but I think is overall point is clear. Christ has conquered and in doing so he is distributing gifts as he pleases.
Verse 9 and 10 are needlessly controversial. Some think that what is being said is that Christ’s descended into hell. That is not what this text is saying. Really verse 9 and 10 is pointing back to Ephesians 1:20-23: “that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”
Remember that what God is doing by redeeming broken people and a broken world is spreading His glory to the nations. That is really what this story is about. This is the mission of God. God is on a mission that will climax with his realized universal rule. Peter O’Brien connects this wonderfully when he says, “The building of the body is inextricably linked with his intention of filling the universe with his rule, since the church is his instrument in carrying out his purposes for the cosmos.”
So here is the point of verse 7-10: Christ is the conquering King of Psalm 68 and in this he is giving gifts to his bride—the church. He does this so that the church might grow in love and grow in displaying the beauty of God. It is part of fulfilling the mission of God. But mentioning growth means that we are not perfect yet. So, let’s look first at a church that is broken and then we will look at a church working properly.
I. The unstable church
Skip down to verse 14. Notice that Paul says, “so that we may no longer be…” This implies that until we reach maturity we will have the tendency to be tossed to and fro. We will return to verses 11-13 in just a moment for now let me sum them up. In those verses Paul discusses the gifts that God gives to the body and the purpose for giving them. That purpose is that we might be unified and growing in Jesus: Essentially, it is that we might be what a church ought to be a united community of blood-bought believers for the sake of displaying the beauty of God. But when the church is not functioning properly you see verse 14 happening. Or you will see a community of believers where Fried Chicken is bigger than Jesus.
I submit to you that what happens to any denomination, local church, or individual believer is that somewhere along the way we bought into a lie and it carried us away. It is not the place or the time to discuss where or what this lie might have been for us as Southern Baptists. All we will say for now is that somewhere along the way we bought into a lie. And usually it’s not just one lie it is a host of them and it spirals out of control. Or as Paul says here we get tossed to and fro.
1. Tossed to and fro
What is it that causes us to be tossed to and fro? “…Every wind of doctrine”. In each generation until Jesus comes back there will be new teaching that is really not new teaching that attempts to subvert the gospel. If we are not grounded in Jesus and connected to the body you will be tossed to and fro. You will end up abandoning the biblical gospel. I like what Peter O’Brien says about this, “Unable to come to settled convictions or to evaluate various forms of teaching, they fall an easy prey to every new theological fad.”
Is this not a pretty fitting description of the typical church in America? Fortunately your exposure to this is probably somewhat minimal. But if you want to see what I am talking about pick up a Christian newspaper, look on the internet for what churches are doing to draw people, check out the local Christian bookstore. You will see fad after fad after fad. Recently I took a tour through our local Christian book store, I see How to:
· stay Christian in College
· be a Christian without being religious
· manage your money
· get a date worth keeping
· heal the sick
· save your marriage alone
· argue so your spouse will listen
· And one I maybe need to get “How to preach a sermon”

I see “Church Marketing”, I learn how to Repaint the Christian faith, I finally after all these years discover the Secret Message of Jesus, I can learn how to create “Wow experiences in my church”, the list goes on and on with everyone having an idea of how church should be, what will help you in your Christian life, on and on. I see aisles and aisles of Christian music. I see Christian T-shirts, Christian jewelry, I find Christian board games, Christian movies, everything Christian but sadly I walk out of a store sick to stomach and wondering where Jesus is in a Christian book store.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There are many books, music, all sorts of things that God really does use to lead us closer to Christ. You can look at my bookshelf and see how I live my life—I love to read, I try to read as much as I possibly can. You really will become like those who you spend your time with and shaped by the books that you read. What I am addressing is simply this—do all of these “Christian” things point us to Christ and His sufficiency in all things or do they point us to Christianity. Christianity will never save you, only Christ will.
What has happened is that for years Christians and the Christian church (myself included) have bounced from fad to fad, from program to program, and from technique to technique. And n the midst of all of these fads the gospel is crying out to us, “Jesus is enough”! You do not need a new trick or technique or some new secret. You need the Gospel of Jesus Christ lived out in the body of Christ.
Standing behind all of this fad-driven unstable Christianity are two things that Paul mentions, “human cunning” and “craftiness in deceitful schemes”. This is a reference to wicked men that are wolves in sheep’s clothing. It is also more than likely a reference to the demonic, to Satan, that is constantly roaming the earth attempting to defile the gospel, enslave humanity, and deceiving.
There are many different images we could use for a broken church. Sadly we could scan history and find numerous examples where the church as a whole was inaccurately proclaiming the gospel. Just as we can look at our own lives and see much the same. As we turn now to a church working properly this will help us to not only paint a picture of where we should be but also helps us to perhaps find some of the causes for a broken church.
II. The unified church
So, what is God’s plan for redeeming broken people and a broken world? Through Jesus he makes his glory known, experienced through the gospel, and lived out in the blood-bought community of redeemed believers. We turn back to verses 11-13. Just after Paul discussing Christ giving gifts and filling all things he mentions what these gifts are, or better yet, who these gifts are.
A. Who are the gifts?
It is kind of surprising that Paul does not say he gives some the gift of apostleship. No, he says he gives the apostles. The gift to the body is gifted people who articulate, extend, and preserve the gospel. This leads us to a somewhat controversial question; are the apostles and prophets for today? If you are interested in that question I would suggest going to Sam Storms’ website that you can find on your bulletin and read a couple articles there. For our purpose we will say that in this particular text the type of apostle and prophet that Paul is speaking of is a foundational gift that is no longer in action. We will look at these very quickly.
1. Apostles: An apostle is a “sent one”. The specific reference here is to one that has been specifically called by Christ and seen the risen Lord. As Tom Schreiner notes they “established and governed the whole church, under Jesus Christ, and they had authority to speak and write the words of God, equal in authority to the OT Scriptures.” If it were not for this gift we would know little to nothing about Jesus, we would not have a New Testament, and we would not have any clue about what a biblical church is to look like.
2. Prophets: Just on a side note this one might be a foundational gift and it might not be. I learn towards it being so, but it is possible that it is not. We have seen this “apostles and prophets” before in 2:20 and 3:5. There they were mentioned as what the gospel is founded on and it is clear that the task of the prophets is to proclaim the Word of God. They are indeed subordinate to apostles.
3. Evangelists: Evangelists are those that build on the foundation laid by the apostles and the prophets. This is more than likely a reference to those that preach the gospel in areas where the gospel has never been proclaimed. These would be our modern day missionaries and church planters. There is really little else that we know about this position. It might be an itinerant minister that goes around to various churches but I think that is highly unlikely. More than likely these are people that proclaim the gospel in uncharted territories.
4. Shepherds: It is possible that shepherd and teacher should be combined so that what we are dealing with is a teaching pastor. We will separate them though. The shepherd is the same as overseer in the Bible in other places. This is the man or group of men that God puts in place to watch over and nurture the church. This is the pastor.
5. Teachers: If teachers are meant to be separate it would be a subgroup of the shepherd category. It would be a particular type of pastor that primarily teaches.

B. What do they look like in action?
What then does this look like today? God gives men, and I think this is specifically men, which opens up another topic for another day. God gives gifted men to the body for its being built up. God gives to the body pastors, teachers, church planters, and missionaries. So, does this mean that everyone with the title pastor or teacher or church planter or missionary is a gift from God and one that ought to be treated as such? Well, the ones that are doing their job ought to be honored. The ones that are not are not real shepherds but only what the Bible calls hirelings that are not protecting the sheep but are instead sheep in wolves clothing. So, just because someone has the title it does not mean they fit the biblical category. But the ones that are doing what the Bible calls them to do ought to receive the honor that the Bible calls for. We see three things that these gifted men are called to do.
And our understanding of this text is crucial. For years there was a misunderstanding of these verses and it led to very destructive practices within the church. How did that happen? It happened because of a simple comma. Chris Vogel explains well when he says: “The effect of this simple grammatical mistake was to view [ministry as being] left up to professionals while everyone else came as spectators who listened and left. The pastor was to teach, encourage, maintain the focus on Christ as well as making sure everyone’s needs, both physical and spiritual, were being meet. Christianity became a spectator sport, like football - eleven men down on the field, desperately in need of rest, and 50,000 people up in the stands desperately in need of exercise.”
But that is not what the text says. It says that God gave gifted men to the church so that the entire body would be equipped to do the work of ministry. Look at these three things that these men are supposed to do:
1. Equipping the saints
Notice verse 12. Verse 11 lists the gifted men that are given to the church and then he says why they are given, “to equip the saints for the work of ministry”. The pastor, evangelists, teacher, missionary is sent to the church to equip the people to do the work of ministry. It is not the other way around. My job as a pastor is to equip you to do the work of ministry. But so often what happens is that the minister is thought to be the one that ought to do all of the work of ministry and those who are not “called to the ministry” are supposed to be sure to faithfully attend, give their money, pray for the pastor who does the work, and soak up all the knowledge they can, and if possible try to get someone else to come and watch their minister do some ministry.
What then is the pastor supposed to do? He is supposed to preach and teach in such a way that those that are not pastors will be equipped and faithful in the ministry that God has called them to do. You know what this tells me. It tells me that every believer is uniquely called and gifted by God to do a specific ministry to proclaim the glory of God. If your pastor is not secure enough to equip you to do ministry then he is not doing his job. But in that same vain if you are sinfully sitting on the sidelines it is not the pastor’s fault—it’s yours. A healthy church has everyone engaged in ministry and not just those “on staff”.
2. Building up the church
What happens when pastors are doing what God calls them to do, in equipping the saints; and what happens when the saints respond in active ministry? The church is built up. This certainly points to a growth in size as well as a growth in maturity. This helps us to understand that the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry is meant for building up the church. It is not for our own personal glory stories; it is to build up the body of Christ. What is specifically meant by building up the church is outlined in verse 13 which we will look at now.
3. Leading to maturity
The picture here in verse 13 is wonderful. It has in mind a stated goal and it looks at a group of people working together toward that goal. The picture is not like a group of people separated on a starting line racing to get to a finish line. The picture is more like a large group of people attached by a string shuffling their feet trying to get to the starting line. If anybody falls or gets disconnect the group doesn’t just move on and live them behind it stops picks them up and starts shuffling again.
So what is that goal? In verse 13 it says, “…until we all to the unity of faith and to the knowledge of the son of God.” The first aspect of the goal is unity of faith. Wait a second I though last week we said that this was something that has already been won for us and we are to maintain it. Yes, that is true. But this week it says to attain it? How does that fit together? It is kind of like a savings bond that your parents bought for you when you were born. You cannot touch it until you are 18. It’s already been purchased. But you also have to attain it—meaning it’s not fully yours yet you have to stay alive until you are 18. That is the picture of redemption. God has already done it and we are moving towards the goal of making it fully ours. That is the way with this unity of faith.
The second aspect of the goal is “to attain full knowledge of the son of God”. This “already, not yet” tension is felt in this text as well. Earlier in Ephesians Paul talks as if we already know the son of God, Jesus. But we also know that we will someday know him more fully. What Paul probably has in mind here is a full understanding of the gospel. This is much of what he has prayed earlier in Ephesians 3:16-19. The goal then is that we might be fully united and fully knowing Jesus. Doesn’t this sound familiar? God redeeming broken people and a broken world and part of that redemption is redeeming our relationships with one another. It’s the same thing here. That is the goal that is being spoken of here.
Paul now uses a second picture of what that goal is, “mature man”. This is not to be seen individualistically but that the total community of blood-bought believers would be mature. This is similar to what Paul said in 2:15 about the “one new man”. This is in contrast to the immature child that we will see in verse 14. And this picture of the mature man is more fully defined by the phrase, “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”. In other words what it means to be mature is to be like Jesus. That is where God is taking us; Unity with one another, fully knowing Jesus, and being like Jesus.
Let’s look now at these last couple of verses and close this out. Verses 15 and 16 are really summary verses and from this we will find a couple governing principles that will close this out.
· The focus of this passage is on the growth of the body as a whole. Notice such phrase as “the whole body”. This is not denying that the body is made up of individuals, but it is saying that your individual growth is not to be apart from the body. In fact if you are “super-spiritual” and running out in front of the rest of the body you aren’t as “super-spiritual” as you think. To really follow Jesus is to stoop and serve the body. Your “me and Jesus” Christianity does not cut it biblically. Therefore, you must be passionately concerned about the body of Christ both for your own growth and for the love of the Bride. You cannot love Jesus and hate his wife.
· Faithful ministers are gifts to the body treat them as such. Notice in verse 16 where it says, “…joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped”. That is another way of referencing the gifted men that Paul talked about earlier. The growth of the body very much depends on the faithfulness of that body’s gifted minister. Therefore, you need to take care of your pastors.
This is not me selfishly saying that you need to treat me like a gift. But we live in an anti-authority culture that hinders the growth of the body. Your pastors are here for you and you need to honor them. One way you do that is by getting off your rear and allowing them to do what they are called to do biblically—equip you. There are people that God has gifted to help you grow—use them. That why we are here. Encourage them. And you know the greatest way you can encourage a faithful minister of the gospel? Get excited about Jesus and live out the gospel. Our greatest passion, on our better days, is that we as a church might be built up, that Jesus might be honored, and that the gospel might spread to the nations. Live out the gospel and you will be honoring your pastors.
· Jesus is the hero of the church. Verse 15 reminds us that our goal is Jesus and the source of our strength is Jesus. A unified church is radically in love with Jesus and because of that they are unified and they are faithfully ministering together. The level that the church gets the gospel is the level that it will be unified rather than unstable.
In closing let’s look back at that Wordle that we saw earlier. You know one of the reasons why people think of Legalism, Pharisees, Disney, boycott, and fried chicken instead of Jesus when they think of Southern Baptist? Perhaps this is too much of a black and white blanket statement and I sincerely hope it is. But I think in a large part the reason why people think of those things when they think of Southern Baptist is because we have abandoned the biblical gospel and the sufficiency of Christ. Rather than depending upon Jesus to save people we rely on the Purpose Driven Life. Rather than building relationships with people and hoping to share the gospel we make Christianity an “us versus them” type of religion. Rather than trying to redeem our culture we are trying to oppose it and recover our Christian America that was never really Christian in the first place. The reason people think of fried chicken when they think of Southern Baptist is because we are more united in food than in the gospel. Our fellowship is more centered around potato casserole than around broken people helping each other cling to Jesus.
We must recover the gospel. And the beauty of the gospel is that no matter how broken the church is—and no matter how broken her individual members are—Jesus loves her. Jesus radically loves His bride and He will one day make her holy. The beauty of the gospel is that someday we will be mature and we will “grow” and be “built up in love”. Christ’s love. The love of Jesus will rescue His bride.

No comments: