************ Sermon on Ephesians 4:11 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 4, 2017
"Church Officers are a Gift of Christ's Spirit"
Pentecost, Installation of Elders and Deacons
One of the reasons the church in North America is in such a sad state today is because the office of all believers has been taken away. The work of the members no longer required. Elders and deacons, we don't need them. And people want it that way. People today want churches that are staffed and run by paid professionals. So they sit back and vegetate. They want churches where all they have to do is throw money into the collection plate. Look at a listing of staff on many church websites and you see more pastors and staff than you can shake a stick at. I checked just one church website this past week and saw the following staff: Preaching Pastor, Executive Pastor, Senior Adults Pastor, Saturday Pastor, Youth Pastor, Worship Pastor, Children & Family Pastor, Bookkeeper, Office Administrator, Technology Director, Nursery Director, Secretary, Sports Director, Sports Administrator, Social Media Director, Custodian; 16 positions total and the church is not even all that big. Beginning with Pentecost, this was not Christ's plan for the church. Christ's plan for the church is that different graces -- different gifts -- are given to each believer by His Spirit so that God's people -- not paid professionals -- do works of service in the church.
On this Pentecost and Installation Sunday, we rejoice that this plan of Christ includes office-bearers for the church.
(Eph 4:11) It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers ...And we add: elders and deacons. They aren't paid for this, other than coffee and cake once in a while. Do you hear this? Through the Spirit, Christ has given office-bearers to the church.
I The Giver
A We start with Christ. Christ "descended" says Paul in verses 9-10. Many in church history have understood this to mean that Jesus descended into hell in the time between His death and resurrection. We cannot accept this view because on the cross Jesus said, "It is finished," and "Today you will be with me in paradise." Christ didn't go to a place called hell. Rather, Christ suffered the torments of hell while hanging upon the cross. Remember His cry, "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?" That was His descent into hell!
So what does Paul mean when He says Christ "descended"? Paul is talking about Christ's descent from heaven when He took on a true human nature. Paul is talking about Christ's humiliation when He made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, and became obedient to death -- even death on a cross!
B The Christ Who descended also "ascended" says Paul in verses 8-10. Listen to how he puts this in verse 8:
(Eph 4:8) This is why it says: "When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men."This is a quote from Psalm 68. Psalm 68 is a hymn celebrating the victory of the king. After a king won a victory, he would bring home the spoils and he would ascend to the highest hill in front of his people. In his parade would be the recovered captives, the Prisoners of War, that he rescued from the hands of the enemy.
Psalm 68 explains the Ascension to us. It pictures a triumphant Christ returning from His battle on earth to the glory of the heavenly city. It informs us that when Jesus ascended He was carried by heaven's chariots -- that is, by the billions upon billions of angels around the throne of God. Jesus mounted that chariot as King and began a great victory parade. And He brought with Him the trophies of His great triumph; He ascends on high and leads a host of captives -- that is, the prisoners who once belonged to the enemy; that is, people like you and me who were held captive by Satan and were set free by His blood.
II The Gift of the Holy Spirit
A Christ descended to the earth. Christ ascended in victory. Notice what happens next: He "gave gifts to men." The ascended and triumphant Lord "gave gifts to men." Remember what we were told last week as we looked at the Ascension? We were told that Christ is in heaven for our "good." We were told that Christ's ascension to heaven is of "benefit" to us. The descended and ascended Christ gives gifts to men. A gift is an act of grace. It is unearned, undeserved, unmerited. It is free. You don't buy it. You don't purchase it. You don't earn it. You are given it. And it is measured out according to the purpose of Christ.
B On this Pentecost Sunday we celebrate that Christ's biggest and greatest gift is the Holy Spirit. The ascended Christ gives us His Spirit.
(Jn 16:7) But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.The Counselor, the Spirit of Truth, only comes when and because Jesus is in heaven.
But think of what it cost Him. It cost Christ His eternal glory for a little while. It cost Him His life. It cost Him the cross. It cost Him the curse of God. It cost Him the three hours of darkness and the absence of God. It cost Him the torments of hell. It cost Him the atoning sacrifice in which He felt the full fury of the wrath of God against the sins of the human race.
As you think of the gift of the Spirit, think of what it cost the Son. Think of how He paid the supreme sacrifice. Think of how He descended and ascended and gave gifts to men.
III The Gift of Church Officers
A Christ descended to the earth. Christ ascended in victory. Christ gave the gift of the Holy Spirit. And, through the Spirit, He "gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers" (Eph 4:11). Paul's main point here is that Christ pours out a multitude of gifts and offices upon His people through His Spirit.
He "gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets." The offices of apostles and prophets are the foundation of the early church. Since the foundation has already been established, there is no longer any need for apostles and prophets in the church today as in the earliest days. Of course, we always need pure apostolic doctrine and teaching. And, we can never grow beyond the need for this foundation.
He gave "some to be evangelists." Evangelists are those officers who are especially gifted to proclaim the Gospel with persuasion and intelligence. Today we call them missionaries. Although they carry out their work primarily among unbelievers, there is an ongoing need for believers to also hear the message of the evangelists. Timothy, after all, was exhorted to do the work of an evangelist even though his ministry was primarily to an established church (2 Tim 4:5). We do not lose our need for the Gospel at conversion; rather, we must hear it again and again so that we might turn daily from our sin and rest on Jesus alone for forgiveness.
He gave "some to be pastors and teachers." Pastors and teachers are mentioned side-by-side because both provide instruction in the truth's of God's Word. Both explain and apply Scripture to their hearers (2 Tim 2:2). Pastors, however, take more of a leadership role. The word "pastor" can also be translated as "shepherd." This tells us and reminds us that pastors guide and lead the flock into the green pastures of God's Word.
Paul's list is not exhaustive. We know that the Spirit of the descended and ascended Christ has also given the offices of elder and deacon to the church. And, the Spirit of Christ has given other gifts to the church too: teaching, hospitality, exhortation, mercy, giving, discernment, artistic gifts, musical gifts, administration, wisdom, knowledge, distinguishing between spirits, and so on.
B On this Pentecost and Installation Sunday I want to emphasize that the officers of the church are the gift of Christ's Spirit to the church.
(Eph 4:11) It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, [and we can add elders and deacons] ...He gave. As a gift of His grace. As the ascended Lord. By means of His Spirit. Congregation, on this Pentecost Sunday I want you to see the elders, deacons, and pastors as God's gift to the church. These gifts are not given to the world; they would be wasted on the world. They are given to the church. They are for the good of the church. They are for the benefit of the church. The Holy Spirit means these office bearers for your good, your benefit.
IV The Purpose of Church Office
A Christ descended to the earth. Christ ascended in victory. Christ gave the gift of the Holy Spirit. And, through the Spirit, He "gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers" (Eph 4:11).
Why does Christ do this? What is the purpose of church office? What is Christ's reason for gifting the church?
(Eph 4:12-13) 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.This is quite a mouthful but it comes down to this. What is the purpose of church office? So the church will grow up.
B What does it mean to grow up? More than once I receive emails telling me the church has to get back to being a New Testament church. By this the writers mean we have to be like the early church, imitate her, and organize like her. If we are like the early church, then we grow up. Really?! For some reason people think the early church had it all together and that church life would be improved if only we could return to the apostolic era.
For instance, do we really want to be like the Corinthian church? Look at her problems: divisions in the church, a man sleeping with his own step-mother, lawsuits among believers, sexual immorality, food sacrificed to idols, disorderly worship, and improper celebration of the Lord's Supper.
The Ephesian church also had her problems. She had correct doctrine, she knew her theology and her catechism, but within a generation the Lord of the church was no longer her first love. In our Bible reading Paul indicates he was aware of this church's problems when he says "be built up ... reach unity in the faith ... become mature."
In some ways we can say we have it better than the first-century Christians. Unlike the early church, we have all of the Bible. We also have centuries of teaching that has plumbed the depth of God's Word, stood firm against heresies, and contributed to our understanding of revealed doctrine. We have Creeds and Confessions that outline the major truths of God's Word.
C The Spirit of the ascended Christ gives us church officers so the church will grow up.
Until Jesus returns we need to progress in the Christian life. We need to progress toward maturity in Christ. We need to progress in obedience, holiness, righteousness, Christlikeness, sanctification. That's the Holy Spirit's purpose for church office: to teach and lead the people so they grow up.
We aren't talking about individual growth here. We aren't talking about the maturation of individual persons. We are talking about corporate growth. We are talking about our growth as a church in grace and holiness. Notice the language used by Paul: "we all" are to reach unity in the faith; "we all" are to become mature; "we" will no longer be infants; "we" will grow up into Him. Yes, there is supposed to be individual growth as well. But personal advancement is not an end in itself; rather, it serves the purpose of advancing the life of the church. The purpose of church office is to help and lead the church to grow in grace and godliness.
Why do we need this help? Because the Christian life is a war. Attacking us and battling us is the Devil, the world, and our very own sinful flesh. None of these enemies want us to grow in grace and godliness. Thankfully, God does not leave us on our own. He has given us His Spirit and Word. He has given us the office bearers.
D When those in church office do this work, what does the church look like? Paul says God's people are prepared for works of service; another translation uses the word "ministry." This brings us back to the truth of verse 7:
(Eph 4:7) But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.The Spirit of the ascended Christ gives graces -- gifts -- to every single member. So that the office bearers do not bear all the burden of doing the Lord's work. So that the load is shared. So that we serve one another with the gifts God has give us. So that together we build up the body in grace and truth. When the office bearers do their job every member is a minister. We have two pastors and, counting just the professing members, we have 356 ministers.
In many churches today worship has become a spectator sport. The lights are turned down and people watch as professionals perform on the stage. It is like attending a rock concert, a football or hockey game, a movie. You sit there and watch and listen and sometimes you cheer what you see.
Why do people put up with this? Why do the office-bearers not put a stop to this? Because ours is a self-absorbed, self-centered, narcissistic society. People want churches to cater to them and their whims and wants. People want churches that require no commitment and no service. But God does not want passive uncommitted members in His church. He wants people who are involved. He wants members who use their gifts. And, it is the office bearers who lead and guide them in the use of those gifts.
What does the church look like when those in church office do the work appointed them by the Spirit of the ascended Christ? The church is unified. This doesn't mean we are all the same. This doesn't mean we are all clones of one another. Rather, we are unified in faith. Unified in knowledge. United in Christ.
What does the church look like when those in church office do the work appointed them by the Spirit of the ascended Christ? The church is like Christ. Full of grace. Full of truth. Full of the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
What does the church look like when those in church office do the work appointed them by the Spirit of the ascended Christ? 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. I was told, this past week, of a church that gave door prizes on Easter Sunday; all you had to do was attend and you were given a chance to win one of three TVS. In that same church, also on Easter Sunday, a helicopter came swooping down and dropped Easter eggs for the children. The cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. The day we do something like this is the day I quit. Men, you need to stand on guard against stuff like this, against the cunning and craftiness of men.
Men, elders and deacons, you have been given a big job by the Spirit of the descended and ascended Christ. You are God's gift to the church so that ours is healthy congregational life. You are God's gift to the church so that the church will grow and mature.
But you don't stand alone. God has gifted the congregation so she helps you in the burden of your office. And, more importantly, God has gifted you with His Spirit, His presence, His strength.
May the Spirit of the descended and ascended Christ bless you as you lead His people to grow.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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