************ Sermon on Ephesians 4:12-13 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on January 3, 1999
"Building the Body"
We live in an "instant" society. There is instant coffee, instant oat-meal, instamatic cameras, instant breakfasts. The modern man, woman, and child can not and will not wait for desires to be met. People today demand instant gratification. So, at fast food restaurants we can get fast food for fast times. Tired of waiting for some photography lab to develop your pictures? Many camera outlets have a machine that can develop your pictures while you wait. There is no need to endure long line-ups at the bank anymore; those with the right card can go to an automatic teller machine and make deposits or withdrawals. There is drip coffee for those who don't have the time for a percolator. Today's modern kitchen has to have a microwave oven – an indispensable tool for today's instant society.
Today, the Lord tells us it takes time for us to grow up, to become mature, in the Christian faith. We seem to forget in our age of instant convenience foods, products, and services that mature Christians are not produced by taking a rounded teaspoon of freeze-dried Gospel, adding a cup of warm acceptance, and lo! – an instant, full-bodied Christian! There are instant conversions, of course; the Apostle Paul is a good example. But even he, after his conversion, spent some 3 years growing and maturing in the faith. I think we all realize that we must work at growing up as Christians. It's a long and painful process that we must all endure.
On this Installation Sunday, Scripture tells us Christ has given office-bearers to His people so they can grow and mature in the faith. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers – we can add elders and deacons to this list – have all been given to the church so she will grow up and become like Christ.
I The Goal of Church Office: Unity, Maturity, and Fullness
A A key word in our text is "reach." This word, used at the beginning of verse 13, is used 9 times in the book of Acts for travelers arriving at their destination. This word indicates movement towards a place or a goal. In using this word in our text, the Apostle wants us to picture God's people as traveling on a road to a certain destination. All of our life is to be spent on trying to reach this goal. Yes, we make progress on the journey, but in this life and on this earth this goal or destination is never quite reached; nevertheless, it is something we must always strive for and aim for.
What is the destination? What is the goal? Three phrases are used to describe it: 1) unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God; 2) become mature; 3) attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. All 3 phrases speak of growth, maturity, progress in the Christian life.
Verse 12 sums up the goal or destination by speaking of building: "that the body of Christ may be built up." We are to picture a house under construction. Stage by stage the building is to be erected: first comes the footings and foundation; then comes the frame and roof; then comes the electrical, plumbing, dry-wall, taping, and carpet. In the same way, stage by stage, step by step, the church is to be built up. She is to be built up until she reaches unity, maturity, and fullness.
Those who are entrusted with church office are to aim for the building up of the body of believers. That's what Christ wants for His body. That's why Christ has given His church pastors, elders, and deacons: so that the believers entrusted to their care may be built up.
B The first goal God has set for His church is unity. But, it must be the right kind of unity. A unity based upon the label of "progressive" or "conservative" is not what the Lord has in mind; nor does the Lord have in mind here a unity based upon a common ethnic background in the Netherlands or upon similar economic circumstances. These kinds of unity may and do exist within the church but that is not the kind of unity Christ is speaking of.
What kind of unity does the Lord want His church to strive for? He wants her to strive for "unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God." We are to be united in the faith – holding in common the doctrines and beliefs concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. We are to be united in our knowledge of God's Son – which means to have a personal relationship with Jesus.
The Lord wants His church to have unity around Christ. All of God's people are to be one in Christ (cf Eph 2:21-22; 4:3-6).
Within this Christ-centered unity there is room for diversity – diversity of viewpoints, of skin color, of ethnic background, of culture, of worship styles and preferences. Within this unity, however, there is no room for heresy, falsehood, slander, fights, and quarrels.
It is the calling of office-bearers to aim for this unity. God's children are to be called to Christ and in Him they are to be one in faith, in doctrine, in love, in knowledge.
I would have to say that Trinity United Reformed Church has this kind of unity. Credit for that has to go to those who have served and serve so faithfully in church office.
C The second goal the Lord has set for His church is maturity. No one likes to be told to grow up. Teenagers bristle at the very thought they could be immature. And, a husband who is trying to get too mileage out of a cold or the flue doesn't take kindly to his wife's statement, "Don't be such a baby!" Yet, Christ tells His church to grow up.
"Become mature," says Paul. The image here is that of a little child. The word Paul uses for maturity is the same word used to describe the development of that child until he or she attains adult strength, discretion, height, wisdom, knowledge, and emotional stability. In each stage of development the parents' objectives are clear. At first, parents tie their children's shoes, but their goal is to have their children tie their own shoes. Parents decide what their younger children may and may not do, but older children must learn to decide for themselves. We raise our children to let them go. Our goal is their maturity.
Christ has a similar goal for the church: to make it mature, to make it grown-up. The goal is a full-grown Christian and a full-grown church. Above all, the Lord does not want a childish church; childlike – yes; but childish – absolutely not!
Children, as all parents know, are so impressionable and so easily led astray.
Topic: ChildrenThe Lord does not want His church to be like this. He wants His church to be mature, full-grown.
Title: Horn Soup
Last night I heard all about a city kid working on Gerben's farm. One day the cattle were being dehorned. The city kid wondered what was done with the horns. Gerben had him believing that Pauline used them to make delicious "horn soup."
(Eph 4:14) Then 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.
Those who are in church office are to want the same thing that Christ wants: they are to want a church that is grown up, a church that is mature. That's our aim, our goal, our calling.
D How do we measure maturity? There are different milestones along the road of human development which mark increasing maturity: graduation from grade school, first summer job, driver's license, high school diploma, college, moving into one's own apartment, a career, marriage, becoming a parent. Christian maturity, however, is measured against none of these. Rather, the measure of our maturity is Christ: the more like Christ we become, the more mature and grown up we are in the faith.
This is where the third goal comes in. The third goal the Lord has set for His church is fullness: "attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." Paul tells us that in Christ is all the fullness of God (Col 1:19). We, in turn, are to have all the fullness of Christ. In other words, the Lord wants the church to be like Christ, to imitate Christ.
What is the "fullness of Christ" we are to imitate? In mind are such things as the love of Christ, a love which led Him to lay down His life for our sakes (John 3:14-16; John 10:11; cf Mt 9:36); Christ's habit of prayer (Mt 14:23); Christ's custom of regular and faithful worship (Lk 4:16); Christ's perfect obedience to the will of God (Mt 26:39,42); Christ's resistance against sin, evil, and temptation (Matt 4); Christ's servant nature (John 13); and, Christ's love for and knowledge of Scripture. When we become like Christ in every way, then we are mature, grown up, in the faith.
It is the task of office-bearers to bring about this fullness. Ministers, elders, and deacons are to work for a membership, a congregation, which aims for the fullness of Christ.
II The Method of Church Office: Equipping
A How are office-bearers to accomplish the goal of unity, maturity, and fullness? How are office-bearers to build up the body of believers? Verse 12 of our text tells us: "to prepare God's people for works of service."
Office-bearers are to "prepare" God's people. A literal translation of the Greek word used is "to equip." It is the same word used for a Roman General equipping his soldiers for battle: supplying them with sword, spear, and shield; training them in their use; drilling them to fight as a unit.
Office-bearers are to equip the church. They are to give believers the equipment they need for unity, maturity, and fullness. Of course, it isn't office-bearers who really equip the church. It is the Lord Who does this through His Word and Spirit. It is the task of office-bearers to create a climate within which that Word and Spirit can operate within the lives of God's people. To this end, the office-bearers supervise the preaching of the Word, call the congregation for worship twice each Sunday, administer the sacraments, encourage the faithful, admonish the wayward, and establish Bible Study groups and societies.
B The people are to be equipped or prepared for "works of service." It is neither biblical nor desirable for the minister, the elders, and the deacons to do all or most of the work of the church. Within the church we have all been given to each other as heavenly gifts in earthly wrappers. It is our task and calling to serve the Lord by serving each other.
The office-bearers are to bring about unity, maturity, and fullness by creating opportunities for members to serve each other. And, in Trinity we can and do serve each other through Bible Study groups, societies, visiting, prayer, offers of assistance, providing meals during times of illness or death, and giving words of encouragement. We also serve each other in worship: through the ministry of music, through prayer, through fellowship. We serve each other through our youth programs and ministries: Church School, GEMS, Cadets, Young People.
The office-bearers can, even must, take a leading role in encouraging our service of each other so that we gain in unity, maturity, and fullness. The office-bearers must be first in serving their fellow believers for the common good of us all. And, the congregation can, even must, follow the office-bearers in those areas where they conform to the will of Christ.
God's will for His church is that it be built up, that it grow in unity, maturity, and fullness.
How terrible it is when the church doesn't do this. Think of a child who stops growing and maturing. Quite naturally, the parents become very concerned. They know things are not right and that the child is not healthy. So they take the child to the doctor. Likewise, a church that stops growing and maturing is an unhealthy church. And, a Christian who remains at a standstill in his or her spiritual life is in serious trouble.
Out of love and concern for His church, the Lord gives her apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers, elders, and deacons so that she will grow, mature, and develop. These office-bearers encourage and develop the use of member's gifts for the common good.
I pray that under our office-bearers the Trinity United Reformed Church will be marked by unity, maturity, and fullness so that we are the kind of church God wants us to be.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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