The admiration and adulation of American athletes has risen to an all-time high. The power, grace, and athleticism demonstrated on the field of play excites and inspires both young and old alike. We would like to be able to do the things they do, but we fail to recognize the years of struggle, sweat, and repetition that has gone into a Kevin Durant three point shot or a Wes Welker game winning grab. For Kevin and Wes, as well as every other successful athlete, there have been coaches at every stage who have taught them the fundamentals, watched them closely to help them improve their skills, and encouraged them along the way.
For all of you who have ever played a sport, there are some common traits shared by the best of our coaches. They taught us the basics, fundamentals, and they made us practice them over and over again. They gave us good guidance and never led us astray. Their desire was that we maximize our abilities and they didn’t hesitate to share with us the amount of time and sacrifice it would take to accomplish that goal. They told us things that we might not have liked to hear, but they were things that we needed to hear. They taught us that the “team” was more important than the individual. They taught us that for the team to be able to reach its potential each one of us had to contribute to the best of our ability. They also cheered us on. When we would make mistakes they urged us to get back up, learn from our mistakes, forget about the past, and get back in the game.
As we look at our Scripture for today I can see so many parallels between the strong team and the strong “Body of Christ” working for the King. I can also see many parallels between the purposes of the coach for the team and the spiritual leaders who uphold many of the same responsibilities for the Body of Christ. Let’s read together from Ephesians 4:7-16.
7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.” 9 (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 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, 12 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. 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. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians 4:7-16 NIV)
Many people have seen verses 7-10 as a great point for theological and Christological debate. Discussions have almost always revolved around the phrase, “What does ‘he ascended’ mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions?” What is the “lower, earthly regions?” Did Jesus descend into hell after His death to release the captives? Is Paul referring to Jesus leaving His exalted position in heaven and coming to earth? These are good questions, but I would hate for us to become so focused on this one sentence that we miss the power of this great section of Scripture. The great truth that Paul seeks to communicate to his readers is found in verse 7 as Paul writes, (7) “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.” Jesus ascended to the Father so that the Holy Spirit might descend and give gifts to God’s people. This is the grace that is spoken of in verse 7.
Before we can understand the statements about ascending and descending we must first understand that Paul draws from Psalm 68:18 in making his statement. In Psalm 68, the Psalmist paints a picture of God’s glorious and triumphant rule of Israel. Verses 1-18 contain many clear references to God’s triumphant march; from the days of Moses, to Mount Sinai, to the days of King David, to Mount Zion. In verse 18 we read,
18 When you ascended on high, you led captives in your train; you received gifts from men, even from the rebellious– that you, O LORD God, might dwell there. (Psalm 68:18 NIV)
In Psalm 68 the King receives gifts from the people, but here in Ephesians it is the King who gives gifts to people. Paul applies this verse here in Ephesians to Christ’s ascension as the continuation of, and fulfillment of, God’s establishment of His Kingdom. When Jesus ascended to the Father He did so for a purpose. In verse 10 we read,
(10) He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe. (Ephesians 4:10 NIV)
Jesus is present in our midst. He has given us gifts, each and every one of us who are “in Christ,” to build the Body as He fills the entire Universe. This is such an important truth to know my friends. If you have received Christ as your Lord and Savior then you should know that He has given you at least one gift that you are to use to build the Body of Christ and to serve the Lord.
It is God’s will that a strong Body be built up, and to see His will come to fruition He has equipped men and women to bring about His purposes. Paul gives us a picture of the early Church with its offices and their functions within the Church. He writes in verses 11-13,
(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, (12) 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. (Ephesians 4:11-13 NIV)
Paul’s list does not include all of the gifts God has given to His people. There are five different lists of gifts found in the New Testament, but even these five lists do not contain all of the gifts God has given and continues to give. Let me show you just a couple of other places where lists of God’s gifts appear in the New Testament. In Romans 12:4-8 we read,
4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. (Romans 12:4-8 NIV)
You can see from this passage that God’s gifts are so varied. Some pertain to teaching or administration and others are more along the lines of encouraging, giving to meet the needs of others, or showing mercy. As diverse as the gifts are each and every one of them are given to us so that we might serve the Lord with them and build up the Body of Christ. Peter makes this pretty clear for us when he writes in 1 Peter 4:10-11.
10 Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:10-11 NIV)
We should not question if we have any gifts. Scripture makes it very clear that each one of us have been given gifts by God. We should focus rather on using the gifts God has given us to bless God and bless the lives of others.
The list of gifts that is listed in Ephesians 4 all point to the need of those who have been given the ability to minister the Word of God to use their gifts to help build up the Body of Christ. In our Scripture for today we find four “giftings,” but each of them is responsible for administering the Word of God for the building up of the Body of Christ.
First, there are apostles. The apostles were those whom God raised up to establish the Church. After Jesus’ ascension to the Father the apostles were those who went about setting up the local churches and establishing the teaching of the Word of God in the Body. Many people see the apostles as being the original disciples, but in actuality the apostles included more than the twelve disciples. Paul was an apostle. Barnabas was an apostle (Acts 14:4,14). James, the brother of Jesus, was an apostle (1 Corintians 15:7); Galatians 1:19). Silvanus was an apostle (1 Thessalonians 2:6). Andronicus and Junias were apostles as well (Romans 16:7).
To be an apostle one must meet two criterion: First, the person must have seen Jesus. Second, an apostle must have witnessed the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. It was important for the teachers of the Word of God to have an authority greater than themselves, they needed to have known Jesus and to have witnessed the power of His glorious resurrection.
Second, there are prophets. The prophets were those who would stand in the midst of society and speak boldly the divinely inspired message from God. Today, we think of prophets as those who foretold the future. This was undoubtedly one of their functions, but much more often you find the prophets speaking for God to ungodly situations in society. The prophets spoke the Word of God no matter the cost and oftentimes they were not readily received. As a matter of fact, most of the time their message was very hard to swallow because of the people’s sin and lack of desire to change.
There is a lot of discussion today about whether the gift of prophecy ceased at the completion of the New Testament or whether the role of the prophet still remains. Those who believe that the gifts that go along with serving as an apostle and prophet have ceased base their belief that the Word of God is our sole basis for God’s Truth today. James Montgomery Boice wrote,
Neither one of these gifts exists today. We no longer have apostles or prophets in this sense. But we are not deprived of the benefits of these first and highly significant gifts of God to the Christian community; the apostles did teach authoritatively, and those who spoke from God have left us the New Testament. (Boice, James Montgomery. Ephesians. pg. 136)
Whether you believe that the gifting of the apostles and prophets has ceased or not, there is no debate about whether or not we need men and women today who know God’s Word and are willing to speak it with boldness. Oh how we need men and women who will stand in the marketplace as well as the church and speak forth the Word of God with no reservation or hesitation. In 1 Corinthians 14:1-5, Paul speaks of the superiority of the prophet over the one who speaks in tongues when he writes,
(1) Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. (2) For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit. (3) But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. (4) He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. (5) I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified. (1 Corinthians 14:1-5 NIV)
Thirdly, there are evangelists. The Greek word “εὐαγγελιστής” (euaggelistes) means, “one who brings Good News.” The proclamation of the Good News of God’s activity in His blessed Son Jesus is the responsibility of the evangelist. The evangelists main function is outside the church. The evangelist proclaims to those who have not heard the Good News of Jesus in hopes that they will be brought into the Body by receiving Christ.
Fourthly, there are pastors and teachers. We take these two together because there were shared responsibilities among the pastors and teachers. When the evangelists communicated the Good News to the unbelievers there was a great need to bring these people in to the church and disciple them in the faith, to shepherd them in the faith. It is the pastor’s responsibility to shepherd the flock of God. In Acts 20:28, Paul calls the elders at Ephesus to “take heed to…all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you guardians, to shepherd the church of God…” Pastors share in the ministry which in other places is communicated to the elders and bishops. In 1 Peter 5:1-2, it is written,
(1) To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: (2) Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers — not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. (1 Peter 5:1-2 NIV)
This same elder, pastor, or bishop which is spoken of in the New Testament is called to be an “apt teacher” in 1 Timothy 3:2. Teaching is such an integral part of the responsibilities of the pastor and this is why it is so appropriate to join the two together as “pastor and teacher.”
Each and every person who is present here this morning has been given gifts by God for the building up of the Body. Some of those gifts are geared toward the proclamation of the Word of God and others are more oriented toward the service of the Body. Each of the gifts God has given to you are valid and have been given so that the entire Body might be built up.
Why then would Paul single out the gifts he mentions in Ephesians 4? I think it is related to our earlier discussion about the need of a team to have a coach who understands the game and is willing to provide leadership for the team. The Body of Christ needs “coaches” who are committed to the proclamation and prominence of the Word of God. The elders of this church and the ministers are to be committed above all else to the shepherding of each one of you. We are to place your spiritual growth at the top of our priority list. We are to provide educational opportunities so that you might be able to study, understand, and implement God’s teaching from His Word into your life.
Just as players on a team do not always appreciate the rigorous routines prescribed by the coach and just as sheep may not always appreciate the leadership of the shepherds, you may not appreciate the leadership provided by the elders or ministers of this congregation. Tom Landry, the late Hall of Fame coach of the Dallas Cowboys, once said, “I take 48 players and make them do what they do not want to do in order that they might accomplish something they have always dreamed of doing.” The church is no different. It is easiest for us to remain complacent, content, and never move out of our comfort zone, but it is the responsibility of the elders and ministers to challenge us to press on, to commit to accomplishing God’s purposes, so that God may build a strong, unified Body of believers.
You may not appreciate the prodding and hopefully gentle persuasion of the leaders, but you must know that the leaders of Britton Christian Church greatly desire that you submit your life to being conformed into the image of Christ. There is absolutely no way to do this except to submit our lives to the teaching of God’s Word.
Just as the coach is hired for the purposes of preparing each member of the team for the game, the leadership of the church is given by God for a purpose as well. In Ephesians 4:12-13, Paul writes,
(12) 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. (Ephesians 4:12-13 NIV)
The modern-day church has gotten things backwards. We hire ministers and choose elders today to do the work of the church, rather than to equip God’s people for works of service. The modern-day church believes that the leaders are supposed to undergird all the ministries, be present at all of the church functions, counsel the distressed, visit the sick, and clean-up after everyone is done, but that is not what Paul says in Ephesians. The leaders are to equip each and every member for works of service instead of doing all of the works of service.
Simply because God has given each of us gifts does not mean that we know how to use those gifts to His glory, we need a solid biblical foundation before we should ever venture out to use those gifts. There may be people who come to Christ and become active in the church who have exhibited amazing gifts of administration in the workplace, but these people need to be discipled before they are turned loose with the responsibility of administering the church. There may be folks who are teaching at the University level and excelling at their profession, but they need to be discipled and drink in the Word of God before they begin to teach in the church.
Whose responsibility is it to equip these folks who have been given such great gifts? It is the responsibility of the leadership — the pastors and elders. It is the job of the pastors and the elders to equip you in order than the Body of Christ might be built up and God might be glorified. When this happens you no longer will raise your kids according to the latest best selling book on child raising, but according to biblical principles. If the pastors and elders are successful in executing their teaching responsibilities then you will no longer see your mate as Cosmopolitan or GQ encourage you to, but you will see them and serve them according to God’s Word. If we will teach the Word of God to the business leaders among us then you will lead your business according to principles set for by the Word of God, rather than the principles laid down by the Harvard Business School. If we will teach those who are employees then you will serve your boss and conduct his or her business affairs as if they were God’s leader. If we will teach then all of us will be equipped to build for our King a mighty Church that impacts the world. “Equipping the people of God for the building up of the Body of Christ.” This is our mandated mission from the King, this is our highest aim, and this is more than anything else what is needed in the church today. If the people are equipped their gifts will flourish, glory will be ascribed to God, and the Body of Christ will work together in unity!
Paul says that if the leaders will rightly administer the Word of God and diligently equip the rest of the Body,
(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. (Ephesians 4:14 NIV)
There are all kinds of bizarre teachings going on in the Body of Christ today. The sheep are hearing from their leaders that any lifestyle will suffice, that parts of God’s Word are outdated and irrelevant for the day in which we live, that if we are living out God’s will then we will be healthy, wealthy, and prosperous in all our endeavors, and that “good works” are more important than biblical understanding. It is not too difficult to be swayed by smooth sounding teachings that appeals to what we want to hear.
It is not just in our day that strange teachings have come from the church. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians he said to them, “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” (Galatians 3:1) There have always been those in the church, whether it be some smooth talking soothsayer from our day or one from Paul’s day, who taught something other than the Word of God and as a result led people astray. God’s people have been tossed to and fro between the waves of biblical Christianity and cultural easy-believism. We must focus on the Word of God and forsake the cultural Christianity of the day so that we might see the Body built up to the full measure of the Son of God.
I have to be honest with you and tell you that there is a high price to pay in clinging solely to the Word of God. Our society doesn’t believe in absolutes, everything is relative from the way we live and conduct our life to who or what we worship. God’s Word doesn’t deal in relativism. There is such a thing as truth and you and I are to pursue the absolute truth of God. When we do this we will be labeled as backwards, out-of-touch, and narrow-minded. You have to decide if you are willing to pay that price and cling to the Word of God or if you will be tossed to and fro by cultural Christianity. I have made my decision, I am standing with the Lord, and I will not go back to believing in everything and nothing at the same time.
It is easy to see where this type of philosophy has gotten us as our entire nation is being tossed back and forth on the waves of cultural relativity. Because we have forsaken the Word of God and His teachings about how to live our lives we are suffering severely in our homes, our churches, and on the streets. What we need are leaders, whom God has raised up, to consciously make the decision to search the Scriptures with diligence so that God’s people will be equipped to lead godly lives and impact our world.
I hope you will be in prayer for our leaders and me that we might feel the overwhelming responsibility God has placed upon our shoulders as spiritual leaders of this flock. Pray that God may give us an unquenchable thirst for His Word and an undying commitment to teaching His Word in the Body so that His Body might be built up. Pray that we would be shepherds who are motivated by love, both for our Lord and for you.
I hope you will also join us in prayer for you that you might desire above all else God’s Word. Pray also that God might ignite within you the need to be equipped for the ministry of service which He has for you and that we might be attentive to those needs which you have before you begin that great ministry. I pray that you might truly thirst to know Him in His fullness and completeness rather than simply the parts you like about the Lord.
This is an exciting time for the Body of Christ. We have so many opportunities to minister, to serve, and to bring glory and honor to God by the way we use the gifts He has given to us. You may be here this morning and the Lord has spoken to your heart, stirred you that now is the time, and you want to know, “Where do I sign-up? Where do I begin?” You begin by first of all receiving Jesus as Lord and Savior of your life. If you have never done that then won’t you do that this morning and allow Him to begin to equip you to build up the Body.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
Oklahoma City, OK. 73114
June 3, 2012