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 Mark McGwire home run or a Barry Sanders touchdown run.
Our youngest son, Nate, is ten years-old now and he has really gotten excited about sports. Nate is playing football on the little league team that I coach and he is itching to throw an eighty yard “hail Mary” for a touchdown. We had a game this past Tuesday night and Nate said, “Dad, are we going to throw the ball tonight?” I said, “Nate, eventually we will throw some, but first we have to learn the basics.” See, Nate believes that he should be able to pick up a football and instantaneously know how the game is played: the correct mechanics of throwing a pass, Rex Ryan’s defensive philosophy, and how to punt a fifty-yard-tight-spiral out of bounds on the two yard line. I love my son’s desire, he is hungry to compete, but he has got to learn how to take a snap from center and hand the ball off to his running backs before he will ever be able to win the Super Bowl.
My son is now learning that if he wants to be good at a sport like football then he has to devote large amounts of time to learning the game, getting his body in shape, and sharpening his skills. My son wants to grow, he wants to be equipped with the necessary skills which will enable him to excel at the game. We go outside and practice the plays. Nate asks lots of questions like “What is off-sides? How do you hold the ball when you throw it? Can you put the ball under your shirt when you get it?” And on, and on, and on… I want to encourage my son’s desire to learn about football so we have begun at square one and little by little Nate is learning about the game.
I want to be the kind of coach for my son that a man named Cecil Morris was for me. Coach Morris understood the game very well. His desire was that I become the best football player that I possibly could be. He worked diligently with me; encouraging me when I needed encouragement, correcting me when I failed to execute my responsibilities in the right way, teaching me the things I needed to know if I was going to be successful at the game, and never giving up on me. He certainly wasn’t easy on me. There were times when I didn’t want to run or watch films or lift weights, but I did those things anyway because he was my coach. There were times he wanted more for me than I wanted for myself. Coach Morris was a great coach and because of his investment in my life, today he is a great friend.
I want to be a good coach for my son. I want to cheer him on every step of the way. I want to give him good guidance and never lead him astray. I want to teach him how to maximize his abilities. I will never give up on him. Because I want to instill within Nate positive characteristics, it means that I will challenge him to improve his skills rather than give him the idea that he has arrived. It also means that I must teach him things that he might not like to hear. He may not like the price that one must pay to be a successful athlete, but he needs to know the price. He doesn’t have to pay that price, undergo the rigorous routines, or commit to such a focused and disciplined life, but he does need to know what it is going to take to be successful at the game. He needs to know what it takes to work together with teammates so that by working together they may accomplish a purpose much bigger than themselves.
As we look at our Scripture for today I can see so many parallels between the strong team and the strong Body working for the Kingdom of God. 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.
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? 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 He might descend in the Holy Spirit to give gifts to 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, during the days of Moses, from Mount Sinai to Mount Zion during the great reign of King David. In verse 18 we read, “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.” 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. Jesus is present in our midst. He has given us gifts to build the Body as He fills the entire Universe.
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.
Paul’s list does not include all of the gifts God has given, for in I Corinthians 12, Paul lists gifts which are not listed here in Ephesians. In 1 Corinthians 12:28 Paul writes, “And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues.” (see also 1 Corinthians 12:4-11) The aspect of Paul’s list in Ephesians which sets it apart from the other list of gifts recorded in the New Testament is that those listed in Ephesians 4:11 minister the Word of God in various forms.
There are four offices listed and each one serves in a different fashion, but each one 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 twelves disciples. 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 (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 Word of 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. How we need God to raise up prophets in our midst today. 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.
Thirdly, there are evangelists. The Greek word, “????????????”??euaggelistas???the word?which is translated, “evangelists” comes from the Greek word “??????????” (euaggelion), which means, “Good News.” The proclamation of the Good News of God’s activity in His blessed Son Jesus is the responsibility of the evangelist. The evangelist’s 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 responsiblities 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,
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.
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 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 these gifts? Going back to our discussion of a team and the need for a coach who understands the game and is willing to provide leadership for the entire team, the Body 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 shepherd, you may not appreciate the leadership provided by the elders or ministers of this congregation. Tom Landry, the great past 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 accomplish God’s purposes — to pump up the Body in order 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.
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. 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, so that the Body of Christ may be built up. It is the leaders who are supposed to undergird all the ministries, be present at all church functions, counsel the distressed, and visit the sick, 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. Jacques Ellul, the famous French theologian and social commentator says,
The channel through which the Holy Spirit brings truth to the world is the pastor, who teaches it to the laity, who in turn translate it and put it to work in the marketplace, infiltrating the world. The problem in the modern church, however, is that the channel is blocked. The pastor doesn’t engage in the secular world on a day-in, day-out basis, and the laypeople, who do, tend to keep their faith in a compartment separate from the rest of their life.
It is the job of the pastors and the elders to equip you with a biblical world-view. When this happens you no longer will raise your kids according to Dr. Spock’s thesis, 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.
“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 and glory will be ascribed to God!
T.M. Moore, president of Chesapeake Theological Seminary, uses this section of Scripture to describe how God builds up the Body. There are seven major elements contained in Paul’s description of how God builds up the Body according to Dr. Moore.
* Unity of the faith. The church must have a oneness of belief. We must share common understandings, vision, goals, and aspirations. And it must have a oneness of experience: shared lives in seeking to become more like Christ.
* The Knowledge of the Son of God. The church must have full assurance of salvation, grounded in a correct understanding of the Word of God.
* A mature man or woman. The church must manifest maturity in critical areas of discipleship: committed to growth achieved through the Word of God, prayer, worship, and fellowship; producing the fruit of the Spirit, demonstrating love, keeping God’s commandments, and bearing witness to the Lord.
* No longer children. The church must be able to discern false doctrines and to distinguish truth from error. The church must be equipped with a Christian world-view.
* Speaking the truth in love. The church must articulate the truth of Christ to one another and to those outside the Body (unbelievers). But it must confront error with love rather than condescension.
* Every joint supplies. The individual members must cultivate their spiritual gifts, using them to the glory of God in ministry to one another and for the community.
* The growth of the Body. All of this increases the church both quantitatively and qualitatively.
The church which Dr. Moore describes is able to work mightily for the Lord in this world, both in the confines of the church body and outside in the mainstream of society so that all people come to know the Good News of Jesus. The church which fails at any one of these aspects mentioned by Paul in his letter to the Ephesians is a church which will be hampered with division and lack of focus.
Why is it so vitally important to get busy in pumping up the Body? Why is it so vitally important for the “coaches” of the team, the shepherds of the flock to be single-minded in their responsibility given by God? If the leaders of the flock fail in carrying out their responsibilities then the entire church will be hurt and easily led astray. We’ve seen example after example of this happening in our own society. Just a few years ago we witnessed the tragedy that took place at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. There have been hundreds of jokes written about the tragedy and told by talk show hosts across the country, but the church had better wake up and take note of what happened. I will assure you that there were many genuinely committed folks in the compound who were slowly, but surely led astray because they were not fed the truth of God’s Word by their leader. Your leaders, Ray, Lynda, Connie, Suzzi, the elders, and myself need to constantly evaluate our commitment to the Word of God. We should each and every one be studying, praying over, and then teaching His Word to each of you and if we are not then we will be accountable for our failure.
Paul says that if the leaders will rightly administer the Word of God and diligently equip each of you, (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. 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 you are in God’s will you will be healthy, wealthy, and prosperous in all your endeavors, and that effort is better than biblical understanding. It is not too difficult to be swayed by smooth sounding teaching which tugs at our heart cords and speaks to our immediate need.
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 whom 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 fundamentalist, the narrow-minded Christian right, and much, much more. 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 for the leaders which God has raised up to consciously make a decision to search the Scriptures with diligence so as to equip the people of God to lead godly lives and avoid the madness of being found outside the will of God.
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 in the life of Britton Christian Church. I see equipping ministries for people of all ages springing up which I find very exciting. The Women’s Bible Study, new Sunday morning classes, Experiencing God Bible study, and the Recovery studies are fantastic tools which the Lord has raised up and many people are taking advantage of right now. Our young people through the Champions and Women of Destiny programs, High School Discipleship, and Son Life are being equipped with the foundations of the faith so that they may be able to come to the knowledge of God’s glorious Son. We are going to see a great harvest in the days ahead if all of us will commit our lives to the diligent study of God’s Word.