Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been slowly going through Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians with the help of this book in the very helpful “For You” series. While studying Ephesians 4:1-16, I became encouraged to share some insights with our church as to how Paul says all of us are to be involved in building up and upholding our unity as a church here at Saco Bay Community Church.
I’m going to specifically concentrate on Ephesians 4:7-16, but let me give us some context for what Paul says here. Paul has expounded upon the glorious truths of the Gospel in chapters 1-3–about God’s glorious plan of redemption even before the world began (ch. 1), how we were dead in sin before God made us alive (2:1-10), how we’ve been united as one family, regardless of where we come from, through faith in Jesus Christ (2:11-22), and his prayer for them in light of the revelation of the mystery of the Gospel and how both Jew and Gentile are brought in (ch. 3). As he begins chapter 4, he shifts into practical applications and outworkings of what has come before. He begins by exhorting the church to unity (4:1-3) and gives the basis for that unity (4:4-6).
Now in verses 7-16 Paul is still thinking about this theme of unity, but is highlighting how diversity in our gifts given to us by Jesus Himself are to be used in order to build up the body. In verses 7-10 Paul says the following:
7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says,
“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.”
9 (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)
Now, I don’t have time to get into the nitty-gritty of everything Paul is saying here, but Paul’s point is in verse 7–that Jesus Christ has sovereignly gifted each individual for the corporate good of the church. This “grace” given to us in this context is not saving grace but ministry grace. Jesus, the risen and ascended victorious King, has graciously given gifts to every member of his body, the church (Paul is not only thinking about those he will mention in verse 11, but of every member) in order that we all might contribute in building up the church.
Paul continues in verses 11-16:
11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers [most likely he means one overlapping group: pastor-teachers], 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
Paul begins in verses 11-12 by saying God has given gifted people to the church not simply to do all of the ministry and thus be glorified by others due to their gifts–no–but to instead equip fellow believers in order that they might do the ministry. This is a model of mutual service in the church, not of professionals serving consumers. Ministry is not just for a paid few but for every Christian!
For myself and the other pastors/elders here at SBCC, this means that we must take seriously our role to invest our time heavily into discipling and developing our members in order that they would engage in ministry to the body. And for every member here at SBCC, this passage is clear that you have each been given gifts according to Jesus’ sovereign grace, and those gifts are to be used in service to the church. In this sense, we are all “ministers.” The church is not like a baseball game, where there are 9 people on the field and 50,000 in the stands watching. And what is this service for? for building up the body of Christ — The church.
And look at the purpose for this equipping and being equipped in verse 13:
13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ….
Gifted leaders given to the church to equip members who then use their diversity of gifts to build up the church leads to unity and maturity. There is nothing more exciting for me than to watch people at our church grow in their knowledge and love of God and His Word. As we continue to see this happen by God’s grace, we will be a church that is maturing, solidly placed on the Word of God instead of being swayed to and fro by theological error (4:14) while also speaking the truth lovingly as we grow up in Christ, our head (4:15). Paul’s emphasis here, and our emphasis as a church, is first and foremost on growth in maturity not growth in numbers. I’m not saying numerical growth is bad or even indifferent–we want to see unbelievers come and be converted to Christ through the preaching of the Gospel! We want Christians to see this as a church where they can grow and serve as God calls them to! But we don’t become obsessed with numerical growth.
Now comes the part where I apply these truths to us. Are you doing your part to build up the body here at Saco Bay Community Church? If you’ve been here for a while and have not become a member–what is keeping you from covenanting with and serving this local body? If you are a member here and are just showing up expecting to be served every week, I’d encourage you to see that you are called to serve and minister to others.
…it speaks to how we live our life together as a church body. How we pray for one another. How we speak to and about one another. How we rejoice and weep with one another. How we disciple one another.
Some of you might say, “I don’t know how I am gifted,” and my response would be this: try things out and see what you discover. Sometimes people know how God has gifted them, but for many, this takes time to discover through serving in different areas. One caveat here: when you see an obvious need in the church, be willing to serve in areas that don’t necessarily attract you or that you have a natural affinity for–sometimes you’ll even be surprised at how much you end up enjoying it. And this goes way beyond simply serving in different ministries, but more broadly it speaks to how we live our life together as a church body. How we pray for one another. How we speak to and about one another. How we rejoice and weep with one another. How we disciple one another. I could go on. For additional ideas, see this helpful resource geared toward church members on this very topic that was released in March.
Church, I want us all individually and as a church corporately to become more like Christ. That’s the goal. That we might be unified. That we would be maturing day after day as we follow Christ together. For my part, I intend to do my best to continue obeying Paul’s command to use the gifts Christ has given me to equip you, the saints, for the work of the ministry. This is an area that we, the elders, will by God’s grace continue improving in, but we cannot do this alone. So I ask you, church: Will you join us in building up the body?