Building Up The Body Of Christ

June 21, 2020 – Ephesians 4.12 – 16 – Pastor Cliff Bergman

Ephesians 4 began with an exhortation to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called. We are given a glimpse into what a God-honoring walk looks like: humility, gentleness, patience, forbearing love, and eagerness to maintain the unity of the Spirit. Achieving such a lofty goal is beyond the capacity of our human resources; supernatural intervention is required. It is for that reason Paul prayed that the saints would be strengthened by the Spirit.

God didn’t set a lofty goal for His children and then abandon them to their own imagination and ingenuity in figuring out how to achieve it. He established His Church as the body in which individual Christians would be integrated with fellow believers in interdependent relationships designed for their mutual growth and maturity and as a launching pad of ministry to others. When Jesus Christ instituted His Church He did so with a plan, or pattern, for how it should function.

I. The Pattern Of Jesus Christ For His Church

Central to God’s pattern for His Church is specific direction for how the Church should function.  Jesus Christ has gifted His Church to do the works He has already prepared for them to do (Eph 2.10). In the following verse Paul further unfolds God’s pattern for the Church.

Ephesians 4:12 (ESV) to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,

  1. Equip the Saints

In order for the saints to walk worthy of the Lord and to be instrumental in others doing so as well, it is essential they be adequately equipped. The situation in the first century, and certainly for us as well, was a surrounding culture that was anything but Christian in character or conduct. Our world is characterized by a world-view and priorities that stand in sharp contrast with God’s. Later in this chapter that sharp contrast is the focus of attention. For effective long term growth to occur in a Church there must be an understanding and philosophy which is deeply rooted in God’s Word since it is the only reliable way to discern what we should believe and what a Christian world-view looks like.

Central to equipping the saints is being accurately taught God’s Word and learning the critical importance of weaving God’s truth into the fabric of their lives so that it shapes their priorities, values, goals, habits, world-view, convictions, decisions, and lifestyle. Our lives need to resonate with God’s truth. His truth is a central thread that extends from the first page of the Bible to the very last. In due course we will study the armor or God in Ephesians 6 and it will be apparent that the common denominator to each component of the armor of God and our defense against the realm of darkness, is His truth. The pivotal role of the Bible in our maturation is evident in,

2 Timothy 3:16–17 (ESV) 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

We must be willing on an ongoing basis to examine our beliefs, convictions, traditions, and patterns for living, by the grid of God’s Word. Hence, we like David must seek God, by His Spirit, to search our hearts and expose places where we need to make adjustments and change in order to align our focus with His (Psalm 139.23). Building up the Church is dependent on more than knowing what the Bible says; it requires acting on what it says. To that end we must,

2. Engage in Ministry

Ephesians 4:12 (ESV) to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,

Effective Church ministry and building the Church up involves far more than just pastor-teachers and the other elders in a Church. God’s pattern involves all the saints, not just a few select individuals, everyone who has been saved and is identified with the local Church. There are a few exceptions where that simply isn’t possible, for example someone living in a country hostile to Biblical Christianity who is saved by hearing the Word of truth, the Gospel of salvation via the internet or radio and is unaware of any other believers in his/her area. But that is not the case for people living in Canada where we can follow Christ’s design and be integrated in a vital relationship in His Church. Most who have been isolated from fellow believers due to COVID-19, long for the resumption of public gatherings. Be encouraged! Plans are underway for the resumption of Sunday services and meeting with fellow believers very soon, even if it is at 6 foot intervals.

Every believer has been given a gift, or gifts, for ministry. If you are unaware of the gift, or gifts God has equipped you with, engage in ministry; they will become apparent. Seek the counsel of others and be willing to step out in faith in His enabling strength.

Sadly, in so many Churches, some of the saints have never engaged in using their gifts or and they have abdicated from doing so. The often quoted statistic is that 20% of the people look after 80% of the responsibilities, but that isn’t God’s pattern. His pattern is for 100% of the saints looking after 100% of the ministry needs. The pattern for the Church that leaps from the pages of Scripture is the interdependent relationship among believers that Christ designed as His pattern for His Church. Some believers decide they don’t need the Church. They almost always make that assessment based on their perceived needs, rather than the needs of others. But they are wrong on both counts. They inaccurately assess their needs and how to meet them, as well as ignoring God’s pattern for their involvement in the growth of others. Over the years I have made the observation many times that individuals newer to a Church, or those who are young in their faith generally look to those whom they perceive to be more mature in their faith as their examples. I have watched new believers mirror the steadfastness and faithfulness of stalwart examples of maturity, but sadly I have also witnessed newcomers pattern themselves after the sporadic and inconsistent behavior of others. We must be other-person focused when we consider our involvement in our local Church with God’s design for our participation in responding to the needs of others.

Philippians 3:17 (ESV) Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.

Realize too as you think about engaging in ministry, that the nature of your involvement in the Church may change as the needs in a Church change and as you age. More active and demanding roles may be replaced with less demanding ones, but one thing is certain, until we are sidelined by old age and failing health, God has an important role for us to fulfill in the life of  the Church. Many times as some of the saints need to leave more demanding roles to younger saints, they become fervent prayer warriors and engage in the ministry of encouragement to others.

3. Experience Growth

Ephesians 4:12 (ESV) to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,

Jesus Christ gifts His Church and equips His children with His inspired Word so all might engage in ministry to one another, so that the body of Christ, His Church, might be built up, and Church growth might result. Undoubtedly that is two-fold, the maturing of believers as they are sanctified and numerically growing as people turn to Jesus in repentant faith and are saved.

The word translated, building up, in this verse is used throughout the New Testament to convey the progressive maturing of believers. Consider the following verses describing the impact of God’s Word and His people building others up.

Acts 20:32 (ESV) And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 (ESV) Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

1 Peter 2:5 (ESV) you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Jesus said He would build His Church and apart from His supernatural intervention, no genuine growth happens. His supernatural empowering for service is essential as His saints obediently use the gifts they have been given in partnership with others so people will be built up in their faith and advance in Christ-likeness.

II. The Priority Of Jesus Christ For His Church

Jesus Christ has five priorities for His Church. The first three are given in,

Ephesians 4:13 (ESV) 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,

  1. Unity of the Faith

The importance of unity of the Spirit has already being emphasized; it is one of the traits evident when a person walks in a manner worthy of the calling to which they have been called. The importance of unity is clear from the reminders at the outset of chapter 4 of oneness: one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, and so on. As you review those examples of oneness in Ephesians 4.3 – 6, the point that stands out is they are all key truths we believe. In order for the Church to have unity and thereby bring glory to God, there must be unity in what people believe. People’s faith must be built upon a foundation of commonly held truth, rather than fragmented and divided beliefs. That is why most Churches have Statements of Faith which delineate their Core Beliefs. They identify what is fundamental and non-negotiable in their beliefs, that which is nonnegotiable.

Apart from a consensus on fundamental and core beliefs, a Church will not have unity of the faith. There is room for different understandings on points of Scripture where the Bible lacks clarity and which are not essential, but disagreement on, or tentative commitments to, fundamental points of doctrine will undermine the effectiveness and growth of the Church.

2. Knowledge of the Son of God

Central to Christianity is of course the Person of Jesus Christ and our relationship to Him. Our hope is in Him and His sacrifice for our sins on the cross at Calvary as sufficient for our salvation. Not just knowing about Jesus Christ, but having an intimate relationship with Him was at the forefront in Paul’s first prayer for believers. Continued growth and intimacy with Jesus is central in Paul’s second prayer. Not only is Jesus Christ central to our beliefs, but He demands exclusivity.

John 14:6 (ESV) Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 17:3 (ESV) And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

John 20:31 (ESV) but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

In light of the pivotal importance of God’s Word in understanding and growing in our relationship with Him, it is critical that we spend time in serious Bible study and prayerful reflection on it as we progress to Christ-likeness.

3, Maturity As Believers

Jesus Christ desires that we make continued progress in mirroring Him; He desires our character to reflect His, that out choices and decisions will be shaped by Him. In Ephesians 4.13 maturity is described as the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. Romans 8.29 similarly states, being conformed to the image of His Son,

Romans 8:29 (ESV) For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

The inherent concept is that we will conform to His pattern just as cake batter takes on the intricate shape of a fancy cake pan. He wants us to manifest His character and to walk as He walked.

1 John 2:6 (ESV) whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.

May it not only be our goal to walk as Jesus walked, but may that be our prayer for others to do so as well.

Colossians 4:12 (ESV) Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.

4. Sound Doctrine

Ephesians 4:14 (ESV) 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.

God’s Church is desperately in need of sound doctrine as we face a world that offers a much vaster array of false gods and deceptive philosophies than the Romans or Greeks could ever have conceived of in the first century. Unlike the era of the Greeks and Romans, our generation is only a keystroke or a click of a button away from the enticements and deception of the world. We are surrounded by every imaginable wind of doctrine. While some of  those promoting false doctrine passionately believe they are correct as exemplified by suicide bombers, others, despite knowing what they are saying is false, through cunning and deceitfulness, seek to mislead others.

A couple of weeks ago Beverley and I watched the film, American Gospel: Christ Alone, released in 2018. It’s available on Netflix. The film exposes many of the excesses and false claims made by some of the so-called televangelists. Some of their claims are so appealing and enticing that it is little wonder many are led to conclude they coincide with God’s desire. Who doesn’t want to be wealthy? Who wants to be sick? The claim that people are sick or poor only because of a lack of faith is made to sound believable. But closer examination reveals that many of their claims are not only in conflict with sound doctrine, but with the evidence as well. Those with only a superficial grasp of Bible truth are easy prey for the slick and well-rehearsed presentations. God’s purpose for His Church is that it be characterized by sound doctrine. Realize, sound doctrine isn’t only applicable to a limited segment of the world, like rich America, but it will be equally applicable in the poverty of Ethiopia, or in godless regimes like China or North Korea where their aggressive assault on the Church is never ending. The prosperity gospel doesn’t fit the experience of Christians in Iran or Iraq or Turkey or Syria where for all too many, their relationship with the Lord is being forged in the crucible of suffering and persecution.

I cannot stress enough the critical importance of sound doctrine for the stability of the Church. Sadly much of western Christendom has set aside serious Bible study for superficial and experientially based get-togethers where what is believed is shaped more by everyone’s opinions than the Bible. We must be mindful of the prophetic warning of long ago concerning the last days, which many are persuaded we are in,

2 Peter 3:2–3 (ESV) 2 that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, 3 knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.

Consider too the even more descriptive predictions found in 2 Tim 3.1 – 5.

While there are some who dismiss the importance of doctrine, the counsel of the Word of God is otherwise. Coupled with the importance of sound doctrine is,

5. Authentic Love

Many years ago the Church I was in was struggling with how to respond to a member who had become entangled in serious sin. One individual posed the question, “Should we do the Biblical thing or the loving thing?” The premise underlying that question is reflective of a good deal of practice in Churches today, that the loving thing and the Biblical thing are not the same thing. Our Bible text clarifies the view we ought to courageously embrace,

Ephesians 4:15 (ESV) Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,

God’s people should always be motivated by their love for the Lord, His Word, and His people. That love must be undergirded by wisdom and discernment. Consider the input the Bible gives us,

Philippians 1:9 (ESV) And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment,

Hebrews 5:14 (ESV) But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

The loving thing and the Biblical thing are always the same thing. The most loving thing is to follow God’s Word with discernment and compassion because it is in our best interest and for God’s glory. I wish I could take the time to expand on this from experience gleaned over the decades. There were times when the Churches I was in did a better job of following this and others where we overlooked what we should have done. That gives some background to my choice of words when I said “courageously embrace” the Biblical direction of speaking the truth in love. The Biblical direction often isn’t popular when someone has been carried astray by some wind of doctrine or become entangled in serious sin. Often, you will not be well received and sometimes the very people who should support the Bible’s direction, lash out in anger. Sometimes too, people abandon the Church, believing that is an acceptable solution. But fortunately there are also people who listen to the loving counsel of God’s Word and are spared from catastrophe, or who turn from their entanglement in sin and experience the unconditional forgiveness of a loving Church. Some discover that the loving words which seemed so painful when they were uttered, were the stepping stones of deliverance from the deceptive clutches of the enemy of the Church. And occasionally, some who dismiss the truth spoken in love, come back later, sometimes years later, to say, “Oh how I wish I had listened.” Time prevents me from delineating further on the pivotal importance in the Church today of tactfully speaking the truth in love with compassion and empathy.

Conclusion

Ephesians 4:16 (ESV) 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.

Following God’s Pattern For His Church will result in a growing, maturing, unified, integrated body of interdependent followers of Jesus Christ displaying His glory.

Our concluding hymn for today is The Church’s One Foundation sung by the choir of Grace Community Church – Sun Valley, California