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Jesus' Plan for Church Growth

Back to all sermons Ephesians

Date: November 3, 2019

Speaker: Erik Raymond

Series: Ephesians

Category: Biblical Exposition

Scripture: Ephesians 4:7–4:16

 3 foundational conclusions about spiritual gifts

  1. They are from the hand of our triumphant king (8–10)
  2. They are centered upon serving the church the Word of God (11)
  3. They are designed to equip believers to grow together (12–17)
Church growth remains a popular topic. There are no shortages of books written on the subject. There is also a myriad of conferences, podcasts, and journals dedicated to it. Church growth is big business. But it's also confusing. When we read the Bible we see that God is certainly not opposed to church growth, but his emphasis seems to be a bit different. If I were to summarize the contrast it would be this: many today seem to be focused on the church growing in number while the biblical emphasis seems to be upon it growing in depth. Unfortunately many in the broader evangelical culture will even push against growing deeply in the Word saying this type of emphasis will repel those who are seeking and spiritually curious. 
What we find in Ephesians 4 is that God's blueprint for his church involves growing deep in the Word. In fact, God's design is that we grow more and more mature so that we would better reflect his character in our service to him.
And this is the argument that I want to make from this text this morning: Jesus gives spiritual gifts to his church so we’d serve and reflect him together. 
I hope to convince you that God's blueprint for his church, his plan for church growth involves gifting the church in such a way that we are equipped to serve and reflect him together. This is his design. And we should, therefore, order our lives as a church around this reality.
Today we'll see 3 foundational conclusions about spiritual gifts
    (1) They are from the hand of our triumphant king (8-10)
    (2) They are centered upon serving the church the Word of God (11)
    (3) They are designed to equip believers to grow together (12-17)

(1) They are from the hand of our triumphant king (8-10)

In the preceding verses, the Apostle has been talking about the need for unity in the church. He points us to the Trinity as the model and motivation of this unity. And he urges us to work hard to preserve the unity that God has established in the church. Then here in these verses, he pivots to talk about how he is going to bring about the unity. And as we’ll see the unity means conformity - to Christ.
Spiritual Gifts
Paul mentions these gifts that are given in verses 8-10. These gifts are often referred to as spiritual gifts (you can also read about them in 1 Cor 12-14, Romans 12, this is not a complete list here). The reason they are called spiritual gifts is because of who they are from and how they function. They come from God who is Spirit and they function in the church to grow us spiritually into maturity or Christ-likeness. Spiritual gifts then are gifts of grace from God designed for the edification of the church.
...the Incarnation of Jesus
In verses 8-10 we see that the giving of these gifts is in connection to the work of Christ. We see this with the words ascending and descending. I think this reference here is to the incarnation of Jesus - which includes his death and placement in the earth, the grave (I don’t think there is any reference to hell or the abode of the dead here). And then the resurrection and ascension of Christ, which includes his present place as ruling and reigning.
The gifts of Christ to his church reflect his triumphant victory upon the cross. We can see this with the quotation that Paul provides in verse 8. Paul is quoting the 68th Psalm and making an application to Jesus.
Look at the verse, “When he ascended on high, he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” 
...the Victory of Christ
This quotation is meant to evoke an image of victory. You might picture a military leader returning to his city at the front of his troops. As he makes his way home he has his army and then all of those he has conquered in his wake. If we were thinking of a Jewish king he would’ve made this march to the Temple Mount, receded by the sacred ark, which symbolizes God's special presence. They would offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God as the parade reaches the temple. They would then dedicate the conquered foe to God and receive the gifts of his spoil.
Here the idea is of Christ Jesus conquering his enemies on the cross. He has defeated, sin, Satan, and death. The resurrection and ascension is his triumph. He is the true King.
Paul here pictures the whole incarnation as the King’s triumph over his foes. And instead of receiving gifts from men, he is distributing gifts to people.
...the Mission of Christ’s Church
And the point is seen in verse 10 so that he might fill all things. This touches on the overall theme that we’ve seen in Ephesians, God is uniting all things in submission to the rule of Christ; we see this on display in the church.
So this filling of all things has to do with the expansion of the knowledge and presence of God to the ends of the earth through the church. 
This is what we read back in chapter 1:23, that Christ, through the church fills all in all.
How is God going to do this? Through the church. 
By what means? Through these spiritual gifts that he has lavished upon his people. 
Jesus, the triumphant king provides his church with everything necessary to equip us to serve and reflect him.

(2) They are centered upon serving the church the Word of God (11)

What do these gifts look like? It’s interesting, here Paul in his explanation of gifts doesn’t go through generic categories of gifts as he does in other places (helping, serving, discerning, etc) but rather upon offices and positions of leadership in the church. In other words, it’s not a generic category of a gift but specific people who are gifted and given to the church.
Look with me at verse 11, “and he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds, and teachers.”
When you look at this list you see that in addition to them being offices and positions of leadership in the church, they are centered upon serving the church the Word.
The first is the Apostles
The word “apostle” strictly speaking means one who is sent. In the New Testament, the word is used in an unofficial and an official sense.
Unofficially, there are apostles or people who are sent out by churches to serve as a representative. Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25) and some people in 2 Cor. 8:23 are mentioned in this way. The word is used in this unofficial, broad sense 80 times in the New Testament.
But in the official sense, the New Testament refers to an office. And the best way to remember this is that the Apostles have authority. When you think apostle think authority. They are ambassadors sent to speak and act on behalf of the sending party.
The Apostles were the ones whom Christ gave the important task of taking the word to Jerusalem and then to Samaria and extending out. God promised them that he would bring to mind all thing things that Christ had taught them (Jn 14:25-26). And this is what God did and then the Apostle worked to write down the Word of God and establish churches. 
We learned in Ephesians 2:20 that the Apostles formed a foundational role in the church. By nature, there are no apostles today. They had a unique set of qualifications. They had to be an eye witness of the risen Christ. This is implied by Acts 1:21-22; 1 Cor.. 9:1, and 15:6-9. But simply seeing the risen Christ did not make someone an apostle, for many saw and heard Him (1 Cor. 15:6) who were not apostles. They also had to call and commissioned by Jesus for this role (Gal. 1:1; Rom. 1:1,5).
But to be sure they had a foundation roe of putting the Word of God before the church.
The second is the Prophets
This refers to the prophets. They also had this foundational role with the Apostles (Eph. 2:20, 3:5). Much like their Old Testament predecessors, they were given God’s Words for God’s people. Sometimes it served to warn others to encourage others to inform. The served a foundational role in the early church. And now, with the completion of the canon, the Word of God, there are no longer prophets receiving this direct revelation from God but rather we go to the Scriptures.
The third is the Evangelists
When we think about evangelists we might think of guys with a fancy suit and horrible hair, starring on religious tv. But in reality, evangelists are those who are especially gifted to equip and mobilize people for the work of mission. This was an evident gift in the early church and in some cases throughout history. When we think of evangelists today we often think of people going out but perhaps the evangelist stayed near and equipped others to go out. Paul tells Timothy to do the work of an evangelist. This seems to mean that his job is to equip people to share the gospel as well as to himself tell people about Christ.
The fourth is the Shepherd Teachers
This is the pastor-teacher. The term pastor is rich with shepherding imagery. As a shepherd is to lead, feed, guard and protect the flock, so too is the pastor-teacher. We’ll get into more of the specifics shortly, but for now, it’s important to see that pastors like the other gifts mentioned are centered upon the Word.
We can make this conclusion: God means to fill the earth with his glory through the proclamation of the Word of God. Gifts and glory are related.
Let’s see then a third foundational truth about spiritual gifts.

(3) They are designed to equip believers to grow together (12-17)

What are these gifts for? How do they function in the church?
We see the answer right away in verse 12 with the first clause, “to equip the saints for the work of ministry”
Before moving ahead let’s define a few words. 
The word saints refers to those who are Christians. Saint is synonymous with those who are holy or set apart. It is those who are in Christ.
The next word is equip. The word is used for repairing broken fishing nets, resetting an out of place joint or broken limb. It’s also used in relational context to speak about restoration. The basic idea o the word is that it means putting something back into the condition that it ought to be. With the connection to the saints then, it means that there is a renewal that takes place through the proper use of the word gifts.
Work of Service
The third word here in this verse is the work of service. This has to do with the practical service and ministry in the church. It refers to service needs in the church.
Building up
The fourth is the building up of the body of Christ. This word building up is an architectural word that simply means to build or construct. So we are talking about building up the church, the body of Christ.
Now I want you to look at v.12 in your Bible. And as you do you’ll notice some symmetry with some commas and repetition. And there has been some debate about how to read and understand the passage. In some traditions, especially where there is a great difference between the clergy and the congregation, this verse was read this way: to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ
In other words, it was the pastor's job to equip the saints, do all the work of practical service, and to build up the church. Have you thought about the term minister? It just means servant. Perhaps this comes from this view of the passage.
However, there have been some who have pushed back at this interpretation. They would advocate for removing the first comma between the saints and for the work of ministry. In other words, instead of it being the pastor’s (and only the pastor’s) job to do this work, it is the responsibility of the church members, as they are equipped to serve and as a result, to build up the body of Christ.
The verse is then read: to equip the saints for the work of service, with the result of building up the body of Christ.
This is quite an important philosophical piece. If it’s the pastor's job to do everything then the church members are going to come to church, listen to sermons, and then wait for the pastors to do the work. 
But if it’s the other view, where every member is a minister - that is a servant - then it’s the pastor’s primary job to use his gifts to equip the saints (through the Word) in order for the saints to serve in the practical ministry areas, with the result that the church is built up.
This is the interpretation that we would take here are Redeemer. My job as one of the pastors is to preach and teach the Bible. I’m here primarily to equip the saints to do the work of ministry. That’s my primary responsibility. It doesn’t mean that I don’t serve in various other ways - I certainly do - but it does mean that my primary responsibility is that of word work, i.e. equipping. Then the members of this church are to work together to do the practical works of service in the church. We are all serving and building up together.
If this is a new concept to you perhaps it has been confusing as you spend time at this church and see other people serving who aren’t on the pastoral staff. You may have even been asked yourself numerous times to serve. And maybe you’ve wondered why someone else, like one of the pastors, can’t do it. This is Ephesians 4 coming out. Jesus gives spiritual gifts to his church so we’d serve and reflect him together. 
In one example where this type of thing comes out is in Acts chapter 6. Go ahead and turn there with me now. Read through Acts 6. In the early church, many disciples were being added. This brought an added weight to the people of God. It brought new challenges. But it also caused some people to be neglected. Some roles of service were not being attended to. And as is so often the case, the leaders jumped in to pick up the dropped balls. But in time these leaders realized they couldn’t do everything. And in their effort, they were not doing what they were supposed to be doing. So they had a choice: Stop preaching and teaching so they could service, stop serving so they could preach and teach, or get some help. In this, they got some help.
And this is our challenge today also. The pastors feel the burden for service to get done. But, we will not be a healthy church if the majority of service is being completed by the elders. Instead, the elders are to work at equipping the saints so that the saints can serve together for the mutual upbuilding of the church.
And what’s at stake here? What could we lose if we don’t do this? An what do we gain if we do? 
There are 5 blessings of a healthy church, from this text. 
(1) Unity, v.13:
(2) Maturity, vv.13b-14:
(3) Growth, v.15:
(4) Service, v.16:
(5) Love, v.16:
If the goal is Christlikeness then the biblical recipe is very clear. Pastors and teachers must equip the saints so we can together do the work of service. This results in the proper functioning of the church expressed in terms of unity, maturity, love, and in the end increasing Christ-likeness.