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Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1261

June 12, 2016 Ephesians 4:1-16

Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)

 

“Growing Up – Into Christ”

 

  • Worthy Walk (4:1-3)

 

When I grow up I want to be… What was your dream as a child? I wanted to play football, or race a car, or, as of 50 years old, play golf on the senior tour! When we grow up we want all kinds of things, sometimes we reach those goals, other times the Lord leads us in new directions. One direction the Lord leads all who trust in him is to grow up into Christ. Paul begins this section of his letter with a summons for God's people to live out God's call. God calls us to grow up! The metaphor for life is walking in a manner worthy of that call. Grown-ups live this way: humble, gentle, patient, loving, eager for unity, and peacefully. We spend our lives perfecting these attributes. We also struggle with these attributes. We strive, if strive is the right word, for humility. Maybe it's yielding ourselves toward humility. We desire to be gentle and we work toward that as well, but too often we treat one another with the gentleness of a bull in a china shop. How many of us have lost patience in the last week? Love, unity, peace, all these character traits are not just things we strive for, but also what it means to grow into Christ. It is what we become, not just what we strive to do. To become like Christ is to become humble and patient, loving and peaceful. The closer we grow into Christ, the more we demonstrate these attributes.

 

  • Gift of Grace/Christ’s Gifts (4:7)

 

How does it happen that we are able to become like Christ? The simple answer is grace. God gives us the grace needed to help us grow into Christ. It is by grace that we are saved, by grace that we are given power to grow into Christ. God helps us to live out our call. Living humbly, living in peace, living in love is impossible without God's help and direction, impossible without God's grace. God knows this and gives us gifts to lead us to maturity.

 

    • Gifts given for the sake of the church, not for our own sake (4:12)

 

Where are these gifts? In this passage they are evangelism, apostleship, prophecy, shepherding, and teaching. We might look at these as functions of the church, but they are also callings in the Christian life. Some people are gifted toward evangelism or teaching, others might be apostolic or more shepherding. These gifts are given for the sake of the church and not for our own sake. That means that whatever gifts we have been given, and these are not all the gifts given, whatever gifts given are to be expressed in humility, love, and patience.

In one sense we have been given all of these gifts throughout the Bible. We have prophets and apostles. We have teachers and shepherds. They are the characters of scripture, Jesus, Moses, Isaiah, and Paul. So we might say that we have the Bible to do everything Paul describes here: to bring unity and peace to the church.

Let's imagine too that these gifts are given to us today for the same reasons. I know of great teachers and shepherds and apostles (sent ones). I am somewhat intrigued with the gift of prophecy for today. Where are the prophets? Where are the Christians who will stand strong in God's Word, or we might say, into Christ, and bring the critical righteous voice to the godless living among society and perhaps even within much of the church? It may be that part of the reason the church has lost much of its influence in our society is because we have lost something of the power behind these gifts. Perhaps we have not given ourselves over to God's grace to the point that we have the courage to speak and lead and prophecy into Christ.

Perhaps that is why the church has grown ineffective in influence and more like any other social organization in our society. But God is a gift giver. God gives gifts to God’s people – abundant gifts, elaborate gifts, lavished upon us for life. Gifts come from God in a variety of ways. There are spiritual gifts, material gifts, gifts of talents, and gifts we don’t even recognize in our lives, gifts we take for granted, life, breath, health, and love. There are gifts given to us through others – often the person through which the gift is given is unaware that God is using him or her. We are entrusted with these gifts – called to use them wisely, not to waste our talents or our material goods. We are called to seek out the gifts of the spirit and use them for the ministry. Gifts of hospitality, faith, healing, tongues, prophecy, teaching, pastoring, and many others. Gifts through talents, skills, resources available, and sometimes simply the gift of one’s presence, being here, being with someone in the hospital, being at the ballgame with a young person – just being available.

 

    • To equip us all for ministry (4:12)

 

We share different gifts that will often overlap in our ministry together. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. Apostles are those sent to do ministry in the name of Christ. Prophets listen for God’s word and notice what is happening in the world in order to proclaim the good and bad that come at the intersection of the Good News of God and the world. Evangelists have a special task of proclaiming the gospel. Pastors care for the church as a shepherd for the sheep. Teachers teach! Yet we are not held captive to these gifts alone – teachers may sometimes reveal a prophetic voice. Prophets may shepherd others, but God has given these gifts to build the church. God prepares us for the ministry and mission. That means that saints, Christians – we are all to be equipped for the work of ministry. It is ours together. We are all called, all gifted, and all equipped for ministry. We are not called to sit on the pew and watch everyone else do the work of ministry. We are not called to be pew potatoes like our cousins the couch potatoes. We are called to the ministry – to work – to participate – to experience God through service and worship and prayer and study and a host of other activities. We are called and equipped to build up the body of Christ. We are not to tear down, to ridicule, to bite one another out of anger and hatred, but to build up. We are to become body builders. We build each other through kind words, through acts of compassion, through care, love, and edification.

 

  • To Build the Body (4:12-13)

 

    • Unity of faith

 

The unity of the church revolves around one person – Jesus Christ. It is in knowledge of Christ that we come to unity. It is in maturity in Christ that we know the fullness of Christ. The Christian life is marked by a growing maturity. We do not expect people to act at age 30 like they did at age 10. There should be signs of growth and maturity in their life. If we come to know Christ at an early age and continue with an infant faith twenty years later, then we are not growing and maturing. Faith is to be nurtured, matured, and strengthened as we grow in the body of Christ.

Faith is matured through knowledge of Jesus Christ. We seek to become like him, following in faithful discipleship, worshiping in joyful worship, studying with diligence, serving and giving with cheerfulness. We look to the teachings of the apostles, prophets, and evangelists of scripture. We have a goal in mind – maturity. Yet, that maturity is gentle and peaceful, humble and patient. Jesus reminds us that we must also become like children to enter the kingdom of God (Matt. 18:1-4). The childlike quality he refers to there is humility. Our maturity is found in humble submission to God, in the innocence of learning and growing like a child eager to know the truth. This is how we come to the fullness of Christ. If we do not mature into Christ then we become like a different kind of child – one easily taken in by imposters.

  •  

  • To This End – Into Christ (4:14-16)

    • Not tossed about

Paul may have accurately described the modern church in Ephesians 4:14 – 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.” It seems like some parts of the church today are being tossed around by all kinds of doctrines, tricks, and schemes that have very little to do with the gospel of Jesus Christ. We see children and childish adults who have no knowledge of Jesus Christ and they will believe almost anything.

 

    • speaking truth in love

    • grow up into Christ

This selection of scripture ends with two important thoughts for the church and for each believer in Christ. Speak the truth in love. Grow up into Christ. Again Paul speaks of growing in building up the body in love. We cannot abandon the truth in love or abandon love when pursuing truth. I plan to preach next Sunday on a similar theme of grace and truth. What we have seen in some churches is an attempt to love people without speaking truth or the other side of speaking truth without love which leads to legalism and self righteousness. We must hold these things together. It is like building the body up physically or emotionally or spiritually. Building the physical body requires discipline, specific exercises, work, some routine, and some variety. To see muscle growth one has to be disciplined enough to work out on a regular basis, eat the right things, and stay away from things that tear the body down. Growth will not occur trying to work out on a hit or miss basis. Once in a while the muscles need a surprise so that they don’t fall into a rut and plateau at a certain level. The same can be said for emotional and spiritual growth, we avoid things that would lead us to a bad place emotionally and think on spiritual things, heavenly things, in order to build our spiritual foundation.

The Christian life requires discipline, exercise, work, routine, and some variety. We need to try something new once in a while to see if God is at work giving us a new gift! We need to commit our lives to the disciplines that seek to help us build one another up in love, prayer, scripture reading and study, worship, fellowship, evangelism, and the like – in order to promote growth so that we are not living with a faith that has leveled off at the plateau. Like muscles that are not worked, faith may also atrophy and stop growing. So we seek out the gifts of God by getting more involved in oour relationship with Jesus Christ, by being more active in the life of the Church, and by exercising our faith in ways that we have not considered before. Paul urges us to walk with Jesus Christ that we might grow into Him building ourselves up in love. That will take us a lifetime but it is the only way we will be able to see through the schemes of the world and know the truth that we must speak to the world in love. Amen.