Text: Ephesians 4:7-16
Today, we are expressing our commitment to reach out to children all across the world in an effort to provide some joy and necessities through our shoeboxes. Even more, we will be part of allowing those children the opportunity to hear and respond to God’s invitation to be part of the family. From right where we are, we will potentially touch lives in any of six continents. We will join together in an effort to show boys and girls from 2 to 14 just how they should go in their lives. “Train up a child in the way he should go,” Proverbs tells us. And we are taking part of a global effort to help, in a small way, train up children in the way they should go.
An African proverb says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” We know this to be true. We rely on many others to help us raise our children. We turn to friends, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and siblings. We rely on public and private institutions with teachers and librarians, sports leagues with coaches, or boys and girls clubs with their mentors and leaders. Even in the church, we send our children off to others for Sunday School and Vacation Bible School and extended care.
Imagine for a moment that the entirety of the raising, teaching, and training up of a child depended entirely on you. You might think of your own child or grandchild. No spouse to turn to on the hard nights. No grandparents to rely on for babysitting so grocery shopping or work could get accomplished. No daycare to provide supervision while you earn a living. No friends to commiserate with. No doctors to provide counsel on those long nights of fever, raspy breathing, and unending coughs. No authors of books, articles, or blogs to read that might help guide you through potty training, sports interests, and teenage angst. No elders to turn to who had been there before and might provide some wisdom. No department stores to turn to for clothing. Not even a farmer to turn to for cotton for your child’s clothing. It’s just you and your child, entirely on your own.
A ludicrous thought, is it not? Anyone want that job? There is no practical way that we could really do all of the aspects of raising a child completely on our own.
Here, then, is the hard truth of today’s portion of Ephesians. It takes a community to be the church of God doing the work of the Kingdom of God. An individual can no more accomplish the task and role of the church on his or her own than any one of us could take a child and raise and provide for her completely without the help of anyone else.
Unfortunately, far too often, too many of us take a hands-off approach to church. Far too often, we believe – or at least act as if we believe – that the church is the domain of the minister and clergy. Far too often, proclaimed Christians attend church, warm their spot in their pew on Sunday morning for an hour, and accomplish nothing else. Perhaps that is an accurate description of you, this morning.
It takes a community to do church. I cannot do the work of the church on my own. I am not equipped to, I am not supposed to, and I simply will not harm the church by attempting to do so. It is not the pastor’s role to do the work of the church. But don’t take my word for it. Look to Paul’s words to the Ephesians.
Most of us are aware of the idea of spiritual gifts. We know from what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:7 that God grants everyone a spiritual gift, perhaps even multiple spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts are distinguished from natural gifts or talents that people may or may not be born with. Music is a talent of mine that I showed a propensity towards as young as age 2. I have developed it and grown it over the years. You have your own talents and abilities that you were born with.
Spiritual gifts are different, they are unique abilities and functions granted to us at the time of our salvation. Everyone has at least one of them. And there is no place in the Bible where an exhaustive list of possible spiritual gifts is given. 1 Corinthian 12 lists wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirits, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues. Romans 12 lists the gifts of prophecy, service, teaching, exhortation, generosity, leadership, and mercy. And Ephesians 4 lists the gifts of certain roles in the church: apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherd-teachers.
All of these can be described as spiritual gifts. Likewise, it is possible that the Holy Spirit bestows other gifts on those whom He has marked as belonging to Christ that are particularly useful for the work of the kingdom in their life and setting. Here’s the point: we all have something. Such grace was given to each one of us, according to Ephesians 4:7. 1 Corinthians 12:7 says, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
What is the common good? The common good is the growth of the body of Christ into its full maturity. What is the body of Christ? The church is the Body of Christ. What is the church? The body of all of those who are saved from their wages of death due for their sins by the blood of Christ shed on the cross. If you are saved from your sins, then you are part of the church. If you are part of the church, then you are a member of the body of Christ. If you are a member of the body of Christ, then you have been gifted in a specific way so that together we might build and grow the body of Christ until the day and time when the body is fully grown and complete, lacking nothing and no one.
What, specifically, is my role as the pastor in this growth? Ephesians 4 makes it pretty clear. My role is not to do. Rather, my role is to equip you to do. Paul lists apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherds and teachers. The apostles were those who were eyewitnesses to Jesus and the resurrection, as Acts makes clear when the apostles choose a replacement for Judas Iscariot. A condition for potential candidates stipulated that he must be someone who had been with Jesus throughout his earthly ministry and who also was an eyewitness to the events of our Lord’s death and resurrection. They were foundational to the church, but no one today is an apostle. None of us is an eyewitness.
Prophets, likewise, were foundational to the beginnings of the church. We equate prophecy with foretelling the future. But a prophet is someone who speaks for God to people. In the early days of the church, the New Testament was not yet written. Therefore, it was necessary to have people who could speak God’s truth. These were His prophets. Since we have such abundant access to God’s Word through the Scriptures, this is a position that we do not look for today.
Evangelists are those who proclaim the good news of the Gospel, particularly to those who have not heard or responded. This is still very much an active gift in the world today. Shepherds and teachers are two words that describe one gifting. These are what we call pastors today. They guard the flock from false doctrine. They guide and train and direct and provide. Ephesians says that these four gifts were given to the church that they might “equip the saints for the work of ministry.”
The New Testament regularly uses the word “saints” to describe those who have been made holy before God. In other words, the saints are those who have been washed clean by the blood of Jesus through saving faith. The shepherd-teacher pastors are given not that they might do the work of ministry by themselves, but that they might equip everyone else in the church to do the work of ministry.
What is this work of ministry that I’m supposed to be equipping you to do? The word for ministry is “diakonias.” With a little imagination you might recognize that our word deacon comes from this same root. It is the work of service. The first deacons were chosen in Acts 6 in order to handle the distribution of food among the widows. But our work is not just among widows. The Bible speaks often about those who are afflicted and in need. Consider just this one passage from Isaiah 58:6-8:
6 Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? 8 Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.”
Our ministry as a church should be accomplishing these things for all who find themselves widowed, orphaned, captive, lost, naked, hungry, thirsty, oppressed, and otherwise abused. And, as we accomplish meeting these needs, we will also accomplish the work of Matthew 28:18-20, where we are all of us commissioned to make disciples of all nations as we go throughout the world. Your job is to accomplish this work. My job is to make sure that you are equipped in order to accomplish this work.
More carefully, my job is to make sure you understand that you are already equipped for such work. It is my task to help you unveil the way that God has already gifted and equipped you through spiritual gifts, natural talents, personality, interests, and existing relationships and skills. You already possess everything that you need in order to accomplish your work in the kingdom. But it is your work. I can’t do it for you. No one else can do it for you. You alone are specifically and especially equipped to undertake this necessary work so that the body of Christ may be built up and grow into full maturity into its head, who is Jesus.
As a shepherd, I train you to go in the right ways. I help to guard you against the schemes of the devil through false doctrines. I make sure that we can move forward steadily without being swayed by the powerful winds of our world and our surrounding culture. Instead, we stay together. We intertwine our various giftings into one working body. Working, all of us together, in our own specific tasks, we build ourselves up into love, growing into the full body and bride of Christ. As verses 15 and 16 of Ephesians 4 say, “15Rather, 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.”
This is the vision of our community coming together, working together, and accomplishing the great and astonishing work which we are commissioned to do. “Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything that Jesus taught us, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” trusting that God through Jesus in the Spirit is with us to the very end of this age when the Kingdom of God will be fully expressed in the body of Christ that is the church when it is fully mature and complete, containing every working joint, bone, marrow, vessel, and part it needs.
You are a member of the body of Christ. You are gifted for a necessary task. It is your work to accomplish what God has commissioned us to do. We are equipped. We are prepared. We are enabled. We are inspired. Now we must do. What are we waiting for?