Unity, Maturity, and Vice-Versa

Communion Table (1)

Art by James Best, used with permission.  More are can be found at https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.

Please read Ephesians 4:7-16.

          A ladder is a common household item.  But – can you name the parts of a ladder?

The steps or “rungs” are the most familiar part as that’s where we put our feet.  But what are the side pieces called?

Rails.  The rails are the vertical pieces to which the steps are attached.

The spreaders are the hinges which connect the front and rear rails, allowing the ladder to open and close.

There are lots of NT images for the church, but I felt lead to offer a ladder as a metaphor.  Here’s the point; what part of a ladder can you do without?  Steps without rails are useless.  Rails without spreaders would make the ladder unstable.

So it is with the church.  All the parts are indispensable.  Whenever any of the parts fall away, a local church becomes something less useful than it was before.  There is nothing in the Bible that makes attendance and activity optional; just the opposite; we are to be on campus and in service as often as possible.

CONTEXT = V. 7 starts with the word BUT, indicating a contrasting idea is about to be introduced.  In verses one through six Paul examined the topic of UNITY from the perspective of all we have in common.  In verses seven through sixteen he will explore it from the perspective of what makes us diverse.

In this passage the important mark of diversity is a supernatural one: Spiritual Gifts.  As Paul made clear in Galatians 3:28; the superficial distinctions of nationality, gender, and economic status are irrelevant in Christ.  What matters in the Church instead is the diversity of Spiritual Gifts.  As we will see later, Spiritual Gifts are God-given abilities to do ministry. Paul refers to them here as GRACE.

All who believe in Jesus share the “ONE” items listed in vs. 4-6.  BUT, GRACE has been APPORTIONED to each believer individually, as Jesus wills.  GRACE (charis) is close to charismata in the Gk; the word translated as Spiritual Gifts, it literally means “a manifestation of grace.”  Paul will explain this statement after he digresses on a brief theological interlude.  For now, it’s enough to know that Jesus is in charge and He has a plan.

Unity and maturity are inseparable necessities.

  1. A theological interlude. (8-10)

This is a long “rabbit trail.”  Only here and in 1 Peter 3:19-20 does the New Testament seem to teach that Jesus went to some kind of underworld to preach to dead folk.  That is a provocative statement and it may be new to you, but it’s been talked about for a long time: it’s in the Apostle’s Creed.

There is no productive way for us to touch this discussion in our time this morning.  Instead, we’ll just observe Paul’s line of reasoning and move on.

– In vs. 1-6, he described unity by noting all we share.

– In v. 7, he introduced the idea that we have diversity in our unity, a teaching he will complete in vs. 11-16.

– In vs. 8-10, he introduced a new idea, seeming to go off on a tangent.

This paragraph is here to show that Christ exercised authority, the kind of authority that allows Him to apportion GRACE.  Verse eight quotes Psalm 68:18 which refers to a king who gives gifts to his subjects.

Paul’s thought might be paraphrased in this way; “Considering all God has given all of us – all that we share – we must be unified.  On the other hand, we’ve also been given GRACE – gifts for ministry – that underline our diversity.  Jesus Christ has the power to do that.  After all, He’s the only one who’s come from heaven to earth, gone under the earth, and to back to heaven again!”

  1. We have a diversity of gifts in order to promote maturity in each other. (11-13)

Let’s don’t overlook the little words and phrases in verse eleven.  IT WAS HE: Jesus, who descended from heaven and ascended back, He is the one who APPORTIONED GRACE to every believer.  Don’t miss the word GAVE; these are Spiritual Gifts we’re talking about.  SOME refers to “some individual believers,” but not to all.  Here’s where diversity runs parallel to unity, both to the benefit of the Church.

What are these “Spiritual Gifts?”

The subject can be a little confusing.  Though these verses list five offices in the Church, the Gifts and the offices are not always the same.

The Gifts are, at the same time, individualized and universal.  The Gifts enable some to do things all believers should be doing.  For example, Paul lists “Teacher” as a Gift.  All of us have opportunity to teach and we must all be prepared to do so.  Not having the Gift of Teacher does not relieve us of that responsibility.  It does mean that persons with that Gift will be better suited to teaching and be more successful at it.

The Spiritual Gifts are particular endowments that God grants to individual believers.  Followers of Jesus will have individual combinations of Gifts.

These five are offered as examples; they are not an exhaustive list.  If we cull Gifts from other listings and eliminate the duplicates, then we have about 20 different Spiritual Gifts.

APOSTLES = In 2:20, APOSTLES were one of the two foundational roles in starting new churches.  The word apostle means “one who is sent.”  Their authority rested in being sent by Jesus.  In our time we might call them “church planters” and “missionaries.”

PROPHETS = Also mentioned in 2:20 as foundational in new churches.  Their function is not often telling the future.  Prophets give messages of strengthening, encouragement, and comfort to build up the church (1 Corinthians 14:3-5).  We would call a prophet a “preacher.”

EVANGELISTS are gifted with messages directed primarily at non-believers, to help them accept Jesus as Savior and Lord.  Evangelists aid church members by calling them to take their eyes off themselves and their comfort to keep working to make Jesus known outside the church walls.

PASTORS is a role we mix with preacher, but the two were seen by Paul as separate offices and Gifts.  This is the only place in the New Testament to use this word for a church leader; in Hebrews 13:20 and 1 Peter 2:25 it was used as a title for Jesus Himself.  The work of a pastor tends to focus on people who are already Christians, helping them mature in their faith.  The role is a nurturing position not unlike shepherds to their sheep.

TEACHERS = All four of the other roles will require a person to teach Bible truths.  In Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus, he required the ability to teach as a qualification for all church leaders (1 Timothy 3:2; 5:17; 2 Timothy 2:24; Titus 1:9).  Godly teachers do not just pass on intellectual content, but they also exhort and encourage the hearts of their students, and provide an example of their teaching lived out.  This is a big responsibility and is no doubt part of the reason James warned against aspiring to be a teacher (see James 3:1).

The diversity of Gifts serve a single purpose: maturity.  The Gifts are used to PREPARE GOD’S PEOPLE FOR WORKS OF SERVICE and build up the BODY OF CHRIST.  In contrast to our modern version of church (with its professional clergy versus laity distinction), the leaders are not to be the ones DOING the ministry for the members, they’re to be preparing the members to serve each other and people outside the faith.  Serving others has the effect of “building” the church by maturing the believers and converting the unbelievers.

Building each other up is a process of growth measured by experiencing UNITY achieving MATURITY.  UNITY is manifest in a church in two ways.  First, in UNITY IN THE FAITH.  This means that we share the same views and values.  Sure, there is room for different opinions about doctrines that are on the periphery.  (Verses eight through ten are a prime example.)  But on the central parts of our faith, the things that are only true or false, we must have perfect agreement.  (The doctrine of Jesus Christ (verse thirteen) is a prime example.)

Second, UNITY IN THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE SON OF GOD. Our beliefs about Jesus are central and on these there can be no compromise.  Salvation is at stake.  Our experience of UNITY is one of the things that create MATURITY.  MATURITY is one of the things that enable UNITY.  Logically, the two virtues are two sides of the same coin.

  1. How we recognize maturity. (13-16)

Paul supplied five benchmarks of maturity.

The first is in verse thirteen: ATTAINING TO THE WHOLE MEASURE OF THE FULLNESS OF CHRIST.  Paul never lowered his expectations for the Church; he always set forth perfection as the goal.  As perfection is a state only possible in God, this goal forces us to rely on God.  You don’t get a higher ambition than the WHOLE MEASURE of the FULLNESS of CHRIST.  Paul promised the eternal perfection of the Church will occur when Jesus comes again (5:27).  For now, it only occurs in part.  But having the ambition raises us higher than having a lower ambition.

The second is in verse fourteen: NO LONGER INFANTS.  INFANTS are believers who are immature, ignorant of what the Bible teaches and thereby easy targets for false teachers.  Maturity brings a stability of character because it is developed by learning the Bible and correctly understanding the experiences of life.  To put it another way, immature people are characteristically credulous and are also easily bored; they tend to shift to follow what is new and exciting whether it is true or not.  Paul is not warning against innocent misunderstandings, but against those who deliberately distort the truth by the CUNNING AND CRAFTINESS seen in the DECEITFUL SCHEMING men do.

Paul pictured immature instability with the image of a ship adrift at sea; it is not going in a direction chosen by anyone.  Instead, its heading is determined by the forces of WAVES and WIND.  (James 1:6)

The third is in verse fifteen: we will counter evil falsehood by SPEAKING THE TRUTH IN LOVE.  SPEAKING THE TRUTH without LOVE is legalism and shows none of the humility, gentleness, patience and forbearance Paul commanded in verse three.  On the other hand, showing LOVE without SPEAKING THE TRUTH excuses sin and removes our need for a savior.  To avoid these deadly and false extremes, followers of Jesus must be careful to uphold both TRUTH and LOVE in their relationships in and out of the church.

The fourth is also in verse fifteen: we will GROW UP (mature) into greater Christ-likeness.  Where TRUTH and LOVE are actively practiced, MATURITY will follow.  In 2:21 the verb “to grow” was used to encourage numerical growth.  Here it is used to encourage spiritual growth, greater maturity.

Paul did not leave the virtue of MATURITY undefined; he defined it in the person of Jesus Christ.  Mature people will bear more moral, emotional, and spiritual resemblance to Jesus Christ than immature persons.

The fifth mark of maturity is submission to the authority of Christ.  After all, Christ is the HEAD (source and ultimate authority) of the Church.  As we are the BODY below the HEAD, we do nothing apart from Christ.  The local church as a BODY of CHRIST functions well when all the parts build each other up in LOVE and as EACH PART DOES ITS WORK.  It’s not a matter of love OR work; both of these virtues are necessary for the building up of the BODY.  It’s not a matter of waiting around passively for God to do something.  Our partnership with Christ is God’s will and it is the primary way things get done in this world.  Things that happen that don’t have some human agency are called “miracles” and they are rare.

Back to UNITY and DIVERSITY.  The WHOLE BODY benefits when all the parts are healthy and working together, as God designed them to do.  EACH PART refers back to the Spiritual Gifts, the diversity of the members being equivalent to the diversity of parts in the human body.

Maturing is a way of life that starts in LOVE.  It grows because we stay in the TRUTH and connected with Jesus our Head.  LOVE is a virtue that is best expressed in community; loving God together is God’s command and the very best way to live.

Unity and maturity are inseparable necessities.

  RESOURCE:

Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament – Ephesians, Clinton E. Arnold

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