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“Equipping the Body for Mature Ministry”

Jan.29, 2012 Eph.4:1-7,11-16


Ed and Linda Garrick started looking for short-term mission opportunities after hearing how much their children had gained from church youth group service trips. As Ed put it, “Why should the kids have all the fun?”

    Volunteering with several urban missions organizations had given the Garricks a taste of working with people of different ethnic backgrounds. When the opportunity arose to join a construction crew in a third-world country for several days, they jumped at the chance. After they returned, they corresponded with the people they’d met, found more volunteers to go the next year, headed a crew the third year, and couldn’t wait to go for a fourth year. Once was not enough!

    Reflecting back over what they had experienced, Ed said, “The first year I went with my own mission—if the last group was able to build one house in a week, why, we could build two! I managed to borrow a generator, a block cutter, and several other ‘modern necessities’ that would speed us along. Fortunately, I met with the project director before I mentioned my plans to anyone else!

    “She told me, ‘If we build two houses this week, we’ll fail at our real mission, which is building community. We want to build with their tools so we understand the challenges they face. We want to get to know them and their needs.’ As she talked of the transient, despair-filled lives of the townspeople who lived in ‘homes’ made of cardboard boxes, I began to understand the true nature of our mission.

    “We are really building a community, not just homes, so that these people can put down roots instead of being drawn to the big cities filled with subsistence jobs and horrid living conditions. Now that the project has built almost two hundred houses, the people themselves have built a church! They’ve started a store! Those whose houses are already finished can’t wait to help build one for their neighbours.”

    “And we’ll hold a summer Bible school for the kids for the first time this year, too,” Linda said. “Our hope is to tap into their joy to teach more of the basic Bible stories—but I have a feeling I’ll learn more from the kids than they will from me!

    “The town is now a magnet for people who want a more stable home. As they settle, they can’t help but learn of the active role that Christ plays in the lives of their new neighbours. As we carry bricks and linger over meals, we know that it is really God at work building their community. We just get to be His hands.” (LifeKeys JAGKise, Dstark, SK Hirsh)

    The Garricks could be said to be exercising the gift of ‘apostleship’ - that’s “the ability to minster transculturally, starting new churches or ministries that impact multiple churches.” (Lifekeys) The word ‘apostle’ comes from a Greek root meaning “to send”: missionaries are gifted folks the church sends into foreign or a different cultural context to be a voice and hands and feet for Jesus. Today as we conclude our look at spiritual gifts, we find Paul in Ephesians 4 highlights several leadership gifts, and describes how God gives these for the purpose of supporting all believers in their outreach, building up the church.


There are many kinds of spiritual gifts. The gifts survey on our website lists twenty; other inventory tools list thirty or more. But a main emphasis of Paul in any discussion of gifts is the unity that should prevail despite the diversity of gifts that can be found in the church. We need to adjust our life around the Lord as our “one thing” – don’t lose HIM as the focus. V3, “Make every effort to keep the unity (oneness) of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” The next three verses drive this home as he emphasizes the word ‘one’ repeatedly: one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism; and especially v6, “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Dwell on that last bit, let its scope strike you: “over all...through all...in all”. Yahweh is the essence at the core of all that is! Particularly for Christians, who have His Spirit dwelling inside them.

    Elsewhere in this letter, Paul stresses the fullness Jesus gives in our personal lives, and cosmically. 3:17, “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” 19, “that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” 4:10, Christ “ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.” (Mind-bending!) 4:13, to become mature is to attain “to the whole measure of the fulness of Christ.” And 4:15f, Christ is the ‘head’ of the church from whom the whole body grows. Can you grasp the centrality of God, make Him your ‘one thing’, put ‘fullness in Jesus’ at the top of your list for what you’re seeking in life? So, much as we may be encouraging you to discover and develop your gift, true satisfaction in life doesn’t come from maxing out your ability, but from knowing and relating to Christ as your centre, your “one thing”.


Next, if God is the main ‘one’ to whom we are to adjust our life, and Jesus fills the universe, it’s His authority that must empower our sense of calling, who we are. V1, “Live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” And v4, “you were called to one hope when you were called.” What difference does authority make when someone calls you? If it’s nobody in particular asking if I have 10 minutes to do a survey, I might decline. If it’s a telemarketer seeking a donation, I may respond or not depend what agency it is. If your spouse calls you, you’d better pay attention – because you love them and you have an obligation. If your boss calls you, most people would pause their video, shush their kids, and give their full attention - this is important! If the courthouse calls, or the Prime Minister’s office – you get my point. But what about when GOD calls?  Do we let His supreme authority impress us and motivate us to develop our gifts for His glory?

    Power is a main theme in this letter. 3:16, Paul prays that God will “strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being...” 18, that they ‘may have power’; 20, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us...” Then at the end of today’s passage, Paul uses language that ‘pulls rank’ appealing to his full authority as an apostle: 4:17, “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord...” But contrast that with how he starts out the chapter: 4:1, “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you...” He’s bound up as God’s prisoner, locked in to God’s authority. Are we letting Jesus be ‘boss’ of our time and energy? So v2 begins, “Be completely HUMBLE and GENTLE...” Remembering God’s authority and power nudges us to be more humble ourselves, obedient, lead-able.


With that as backdrop, this is the passage where Paul addresses most clearly the ‘leadership’ gifts and their relationship to the church. How is power to be exercised? Can leaders play the ‘heavy’ as they often do in secular life? Is it all about control and making others do what you want, a power trip? Vv11&12, “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up...” What’s that verb at the start of 12 - to ‘be in charge’? To rule, to call the shots? No; “to PREPARE God’s people for works of service...” NLT “to EQUIP”. John MacArthur comments, “This refers to restoring something to its original condition, or its being made fit or complete.” Same verb as when Jesus found the disciples mending their nets (Mt 4:21).

    Church leaders, then, are not to be dictatorial but to serve the church by equipping, mending, repairing - helping others become fully trained in their own gift so THEY (God’s people) do the ‘works of service’: the people are the ‘ministers’. Apostles, such as missionaries, plant churches. Prophets announce God’s messages and exhort people individually with what God reveals to them. Evangelists build up the church by sharing the good news about Jesus. Then there are the pastor-teachers (somehow grammatically these roles seem to be linked together). The term more literally is ‘shepherd-teacher’. A shepherd is someone who protects. The lexicon notes: “The tasks of a Near Eastern shepherd were: to watch for enemies trying to attack the sheep; to defend the sheep from attackers; to heal the wounded and sick sheep; to find and save lost or trapped sheep; to love them, sharing their lives and so earning their trust.”

    The apostle Peter has this to say to pastor-teachers of his day: “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers— not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” Jesus cautioned His disciples not to ‘lord it over’ others like Gentile rulers tended to do, but to be servant-leaders (Mt 20:25ff). Paul echoes this attitude when he writes to the Corinthians, “Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy...” (2Cor 1:24)

    Pastoring a church, leading a Bible study or small group, or volunteering to lead a Youth Group would all be examples of the pastor-teacher gift. Such persons would agree with statements such as: “I enjoy encouraging others to develop in their faith.” “I have compassion for those who seem to be getting off track.I long to see them come back to the fold.” “I would enjoy nurturing and caring for a group of people over a period of time.” “I like to see people form long-term, in-depth spiritual relationships.”


Our church is blessed with many spiritual gifts. [CHART - SPIRITUAL GIFT SURVEY RESULTS] Whatever your gift may be, what are you to do with it? Apply it! V12, leaders are “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” Put your gift to work, serve as the Lord empowers, you are His ‘minister’ in order to build up His body. A Charles Atlas-like physique isn’t much use unless it’s put into action. Read carefully too v16, “From him [Jesus] the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its [WHAT?] work.” You are part of holding the body together, you are a joint or ligament lending support; the Head (Christ) will communicate with you how to apply your gift, do your work. I like the way the NLT puts it: “As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.”

    Don’t stagnate on the sidelines! Our worship service is the ‘huddle’ in the football game, or the ‘pep talk’ in the dressing room between halves; it’s not the main play. Pastors may be coaches but it’s up to the team to carry the ball down the field, through the week.


In earlier sessions we’ve asked concerning spiritual gifts, “Is Christ exalted?” and “Is love realized?” We see that love is crucial again in this passage. V2, “be patient, bearing with one another in love.” V15, “speaking the truth in love...” V16, the body “grows and builds itself up in love...”

    Back up to v2 a moment, “be patient, bearing with one another in love.” NLT has “making allowance for each other’s faults.” Individuals in the church are very different and unique; our gifts are different; the person with the gift of faith may wonder why the person with an administrative gift doesn’t see things the way they do. But this diversity is our strength, not our weakness. Bear with one another in love. We aren’t complete and mature just yet, so we make mistakes, we still sin and ‘blow it’ from time to time. Make allowance for such faults because you love them as Christ loved you while you were dead in your sins. “Love bears all things;” (1Cor 13:7) 1Peter 4:8, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”


Finally, if Paul started out emphasizing the ‘one’ God (Father, Son, and Spirit) as our source, the authority behind our calling, he closes this passage pointing toward our goal: maturity, completeness in Christ. V13, the leaders prepare the people for works of service so the body is built up “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” V15, we will in all things “grow up” into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” God’s working on you to help you become mature, perfect, complete, wholly functional for His Kingdom. Those whom God has called He is conforming to the likeness of His Son (Rom 8:29); as 2Corinthians 3:18 puts it, “we...are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

    In context here, Paul points at maturity in both doctrine and deed. At that time, the Gnostics were promoting erroneous teaching - special ‘knowledge’, secret rituals, and so on. V14 may be referring to those who ran here and there to catch the latest Gnostic insights: “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.” Don’t be malleable, gullible - get to know your Bible! Have a stable foundation of truth when it comes to doctrine.

    But also be mature in your deeds. V16, the body grows, matures, builds itself up “as each part does its work.” It’s not just about head knowledge, but putting love in action. In connection with that, I’d like to close with the story of someone who discovered their teaching gift by making an effort and being spurred on by others.


Over their usual cup of coffee after the evening Bible study, Phil asked his friends what they thought of the lesson that night. Did they follow it?

    “Grant is such a nice guy, and I’m grateful that he agreed to teach all month,” Karen said, “but the study guide is a lifesaver, given the way his teaching jumps around.”

    “I found myself wondering how the class would go if he stuck to just a couple of points and maybe let us take on some of the questions in small groups,” Phil mused. “The whole passage could be better applied to our lives, too. It reminded me of a news story I read today,” and Phil went on to describe the connections he saw.

    Rachel broke in, “You should teach the class.”

    Phil shook his head. “I’m too new to all of this, so new that I feel foolish criticizing Grant after all of the work he puts into the lessons. When I listen to him, though, I find myself thinking of other ways to get the message across.”

    Ted spoke up. “Why don’t you give it a try, Phil? Pick a lesson and share it with us. We’ll be kind to you! And, we’ll give Grant a call. I’d bet he’d enjoy a breather.”

    Phil went to the library to prepare and surrounded himself with books on the topic his friends had suggested he teach. When he finally paused to look at his watch, he couldn’t believe that two hours had passed; he had been so engrossed in the subject. He was eager to share what he had learned, but was still unsure of the approach to take. What would really drive the message home? Suddenly he thought of a clip from a movie he had seen a few months before. “If I use that as an introduction, then let them talk about the characters with whom they can identify; it will lead right to my main point,” he decided. “Whatever made me think of that?”

    At the next meeting, watching his friends become as excited over the material as he was, he realized that something more than the hours he had studied had enlivened his teaching. When Rachel said that not even her pastor could do any better, Phil replied, “You know, I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed anything as much as teaching this lesson. I felt like something took hold of my thoughts and inspired me. I’m not sure it’ll happen again.”

    “Try again next week,” kidded Ben, “and we’ll let you know. From what I heard tonight, I bet I’ll be signing up for the rest of the year, if you’ll teach.”

    That was the start of Phil’s teaching ministry. As his own biblical knowledge and experience grew, he came to recognize the role that God played in inspiring his thoughts, providing his energy, and guiding the atmosphere that surrounded his teaching. (LifeKeys JAGKise, DStark, SK Hirsh) Let’s pray.