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Given to Build Up the Body

February 24th, 2019

And 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 equip the saints for works of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, as we mature to the full measure of the stature of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13 BSB)

It is a spiritual experience to grow past our personal desires, wishes, and preferences. This growth is an absolute necessity in ministry. If we do not grow past them, then we will be swayed by them and put our own selves above Christ and His will and His glory. It must be His love that guides us and shapes our ministry and not our own affinities or preferences for this person or that person.

I read a good word from Oswald Chambers this morning:

When the Spirit of God has shed abroad the love of God in our hearts, we begin deliberately to identify ourselves with Jesus Christ’s interests in other people, and Jesus Christ is interested in every kind of man there is. We have no right in Christian work to be guided by our affinities; this is one of the biggest tests of our relationship to Jesus Christ.  (My Utmost for His Highest, February 24)

Affinity means my own preferences, or, in this case, the people I connect with or “hit it off with.”

Yet the pastor or Christian servant cannot be naive about others. He cannot assume that sin begins and ends in himself alone, for we find that selfishness and selfish obsession pervades the entire human population. After we surrender our own personal preferences for the Lord’s, self-centeredness has not, thereby, entirely left the camp of the Lord. Others will also step up and seek to gain control and prominence for themselves.

A Faulty Way of Thinking

One way that some people in church think is that the people that they know and like and have been associated with over some period of time constitute the real church, that the pastor and other new comers never really are part of it. So when they read the words above, “To equip the saints for works of ministry, to build up the body of Christ,” they wrongly interpret that to mean their own empowerment. A self-centered man is always self-centered and will use whatever vehicles are available to gain prominence for himself.

So a faulty interpretation of this passage is that the pastor serves as an outsider merely to train and equip the insiders. You see the essential thing to be grasped is that the pastor is also part of the church – he is a member of the church and part of the body. There is only one way to be saved – faith in Christ – and all of the saved are only members of the one church. So the pastor is as much a part of the church universal and the church local as anyone else.

Anyone who seeks to derail the purpose of the church – which is to bring honor and glory to Christ through the saving and maturing of men and women by grace – for his own purposes is doing something very evil. As James wrote: “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every evil practice” (James 3:16).

The church belongs to Christ and all who come into it are His – the newcomer is not less important than the old timer. The people you and I get along with are not more important to God than those we do not. But we cannot be naive about this matter – the pastor is not the only one in the church that is tempted to selfish ambition.

The Stature of Christ

The standard for the Christian life is Christ, and there is no other standard. His “stature” or His “full maturity” is every Christian’s spiritual growth goal. “Stature” here means the completed man, the full-grown person. We may consider this, when we apply it to ourselves, as the “peak mature moment” in our lives, when all that we have learned, when our unselfishness, when our compassion for others, and our clarity of thought all came together in the fullness of the Spirit. Christ, however, did not just have a “moment” rather it was His entire life that was lived like this – in the fullness of the Spirit.

We have been sheltered by God from what it was for Jesus of Nazareth to grow up and mature. We only have this one snippet of the account when Jesus was at the temple at twelve years of age. We can derive from that that Jesus matured in knowledge and judgment much like others must, but that He did it without any moral sin. The scripture says: “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). So there was growth in wisdom for Jesus, just like there is for all of us.

But the full-grown man we meet in the gospels, and this full grown man is also related to us by the Word and by His Spirit today. As the Bible says: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). His stature is one of complete perfection and holiness, fullness of love and wisdom. And this complete man is who we all should aspire to be.

The Assets We Have

God has given us assets to use as we seek to bring people to maturity. First is His Word. Knowledge of the Word of God is an essential tool for maturity. Christ said to the Father, “Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth” (John 17:17).

Second is the new nature given to believers at salvation: “The new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24). We are not called to engage in the hopeless task of trying to morally educate the old fallen sinful nature. We are called to appeal to the new self in men and to seek to grow that “little Christ” in them to maturity.

Third is the Spirit Himself, who indwells and fills and leads and guides. God commands us: “Be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 4:18), and what would we be able to do or become without the Spirit at work in us changing our hearts and minds.

We may add to these three the asset of prayer, that we may call on the Lord and ask Him to empower us and guide us and change people’s hearts. And there is also other spiritual assets, such as hearts and eyes that discern the Lord’s timing and the movement of His Spirit.

There are other things that are also important – to a much lesser degree but still important: knowledge of new trends; awareness of new technology, etc. In growing a church we need to know so many unspiritual matters, such as capacity seating, reverb timing, sight lines, etc. Even popular font styles can be important for reaching people.

But none of these come anywhere close to the spiritual matters in importance. Prayer, teaching the Word, loving others, appealing to the New Man, being filled and empowered with the Spirit – these are the most important assets and tools that we have to do the work of God.

Building up the church is first and foremost the work of God. A call to ministry is a call to join Him in His work – standing in His grace and upon His word and strengthened by His Spirit.

Ephesians, Leadership

He Descended First

February 23rd, 2019

What does “He ascended” mean, except that He also descended to the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the very one who ascended above all the heavens, in order to fill all things. (Ephesians 4:9-10 BSB)

The Apostle Paul had spent three chapters explaining that our standing in Christ is based entirely on grace – through faith but upon grace. We enter into the Christian life by grace and we live each day of the Christian life by this same grace of God in Christ. No more than we can merit heaven can we merit the blessings of His joy and peace, or being His instruments of service to touch others. It is all undeserved favor from God.

The Exaltation of Christ

Yet in chapter four, the apostle speaks about leadership in the church, and here he opens up a new possible “can of worms” for us humans – even for us saved humans. Leadership, with the possibility of gaining prominence and respect and power, brings out the worst in us. The Christian who is enjoying the fullest experience of his salvation in Christ can be thrown into the worst temptations of greed, envy, vanity, and pride by the mere mention of leadership in the church. So Paul, by the inspiration of the Spirit, makes this point that before Christ was exalted He was debased, before He ascended He descended in humility. 

Paul has used the point of the timeline of salvation history that Peter had used in his sermon on Pentecost: 

Foreseeing this, David spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did His body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, to which we are all witnesses. Exalted, then, to the right hand of God, He has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. (Acts 2:31-33 BSB)

They both agree that the exaltation of Christ was necessary before the coming of the Spirit upon the church in power. And Christ Himself made this same point. In His teaching on the coming of the Holy Spirit, He repeatedly connected His “going away” to the coming of the Spirit: 

Truly, truly, I tell you, whoever believes in Me will also do the works that I am doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12)

But I tell you the truth, it is for your benefit that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. (John 16:7)

So these matters of Christ dying for our sins, of His being raised to life, and of Him ascending into heaven in exaltation were all essential to be accomplished before the Spirit would come upon the church in fullness. Paul tied into this discussion the matter of the giving of spiritual gifts, which is also part of the Spirit’s work. So the baptism of the Spirit, the fullness of the Spirit, the empowerment of the Spirit for witness, and the giftings of the Spirit for service, as well as the leadership of the Spirit in hearts and minds, were only experienced by the believing community after Christ was exalted. 

The Cross before the Crown

Yet, again, as the Spirit inspired him, must bring back this point of reminding us that His ascension followed His descending. And it is the descending and humiliation of Christ, His faithfulness in bearing witness to fallen humanity, and even His sufferings and rejections that the Christian leader must embrace – and not His ascension or His glorification.

To be called to serve in Christian leadership is a glorious thing. It is a “worthy task,” or “honorable work,” even to the point that to aspire towards it is also commended (1 Tim 3:1). But it is glory that is experienced only through humility and through faith, just as Christ experienced. 

And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross. Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name above all names… (Phil.2:8-9)

The trappings of earthly glory, along with the pomp and ceremony of the church, is not necessarily wrong – for among believers the positions of church leadership should be respected (Heb. 13:17). But even then these things – ceremony and displays of position and spiritual authority, that is – are merely representatives of the future exaltation of all believers. Just as Christ was exalted, so shall all believers be exalted in Him and with Him. 

For all of us, the cross must come before the crown. Christian leadership is first servanthood: “The greatest among you must be the servant of all” (Mark 10:44). As Christ ascended, so He has promised also our future ascending also, but first comes the cross of self sacrifice. We cannot read these words without being reminded of what Christ said:

If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. (Luke 9:23-24)

It is not only the called and gifted servant-leader who suffers, but all Christians are called to this process. We are to die daily to our pride and self-will and live by the power of the Spirit, in grace through faith.

I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. I do not set aside the grace of God. For if righteousness comes through the law, Christ died for nothing. (Paul 2:20-21)

Given to the Church

If you aspire to Christian leadership, and if this ambition is truly for God’s glory and not for your own, then this is a good thing. But realize that you are given to the church, and not the other way around. It is not that the church is given to these leaders, but that they are gifts themselves to the church. Ephesians 4:11 says, “And it was He who gave some to be apostles …” In this sentence, the gifts are the apostle, the prophet, the evangelist, and the pastor-teacher. The recipient of the gifts is the church itself. 

The entire discussion of the meanings of these positions will have to wait another time, but the point of the Spirit in inspiring Paul to remind us the order of these things – humility before exaltation, the cross before the crown – calls all of us to put aside our ambitions and our desires and to serve as servants of Christ for His glory, not for our own. 

So for us in our lives we must exalt Christ first in our faith and in our heart’s worship before we can expect Him to call us, empower us, appoint us, lead us, and direct us. And as we serve in grace, we serve to help the church grow and mature, using our gifts as the Spirit empowers us.

 

 

Ephesians, Leadership