Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Body of Christ

Ephesians 4:11-16

True spiritual leaders lead the church to have a 'how can I help' attitude, which leads a church to maturity that is evidenced by the freedom which comes from speaking the truth in love. This church sees itself as a body with Christ as the head. Each part is different and valuable and they are all being directed by the head.

Ephesians 4:7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it (...) 11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 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.

In verse 11 we see that God has called some in the church to be spiritual leaders - apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. These roles in the body of Christ come with much responsibility, few rights and little earthly reward. As I was writing this sermon I remembered how God called me to his service. I remembered the feelings of inadequacy and fear that the evil one kept throwing at me. I relived some of my moments of failure where I have not lived up to my calling and I have lived in fear or pride or doubt. I thanked God for his faithfulness to me in spite of my humanity. The question that resounds in my head is - 'Why would God choose to use someone like me?' Yet, regardless of my questions the simple fact is that he has clearly called me, he is equipping me, he is guiding me and as I follow his lead, and he will continue to use me to lead others to know him. Paul was entertaining these same kinds of thoughts when he wrote

1 Corinthians 1:26 Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.
27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things-- and the things that are not-- to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him.
30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God-- that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord."

Jesus made it plain to his disciples how they were called into ministry

John 15:16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit-- fruit that will last.

As I was preparing this sermon I had the overwhelming sense that God was calling or would be calling someone who would hear or read this sermon into his service. I really wrestled with God about whether I should include this statement in my sermon and I complete peace that someone who will be touched by this sermon needed the confirmation that God was calling them into the ministry. (Repeat John 15:16)

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Paul told the spiritual leaders he was developing that they needed to watch over both the flock they are given and themselves

Acts 20:28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.

1 Timothy 4:16 Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Spiritual leaders are also held to high standards by God and the church.

Titus 1:6 An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. 7 Since an overseer is entrusted with God's work, he must be blameless-- not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain.
8 Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

Listen to the apostle Peter's beautiful description of the role of spiritual leader in the church. Shepherding - willingly, care-fully, faithfully . . .

1 Peter 5:1 To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ's sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2 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; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

Notice that as the spiritual leaders listed in verse 11 are all fulfilling their call before God they will be affecting the church as a whole. As we see in verse 12 God's people will be prepared for works of service and the body of Christ will be built up. Then we see in verse 13 that unity, knowledge and maturity will follow.

A healthy church will have spiritual leaders who are called by God and are calling upon God for wisdom and direction. That healthy church will focus on preparing the members in that church to reach out to others. When Paul talked about the church being prepared for works of service he knew that the happiest people, the most fulfilled people are caring for others - believers and unbelievers. They have an attitude that says 'how can I help?' They wake up every morning and say 'Dear Lord, how are we going to touch someone's life today?'

I have watched as the 'how can I help?' attitude has spread like wildfire throughout a congregation and to other churches. Church members were reaching out to their neighbors, to others in the church, to strangers, to people in the grocery store and people were noticing something unique in their attitudes and actions. People want to know what makes you tick when you are loving them with your actions before you love them with your words.

1 John 3:18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

When the church is mature, understanding God and following his leading then we will be childlike in our faith, but not childish in our actions and reactions.
Ephesians 4:14 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.
Childlike not childish
Matthew 10:16 I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

1 Corinthians 14:20 Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.
As mature Christians we need to know what we are about so that we are not blown about by different ideas and different questions. We need to be firmly rooted in our faith and growing (set my feet firmly on the ground); we need to be looking to God for our guidance and hope (turn my eyes upward for few moments); and our arms need to be wide open to the needs of those in the church and around us everyday (spread my arms out and bring my gaze down to the eyes of the congregation). Do you recognize someone else who was firm in his faith, looked to his heavenly Father for direction and reached to those around him?

Ephesians 4:15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Paul says that instead of the instability and wishy-washiness that he talked about in verse 14 we need to speak the truth in love and we need to act like a body that works together, grows together and goes together.

It appears that the answer to immature and childish faith is speaking the truth in love which will cause each part of the body of Christ to grow and become stronger.

Well, that sounds pretty simple doesn't it? If the body of Christ would be strong and vibrant by just speaking the truth in love then why are so many churches struggling? Why are so many churches weak and ineffective? Why are very few churches winning souls to Christ? It is because we tend to speak the truth without love, or we speak lovingly without telling the truth. To actually speak the truth in love we have to care so much about a person, we have to be so broken about their pain and confusion that we tell them the truth that will set them free.

Speaking the truth without love = hurtful words motivated by pride and causing pain

Loving without speaking the truth = enabling powerless words motivated by fear and causing confusion

Speaking the truth in love = powerful and compassionate words motivated by what is best for the other person and leading to health and wholeness

John 8:32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."

Speaking the truth in love brings freedom to both sides of that situation. The person who is speaking has a clear heart and conscience that they have said what the other person really needs to hear. The person who is hearing what is said is free because now the truth is laid out before them and they can make decisions based on reality rather than uncertainty and confusion.

True spiritual leaders lead the church to have a 'how can I help' attitude, which leads a church to maturity that is evidenced by the freedom which comes from speaking the truth in love. This church sees itself as a body with Christ as the head. Each part is different and valuable and they are all being directed by the head.

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