A sermon on Ephesians 4:1-16
The only slightly provocative title of my sermon is this: Grow Up. I’d like to draw from Ephesians chapter 4 this morning. Paul speaks about the need for the church to come to maturity. In verses 14 and 15 he says “We must no longer be children… We must grow up.”
So this morning I’d like to mine this passage to understand how we all can grow up, whether we’re 3 or 93.
The passage begins with Paul’s plea to the church: “I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”
Do you see yourself as a person with a calling? Well, Paul does, and more importantly, God does. We don’t usually talk like that though, do we? We usually just talk about people who become “professional Christians” like Pastors and Missionaries.
He had been a computer engineer, but then he got a call from God. She had been a teacher, but she was called to be missionary. That’s not actually how the New Testament thinks about things.
Paul is writing to normal Christian folks when he says, “I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” He isn’t talking about specific callings that various Christians have– one gets called to be a teacher, another to be a doctor, another to be a artisan. This is much more basic than that. It’s the call that’s on every one of us: to trust in Jesus Christ enough to submit to his rule and reign for the rest of our lives. In other words, to be a real Christian.
Paul is saying, you’ve been called to a life of radical obedience to Jesus Christ. And Paul says, “lead a life worthy of that calling.”
One of the ways that we grow up is to have our actions match our words. Paul is saying it nicely. I’ll say it bluntly. If you say you’re a Christian, you should act like a Christian.
Characteristics of the called
He goes on to talk about some of the marks of grown up Christians.
He says, “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”
Humility means having the heart of a servant. It’s an essential trait of a grown up Christian. Most obviously, humility is the opposite of pride. A humble person never thinks that they’re better than other people.
There is a story in Luke 18 with a Pharisee and a Tax collector who go to pray. The Pharisee prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’
And Jesus says, I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Humility means recognizing your own radical dependence on God’s grace every day. For this reason, humble people are always people of prayer.
Paul also talks about gentleness. What is gentleness? I did actually go look up the original greek word, and the first definition in my greek dictionary is this: “the quality of not being overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance”
I love that. People who exhibit gentleness just aren’t that impressed with themselves. It’s not having a low self esteem. It’s just having a realistic self esteem. You certainly have an important role to play in the body of Christ. But so do other people.
Humble, gentle people know that they aren’t the savior of the church. That’s Jesus. And so they have patience with others who disagree with them. Grown up Christians bear with one another in love when it comes to non-essentials. “Making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
In other words, grown up Christians are folks who seek unity over personal triumph. In their love, they don’t insist on their own way; and they don’t grow irritable or resentful.
Unity of the Spirit
There is a unity that the church has that’s there whether or not we experience it, but frequently we do experience it. It’s the unity that comes about by the Holy Spirit. God the Spirit brings together people from all types of backgrounds and makes them into one body. We talked about that a few weeks ago.
That unity is what makes people say things like, “when I walked in the door, I felt like I was home– like this was family.” That unity is what makes church be like family, but more than family. It’s what makes gathering with believers be gathering with friends, but more so.
One of the things that people frequently talk about when they go on a missions trip, whether they travel near or far, is the connection that they feel with other Christians. It’s not imagined. It’s real.
(Illustration from Tim Keller)
There’s a famous preacher of the first half of 20th century named Martyn Lloyd Jones. He was a very educated man– a surgeon before he became a pastor. He pastored a small church in a poor area of Wales. The people in his church tended to be extremely poor and not very well-educated.
He wrote about a time when he felt the Satan trying to accuse him that he wasn’t really a Christian. The voice said, “You call yourself a Christian. What makes you think you’re a Christian?”
He turned to the voice and said, “Well, explain this for me: I would rather spend three hours talking about the Lord to the humblest fisherwoman on the shores of Wales, than I would sit and talk about philosophy and history and all of the things I was educated about with people of my own class who don’t share the Lord.”
Do you see it? What he was saying was, “Well, devil, then how do I explain the fact that I feel more of a unity with somebody completely different than me culturally, socially, racially, than I do with (quote) “my own kind” who don’t share Christ with me? How do you explain that?” The voice fled.
That’s the unity of the Spirit. It’s an affinity and a unity that doesn’t make sense in the world’s categories. It’s a huge theme of the book of Ephesians. It’s something that grown up Christians see and they say, I want to be part of that– and I definitely don’t want to harm it.
The unity of the church goes deep and wide. Check out all of the “ones” in the next verse: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”
These are the fundamental points that make the church one. Christ doesn’t have multiple bodies. There is only one body of Christ. There’s only one Holy Spirit. There is only one hope– the hope that Christ takes dead people and makes them alive first spiritually and eventually physically. There’s only one Lord, Jesus Christ. There’s only one faith– the faith revealed by God in Jesus Christ and proclaimed by the apostles. There’s only one baptism– into the Lord Jesus in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There’s only one God and Father of all. These are not superficial unities. They’re profoundly important unities. And whatever else wants to divide is us not as important as those things that we share.
Paul continues and says, “But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” In other words, one of the very things that unifies us as Christians is that we’ve all been given grace.
In the background here is Paul’s image of the body of Christ being made up of many parts, or members. Each part has a different role– an eye, an ear, a foot– but none of them can brag about being what they are, because it’s by a gift of grace that they are what they are.
Those of us that have visible roles within the body of Christ are in those positions for the sake of those people.
That’s why Paul goes onto highlight the parts of the body whose job it is to help every other part grow up. “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”
The purpose of those various types of ministry that Paul lists is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”
It’s not like Pastors “do ministry” but other folks don’t. Paul envisions a church where every single Christian is equipped to do the work of ministry– whatever type of service God desires them to do.
Do you see how someone has to be humble to be a mature, grown up Christian? Nobody can brag about being an apostle, a prophet, an evangelist, a pastor, or a teacher– because Christ gives them to the church. You can’t brag about having a gift. It was given to you. By definition, you didn’t do anything to earn it– otherwise it would be pay, not a gift.
Since Paul lists these 5 roles as roles that help the church to grow up, let’s touch on them briefly.
The term apostle literally means “one who is sent out.” And in the new testament, it’s used of those who are sent out into ministry by Jesus.
- In Mark 3:14 it says that Jesus “appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles,a to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, 15 and to have authority to cast out demons”
- The bible talks about more apostles than the twelve that were with Jesus before he was raised from the dead.
- Paul was an apostle because he had seen the risen Jesus and been comissioned by him. There are others like him.
- Interestingly, Romans 16:7 says that a woman named Junia was “prominent among the apostles.”
In any event, apostles are those who have been commissioned by Jesus to proclaim the message of God’s kingdom. They faithfully relay Christ’s message to equip the saints for the work of ministry. They help the church grow up.
Paul, speaking to the whole church in the city of Corinth, says in 1 Corinthians 14:1: “Pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts, and especially that you may prophesy.” So the gift of prophecy is one that the Apostle Paul places a very high value on. On Pentecost Sunday, Peter uses a quote from Joel where God says, “In the last days… I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.” So in Paul’s writings and in Acts, prophecy is seem as something that should be widespread.
Presumably if someone in Paul’s days would prophecy reliably for long enough, they would be seen as having that role within the church. In other words, they wouldn’t just have the gift of prophecy, but they would be a prophet. Prophets don’t just tell the future, or foretell, they also forthtell and call God’s people to greater faithfulness. We see an example of an Old Testament prophet in Nathan. God gives him the ability to see the truth of what David has done so that he can confront David about it– that’s forthtelling… telling the others the reality of the way things are now. But he also foretells the trouble will come on David from within his own house.
Paul says those who prophesy build up the church. In the New Testament, prophets help the church to hear from God and to understand the opposition that faces them. They help the church grow up.
An evangelist is someone who proclaims the good news of Jesus Christ. They’re like an apostle, but perhaps they didn’t meet the risen Jesus. They’re a gift to the church, not only because they help to grow the church as people respond to the good news, but they can also help people who are already Christians to grow up.
Pastor and Teachers
The word pastor means shepherd. Pastors are shepherds of flocks of sheep– groups of disciples. They help people to work out what it means to be Christian in a particular time and context.
Teachers also play an essential equipping role, especially those who teach and help people to understand the scriptures.
But again, the point of these diverse roles within the church is “for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ”
Paul writes to the church in Ephesus and says, “grow up.”
These folks bear the family resemblance of Christ, but he wants them to grow up fully. He says, “we must no longer be children.” But we need to grow up “To the measure of the full stature of Christ.” In other words, Paul expects the ministry of the church to look like the ministry of Jesus. Every part will work together so that the the church will bring the good news of the kingdom of God to the world with humility, and love, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
I want to close with several practical suggestions of how you might grow up, personally:
- Know your bible inside and out.
- We’ve simply got to be people who prioritize knowing Scripture. And nobody can do that for you. You’ve got to take ownership of your own spiritual growth if you want to grow up. I still really recommend the Bible in One Year app if you can handle the tempation of having your phone in your hand while you’re trying to read the bible. It takes about 25 minutes a day.
- Pray for humility
- One of those prayers that God always seems to answer is, “What’s wrong with me?” Let God search your heart for what needs to change.
- If you struggle with thinking that you’re better than other people, every time you notice yourself doing it, thank God for something about that person. Ask God to bless them.
- Ask God to show you what your part is in Christ’s body. What is it that you are equipped to do? What is your passion? What brings you joy? How can you do that thing to build the church up?
So may you grow up to live a life worthy of God’s call to obedience that comes from faith in Jesus Christ. May you grow up to see, experience, and participate in the beauty of Christ’s unified body. And may you grow up to know the grace God has given you to be a blessing to others.