Wednesday, April 20, 2011
'Gifted Body Builders Needed To Mature Church (Ephesians 4:1-16)
You open the doors of the church and instead of their being the things you would expect you find it totally transformed: Rowing machines and static bikes to sit and exercise on instead of pews to sit and doze off in. No organ music or even the worship band singing harmonies rather there is the pounding of ‘techno’ tracks and the harsh bark of an instructor taking an aerobics class up by the sanctuary. Instead of the rather old world musty smell tinged with candle smoke and a hint on incense, there is the pungency of sweat and strain. They are not passing round the bread and wine but rather what you hope are just vitamin supplements and energy shakes. As folk walk past decked out in Lycia to show off the results of their hard work to the best effect you realise that people didn’t use to dress like this to come to church. You didn’t need the mirrors round the walls to check you’re hat was on right or to straighten your tie. Instead of the rather weedy gawky nerdy guy up the front, muscle bound folk are there as personal trainers to help people build themselves up, become fit and physically strong.
‘Gifted body builder’s needed to mature church’
I don’t know if Paul had the modern gym or pumping iron in mind when he wrote to the Ephesians but in the passage we had read out to us today, he talks about gifts being given to the church to build us up. Paul says that Jesus has given us gifted body builders to equip and encourage us to exercise our own gifts and roles within the body, so it can be healthy and grow together in Christ and become more Christ like and embody Christ in the world.
This year our major focus is the Holy Spirit agent of renewal. We did a series looking at the person and work of the Holy Spirit earlier in the year. We saw that the Holy Spirit was not just an inanimate force in the universe but a personal being and the third person of the trinity. The passage we had read out to us today contains one of the strongest Trinitarian formulas in the whole of Paul’s writing. We are one body says Paul because we share the same spirit, the Holy Spirit. We are one people because we have the same Lord and faith and have the same baptism in Christ, one because we all have been adopted into the same family and have the same heavenly Father.
Later we are going to do a series looking at the fruit of the Holy Spirit. The characteristics that the Spirit is wanting to develop and grow within us, so that we might be more like Christ. In fact those characteristics and fruit come very much to the fore in the passage we had read to us today. Paul says that we are one body by virtue of the fact that we share the same spirit and then commands his readers and us to guard that unity by developing the virtues of humility, gentleness, patience and bearing one another in love. Three of these four virtues are amongst the list of the fruit of the spirit we will be looking at in Galatians 5:22.
But at the moment we are focusing on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. That we all have a part to play in the body of Christ and in embodying Christ to the world and the Holy Spirit empowers and enables us to do that, to the glory of God. We are looking at the three passages in Paul’s letters that talk of the gifts of the Spirit. Last week we looked at Romans 12 and saw that we are all gifted to serve. Today we are focusing on the list of the gifts in Ephesians 4 and for the next few weeks we’ll be focusing on the passage in 1 Corinthians 12-14. Again while we call them the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, in these three passages we see that the whole of the godhead is involved in equipping and empowering the church. In Romans 12 it says God gives gifts by grace, here in Ephesians we see that it is the risen and glorified Christ who gives gifts to his church and then in Corinthians we see that it is the Spirit who is the one who gives the gifts to the body to use. The whole of the God head is involved in creation, in our salvation and in seeing the church be the body of Christ. The gifts are graciously given, they are not ours by right or personal possessions they are for us to serve God and serve one another.
While we want to focus on the gifts of the Holy Spirit you can’t do so without focusing on the metaphor that Paul uses to talk of the church or of the interconnectedness of believers, that we are the body of Christ, whenever the gifts of the spirit are mentioned it is in this context. Again in Ephesians Paul says it’s a fact because of what God has done for us we are one body, even as we come from across the great cultural divides of our time and history, we are one, but for a body to function and be healthy we need to work at that unity. It’s like having a healthy and functioning body. All the parts need to work together; they need to do their part for the body to function. I have type two diabetes, it means that my pancreas doesn’t produce the right amount of insulin for my body or rather the wrong shaped insulin. Because my pancreas doesn’t function properly the rest of my body is put under a lot of strain and suffers from it.
Paul says that Christ has given people as gifts to the church to help build us up so we can function properly and be healthy. Like the support staff in a sports team. Not people to do the ministry of the church but to help train and equip us all to do our part in the body to help equip us for every good work and to grow into maturity in Christ. In the church I grew up in back in Titirangi this was expressed every week on the front cover of the newssheet. Where it said minister instead of there being the name of the clergy it said the congregation. Then under that it said assistant to the ministers and had the name of what we call the ‘Minister’.
Paul highlights five different gifts that Christ has given to help build up the body of Christ: To help us function and mature in Christ. They are called ministries or service rather than positions within the church. They were not necessarily the people in the early church who carried out the leadership and governance function of the church. Where ever Paul and the early missionaries went they set up a structure based on the Jewish system of setting up elders and there does seem to be a leadership structure based on overseers, elders and deacons. These gifts and servant to the church denote a function within the body not a position. They are the support staff.
Firstly apostles, literally ‘messengers’ there is some controversy over what this means for us today. The orthodox view has been that this refers to the Apostles, those first followers of Christ who actually meet Jesus risen from the grave and were commissioned by him to spread the gospel. They include the twelve and Paul says that he is an apostle of Jesus Christ, in fact he calls himself least amongst the apostles. We also have Andronicus and Junia mentioned as being outstanding amongst the apostles in Romans 16. Junia is interesting because it is a women’s name, for many years it was mistranslated with a masculine ending because they thought there was no way there was a woman apostle, but with modern scholarship and modern sensitivities it’s been rediscovered. Why shouldn’t there be women apostles as the women were the first to hear the good news that Jesus was raised from the dead.
The Apostles are the ones who have passed on the good news of Jesus Christ to us and who originally established the church. It’s their testimony and teaching that is foundational for us and we need to build us up.
Some would say that apostles are simply messengers and it means someone who is a church planter or missionary or pioneer of the faith and people have an apostolic ministry in the world today.
I guess I’d want to say that both are true we need the Apostles and their authoritative testimony to Christ’s resurrection and we also need the messengers of today who have gone out and planted churches and established the church in various cultures, countries and contexts . I would be loathed to call anyone today an Apostle and say they have that authority, but I see there are people who we need in the church today that have an apostolic ministry in terms of planting and establishing churches, people I would listen to because of what they have done in Christ.
Secondly prophets, that is people that God has gifted to be able to take the good news of Jesus Christ and apply it to the here and now. To be a prophet is to tell forth God’s word: To take God’s timeless truth and make it timely. Paul in his letters functions both as an apostle, witnessing to the Good news in Jesus Christ and a prophet in his letters he applies that timeless truth to the occasion of the churches he is writing to. We need that so we can grow together so that God’s message becomes God’s message to us, To you and to me.
WE may think that prophets and prophecy ace about being innovators but in actual fact they are about being faithful to the faith and faithfully applying to new contexts and to our context. You can see how that would build up the church.
Evangelists, good news tellers are people who take the message of Jesus Christ and communicate it in a way that others come to know Jesus Christ and chose to follow him. We need them to build up the body of Christ because well they build up the body of Christ numerically. They may be mass evangelists, but also those who simply out of love and compassion for family and friends share their faith.
Then we have pastors and teachers, these two are linked together and scholars think that while Paul had itinerant ministries in mind when he talked about the first three that here he had the local leadership of a church in mind. To pastor means to oversee and to lead as well as care, it means to be the shepherd of course the model for that is the chief shepherd and the good shepherd Jesus Christ. To teach means that people would know and learn the good news, the scriptures to know what it means to follow Jesus and to apply it their lives. To train people up, in the ancient near east a teacher was more of a mentor than a lecturer, it was to show by example and to invite people to do alongside them. Again the example is Christ, who taught the disciples and then sent them out to do the things he had done.
The end product of all these gifted which by the way I believe we are called to exercise in different degrees according to grace given to us is that we are built up together. That you and I are trained and equipped and encouraged to do our ministry to be the body of Christ. They are not the ministry of the body of Christ they are there like personal trainers to enable us to do what God has called us to do. To love and care for each other to proclaim the good news we have received. You are the body of Christ we are the body of Christ, we are the body of Christ, and the spirit is upon you to be that body and to embody Christ in the world.