Sunday, April 17, 2016

Empowered To Build Up (Ephesians 4:1-16)... God's Spirited People: the Gifts of The Holy Spirit in the Bible and the Church today (part 3)

There is a new community being built just down the road from us here at St Peter’s: A retirement village, which in its self is a relatively new way older people are choosing to live together. For a long time nothing really seemed to be happening..  It just looked like a hole in the ground, more seemed to be taken away from the site than was built… lots of work was going into making sure the foundations were right. Then Just recently it has sprung up and grown as precut, prenailed wooden frames and precast concrete slabs have been erected on the site. 

To build that community it is taking a large number of people with a diverse set of skills working together. Different tradesmen, or as we’ve started calling them after our Australian cousins ‘tradies’: builders, plumbers electricians, scaffolders… I’m sure we will see roofers, plasterers painters and landscape gardeners, behind that have been architects, engineers, project managers, finance people,
lawyers. One person’s talents are very conspicuous at the moment that of the crane driver. Massive pieces of preformed concrete get trucked past us down the road and then I’ll look out my window and see it flying through the air and placed carefully and precisely where it is supposed to go. As this community is going to be about people, it will also take the skills of nursing staff, cleaners, gardeners, cooks and administration staff: All these people using their gifts and talents together to build up a new community.

We are working our way through the passages in the New Testament that speak of the Gifts of The Holy Spirit, gifts and talents that God has given to the church: Gifts to empower us to witness to Christ, that empower us to serve and as we will see this week empower us to be built up as Christ’s body into maturity and the fullness of Christ where every member is playing it part. Each of the passages has a different list of Gifts none of them the same, they are all examples rather than an exhaustive catalogue. 

This week we are looking at Ephesians 4:1-16 and again we find the passage starting with therefore… We are at that place in his letter Paul where moves from expounding the gospel to exhorting it to be lived out or as John Stott puts it, from ‘Mind stretching theology to its down to earth everyday application’. For the first three chapters of his letter Paul had been unfolding for his readers God’s eternal purpose worked out in history. That through the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God was making a something entirely new, not just new life for individuals, but a new community a new way of diverse alienated people to come together as God’s new creation humanity. Paul now moves to exhort people to live up to that high calling they/we have in Christ.

Paul starts by saying that we are called to put certain virtues in place to be the new united people God is calling us to be: Humility, gentleness (also known as meekness which Francis Foulkes defines as the spirit of one being so focused on seeking some worthy goal for the common good that they refuse to be deflected from it by slights, injuries or insults or any personal consideration of any kind’), then we have patience and bearing with one another in love. They all reflect God’s virtues shown in Jesus and  Paul goes on to say that our unity is based on the unity of the God head; we are one because we share the same spirit, are the one body of Christ, we are saved by the same hope, we have one Lord, one faith, one baptism and One God and Father of all. 

Then Paul goes on to say that Christ has given us diverse gifts to enable and empower us to be that unified people. In a rather long and complex sentence which is treated like an aside, Paul talks of Jesus as a conquering king, who has been given all the spoils and so gives out gifts to his people. (We are more used to his incarnation crucifixion and Resurrection being talked about in these terms in Paul's more poetic (or even use of a song) in Philippians 2:1-11) Paul lists five gifts to the church, and it seems these gifts are people who act in a certain ministry or function. 

The first is that some are given to be apostles. This is a word that is used in different ways in scripture. It can simple mean someone sent as a messenger. It’s is used to refer to the twelve with Jesus or the Apostles with a capital “A’ or people in scripture who had been with Jesus and had met the risen Jesus Christ. Paul refers to himself as the least amongst the Apostles. People debate over weather this is still a gift being used today… Catholics will talk of apostolic succession, they can trse their leadership in the Pope back to Peter as the first bishop of Rome, and other who talks of a new apostolic era today.  

I just want to say a couple of things about this gift. Firstly it is given to the church as the foundation of building our community. Our knowledge of and witness to Jesus Christ is based on the witness of the Apostles. They have passed on the gospel to us, they founded the church. We can grow in the knowledge of Jesu Christ because of what they have passed on to us. The gift of apostles is for the church universal and does refer to that first generation of Christian leaders. It si through them that we know the gospel we have been given it, we have been shown through Paul how to begin to apply it to our own situations and circumstances. It forms the foundation for us.

But there are also people who exercise that apostolic ministry with a small ‘a’, people who we think of as pioneer missionaries, church planters or movement starters who seem to bring that gospel to new situations. In the Presbyterian Church we might look to people like John Knox as an example. In the Cook Island’s they look back to John Williams as the person who bought the gospel to the islands. In Rotorua our Cook Island ecclesia would say we do things this way because that how John Williams of the London missionary society did them. I would be very reluctant to say people had the gift of apostle today, and really only time will tell. More recently The vineyard church has grown up as a worldwide movement they would look back to John Wimber, whose emphasis on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, contemporary music and a more relaxed café style service as an apostolic figure.  

Prophets we had a look at last week. They take the timeless truth of the gospel and make it timely. They connect it to the here and know. Paul could be said t be exercising a prophetic ministry in writing his letters to the churches. He takes God’s word and then applies it too what is happening in the church at that time. One of the keys to understanding the epistles in the New Testament is realising they are written to a certain situation, they are inspired in as much as they speak to us today as well. 

Some to be Evangelists, an evangelist is someone who has the ministry and gifting to make the gospel understandable to nonbelievers in a way that calls them to respond. We are all called to witness to our faith in Jesus Christ and share it but Christ has gifted the Church people who are just gifted at it. Now we tend to have a negative idea of evangelists as the street corner person who we associate with hell fire and brimstone and putting people down. But a gifted evangelist is given the gift to share the gospel effectively.  In the older generation I guess people would look to the ministry of people like Billy Graham. Trent is one of the pastors down at C3 he heads up their Manukau campus,  and he has a gift in one on one evangelism, I am constantly inspired by the stories of people’s lives changed he shares on facebook. My friend Zac doing a PhD in molecular biology is a great apologist for the faith in university circles. They are totally different but both able to share the gospel effectively. John Calvin five hundred years ago in Christian Europe suggested the church didn’t need this gift all the time anymore, but in post Christian New Zealand we need it more than ever. 

Some to be pastors and teachers, these two are linked together. Some see the other three as people with itinerant ministries given to the church universal and these two being the local expression of bringing the ministry of the word. Pastors have the idea of feeding the sheep and caring for the flock, and teachers are those who systematically open up God’s word so that people can understand it and apply it to their lives.  In the New Testament the leadership of the church is spoken of in terms of overseers’ bishops, elders and deacons, but in appointing such people, we are to look for people of integrity and that God as gifted for that role… Paul told timothy that he should do the work of an evangelist, and in appointing elders he should appoint people at to teach. 

Paul goes on to talk of the effect these gifts should have on the church.  That people should be equipped for works of service, so that the body of Christ maybe built up, until we reach unity in the faith attaining the whole measure of Christ. And this has some important things to say to us 

Firstly, it is easy for people to think that these ministries and gifts are the important thing, where ministry happens. But here Paul reminds us they are there to build the whole of the church up into the wholeness of Christ. They are not positions of authority or status but like all ministry they are service. They don’t belong to the people they belong to the church… We are called to be a ministry of all believers. In fact if we think it’s up to the one or two to do it then it’s no wonder the church struggles. It’s becomes very much like a rugby match thirty people in desperate need of rest being watched by a whole crowd of people in need of exercise in the stands. Whereas the book of Hebrews tells us those in the stands are those who have gone before us and they are there to cheer us on as we do the ministry of Jesus in our world today. 

When I was growing up I went to Titirangi Presbyterian Church and in our news bulletin it had the Minister: the whole congregation. Assistant to the ministers: Revd David Strickland.  Did you notice on ours this morning? 

Secondly, when you look at these five gifts that Paul mentions here, you see they are all to do with the ministry of the word. The apostles, the foundation of giving us the words of Jesus, prophets make it timely, evangelists make it transformational, pastors and teachers make it central in the lives of local churches. That centrality of the word of God we symbolise each worship service by bringing in the Bible. We grow into maturity in love for one another as we allow the word of God to minister to us. Listen was the one word that seems to come up all the time this year. Jesus definition of discipleship was to listen to his word and obey it. Here we see that the gifts God gives to the church to build us up are about taking Jesus words and helping us to listen to them. It’s as we do that that we are built us as a church. That it’s by speak the truth of the gospel out of love for one another we become more and more like Christ. 

Now everyone whose doing sermon bingo is wonder how I’m going to fit that last word in well here it is…Beetroot. *

Finally Paul finishes with a great picture of the unified mature people of God. He says it’s the difference between every parent’s nightmare during the summer time, an infant caught in the waves and rips at a surf beach tossed about and prone to get dragged away or drowned with each change of the current, to becoming a strong well-functioning adult able to stand against the current. A strong functioning body, with a nervous system that reacts to the thoughts and will of the its head Jesus Christ, and where all the parts fit well and properly together and play their part in the embodying of Jesus in the world. 

There is a new community being built on Harrison Road, it’s not down the road it’s right here, we are God’s new creation people, it’s not a retirement village, it’s Christ’s very active, very alive body, it’s not being built up by tradies and professionals, it will be built up by the word of God and as each of us, each part, does it work, in the power of the Holy Spirit.    

* it is school  holidays here in New Zealand at the moment so the children stay in the service. One of the ways I try and make the service and the message more kids friendly is to have sermon bingo. Anyone who wants to can get a sheet with words from the sermon on it and mark them off as we go through it. I usually finish up with the last word being before the conclusion so that we don't have a bingo when I am finishing off the application. It is amazing how many adults find this useful as well and the kids are very quite and attentive during the sermon time.  

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