How Christ Equips His People
Topic: Sunday Sermons Scripture: Ephesians 4:11-12
I'm delighted to invite you to turn in your Bibles to the book of Ephesians 4 this morning as we return to our verse by verse exposition of this marvelous epistle from the Apostle Paul. We have stepped away from Ephesians for a few weeks to cover matters of thematic importance on the fear of God and also dealing with the Bible and homosexuality, but really the ongoing focus of our pulpit over time right now is in the book of Ephesians on Sunday morning and we're delighted to come back to Ephesians 4 and I feel like I would do you a service if I just reminded you a little bit of the context as we move back into this wonderful book. Paul in the first 3 chapters had praised God and prayed for the readers of his epistle because of the great work that Christ Jesus had done in salvation. God had chosen us before the foundation of the world. He sent Christ to redeem specifically those whom God had chosen and the Holy Spirit took that salvation and applied it to our hearts although we were dead in our trespasses and sins. Now we are joined together with Christ. We are raised up and seated in the heavenly places by union with him and God has brought Jew and Gentile alike into the church on equal footing. Gentiles now share in spiritual blessings which the Jews thought for the longest time would belong only to them. So for those of us who were on the outside looking in with our nose pressed against the window, as it were, looking at the blessings of God from a distance, God has graciously saved us and brought us into his family and now we are in the church by faith in Jesus Christ where God intends to bless us and build us up. We are wonderfully, graciously blessed to be Christians and to belong to the Lord Jesus Christ. To be, as it were, on the object of God's eternal saving purpose which we are seeing played out in time and which we know that he will bring to a glorious conclusion in our lives and in all who have believed in our Lord Jesus Christ. So it's just wonderful to be a Christian. It is the most noble, the most awe-striking thing. To be a Christian, transcends anything else that this world could ever give to us and so whenever we come to the word of God, whenever we come together as the people of God, we are rejoicing, we are glad, we have reason for abundant hope because of what God has done for us and Paul lays all of that out in the first 3 chapters of Ephesians.
So he moves on into chapter 4 and he starts to work out the practical ramifications of those great truths. Those aren't meant to be things that we just know about in mind and yet have no impact on our lives, they are meant to have a lot of practical working out, a lot of practical ramifications, particularly within the body of Christ; it has immense ramifications for a local church and for the church universal, even. One of the things that this means for us because we have been saved by the common purpose of God, the blood of Christ has saved us and the Spirit has done a common work in our individual hearts, we should be people of unity. Look at chapter 4, verse 1, where Paul makes the transition from the doctrine of the first 3 chapters to the practice of the final 3 chapters and he emphasizes this priority of unity upon the church. He says there in chapter 4, verse 1, "Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called." Brothers and sisters in Christ, when we reflect on, when we remember the greatness of the eternal purpose of God, when we remember the infinite value of the shed blood of Jesus Christ, when we realize that the Holy Spirit worked in our hearts by name in order to bring us to faith in Christ and to bring us out of the slave market of sin with a redemption that is beyond compare, when we remember those things and remember that I have it and you have it in like manner, then there should be a commitment that with those with whom we share this great salvation, there would be a unity of mind and a unity of purpose that reflects the greatness of the single salvation that we all have partaken of.
Paul goes on in verse 2, "with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." One of the greatest sins that any professing Christian could commit against God would be to inject disunity into a body that is otherwise unified; to sin and bring fracture upon it. To create conflict where unity had previously existed is a great sin against Christ and a great contrary action against the work that he has done.
Paul goes on in verse 4 and he says, "There is one body and one Spirit," verse 5, "one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all." So he says there is this one God, there is one Lord, there is one salvation, there is one faith and so we should be marked by a oneness. One of the great testifying impacts of a local church is that there is a unity that marks its people that is so contrary to the conflicted spirit of the world that is outside. People look on a church like ours and see our unity, see our commonness of purpose, our love for one another and it testifies that we have a common salvation from one Lord who has done a unique work in our hearts. And the love and unity of a congregation becomes part of the overflowing testimony, not just an individual sharing the Gospel with another individual. There is a corporate testimony that takes place through the unity of the church and we all contribute to that with our individual lives of godliness.
Now, at the same time, you will recall that we are doing a brief survey of 40 messages that I've done up until this point and then you're wondering, "Well, if you just covered all of this in 5 minutes, why did it take 40 hours?" Let's not go there, shall we? This is just by way of review. In verse 7, Paul shifts from the unity of the church to the diversity of the church when he says in verse 7, he says "But," he says, "I'm going to tell you something different now. I want to focus on a different aspect of life in the body of Christ." He says, "To each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift." What we saw from this passage and the verses that followed is that while we share in a common salvation, Christ has uniquely gifted each one of us who are members of the church, he has gifted each one of us to make a contribution that no one else can make. Ministry was never intended to be one man up front doing everything while a congregation watched in a spectator type fashion. Ministry is meant to be everyone who is in the church participating, in some way contributing what God has gifted them to do for the greater good of the overall whole.
Look down at verse 15. We'll get to this either next week or in the following week where Paul says, "we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to," watch this, "the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love." So there is this unity that marks us spiritually and yet there is a diversity that is manifested in the different giftedness that each one of us brings to the life of the body and each of us is meant to contribute to the life of the body so that as each individual part does its thing, does what it's supposed to do, then the entire body grows just as your body grew from a child to adulthood as each individual part did what it was supposed to do. So there is this wonderful metaphor that takes place and it's really an invitation, as it were, for us to take seriously our participation in the body of Christ; to realize that we are saved and therefore we're going to commit to being unified with one another and yet to recognize the individual responsibility that says, "I can't simply come and be a spectator. This is a participant sport. I have things to do, things to contribute, and while I may not yet understand exactly what that is at this moment in time, I want to move in the direction where I am contributing to the life of the body of Christ."
So there is just a whole fountain of understanding of what life in the church looks like. God intends for you to play a part in his eternal purpose as he works it out in the life of the local church. It's incredible to think about, to think that not only are we on the receiving end of the grace of God and that Christ died for us by name. Paul said and I say this many times, in Galatians 2:20, "He loved me and gave Himself up for me." Not just a mass of humanity and then we decided whether or not we wanted to take our part later on, Christ died for us by name. He intended to save you by name. J. Gresham Machen said, "When he was on the cross he thought of me even," and there is this personal intention to redeem us by name that Christ came to fulfill and ultimately accomplished on the cross. So there is this sense of privilege that yields into a sense of responsibility, "Where is my part? What do I do in light of this great saving grace that God has bestowed upon me?" And I can say to you that if you're a Christian, God intends for you to play your part in the outworking of his eternal purpose. You're meant to be involved not only in your own life but somehow in the life of a local church, in the mix of relationships that somehow contributes to the well-being of others in the church.
Yet, something hinders that in the big picture of things. There is a difficulty in reaching that goal, reaching that intention. Do you know what it is? Do you know what would hinder you from doing that? It's not exactly what you would think. The problem is that you and I naturally do not know what that would look like. We don't know as we come into the church picture yourself, coming into the church for the first time and just bringing what you've been taught in the world into the mix, you have no idea exactly how that's supposed to play out because the world has not taught you how to participate in the life of the body of Christ. It's a whole different realm that the world knows nothing about, that the world has no authority over, that the world has no interest in. So how is it that we are going to understand the way that our part plays out in working out God's purpose and knowing the contribution that we are to make? The world doesn't teach us unity and sacrifice. Quite to the contrary, the world tells you that you are the most important person in your universe. That you deserve a break today. That you should have self-esteem. That you should love yourself and that you should seek your own self-fulfillment in all that you do.
That's what people bring out of the world into the church when they pass through the doors is a mindset that is absolutely contrary to the purposes of God. The world knows nothing of the 2 greatest commandments that Jesus said. You know, we condition our children from their earliest times to think that their self-esteem is the most important aspect of existence and Scripture is totally opposed to that. Scripture says the greatest commandment for you, young person, the greatest commandment for you, adult, is that you would love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, strength and mind. The world knows nothing of that. The world knows nothing of the second aspect of the greatest command that says you should love your neighbor as yourself. Well, all of this is in direct conflict with that spirit of loving self and whatever feels good you do it. It's all contrary and when you come out of the world and come into the church having been conditioned with that mindset, you have no way of understanding the way that the church is supposed to work or the way that you're supposed to fit into it.
Well, what's the answer to that? The answer to that is that we need God's teaching to see how we fit into the family. We need his teaching to see how this unity plays itself out. We need his teaching to understand the role of individual giftedness in the life of the church. We need something that the world doesn't provide for us so that we can function as proper members of God's family. We need God's teaching to help us and what we see that Christ has done, what we see from the passage that we're going to look at, is that Christ in his love and in his provision for his people has given us what we need in order to make that transition from worldly thinking into properly functioning members of the body of Christ.
Look at Ephesians 4:11 and 12 and this is where we're going to pick up and return to our exposition of Ephesians. Before we get to verse 11, and let me just remind you that Paul has been speaking about how Christ has given gifts; Christ has gifted the church. He says in verse 7, "to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift." Verse 8, "He gave gifts to men." Now as we pick it up in verse 11, we see Paul telling us exactly what those gifts are. He says in verse 11 as he is expounding on Christ's provision for his church, he says,
11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.
So we're going to look at these 2 verses today and see what it is that Christ has given to the church and what his intention is in order to sanctify his people from their prior selfish, sinful lives to give them a mind that fits them for service in the body of Christ. We're going to look at 2 aspects of it and, first of all, I want to show you the nature of Christ's gift to the church. The nature of Christ's gift to his church and we're going to see this in verse 11. What has Christ given to the church? He has been speaking about these gifts and kind of building up to a climax according to the measure of Christ's gifts. He gave gifts to men and he gave, you know, I feel a little bit like a kid at Christmas time, "Let's get this unwrapped! Let's see what it is! If it comes from Christ, it must be something good that he intends to be a blessing to his people."
What Paul explains here is found in verse 11. Let's look at it a little more closely. He says, "And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers." All of these gifts as we're going to see relate somehow to the imparting of God's word to people and it's an indication that God has given men to his church to convey and explain God's revelation to them. Where we find our place in God's church can only be found in teaching that comes from God himself. Christ is the head of the church. Christ must communicate to his people what it is that he expects from them so that they can understand their roles and then fulfill them. Well, how is it that that is going to go from the mind of Christ into the minds of the people in a way that has that necessary transforming effect upon them? Here it is unfolded for us in verses 11 and 12: Christ has given men to his church to explain his revelation to his people. And as you consider this list of men, apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor teachers, as you consider this list, what you're going to see is that each category somehow pertains to God's revelation found and given in his word. Christ's gift to his church is intimately wrapped around the conveyance of his word to his people.
He first lists apostles, look at verse 11 with me. He says, "And He gave some as apostles." He gave apostles to the church. We have studied the apostolic office frequently here at Truth Community and so I'm not going to tarry on this point, simply to say this: Paul is using the term "apostle" here to refer to the 12 disciples of Christ plus himself who saw the risen Christ and were uniquely commissioned by Christ to be instruments of his revelation to his people. They were the ones who actually conveyed the word of God in writing. They or their close associates, Christ uniquely appointed them to have authority at the beginning of the church. It was through the apostles or their close associates that we received the inspired writings of the New Testament and we build today on the foundation which the apostles laid for us at the beginning 2,000 years ago.
Look over at chapter 2, verse 20, just to remind you of a verse that we saw beforehand. In verse 19 it says, and you can see how Paul kind of prefaces and anticipates what he's going to say later in the letter. He says, "you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone." The church exists today because Christ sent the apostles originally 2,000 years ago. Based on their derived authority as appointed representatives of Christ, they established the foundation of the church through their teaching, through their writings, through their work, and we all stand on the foundation that they originally laid 2,000 years ago. This was part of Christ's gift to the church. He did not leave us without men to lead us and guide us according to the mind of Christ. He gave us apostles and appointed them so that they were able to set the foundation and set the direction for subsequent generations. No one since the apostles has seen the resurrected Christ, that was a requirement to be an apostle, and so we no longer have a apostles today contrary to what some denominations would teach, rather we have the foundation that the apostles laid. You don't continually relay a foundation when you build a building; you don't lay a foundation and build it and then put another foundation on top. You build a foundation one time and so with the apostles through the writings that they have left behind under the inspiration of God, Christ has gifted us and provided us that which is sufficient for us to function in the church 2,000 years later. Even though Jesus himself is not physically present, even though the apostles are not physically present, we have their writings which are sufficient for what we need to know and do.
Now, going back to verse 11, "He gave some as apostles and He gave some as prophets." As we've said in times past, these prophets are referring to the New Testament prophets who had a temporary role to give revelation to the church while we were waiting for the complete Canon to be finished. They provided a role, a temporary role, in the church for those earliest believers who did not have a completed Bible like we do. God provided men, watch this, God provided those men in local context who declared his mind on matters until the full Bible was in place. What I want you to see is the common thread here: the church needed God's word. They didn't have it apart from the provision of God. God gave them men who would provide his word to them and based on the provision of that word through God's men, the church was then able to function. The church needed the mind of Christ before it could engage in the work of Christ. Just like you and I today, we need to know the mind of Christ; we have to have sanctified minds if we are going to be effective, functioning Christians in the body of Christ.
This is one reason and we will talk about this more later, I'm probably getting ahead of myself a little bit here, but this is why it is so important for us to be daily in the word, it's why it is so important for us to gather together for the teaching of God's word as a corporate body. It is through his word that God changes us, instructs us, and informs us so that we can be the Christians that he intends us to be. There is no such thing as a godly, growing Christian who is not deeply involved in the word of God. So at the beginning he gave us a foundation of the apostles. For those early believers before the Bible was completed, he gave prophets to local congregations who could give his word to them, an office that died out as the Canon was completed.
Now notice this, go back to verse 11, he says, "He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and He gave some as evangelists." An evangelist comes from the word that means Gospel. The good news. These are men who brought the good news of salvation to those who had never heard. They took God's revelation about the Gospel of Christ and took it and take it, take it today even to those who have not heard and declare to them the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ. For someone to be born again and to be brought into the church as a member of the body of Christ, someone, somehow needs to communicate the revelation of the Gospel to them and so God has provided for the church by giving evangelists who are able to declare his word, declare his revelation to the unsaved, so that they might hear and believe. "Faith comes from hearing and hearing by the word of Christ." Don't be tricked, don't be drawn away by those who want to talk about visions that they have seen. This is so common as people talk about evangelism among Muslims and, "Oh, Jesus appeared in a vision and came and declared himself." That's not the way that God communicates. He communicates through his word, not through visions because we know that Satan himself can disguise himself as an angel of light. That is not a reliable means. The reliable means is found in God's word. So what you see here, the pattern is apostles and prophets and evangelists all somehow playing their role in the communication of God's word, that being the central unifying principle that brings these offices together.
Now, finally here at the end of verse 11, look at what he says. We'll spend a little more time here because it's a little more directly related to life in the local church. He says, "He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers." Now, there are a couple of things I need to say about this part right here. From our English translation, you might think that he was referring to 2 separate offices, 2 separate kinds of men. You can see this and look at it and say, "Well, there are pastors and then in a separate group there are teachers." But take a closer look. Only one office is in view here and there are reasons in the original language to see that with the use of the article, but even in your English translation you can see it. Notice that he says in verse 11, "He gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists," clearly delineating different offices as he goes along by use of that word "some." Some as, some as, some as. When he comes to this final office, it's not some as pastors and some as teachers, he doesn't separate them in that way. He joins the thought together and says some as pastors and teachers. He joins them together and we need to tarry here because this is foundational. The pastor teacher office is what we need to discuss here today and I'm going to spend a little bit of time talking about that.
The word "pastor" carries the idea of being a shepherd. It refers to those men that God has appointed to tend to the church through teaching and through oversight. God, as part of his provision for the church, gives leaders to the church who have the ability to teach and thereby provide guidance to his people through the revelation previously completed and given to the church. Pastors, pastor teachers, we should say, do not reveal a new truth like the apostles did, like the prophets did. They are not giving new revelation. God's revelation has ceased period. End of sentence. End of paragraph. He has given us everything we need in a single sufficient book. So rather what pastors do, what elders do, is they explain the revelation that God has already given and apply it to the local body. So their responsibility is wrapped up around the word of God but it's not that they convey new information from God or new words from God, rather they take and teach what God has already given for the building up of the body.
Now, Paul here, this is very important for us to see and understand, Paul here is not talking about a single office, a single man in the church as though it was a pastor teacher and that one man was who he had in mind. That's not his intention as we see from other passages of Scripture. Elsewhere in Scripture, these pastor teachers are referred to as elders. They are referred to as overseers. You have 3 terms being used to describe the same office: pastor, overseer and elders and we want to see this from Scripture so that you can understand the structure that God has put into place. Turn back to the book of Acts, if you would. We need to explain this word "pastor" so that we understand what Paul means when he says pastors and teachers here in Ephesians 4. Acts 20 is where I invite you to turn for the moment. Acts 20, Paul here in Acts 20, is giving a farewell to the leadership of the church at Ephesus and I just want you to see how some of these words are used to help us understand the office that God has appointed for his people in the church. Acts 20:17, he says, "From Miletus Paul sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church. And when they had come to him, he said to them," then he starts to explain in a long passage here, he explains his history with them and reminds them of different things that he had done, calling the elders together so that he may address them in their capacity as leaders of the local church.
Now, watch what happens. We won't go through the whole passage but watch what happens, what he says to them in verse 27. He said, "I did not shrink from declaring to you," that is, the elders that he has called together, "I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God." He says, "I am an apostle. I declared to you the whole purpose of God to you elders so that you would know it and be able to take it and apply it." Look at what he says to them. He says, "Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock." He says, "You watch out for yourself and you be mindful of your responsibility to the people of God who are under you." Watch how he refers to them, he says, "among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood." He calls these elders overseers. He says, "You were called to shepherd the people of God," and he is using these terms in an interchangeable way to show different aspects of the same office. He's speaking to them as a plurality. He says, "You are elders. You are overseers. Your function is to protect and shepherd the flock of Christ." So we see this playing out and seeing different titles being applied to the same people in the same role.
In like manner, turn over to 1 Peter 5, if you would. 1 Peter 5:1, Peter writing as an apostle to leaders in the church says, "Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed." So he's writing to elders. What does he say to them? He says, "You shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness." So here again in this passage, you see the overlap in meaning between the terms. You have the elders who are shepherding the flock and providing oversight to them.
What does all of this mean in light of what we're saying in Ephesians 4? Very important for you to understand so that you don't misapply the terms in Ephesians 4 to a single man within the local church. The interchangeable use of these terms shows that the pastor teacher is simply another way up to refer to the elders of the local body. The term "elder" indicates that a church leader should have maturity in his spiritual experience. Overseer and shepherd refer to his function, refer to the function of the elders. They watch over the work of the church. They shepherd. They care for the souls within the local church. So there is this one office which is meant to have a plurality of men holding the same office within the local church and they share common characteristics in spiritual maturity and in their function of overseeing the church and providing leadership and care to the souls that are members of that church.
How are they to do that? Well, what we're about to get into here may very well change your whole perspective on what a church is to be. Go back to Ephesians 4 now. All that that little excursion did was to show you that Paul had in mind an office with a plurality, some as pastors and teachers, notice that he uses those terms in the plural, not in the singular as he refers to the local church. What are these men supposed to do? How is it that they provide care for your souls? What is it that they provide that allows you to become the Christian that you're supposed to be in the context of the people of God? Well, these pastors, these elders, these overseers, have a responsibility to teach. They are meant to teach and that is central to their role. 1 Timothy 3 says that an overseer must be able to teach. Titus 1:9 says that an elder must be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict. Teaching is central to the way they provide oversight and shepherding to the care of the church and therefore it is appropriate and necessary for Paul to join these 2 functions together in a single reference in verse 11 as he speaks about what Christ has given to the church for the blessing of his people.
Look at verse 11 with me again with those things in mind. Ephesians 4:11, "He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers." Some as elders who instruct. Some as shepherds who teach. All giving you a different sense of the idea that what Christ has done in his church and the way that Christ has gifted his church and provided for his church is he has given men to the church who meet spiritual qualifications and experience who have the heart desire and the heart capacity to care for his people and to instruct them out of God's word. That's what an elder is supposed to do. That is the order that Christ has established and, beloved, Christ has established this as a gift to you. Christ has established this order so that he would be able to convey blessings through elder leadership to all of his people so that they all would grow in the unity, purpose and diversity that Christ intends for his church to have. The church is not meant to be a town meeting where lots of people are running in lots of different directions and everybody's opinion has equal weight. That's not the design that Christ has established for his church. Christ gave men to the church, watch this, to teach his word to his people. Elders are merely under-shepherds of Christ. They are not kings. They are not dictators. They are servants to Christ and they are servants to you all for your blessing, all that they might be the channel of the blessing and the instrument of growth in your life that Christ intends for you to have and this is Christ's gift to the church as he gives men who are involved with his word: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastor teachers.
Now, why is that so important? Let's look at our second point here this morning. We looked at the nature of Christ's gift, now we see the purpose of Christ's gift in our time that remains. The purpose of Christ's gift. Why is it that Christ did it this way and what does it mean for you? Well, Christ has established this order in his church so that, watch this, those of you that are new maybe to the church, perhaps coming from a different history with different philosophies of ministry: God gives elders to the church who teach so that the people can do the ministry that God has called the people to do. It's not that you all come in and watch a few men do ministry and then you go on about your ways. The point is that you would receive the instruction, understand it and be transformed by it and then you would go out and conduct the ministry that God has placed in your life in the sphere of relationships and the sphere of influence that you have both inside and outside of the church. It is meant for you to be built up so that you would be ministers, servants of Christ in your realm, rather than simply watching or calling for a pastor or an elder to do it for you. This is revolutionary for some.
Look at verse 12 where the Apostle Paul explains the purpose for these men being placed among his people. Watch it carefully. He says, "He gave some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ." It's so that the saints, you there, could be equipped so that the body of Christ would be built-up. The elders, the pastor teachers are an instrument to an end in your life, not an end in themselves. So it's not that elders or the pastor does all the ministry, the whole point that Christ gives his word and gives men to the church is this: biblical teaching through qualified men is designed to build you up, to inform believers so that, watch this, so that you know how to love and to serve one another. It's so that you would know how to share the Gospel with the lost. Christ's intention for the church is that through the teaching of his word his whole body, remember, the point of this is the unity of the body and the diversity of each individual contributing their part. It would be utterly contrary for Paul to go on and say, "Now these are the men who do the ministry while everyone else watches." That's not it at all. The whole context is that every member has a part to contribute. How do they know? How do they become effective? How are they prepared for that service? Christ provides his word to them through men who instruct them.
So as you come together, as you walk through these doors Sunday by Sunday, what is your mindset supposed to be? Your mindset should be to come with an expectation that you are going to see things and learn things from God's word that are intended for you to take and apply it to the sphere of your life and relationships. This time here together is for the building up of you so that you would be more effective Christians both on Sunday and throughout the rest of the week. This means that every one of us has a responsibility when we come here on Sundays to come with a sense of expectation and responsibility that, "I need to hear this today because somehow God is going to use that to make me more effective when I walk out the doors of the church." So you take what you learn, you apply it in the sphere of your life and relationships, you apply it within and outside of the body of Christ and as you learn, as you grow in the knowledge of God, as you grow in an understanding of his sovereignty in salvation, as you grow in understanding your personal responsibility for holiness, as you grow spiritually, that transforming impact worked on your heart by the Spirit of God as he applies the teaching to your heart, that causes you to grow and as you grow, you become more effective Christians. Christians are not meant to be static entities who are the same one year to the next, to the next, to the next. Those of you who are born again and who are consistent attenders at this church, I know your life is different now than it was 3 years ago. I know that for certain and it has nothing to do with who the pastor or the teacher is, it has everything to do with the way that Christ works in his people through the teaching of his word.
So we realize that over time, "Wow, I'm not what I used to be. I'm not all that I should be but do you know what? I'm not what I used to be. I have changed. I have changed," meaning me, I have changed over these past 3 and half years. I'm grateful to God for it. And I know that many of you have changed as well. Understand that that happens because of the way that Christ ordered the church to work. The word of God works in your heart and transforms you and equips you to be somebody and to do things that you otherwise would not be able to do. If you were simply out in the world, simply watching the television news, simply reading the gossip magazines, you would not be prepared to be the person that God has equipped you to be. The teaching, as it were, brings that out of you. The Spirit works growth in your life and so that you are able to do that which you weren't able to do before. You see and understand things. You have a greater grasp of doctrine than you did before and all of that is the intention of Christ. It's the purpose of Christ. It should be thrilling to you. It should be exciting to you to realize and look back and say that that's what's happened. Of course that's a joyful thing because it's a testimony to the reality of your salvation all because the purpose of God is being played out in the order that he established for the church. And as each saint grows and as each saint does his part, the body grows corporately. Look at verse 12 with me again. He says, "for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ." In various ways, the men, the elders, they proclaim, they teach. The people profit from that and the church is built up.
Now, let me just apply this a little bit and I say this with joy and sympathy and all kinds of love in my heart with what I'm about to say to help people understand and to help you understand even how to explain our church to other people because I know this issue comes up and maybe it's on the minds of some of you that are newer to our church. It's very common for us in leadership and those that have been with our church for a long time, for visitors to come and they wonder where the programs are. "Where is all the stuff that we do and that you do? Where is all the stuff?" And you look at the church calendar and you expect to see every day filled with all kinds of activities and it's not like that. Well listen: prior churches have conditioned them to expect that, to think that that's the purpose of the church, for a smaller group to provide activities for everyone else to do, to come and to be a part of and there are a few people doing that which other people come and participate in. But God never intended the church to be a community activity center and I say this without any one church in mind, without anything in particular. I'm articulating principles of philosophy rather than being critical of any other church. There is not another church in my mind when I say this but that a lot of times and Dan Jackson has said this many times and I've benefited from his insight on this, one of our elders, a lot of times activity is simply a substitute for substance and by being really busy, people think that there is a substance going on. Well, the substance that Christ intends is not taking place if there is not a deep, systematic, profound teaching of the word of God somewhere being animating as the driving force in the life of that body. Activity is no substitute. Programs are no substitute for what Christ intends for his church to grow by. He intends them to grow by the teaching of God's word.
Now, this is woven throughout Scripture. If you think...I'm going to test the bounds of my memory here as I do this. I chose not to write this down. But if you think in Deuteronomy 6, for example, the word is central to the bringing up of children. You know, when you stand up and when you lie down, you give them the word of God, it says. In Psalm 1, it says that day and night the godly man meditates in his law. Psalm 119 says, "Your word is a light unto my path and a lamp to my feet." Verses 99 and 100 say, "I have more understanding than all of my teachers because I meditate in Your word." You go into the ministry of Jesus in Matthew 4 and he says, "Man does not live by bread alone but on," what? "By every word that proceeds from the mouth of God." What did the early church do in Acts 2? They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching. What did Paul say? We looked at the passage, to the church at Ephesus he said, "I declared the whole counsel of God to you," Acts 20. In 2 Timothy 4, he tells Timothy, Paul does under the inspiration of God, he says, "You preach the word in season and out, when people want to hear it and when they don't, when they are receptive and when they are not. You just stay focused on proclaiming the word of God from the beginning to the end." And even at the end of Revelation it says, "Don't take away from this word and don't add to this word." From beginning to end, the centrality of the word of God for his people is manifested on the pages in such a way that we cannot miss it. So for a church to pretend to be a church while minimizing and sidelining teaching either for the sake of ritual or just for the sake of community activity divorced from the word of God, is to sacrifice the reason for their existence. They are really not worthy to be called churches at all because in the church, Christ manifests his purpose through the instruction and reception of his word by his people.
So the word of God is central to a true New Testament church by the design of Christ. It's not because a group of elders prefer one man in ministry over another. It's not because one man likes to teach as opposed to leading activities. The whole point is that Christ leads his church. He feeds his church, through the word and he has made this plain, Old Testament, New Testament, beginning to end. So when people show up and I am sympathetic to the question, "Where are all the programs?" Understand that the problem isn't in a lack of programs, the problem is in the fact that they have never been exposed to a right philosophy of ministry to be able to judge a church rightly and to understand what a church is to be doing.
Now, as we grow as a church, there will be multiplied opportunities to teach and to receive instruction and other people who are gifted will have opportunity to teach. That's going to be a natural part of our growth but it's not activity and programs just for the sake of activity and programs. We have to understand that Christ primarily grows his church and feeds his church through the instruction found in God's word. So the word changes all of us and as it does, we minister in the sphere of relationships that he has given to us and in this way, beloved, Christ equips you to fulfill the purpose for which he created and saved you. You receive instruction from the word either here or in your own private study, reading the word of God for yourself and benefiting from the instruction of other men whom God has gifted and you grow in the word and then as that changes you, then you are prepared for what you meet. You know how to answer questions biblically for yourself. You can give those answers yourself because you have received them beforehand and you understand and now it's a part of you. That's the intention. That's how Christ fulfills his purpose through us. That's how he equips us for the work of the ministry. It's a glorious thing and we share in it together. The question is: is his purpose at work in you? Our Lord gave his life as a blood atonement for sinners but those who are under the wrath of God as Cody sang earlier, might be reconciled to God through the blood of his Son. I invite you to receive Christ if you don't know him so that his purposes would be manifest in you and the spiritual growth of which we speak, you would become a contributing member of the life of that body.
Let's bow together in prayer.
Father, we thank you for the sufficiency of your word. We thank you for the greatness of your word. We thank you for the greatness of the privilege of belonging to our Lord Jesus Christ. We pray that you would work out your purposes in the life of our young church. Father, we know that we have so much growing to do spiritually. We are not at all what we one day want to become, Father, but we trust you that as you bring your word to bear upon our lives, Father, we will grow into what you intend for us to become and we pledge ourselves to this kind of approach to ministry where your word is central and where we receive it and respond to it and act upon it. Have your transforming work upon us and raise up more men from within our midst who care for the sheep, who care for the people of God enough to give themselves over to the care of your people and raise up other gifted men who can share in the instruction of your word in time, Father, that your work might be multiplied and that your purposes would advance and that this church, Truth Community Church, and all those who call this church their spiritual home, Father, that we might become by the power of your Spirit what you intend us to be.
I thank you, Father, for each one that is here whether they have been here a short time or a long time. Father, we thank you for all who belong to Christ. We thank you for the contribution that each one makes. We pray for those, especially our young people, who do not yet know Christ. Who perhaps are resistant or perhaps just don't understand. Have mercy on them, Father, like you had on us. Extend your grace a little bit further and bring them into your kingdom as well we pray. Thank you for our time. Thank you for your grace. Thank you for a crucified, risen and ascended Savior who ever lives to bless his people and to intercede for them at the right hand of God until he returns and calls us home. In your blessed name, our Lord, we pray. Amen.