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The Path to Church Growth

July 26, 2015 Pastor: Don Green Series: Ephesians

Topic: Sunday Sermons Scripture: Ephesians 4:13-16

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For those of you who wear glasses or some kind of corrective eye lenses, you understand the importance of clarity and the distinction that comes between the fuzziness of your normal vision versus the clarity that comes when correction is applied and you can see things clearly. Clarity is really everything in terms of vision and being able to see where you're going and know the direction that your steps are taking. What we're going to see today is a sense of clarity about what it means to be a part of a Christian church and what it is that Christ is doing in the midst of his people. I can remember growing up and attending church week by week and I really didn't understand what the purpose of it was. It was just kind of like checking a box off of something you did. This is what you did on Sunday and it was divorced from any sense of context about why you were doing it or where it was going and what the whole purpose of that would be. Now, I don't want you to be in those shoes. The Scriptures tell us exactly why it is that we gather together as believers, why it is that we sit under the teaching of God's word, and the clarity of that gives great direction to you in understanding about what the future of your Christian life would be and it gives us a sense of the importance, not only of our Sunday worship, but of being a part of body life altogether.

Now, last time, and we can turn to Ephesians 4, if you would, because we're going back to the book of Ephesians for a very foundational message really about the nature of life at Truth Community Church. Last time we saw in verses 11 and 12 that God gave men to his church over time in order to teach others so that they could be effective in their Christian lives. Look at verse 11 with me. This is just to set the context for this morning. He said that Christ "gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and 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." And we saw last time that central to God's working out of his purposes among his people was the priority of his word. The apostles revealed the word from Christ. The prophets there referring to the New Testament prophets who served the church during that interim time before the written canon was complete. Evangelists who take the word out to those who have never heard before. And pastor teachers, elders in other words, who teach a local congregation from God's revealed word over time.

Scripture says that there is a purpose to that. It's not simply so that that man or the elders would have a ministry, it's for another end. It's a means to an end. It's for the equipping of the saints for the work of service to the building up of the body of Christ. Teaching takes place so that Christians like you and me can grow and we can serve Christ effectively. It's not the purpose of the church that one or 2 or a small handful of men would do all of the ministry and then everyone else is kind of a spectator as though they were going to a football game and watching the athletes compete while they sat and watched. No, there's a whole different dynamic in the church. The teaching, the equipping takes place so that all of us can go out and effectively serve and minister on behalf of Christ in the sphere of relationships and responsibilities that he has given to us. So there is a very real sense in which every Christian is a minister. Every Christian is designed to carry forth the word of God, having been equipped within the context of a local body to go out and minister effectively in the sphere of life relationships that has been given to us. You go places that I could never go with the Gospel. You go places with the love and mercy of Christ that I will never, ever see.

So we need to have this recognition corporately that we are all ministers of Christ and that we gather together under the word of God so that we would be equipped to be able to do that effectively and that means something. It means a lot of things actually. It means that when you come to church on a Sunday, when you participate in the life of the body, you should come with a sense of expectation and a sense of receiving something that you are then going to go out and use. It's not merely that we pass around an attendance chart because we don't do that anyway here, but it's not simply a matter of showing up like I thought in my younger days. If you just show up and you're a Christian, if you show up in church on Sunday and then you go on and the rest of the week is kind of disconnected from the hour that you spend together with the people of God. We need to see that there is a whole context, there's a whole connection that life and our church experience is meant to be a woven together experience that informs the way that we live.

Now, there's another aspect to it as we come together. Given the fact that God has placed his word at the center of his purposes, given the fact that God has given and Christ has given pastors, teachers, elders to the local church for the building up of the body of Christ, to equip the body of Christ for the work that God gives them to do in their individual lives, there is something very profound that we should understand as we come together as we approach the place of worship Sunday by Sunday as we think about our involvement in the life of a local body. The fact that teaching and the word of God is at the central focus of that, that it's teaching that equips us, there are a couple of humbling recognitions that that has for all of us including me. One is the fact that God gives us teachers means that we need to be taught. It means that we should come with a humble, teachable spirit. There is no point in coming to a place of biblical instruction if you think you already know it all. There's no reason and people will turn away from teaching churches with a sense that, "I don't need that." Well, that's not true. You know, the fact that God provides teachers means that he wants his people to be taught which means that they need to be taught.

So as we come together, there should be always in the back of our mind, "I come as one needing to receive instruction." Now, that might seem to be a pretty simple basic point but it wasn't all that long ago that I was informed that someone left our church because they already knew everything and there wasn't anything that they needed else to learn. They had been studying Scripture for a long time and so they didn't need to be here. Well, that betrays a complete misunderstanding of what it means to be a Christian. You don't separate from the people of God because you think you know it all. Scripture declares that we don't know it all, that we need construction and we need the people of God in order to grow into the people that God would have us to be. So we come with a mindset whether I've been a Christian for 20 weeks or whether I've been a Christian for 20 years, we come with a sense of expectation that, "God has something for me in his word and I need to receive that. I need to teach it. I need to learn from that." We come with teachable spirits as we enter into the worship center and say, "Okay, I'm here because I need something to learn. I'm incomplete without this." And there is this humbling sense in which we come together under the teaching of God's word.

So we are humbled in the sense that we need it and we also come with the expectation that, "Okay, what I'm going to receive is something that I carry out and then I serve with it because this is for the building up of you. This is for the building up so that you would be able to serve effectively." And there is a responsibility that comes with being a Christian and being a part of the people of God. We need the instruction. We need the fellowship of the people and we all need to come and contribute to that. So we come as learners. We come as servants, every one of us, including the man behind the pulpit here this morning. And listen, listen: if a group of humble, teachable Christians come together with a sense that they want to grow and serve, there's a sense of anticipation that comes out of that because we recognize, "Oh, this is what God uses. This is what God does. This is what God blesses." So as we come with those attitudes, we come with a sense that, "I'm a part of what the work of God that is going on corporately and my life is a part of that but it's not apart from the corporate work that God is doing." And we see all of these principles in what Paul goes on to say in verses 13 through 16.

Now, let me say this: biblical teachers often will distinguish between the position of a Christian and the practice of a Christian. It's very important for us to recognize the distinction and this distinction will make a lot of sense for us as we go into the passage here this morning. By position, we are in a perfect position with God because he deals with us based on the righteousness of Christ. He has forgiven all of our sins. He has imputed to us the righteousness of Christ. In other words, he treats us as though we had lived the perfect life of Christ and he receives us into his presence and into his fellowship on the basis of a righteousness that belonged to Christ which was given to us as a gift at the moment of our salvation. God no longer holds our sins against us. He's not going to judge us. He's not going to strike us down. We are in no danger of eternal judgment because a perfect righteousness from Christ has been placed on our account. That's a wonderful thing. That's why we have security, serenity. That's why we can be at peace is because when we trusted Christ, God gave that to us as a gift and that's why the Gospel is good news. That is why it is a wonderful truth to realize that we are in Christ and he is in us and God will never cast us away. That's our position that can never be changed.

Now, we have that perfect position but you and I have an imperfect practice and this is kind of transitioning into what our text has to say for us today. You and I, although we have this lofty, perfect position, our lives don't measure up to it yet. We're moving in that direction. We're moving in that realm. We want to be more like Christ but you and I fall short of it every day. We're not all that we should be or not all that we could be. We are children when we could still be men. When God calls us to be men, we find ourselves still immature and lacking what we need. So as we come together as Christians, there comes with a sense that not only do I need to be taught, that I need to receive his word, but also we should all be coming together with a sense that, "I need to grow," because that is the purpose of God in the church and we see that in verses 13 through 16.

Let's read those verses and then we'll try to unpack them here in our time this morning. Remember that Paul had said that he gave pastors and teachers and the others for the equipping of the saints to the building up of the body of Christ, and you might ask the question, "Well, why did he do that? What's the purpose of God's revelation and placing men in the body like that?" Verse 13, he explains it, he says,

13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

That's one very long sentence, a very complicated sentence, but I want to just kind of help you laser in and focus in on what the primary point of it is. Paul here is saying that the purpose of the church, the purpose of teaching in the church is so that the saints would come to maturity and that the saints would grow. Look at verse 13. We're just going to highlight a couple of things and then come back to it. He says that we are to attain to a mature man, that we are to grow into maturity. He says in verses 15 and 16, he uses that word "grow" twice. He says we are to grow up in all aspects into him. Verse 16, that the proper working of each individual part causes the growth of the body. What is he saying here? What he's saying here is this: he says that we need to mature. We need to grow as Christians. None of us have exhausted the need, none of us have reached such a point that we no longer have any growing to do. That's why I say this is kind of humbling. As we come together, I know something about you and you know something about me and that is that we both need to grow. That we need to move beyond, we need to develop beyond where we are today and to grow and to increase in our knowledge of Christ and in the practice of godliness. So that humbles us and it teaches us to come with a receptive, teachable attitude.

What is more is this, thinking of the bigger picture, speaking in the broader context. I love to think in the big principles. That's where you really start to get the idea of what Scripture is communicating to us. When we come together, there is more than what's happening on a week by week basis. It's more than this service happens in isolation and then there's another service that happens in isolation. We need to see the connection, the continuity of what's going on in all of these things in the life of the body together. You see, God, the Lord Jesus Christ, intends for his people to grow and develop. He intends for them to grow and mature. We have not reached perfection. Paul said, "I have not yet attained to it but I press on in order that I may know the Lord, that I might know the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings," over there in Philippians 3. So growth, church growth, is a corporate and and individual mandate from Christ himself. He intends for us to grow. He intends for us to develop. He intends for us to increase. Not just numerically, that's really secondary and not even part of this passage, rather he intends for you and I to grow in our Christian walk so that we will become more like him and until we recognize that that is his call on us, until we are convinced that that's what we need, we're going to stammer. We're going to flounder. We're not going to be all that we could be. And here in verses 13 through 16, Paul lays out a path of church growth and helps us to understand what it is that we should desire and aspire after as a body of the people of Christ.

We're going to lay this out in 2 parts here this morning. First of all, we're going to see the priority of maturity. The priority of maturity. God saved you if you're a Christian, God saved you so that you would become like Christ and that you would be made like him. That you would increasingly leave behind what you used to be like, leave behind your sinful desires, and transition and grow and become someone who is evermore a mirror of the character of Christ. That when people look into your life, they're saying a mirror of what Christ is like and that mirror starts out dirty and smeared but as we grow and as we mature, the mirror is cleansed. It is wiped away and the reflection becomes more clear and more obvious and more accurate. And it is our individual responsibility, our prerogative, our duty, our privilege, in order to become like the Christ who saved us and Paul is talking a very broad and basic terms here.

Look at verse 13. He says, "God has given these men to the church," verse 13, and here's what's supposed to happen under the consistent teaching of God's word in the context of a local body. Look at verse 13 with me. He says, the building up of the body of Christ "until." Here's the goal, "until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ." We're supposed to attain something and that word "attain" has the idea of hitting a target or reaching a goal. In other words, you arrive at something and you possess it. You attain to it and then it belongs to you. Paul here is spelling out what the goal of a church's instruction is meant to be. It's not entertainment, contrary to what you might think from looking at churches around you. It's not to be done as quickly as possible. When you realize that the goal is maturity, you realize that short funny messages can't possibly be accomplishing the goal of Christ in his church because there is nothing mature about it. There is nothing growing. There is nothing edifying about it if we're just going to gather together for a few laughs like we're watching an episode of Andy Griffith together. Now, I know there are churches that do that and have their own Sunday school curriculum built after Andy Griffith shows. That's not serious. That's an assault on what Paul is saying here.

Paul was spelling out what the goal of instruction is here in verse 13. Look at it. The preposition, you see the preposition "to" in there and it kind of lays out 3 designs that Christ intends for the instruction in the church to accomplish in all of us. He says, "until we all attain," first of all, "to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God." Secondly, "to a mature man." Thirdly, "to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ." As we come together under the teaching of the word of God and we develop a common base of knowledge, a common sense of instruction, it has an effect of also shaping our own affections and giving us common motivations in life and in what we do and in what we expect and what we want and thereby creates a body of people who are united around the things that Scripture has made them to be. And as we grow under the teaching of God's word, we don't grow apart from one another, we grow closer to one another and become more unified in that sense. God provided Scripture so that we, you and I, could come to know Christ and as we each come to know him better, we develop a common belief and we are unified around that. Paul here is speaking about a corporate unity. Notice that he says there in verse 13, he says "we all," and he refers in the singular to a mature man. So the lofty goal here, the high purpose that we gather together is so that we would know and display the fullness of Jesus Christ to each other and to the world. That we would so become like him that we are starting to manifest his very presence because our character and our mind is being conformed to the character and the mind of Christ and there is nothing more lofty than that. There is nothing more noble than to be shaped and to grow into the image of the eternal Son of God.

So the effects of that purpose, the effects of that priority of maturity are far-reaching indeed. First of all, it means that we come together with a sense that, "I need to grow." And for some of us, maybe that's a little bit of a reminder that we have forgotten about because we have been at the Christian life for a while and we think that we've got a good handle on things but, listen, unless you're perfectly, exactly like the Lord Jesus Christ in all of his character, there is room for you to grow and God has appointed the church to be a place where that would happen in your life.

As we think about it individually, then we think about it corporately and ask the question: why is it that we have a church? Why is it that we come together? Why do we share a body life together? Why do we have membership and commit to each other like this? Well, beloved, I don't mean to be simplistic here and I know that most of you understand this, what I'm about to say, but a church doesn't exist simply to give nice people a place to meet and talk about their earthly lives together. The purpose of the church is much higher and more lofty than that. When we say the church is not a social club, that's what we mean, that it's more than us just coming together and talking about ourselves with each other. It's more than just coming together and having people that we are like and that we kind of enjoy being together and that we just go through life together and you talk about your stuff and I talk about my stuff and there is no greater motivating purpose to the meeting than that. No, our focus as we come together is that we would become like Christ and that we would understand that there is a surpassing purpose that is at work every time we come together and that it is developing in all of us a greater Christ likeness, a greater maturity in the Lord. So we understand that there is a bigger purpose than the social events that take place. There is more to the church than just doing programs for the sake of programs. There is an eternal, unseen purpose of Christ that is at work when we gather together. So that gives us a sense of responsibility, of opportunity, of joy, of purpose that is real and based on Scripture. And we come and we realize, "I have something to contribute to this process. I have something to receive from this process. Not just me individually but also in the context of a body of people that are also like me." This is defining for why the church exists.

Now, let's draw out another application of that if we could. You see here, look at verse 13 again and Paul says, it's interesting that even as an apostle, he includes himself in the instruction and he says "we all would attain to the unity of the faith." Verse 14, "we are no longer to be children." Verse 15, "we are to grow up." And on it goes. This "we," this plurality, this corporate existence. Beloved, let me say something that we've talked about in the past to give you a lot of clarity not only about your own life but what you see going on in the lives of people who claim to be Christians around you: the purpose of God is that Christians would be part of a local church. We are not meant to be Christians in isolation. Unity comes from consistent participation together. It is not legitimate for someone to be a Christian and say, "Well, my church is when I listen to a sermon at home on the radio," and to not have any involvement, ever to have any involvement with the people of God. You cannot be a Christian in isolation and it's not just that you can't flourish like that, a person who is content to be in isolation from other believers needs to ask a fundamental question of themselves, "Am I even a Christian at all if I can go happily through life without being involved with the people of God?" Now, sometimes people are in a remote area and things are difficult for them. We understand that there are aspects to that but when there is a church available for people to be separate from a body of believers and just to be content to be by themselves, that's not reflective of the Christian life. That's something else. It's not biblical Christianity.

So unity and maturity and growth is by God's design in the church something that happens as we gather together corporately, not simply something that we pursue in isolation from one another. We're to attain to a unity of the faith. We're to come together as a mature man, as many operating as one, and that unity comes from consistent participation together, not simply come and go as you please when you don't have anything else to do on a Sunday. Listen, I was thinking about this this morning: the loftiest goal that a man could have would be to become like the Lord Jesus Christ. That is the highest goal. That is the purpose for which we are created to glorify God and to know him and to enjoy him forever. We are to become like Christ. Paul says, "Follow after my example as I follow after Christ." We're to become like Christ and that for us as a Christian is the most important priority that we have in life. It's more important than employment, than education, than pursuits of hobbies or whatever. There is one defining priority. There is one emphatic pursuit that a Christian has that defines everything else in life and that is, "God saved me. God called me in order that I would become like the Lord Jesus Christ." Everything else falls under that umbrella. Everything else is informed by that overarching principle.

Now, Scripture teaches us here in this passage that this happens in a corporate environment. That God intends for this maturity and this growth, this priority to be played out and in life lived out with other believers under the instruction of the word of God. Now, think with me here, think with me here: the greatest prize that we would have is to become as much like Christ as we could possibly be. That's the greatest thing. Let kindred and earthly goods go. If I can become like Christ, everything else is secondary by comparison. That's the way all of us should be thinking. Now, if that's true, and it is, since that is true, think with me here, that means that that deserves and requires and we put effort into that. We pursue that as a worthy goal that we are to exert effort in order to attain.

Now, I think that that attitude is probably generally rare in the church at large. I think that that attitude is present in our body but just think with me here: what does a champion athlete do? How does an athlete become a champion? An athlete becomes a champion through consistent practice and the moments that he is on the field or on the track running the race, by comparison of time, an inconsequential sliver of time compared to all of the practice and effort and repetition that he has put in in order to be able to perform at that moment when the contest is at hand. He gives his life over and is consistent in his practice in order to become a champion. What does a musician do, a skilled musician? A skilled musician acquires her skill through repeated practice again, and again, and again at the same song, going over, developing technique, practicing again and again, "Oh, I missed that by just a hair. Let me do that again." Over and over again, devoted to the practice so that the goal of becoming a skilled musician would be in place. And when you see somebody who is very skilled in what they do, you understand that a lot of work went into it that was hidden behind the scenes. How does a student become an honor student? Not through hit and miss with the books. A consistent study of the books that produces the result that enables them to take the exams and develop the knowledge and skill in their field effectively. We don't succeed in these earthly endeavors unless we are consistently pursuing them. You get that.

Well listen, why do they devote themselves like that? It's because success is a priority to them. They want to win. They want to perform well. They want to succeed in their studies. Well, beloved, look: here in verse 13 we see the call of God on our lives. The call of God on our lives is maturity, that we would become like Christ and that is a divine call. That is a divine priority. Christ purchased us in redemption in order to own us and now as our Lord, he defines what our priorities are for us and Christ says that our priority corporately and individually is that we might come to a mature knowledge of the Son of God; that we might become a mature man; that we might measure up to the stature of the fullness of Christ. Well, you see where I'm going, right? You don't attain that lofty goal which is greater than being a champion athlete, which is greater than being a concert pianist, which is greater than being an honors student, that lofty goal doesn't attain by a halfhearted commitment, by inconsistent participation in the life of the local church which Christ says here in his word is the key, is the means by which he makes that happen.

So we need to see God's priority of maturity. It's his call on our lives. He brings it to pass as individually during the week we're in this word and he brings it to pass in a particular way when we gather together corporately under the instruction of his word. So we see that if we're going to attain after the highest priority for which Christ shed his blood in order to own us and to define us and to make us like him, then we see that the priority of consistent submission to the teaching of the word of God is critical. This is how God does it and we attain that maturity by recognizing the priority and arranging our lives around it. That's the teaching of Scripture. That call to maturity.

Go back to eat Ephesians 4 with me as we see it just one more time, and just to kind of wrap it up because we're going to wave goodbye to verses 11 and 12 with this passing reference, just see it again. See the centrality of God's revelation here in verse 11, "He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers," all centered around the revelation of God and he did it for this reason, that the saints "would be equipped for the work of the service, to the building up of the body of Christ." What's our goal then? What's our priority? As we're being built up, what are we being built up to? What is this aiming after? And recognize that we're getting insight into what God intends to do in the church. This is what God is doing amongst his people, he is teaching them. He is teaching us so that we would be built up and the goal of being built up, the architectural blueprint is so that ultimately we would become like Christ. Maturity is a priority for the people of God, not a haphazard pursuit that we fit in around other things that we prefer to do.

Now, that call to maturity tells us something important about ourselves. That leads us to our second point here this morning. The priority of maturity teaches us about the necessity of growth. The necessity of growth. Paul has stated the priority positively and now he shows the other side of it. To say that we need to grow into maturity, that we need to pursue after the fullness of Christ, means that we haven't reached it yet. It means that we are not where we need to be. We're not where we're supposed to be. We may be in different points along the continuum but all of us need further maturity. And look at what Paul says in verse 14 as he shows the other side of it. This is very interesting and it's very practical and he gives it to us in ways that we can understand with metaphors and pictures. He says in verse 14, "As a result," in other words, because the goal of Christ for his people is maturity and as the people of Christ, that's to be our priority, because that's true, verse 14, "As a result we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming."

As we said last time, when we come into the church, just speaking in terms of general principles, when you become a Christian, when you became a Christian and you first entered into the life of the church, you did not know what all that meant, especially if you were saved outside the confines of a Christian family. You did not have the mind of Christ. The world did not teach you Christian principles. Did not teach you about the exalted nature of Christ or how his people operate together. We come in not knowing. We come in not understanding because the world does not teach us Christ, his doctrine or life in the church. So in that sense, we parallel a natural child when we are born again and born into God's family. What happens with a baby? What happens with a young child? They are born into the world and they are ignorant. They are unstable. They change and they don't know what to think and the maturity of their thinking has not been developed. So what do they need? They need to be taught. They need to be trained so that they develop mentally as well as physically. So that they are taught, "Oh, this is what a mature person is. This is what you are to become," and at different stages of development you give them different stages of teaching and training appropriate to their age so that they are able to become what they are intended to be just on a human level.

Well, Paul says that poorly taught Christians are like children that need to mature. How do you recognize a poorly taught Christian, an immature Christian? Well, one way that you can notice them, one way that you can identify them is that they bounce from preacher to preacher. They go from church to church. They are doctrinally unstable. They go with the latest fad. If someone comes up with 40 days of purpose, that's what they're after. If someone wants to teach prayer walks and walk around the neighborhood praying over houses, that's what they're after. It's the latest fad and they're just bouncing like a pinball from fad to fad because they are unstable, because they are not properly taught. And Paul uses that picture here in verse 14 with a different word picture. Look at it there in verse 14. It almost makes me nauseous. I wish I had taken some Dramamine before I got into this verse. "We are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves," heaving back and forth, "carried about by every wind of doctrine." It has the sense not only of being tossed about but of being whirled about so that you're just dizzy and you can't even stand straight and you're bounced about. Paul says, "This is what immature Christians are like. They are unstable. Nothing anchors them and so they are vulnerable to fads and they are vulnerable to false teachers who are tricky. They are crafty. They know how to take advantage of unstable people like that and abuse their authority over them and to use them to their own ends." It's a picture of wickedness in the false teachers and a vulnerability in the children. We don't want to be like that. Paul says we are not to be like that, bouncing around and never sure of quite what we believe. No, we're meant to grow into maturity, into conviction, of knowing Christ and knowing what Scripture says about him and being immovable on those fundamental points.

Another aspect of self-centered children that parallels what you find in immature Christians is described by S. Louis Johnson when he said, teaching on this passage, he said, "They are only interested in the things that help me. 'I'm not built up by this.' They are concerned about themselves," and he says, "they don't think about the whole body of Christ." So we have philosophies of ministry that are catering to this in their seeker sensitive models, "What is it that you want? We will give it to you." That is exactly contrary to what we are supposed to be doing. Rather than teaching people to be self-centered and self-focused on what they want out of a church, we need to call them out of their self-centeredness so that they would see the mind of Christ and what he wants and see themselves as those who minister and serve rather than always getting and demanding what they want from a ministry.

So what do we see about ourselves here wherever we're at on the continuum of this is to recognize that newborn Christians are born and they are vulnerable and they need instruction. They need to grow toward maturity and we all need that in one degree or another, in one shape or another. And if there is instability in your life, if you bounce around and you're never quite sure of what you believe, understand that the Scriptures are lovingly pointing yourself out to you here in this verse saying, "The reason that you're like that is because you're like a child. You're unstable like a child and it's not supposed to be that way." The Christian life is not meant to be one of instability and uncertainty and constant turmoil. That's not the Christian life that Paul describes here. He describes that as an immaturity that we're to come out of. How do you come out of that? How do you come out of all of that rumbling volatility? You come out of it under the teaching of God's word.

Look at what he says there in verse 15. How do we come out of that mess? It's not that we need a new counselor. It's not that we need a new job or we need a new friendship or you need a new marriage. It's none of that. It's not of that earthly stuff. Paul says in verse 15 what we need, he says, "but." In contrast to that immature and we're saying it with a measure of sympathy here, in contrast to that immaturity that results in instability, in contrast to that, how we come out of that, verse 15, "but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ." What's the remedy for immaturity? It's truth and love in the body of Christ. It's instruction from the word of God. It's relationship with stable believers and there is an overflowing impact of that where growth takes place.

Now, note something, something really important here and it's not stretching the analogy to make this point. All of you who are parents understand this perfectly. From day to day, from one day to the next, you don't necessarily notice any change or growth in your children. If you are those that have your children stand up on the wall and you draw a pencil mark over to show how tall they were on a particular day, if you come back and do it the very next day, you're just going to be writing the line right across it. Growth doesn't happen exponentially from one day to the next. And in their maturity and in their growth, you emphasize certain matters of discipline again and again and again. For some children, again and again and again. I understand that too. The growth doesn't happen all at once, it happens almost imperceptibly over time but when you look back over a year, the pencil mark is higher. You look back over a year and you say, "Oh, John has really changed in these past 6 months. He's a new kid then what he used to be." Well understand, beloved, that spiritual growth is the same way and this is so important that we understand and set our expectations appropriately. Spiritual growth is often imperceptible day by day but over time, there is maturity that takes place in the same way that physical growth is imperceptible in a child day to day but very evident from year to year until they reach maturity, until they reach their adulthood. So when we gather together and I say this, I believe that almost all of you understand these principles. It's good for us to talk about them so that you can articulate them to others as well. When we gather together, we're expecting growth of a mature kind and so we're not expecting flashing lights and we're not expecting to have spiritual explosions every time that we grow together, every time that we meet together. It's not like that. It's not meant to be like that. Growth comes in stable ways as truth is taught consistently, as we love one another and develop relationships over time in a caring context of the body of Christ. That's how we develop.

Paul says, look at verse 15 with me again, "speaking the truth in love." There's a balance to it. It's not just that we teach, it's not just that we love each other, we do both. Many of you are familiar with what I'm about to describe. I know that because you have described it to me in your past church experience. You're familiar with churches where people bolt for the door as soon as the service is over. The only danger in a church like that is being in somebody's way when they are trying to get out to the parking lot because everyone is eager to depart and they don't speak to anyone else in the church or hear from anyone else in the church until the next Sunday service starts. Well, whatever you're hearing from the pulpit, that's not manifesting the truth in love. It's not manifesting the truth in the context of relationships. Not manifesting the corporate way in which we grow. That environment will not produce mature Christians.

So what Christ is doing here as he lays out for us the concept of speaking the truth, there is also this concept of living out the truth in love in relationships with one another. That's how we grow up as Christians, how we mature. Christ in his position of authority as head of the church calls us to personal interaction in the context of truth. Scripture informs the relationships, mutual care helps us apply it with one another in encouragement and perseverance. What happens when we do that? What happens when we are faithful to that over time? Parents, those of you whose children have reached maturity, what happened as you fed your children physically and trained them over time? Now that they are 20, are they like what they were when they were 2? Of course not. There was this imperceptible process of growth that produced in time a result that you're proud of. Well, it's the same way in the church. As we each do our part, as we're faithful in our participation, Christ, watch this, Christ himself spiritually nourishes us so that we can grow.

Look at verse 16. He said, "we are to grow up into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom," here he is feeding his body, giving the body of Christians what they need. Look at what he says, "from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part," does what? "Causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love." As we follow the plan for growth, we experience the growth. We each contribute our part to it, some in hidden ways, some in more public ways, but behind the scenes, Christ is feeding and nourishing his church through the instruction and love that comes in the local body.

And notice that last phrase. This is no cold and distant thing that we undergo. It's not mechanical. It's not something that we're indifferent or some cold application. Quite to the contrary, Paul says there in the last 2 words of the verse, he says, "the building up of itself in love." In a sacrificial, self-giving of ourselves to one another. In an affectionate display of care and concern. In a humble, putting forth one another as more important than ourselves. That's the context in which this happens and that's why the body life in a biblical church is so sweet.

Paul here has come full circle. Look back at the start of chapter 4. He's closing out a whole section here. He has come full circle. He says 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." What kind of people are we going to be in the body of Christ? What does that life, what does that walk look like? "With all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love." There it is. In love. Verse 15, "speaking the truth in love." Verse 16, "building up of itself in love." So this isn't something burdensome or irksome on our lives. This is the sweetest, most precious, most noble thing that we could have to be pursuing maturity in the context of a body of loving fellow Christians who have our best interest at heart and will treat us with humility and gentleness and tolerance and patience. It's a sweet, precious thing to be a Christian. It's a sweet, precious thing to be part of a body like this with you.

Now, let me just say something pastorally as I close. Our church is young. Chronologically and in many other ways, our church is young and undeveloped and we realize that. We would be foolish to think that we're not vulnerable as we move forward. I say that that we would be humble. That we would be careful to guard the treasure and that you and I would be careful and consistent, "O God, guard this church. O God, bless this church because we're young and we haven't developed into the full maturity of what you would have us to be." There is a humble urgency that comes from understanding these things and recognizing the position that we're in in this time in the life of our body.

Now, having said that, and I admit that I'm very biased in what I'm about to say but I believe our church, meaning you as the body, I believe our church is on the right track to fulfill this, to live out what Paul is describing here in this section in Ephesians 4. Here's a simple measure that I think vindicates that judgment, talking about you now and inviting those of you who are visitors into this kind of life, what's true of you as a congregation, what's true of you as a church? Well, in a very simple thing, you'll sit for an hour to listen to Bible teaching and then do you know what you do next? Then you stay for another hour in personal interactions with each other. "How are you doing? What do you need? Here's what's going on in my life." You're receiving the truth and you're acting on it in love and there is that balance. There is that balance of being willing to receive instruction and then when you step out of the service, as it is, you're not in a hurry to leave. You want to talk and interact with one another.

That's really exciting not because I by nature am a social animal myself. What's exciting about it is the fact that we're seeing lived out in undeniable ways. Those of you who are part of our church, you know that what I'm saying is true, that there is a receptivity to biblical instruction in Truth Community Church and there is also a love for one another that can be measured objectively by the fact that no one is in a hurry to leave when we're done. That almost sends chills down my spine. To be very cliché about it, because it means that we read this passage and say, "Here's what God wants from the church." God has this priority of maturity for us and he says in Scripture, "Here's how you grow into maturity. Here's how you become like Christ. You speak the truth in love. You receive scriptural teaching and then you play it out in individual relationships in a context of care and concern." That's the biblical model and the outcome of that is that we become like Christ. We fulfill the purpose of God for eternally establishing what he did for my eternity past and what he ordained to occur.

Now we read that and we say, "Okay, I understand the principles of it," and then you look and you say, "Wow, here we are in a church and this is kind of happening. There is the instruction. There is the love and the relationships, not just when we gather together but in all those private interactions that you have that no one coordinates for you." That's exciting. It means that we're on the right trajectory. It makes me confident about God's intention to bless Truth Community Church and I hope that it it excites you and encourages you as well. When these things are happening, we have a biblical reason, we have biblical justification to expect Christ to produce mature growth in us individually and corporately.

So I encourage you, I implore you, I beg you to keep doing what you're doing and to excel still more and to look forward to the results that Christ will produce. And if you don't know Christ, we invite you into this life of discipleship that Christ offers to you through his blood sacrifice on the cross.

Won't you bow with me in prayer?

Father, help us to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

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