When God is Big… is a sermon series examining what happens when you have a bigger vision of who God is. Ministry is Natural — When God is small, other people seem to exist for our benefit. Serving or ministering to others is totally optional. But when God is big, church leaders are to equip every Christian to do the work of ministry — every member is a minister — and the goal of ministry is maturity in Christ as the church is built up in love. Recorded on Sep 26, 2021, on Ephesians 4:11-16, by Pastor David Parks.
All year, we’re focusing on The Greatness of God. And today, we’re continuing a sermon series called When God is Big… Way too many Christians have way too small a view of who God is. But when God is small, not necessarily in reality but in your mind/imagination, even though you might believe in God, other things become big that shouldn’t be so big. Your circumstances, emotions, and failures can not only become big, they can become all-consuming. Well, in this series, we’ve been considering how a big view of God changes our values. And at this church, our values are worship, community, ministry, and mission. In a few weeks, we’ll consider how a big view of God can change our struggles as well, including fear, personal identity, and addiction. When God is big, it changes how we live out our values and how we deal with our struggles. So today, we’re considering how a bigger view of God impacts and transforms our understanding of and our obligation for ministry. And my goal today is that you would see that when God is big…ministry is natural. It’s not just the work of the pastors/professionals. But ministry is the normal work of every single follower of Jesus. Please open your Bible/app to Eph 4, starting with v. 11. Let’s read through this first and then we’ll go back and unpack it together. v. 11.
Ephesians 4:11-16, “11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. 14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
So the book of Ephesians in the Bible is an epistle/letter from the Apostle Paul to the Christians in and around the city of Ephesus in the modern country of Turkey. And like many of his letters, Paul initially emphasizes what the gospel is (chapters 1-2) before moving on to what the gospel does (chapters 3-6). So here in chapter 4, we’re in the middle of what the gospel, and more specifically Christ himself, does to build up Christians in faith/knowledge as well as their love for one another. Let’s look back at v. 11.
Ephesians 4:11-12, “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…” Let’s pause here. As I said, at this point in the letter, we already understand the good news of who God is, what he has accomplished in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and that Jesus has ascended back into heaven and is reigning and ruling today as the Lord of all creation. So from his throne on high, we find that Jesus hasn’t forgotten/abandoned us. But he continues to provide for us. Here, Paul says that Christ himself has given us these four different offices of ministry. (Now, there is some disagreement as to whether pastors and teachers count as one or two offices but I don’t lose any sleep over that. The truth is that all pastors teach but not all teachers are pastors. So there are either four or five offices for the ministry of the word in the church.). And what are these Christ-appointed offices? Back in chapter 2 of Ephesians, Paul writes that the church was, “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.” So it was God who delivered his special revelation through first the prophets (such as Moses, Isaiah, and Daniel, all the way until John the Baptist) and then later through the apostles (such as Peter, James, John, and the others) that established the church with Christ Jesus as our chief cornerstone. Though they come chronologically later, the apostles are always listed first in the NT because their ministry was to bear witness to the person and work of Jesus, which was the culmination of the great rescue plan of God. In other words, don’t read Moses and miss Matthew, or you’ll miss the whole point. So that’s the apostles and prophets. An evangelist is someone who shares the apostolic message, someone who preaches/proclaims good news. This could be someone who traveled around or someone, like Timothy, who was charged to do the work of an evangelist in one place. Finally, we have the pastors and teachers. The word for pastor is the same Greek word for shepherd. And a shepherd is one who leads and feeds and protects the flock of God which is the church. Of course, one might wonder what the difference might be between an evangelist and pastor/teacher, and I do think there’s an overlap of responsibilities there. There does seem to be some flexibility or freedom with these offices. But, why did Christ give these roles/people to the church? v. 12. “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…” I like the ESV translation which says, “to equip the saints for the work of ministry.” In all the wisdom of Christ, he has called/gifted/provided certain people to lead the ministry of the word (evangelism, preaching, counseling, and so on), in order to, for the purpose of, what? To equip the people of the church, the saints, every single Christian, for what? For the work of ministry. For ministry. This means first of all:
Every member is a minister. From the day you are born again, until the day you pass on or Jesus returns (whichever happens first), every follower of Jesus is responsible for the works of ministry. But Jesus doesn’t just push us out of the nest with no help, expecting us to know how to do this on our own. He has graciously and faithfully provided leadership in the church to teach us and equip us to be able to do this work of service, why? “So that the body of Christ may be built up.” Now, why does this matter? Why does the body of Christ need to be built up? Because the work of the gospel, what the gospel does, doesn’t stop at conversion. The goal of God is not just that you would be saved and converted to faith in Jesus (although, of course, that is vitally important!). The goal of God is that his people would grow/mature to become fully the men or women that God created us to be. And this requires ongoing, faithful, gospel-centered ministry from every follower of Jesus, no matter how great or small. So the role of pastors and church leaders is not to do ministry with the rest of the church watching. The role of church leadership is to equip the church to do the ministry. Why? Because every member is a minister. Well, why does this matter? What’s at stake if we fail to do the sort of ministry that Paul is describing here? Look back at v. 13. The body of Christ, that is, the church, is to be built up until…
Ephesians 4:13-14, “…until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.” What’s at stake is found in v. 14. For if we fail to mature and grow up in our faith, we remain vulnerable. Paul says an immature Christian is just like an immature person, an infant. And an infant is very vulnerable. A little child can’t provide for themself or protect themself. They don’t know what’s helpful or harmful and often do all manner of things that give their parents grey hair they don’t deserve. Now, babies are wonderfully cute, but no parent really wants their children to stay in the baby stage of life. If our children fail to grow up and mature, there are going to be lots of problems down the road, for our kids and for our society. In fact, it’s the job of a parent to lovingly help their kids grow up in every way. But the same is true for Christians in the church. Being born again implies the need for spiritual growth/maturity. But if Christians do not mature, if they fail to grow up in their faith, they too are vulnerable. Vulnerable to what? Well, Paul says if they aren’t equipped by the ministry of the word and served by the ministry of the saints, that is of every member of the church, they are vulnerable to every wind of teaching, by the cunning and craftiness of people, by deceitful schemes. In other words, by false teaching either in or outside the church. There are all sorts of false messages in the world. False messages in the movies and TV shows we watch. False messages in the news and politics of our day. False messages in schools and sadly in churches with confused or corrupt leadership. And these messages form us whether or not we realize it. People are always formed by something. But it’ll either be by the true ministry of the word about Christ, or by a false ministry of someone else’s word. So immature people are people who are tossed about, back and forth, like a little boat without a rudder. We saw a lot of this during all the chaos and turmoil of 2020. But mature people are people who find stability and hope in the gospel, even in the craziness of this broken world. Secondly:
The goal of ministry is maturity in Christ. We saw the downside of failing to mature in being vulnerable to false teaching and being tossed about by every so-called expert on the planet. This has become increasingly vital in the age of social media where every person can air their opinion for the whole world, whether they have any actual expertise on any given topic or not. But the positive side of this is found in v. 13. “we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” The point/goal of ministry is not only of protection against false teaching. The positive point/goal of ministry is that we might be unbreakably united. By what? By our politics? By our preferences? No! By our faith in and our knowledge of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The one who has saved us and has given us the ministry of the word and has given us many gifts of grace to serve one another and build one another up in love. Well, what happens if we actually achieve this? What happens if every member of Appleton Gospel sees himself/herself as a minister of the gospel with the goal of helping every other person here to mature in Christ? Paul says that we will attain the whole measure of the fullness of Christ! Are you kidding me? Do you understand what this means?? The result of gospel-centered, every member ministry is that we would both enjoy and reflect the fullness of the likeness of Christ himself. Us! Experience all the fullness of Christ in perfection and glory and power forever and ever! So first, we saw that every member is a minister. And second, we saw that the goal of ministry is maturity in Christ. So then, how then do we do this? How do we help people grow up in their faith in and knowledge of Christ? What does this look like for us today? Let’s finish this passage. v. 15.
Ephesians 4:15-16, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” So how do we do this ministry? What does this look like? Paul says, instead…instead of what? Instead of being tossed about by every false teaching, speaking the truth in love we will grow to maturity in Christ. Speaking the truth in love — this is what ministry looks like. Whether you are singing songs of worship or praying for someone or talking with someone in a community group or texting a friend to check in on them or leading a small group of kids at Midweek or anything else, it is speaking the truth in love that will result in maturity in Christ. This could be at church or in your home, on Sunday, or any other day. And this might be evangelistic work, the work of sharing good news with someone who’s never heard the gospel before. Or it might be more like the work of a shepherd of reminding a Christian for the 700th time that Jesus loves them and has died for them and is with them in Spirit, regardless of their sin or struggles in life. As a result, the big idea today is this:
When God is big…ministry is natural. When God is small, other people (in marriage, church, society) can easily be seen as existing primarily for our benefit. So serving others or ministering to others is totally optional. It only makes sense when we feel like it or if we benefit somehow. But when God is big, when the gospel becomes the dominant story that defines our world and our lives, when Jesus is high and lifted up and actively governing his church, then we should very naturally see ourselves as the joyful servants of all.I don’t think Paul could even envision a Christian church where a few people are doing all the ministry while every else watches the show. Rather, the church should be like an orchestra conductor who turns around during their performance and invites the whole audience to grab an instrument and join them on stage. But then, if you have the guts to pick up an instrument, you’ll find not only that you can play it, but that the song needed your part. Of course, the reason that ministry is only natural when it comes to following Jesus is that Jesus was the greatest minister of all time. Jesus said of himself, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” May we be a people that are tireless in speaking the truth in love to one another, in big ways and small, formally and informally, day in and day out, until when? Until we grow all the way up into the likeness of Christ.