Growing Deep and Serving Wide

Ephesians 4:7-16

August 7, 2005 | Brian Bill

A mother was preparing pancakes for her two sons, five and three.  The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake and the mother realized that this was one of those teachable moments.  She turned to her young boys and said, “If Jesus were sitting here, He would say, ‘Let my brother have the first pancake.  I can wait.’”  The older brother, being quick on his feet, said to his younger sibling, “Hey Billy, it’s your turn to be Jesus!”

As we come to the conclusion of this brief series called, “Saved to Serve,” we’ve already had some teachable moments, haven’t we?  We started in the Old Testament two weeks ago and learned that we have more than we think when we offer the little that we have.  Last week, we were challenged from the Gospels.  Jesus did not come to patch up people but to redeem a batch of new creations.  We need to first have a new self and we also need to be open to new structures so that the fresh wine of His Spirit can revive, rejuvenate and renew us.  Our passage today comes from one of Paul’s letters, where we will see that God wants us to grow deep and serve wide.  We could summarize it this way: No one can do everything but everyone can do something.  Please turn in your Bible to Ephesians 4.

While you’re turning there, some brief background will help us better interpret and apply our text.  Paul spent a couple years at Ephesus teaching and training the believers to grow in their faith (see Acts 19).  He’s now in a Roman prison and sees the need to write them a letter that divides into two halves.  In the first three chapters, Paul teaches some incredible doctrine.  In chapters 4-6, he moves to intentional duty.  As he does in many of his letters, he begins with what we must believe and concludes with how we must behave.  In the final three chapters, Paul teaches us how to practice these precepts in the church, the family, and the workplace.  In our passage for today, we’ll see that he starts with the church because the Body of Christ changes Christians who can then make an impact in their family and in their jobs.  The opening verses of chapter 4 deal with unity: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” and our text for today focuses on variety within that unity.

Here’s an outline of where we’re going this morning.

  1. What God Gives to Christians (4:7-10)
  2. What God Gives to the Church (4:11)
  3. What Christians Give to God (4:12a)
  4. What Christians Give to the Church (4:12b-16)

What God Gives to Christians

Let’s begin by looking at verses 7-8: “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.  This is why it says: ‘When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.’” The word for grace here is also the word for gifts.  Because of what Jesus did on the Cross, believers have been given at least two gifts:

  • The gift of grace.  As Paul established earlier in Ephesians 2:8-10, we have been saved by grace, not by works.  Notice that grace is given just as “Christ apportioned it.”  We have been set free, redeemed, forgiven, justified, reconciled, adopted, and born again by His grace, through no effort of our own.
  • The grace of gifts.  We’ve not only received salvation by grace, we’ve also been recipients of service gifts.  Our guilt has been washed away and now we are gifted to serve the Savior.  Paul is borrowing an image from Psalm 68:18, where David describes a king’s return after conquering his enemies.  As he ascends to the mountain, he leads those he has conquered on a victory march.  In the Old Testament culture, the king would then receive gifts from people who were wildly cheering his victory.  Paul reverses this metaphor, borrowing from the Roman practice of Generals putting all those they had defeated in chains, and with the plunder from the battle, distributing gifts to those who were loyal to him.  Through His resurrection victory, Jesus has defeated sin and Satan and death, and as part of His generous nature, he now gives out grace gifts to those loyal to him.  This idea is also spelled out in Colossians 2:15: “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”

We don’t have time this morning to go through the entire list of grace gifts, but I encourage you to read Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 and 1 Peter 4.  One thing that comes out clearly is that every Christian has received at least one gift that is to be used for the good of others.  1 Corinthians 12:7 states, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”  And Romans 12:6 establishes that we don’t all have the same gift: “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.”

Let’s never forget what Christ went through in order to give us the gift of His grace and the grace of his gifts.  As the men come down to help us prepare for communion, listen to Ephesians 4:9-10: “What does ‘he ascended’ mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions?  He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.” As the ultimate conqueror, Jesus first went all the way to earth in order to set us free (see Philippians 2:6-8).  And then after dying a humiliating death, He rose from the grave, ascended into Heaven, and now rules the whole universe.  Communion keeps us coming back to these central truths.  Salvation and the ability to serve only come as a result of the life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension and second coming of Christ.  All these truths we remember at the Table of Remembrance.

What God Gives to the Church

no one can do everything but everyone must do something

God gives grace and He gives gifts to individual Christians and He’s also given gifts to His church.  He has ascended into heaven but He continues His work on earth through the people He has placed in the church.  Look with me at Ephesians 4:11: “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers.”  In this verse, we see that Paul is not so much speaking of spiritual gifts given to Christians but is specifically speaking of Christians who are given as gifts to the church.  The other passages on spiritual gifts describe God-given abilities but here the emphasis is on God-given individuals.  We could say it this way: Verse 7 establishes that every believer has been gifted with grace gifts and verse 11 teaches that the church is gifted with grace people.  God set it up this way because no one can do everything but everyone must do something.

We don’t have the time to fully explain each of these groups, so suffice it to say that the first two are foundational gifts that the church needed before the New Testament was completed.  Apostles were “sent ones” who brought the message of Christ to those who hadn’t heard.  Prophets were those who spoke God’s Word to people.  Paul refers to apostles and prophets as the foundation of the church in Ephesians 2:20 and Ephesians 3:5: “Built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone…as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.”

Evangelists are “bearers of Good News” and continue their work today, presenting the gospel in a compelling way so that people get saved.  Billy Graham would be an example of this, as well as many of you in this church.  Someone has said evangelists are like the “obstetricians” in the church today.  I see pastors/teachers as one category because the article “some” is not used for teachers as it is with the other groups.  The NIV translates it as “some to be pastors and teachers,” indicating that this was one group of people.  They are seen as the “pediatricians” in the church, as they help people grow into maturity.  If apostles and prophets are foundational gifts that launched the church, then evangelists and pastor/teachers are functional gifts of grace to lead the church today.  Ed Taylor summarizes the role of each group this way:

Apostles are sent ones

Prophets are spokesmen

Evangelists are sharers

Pastor/Teachers are shepherds

The word “pastor” literally means a shepherd and pictures the caring, feeding and leading of the faithful flock of God.  In 1 Peter 5:2, overseers are to “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care.”  As “teacher,” pastors must teach the Word of God, knowing that a well-fed flock will grow to maturity.  Pastors then are to tend and to teach, in large formal settings like this, and in smaller informal settings as well.  As we care for people and share the Word of God, the church will be strengthened.  I heard a speaker at a Pastor’s Conference describe the pastor/teacher’s role like this: Your job is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.

What Christians Give to God

Before we move to verse 12, I want to share a few things I’ve been thinking about in relation to the church.  In line with what we studied last week about being open to new wineskins, it seems to me that the church needs to make at least four paradigm shifts.  Over time the church in America has experienced some downward drift and its time to shift back to what the Bible teaches.

1. We must see the church as people, not a place. 

Many of us, me included, say things like this: “I went to church today.”  In the New Testament, largely because they did not have church buildings, church was associated with the people of God, regardless of where they met.  It was a simple cell of sold-out Christ followers making an impact in their world.  Church in our culture is often synonymous with a building.  In addition, as Frank Tillapaugh points out in his classic book called, “Unleashing the Church,” many churches have made their facility a fortress that is difficult for people to penetrate.  Friends, we don’t really “go” to church.  When we gather as God’s people, we are the church, whether that’s in a living room, a classroom or an auditorium.  And when we leave here, we are still the church.  We are the church gathered when we are together and the church scattered when we are apart.  

2. We most move away from “serve-us” to service. 

A saved person who is not using their time, talents and treasures for kingdom purposes is an oxymoron

The thrust of Scripture is service oriented, not need oriented.  Too many of us view the church as a place to meet our needs, and when our needs are not met, we stop going completely or find another church that will serve us.  Remember the first line in the Purpose Driven Life book?  Most of you can say it with me: “It’s not about you.”  And yet we often live as if life is all about me.  Someone once said that Christianity has become a spectator sport like professional football: Eleven men on the field desperately in need of rest and thousands of people up in the stands desperately in need of exercise.”  Friends, let’s move away from being spectators and become contributors.  Let’s not just watch the service; let’s worship the Savior by serving Him with everything we have.  A saved person who is not using their time, talents and treasures for kingdom purposes is an oxymoron.  The Bible knows of no such individual.  If you’re saved, you are a servant.  Incidentally, the more focused I am on my needs; the more likely I am to gripe and grumble.  The more I’m focused on serving others; the more I will grow.

3. Christianity is not about comfort; we’re in combat. 

Unfortunately, some of the most popular books today are those that say you can have it all, that God wants you to be happy.  The mantra goes something like this: “If you just lay hold of your dreams, and have faith, you can achieve all that you believe.” Some teach that God doesn’t want you to ever be sick or to live like a hick.  Friends, God is more interested in you being holy than He is that you be happy, and He is more committed to blessing you in the heavenly realms than in the material realms.  Don’t ever forget that ultimately Christianity is not about comfort; it’s about being conformed to the image of Jesus.  And becoming like Christ doesn’t always happen as we walk down easy street.  Paul didn’t hesitate to remind the Ephesians that they were locked in mortal combat.  Our battle should never be with each other, but against the evil one.  Ephesians 6:12: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

4. Let’s Lose the Laity Label. 

I believe that one of the reasons the church is held back is because of pastors.  The other reason is because of the people in the pews.  In other words, it’s my fault, and it’s your fault.  Let me explain.  When the church was launched in the Book of Acts, everyone saw themselves as ministers.  Sometime during the Dark Ages, the distinction between “clergy” and “laity” came about.  Even the definition of these terms is telling.  Clergy means “God’s lot or heritage” while laity is derived from a word that means “the people of God.”  Michael Green makes the observation that these words are not contrasted in the New Testament.  All Christians make up God’s lot and all Christians are the people of God.  One of the rallying cries of the Reformation was that every member of the Body of Christ is a minister.  In fact, 1 Peter 2:9 paints a beautiful picture of how God views every Christian: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

Are you ever been asked how many ministers we have?  You might be tempted to say that we have three.  Actually, that’s not a biblically correct answer.  The right answer is that we have over 400 ministers and three equippers.  Unfortunately, most of us don’t see it that way.  Vance Havner was right when he said these powerful words: “Christianity began as a company of lay-witnesses.  It has become a professional pulpitism, financed by lay-spectators…nowadays we hire a church staff to do the full-time Christian work, and we sit in the church on Sunday and watch them do it.”  We could picture it this way:

Institutional Paradigm Biblical Paradigm

People consume People contribute

Pastors perform Pastors prepare

Fortress church Church unleashed

Spiritually stagnant Spiritually alive

Friends, let’s lose the laity label and remember that while no one can do everything, everyone must do something.   Verse 12 helps us see what Christians are to give to God.  Pastor/teachers are to prepare others to practice what they have received.

  • Pastors Prepare.  Let’s look at the first part of verse 12: “…he gave some…to be pastors and teachers to prepare God’s people.”  This word “prepare” has a cool background.  It’s the same word used to describe what James and John were doing when they were “preparing” their nets in Matthew 4:21.  That means they had to clean all the seaweed off them, stitch up the sections that were torn, untangle them and get them ready to be used again at a moment’s notice.  The nets were prepared for service, not to be put in storage.  Likewise, your pastors are to prepare you to be fishers of men and faithful servants in the church.  In Luke 6:40, Jesus uses the word to describe a student who is trained and prepared to be like his teacher.  When we preach and teach, it’s not just to give more information; the goal is life transformation so that we will all become more like Jesus.  In 2 Corinthians 13:9, 11 Paul uses this same word to refer to wholeness and spiritual maturity.  In classical Greek, the word was used of the setting of a bone in order to put it back into proper alignment in the body.  Brothers and sisters, when your pastors prepare you, it’s to get you back into proper alignment as you grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.  Greek scholar Thayer translates it this way: “To make one what he ought to be.”  We are to repair what’s broken and supply what’s missing so that you can be strengthened to serve.
  • Christians contribute.  To prepare people is not an end in itself.  Too many of us sing “Just as I am” and leave just as we were.  The cleaning, mending, untangling, equipping, training and supplying of people is for a purpose: to turn saved saints into contributing Christians.  Look at the next phrase in verse 12: “…for works of service.”  Every member of the family of God is a minister; every saint is a servant.  Service, while generally enjoyable, is also referred to as “work,” meaning that it will cost you something.  But it should, right?  Remember what it cost Christ when He died for you.  1 Peter 4:10 says: “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”  I like what John Maxwell says: “When we receive without giving, we become fat.  When we give without receiving, we become faint.  When we receive and give, we become faithful.”

What Christians Give to the Church

Pastor Paul Choo from Singapore developed a theme for his church in 2004.  He called it the M3 year: Molding Members for Ministry.  He said that if his church did not do this, they would get “moldy malnourished members,” “moldy materialistic members,” or “moldy murmuring members.”  When pastors do what they must do, and people do what they are called to do, according to verses 12-16, amazing things happen.  As we grow deep and serve wide, our gifts lead to growth in at least six ways. 

  1. The body is built up (12b).  “…So that the body of Christ may be built up.”
  2. We will have unencumbered unity (13a).  “…until we all reach unity in the faith.”
  3. We will have a revived relationship with Christ (13b). “…and in the knowledge of the Son of God.”
  4. We will have a mature membership (13c-14a).  “…and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.  Then we will no longer be infants.”
  5. We will experience spiritual stability (14b).  “…tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.”
  6. We will be linked in love (15-16).  “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into 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.” 

Look at what we will miss if we don’t serve!  A church is only healthy when it is filled with people who serve, when pastors equip the gifted and God’s people exercise their gifts.  We’re committed to do our part…will you do yours?  Paul Meyer tells about the time when he learned teamwork in the army.  They lined up 20 men, shoulder to shoulder, with their backs on the ground.  Then they placed a heavy log across the chest of these men.  If just one of the men were to shrink back, the other 19 would feel the pain created by the weight not carried by the one man.  Are you carrying your weight?  Rick Warren writes: “God gave me a gift, not for me but for you; and God gave you a gift, not for you but for me.  If you don’t use your gift, you’re depriving me; if I don’t use my gift, I’m robbing you.”

Do you know what the best spiritual gifts are?  That’s kind of a tough question, isn’t it?  Actually, the answer may surprise you.  The best spiritual gifts are the ones you already have!  But it’s more than just having gifts; we must use them!  The last phrase of verse 16 comes as a concluding statement so we don’t miss it: “…as each part does its work.” No one can do everything but everyone must do something.   Here are three action steps as we get ready for a fall full of ministry opportunities:

  • Discover your spiritual gifts
  • Develop your spiritual gifts
  • Deploy your gifts in the church

Warren Wiersbe tells of a free-lance Christian worker who visited a pastor asking for financial support.  The pastor asked, “What group are you associated with?”  The man replied, “I belong to the invisible church.”  Getting a bit suspicious, the pastor asked, “When does this invisible church meet?”  The worker became incensed and said, “Well, your church here isn’t the true church.  I belong to the invisible church!”  The pastor then smiled and said, “Well, here’s some invisible money to help you minister to the invisible church!”

There are too many invisible Christians today.  Are you ready to stand and be counted?  It’s time to grow deeper and serve wider…and to let someone else have the first pancake.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?