Membership 2: One body made to grow - 22nd November 2015 - Dave Walker

Bible reading: Ephesians 4:1-16

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When a baby is born, something wonderful has happened. An act of creation. A complete little person, with fingers, toes, everything. But that’s not the end of the story. The baby, while complete, is still a work in progress.

So it is with the church. Last week we were thinking about the fact that church is something amazing that God has made. An act of creation. Do you remember that? We talked about Jesus having joined different people together in one body. Diverse but united. Do you remember that? And we saw that this means that the church is enormously important. Because God’s plan for everything, is for all creation to be united under Jesus, with Jesus as the one ruler of everything. That’s his plan for the world. That’s where everything is heading. So the church is like a trailer for the movie. It’s a taste of the world to come. Diverse people, united by Jesus into one body. That is an amazing thing that Jesus has done. He’s done it. We are who we are because of what he has done. Being a member of a church is a gift from God. He has done it.

This week, we’re thinking about the fact that the church is a work in progress. If we’re believers, then Jesus has joined us together into one body. But he’s not finished with us yet. We’re a work in progress. To be a member of a church is to be part of that work.

So. If we’re a work in progress, what are we working towards?

1.  What is our goal? To grow up together to be like Christ (v13-15)

God wants his church to grow. We are a body made to grow. Have a look at verse 13. Paul is here talking about the body of Christ being built up “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 fulness of Christ.”

Ok, from that verse, what does growth result in? What does it look like when you have grown, from that verse? It seems to me that the goal of growth is that word “mature” isn’t it? Jesus’ wants us to grow up. Grow up means become mature. If someone is immature it means they need to grow up. Jesus wants us to grow up. And then Paul tells us what maturity is, at the end of the verse. That phrase “attaining to the whole measure of the fulness of Christ.” What does that mean? Well the picture here is standing next to someone and measuring yourself up against them. The New Living Translation helpfully puts it like this, it says: “full grown in the Lord, measuring up to the full stature of Christ.”

What it all means is this: a mature church is a church that looks like Jesus. You can stand a mature church next to Jesus and think “yep, that’s a pretty good match.” The more we look like Jesus, the more mature we will be.

Verse 15 says the same thing. Look, there Paul talks about how we “grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” Growth is about growing into Jesus. We grow in our closeness to Jesus – that is we grow more like him, we grow to depend on him more, we grow in obedience to him our head.

You see our goal is to grow up together to be like Jesus. Or to put it another way, to know and show Jesus together. That’s what we’re aiming at. Numbers of people matter, of course, because we want people to be saved. We want lots more people to be saved. But we’re not aiming at numbers. We’re aiming at growing up to be like Christ. We want to see people brought in. But we also want to see people growing in maturity. So that we can know and show Jesus.

Who makes us grow? (v7, v16) Jesus does, doesn’t he? Verse 7 – he gives so that we will grow. To each one of us grace has been given as Christ has apportioned it. Jesus gives so that we will grow. Verse 16 From him – Jesus – the whole body grows. Jesus makes us grow.

But notice this: how? Look again at verse 16. “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.” Jesus the Head grows the whole body, as each part does its work. Think about exercise. If I want to get fit and strong – imagine that – then clearly my head is involved. My mind does the directing, doesn’t it? In a big way it’s my mind that makes me fit. But it happens as the different parts of my body, directed and controlled by my mind, get on and work. I can’t just think myself fit. My thinking has to direct my arms and legs and so on. So that they actually do something.

So to be a church member is to be part of that. The different parts of the body have been joined together by Jesus, and are now equipped and directed by Jesus. But those parts – the members – need to work together. We each need to do something and we each need one other to do something. Jesus directs and equips; the different parts of the body work together. That’s how Jesus grows the church to maturity.

So, what is it that we have to do? If our goal is to grow up together to be like Christ, the next question is:

2. How do we get there?

And the first answer to that question is:

By serving (v11-12)

Let’s read these verses, and hopefully as we do so you’ll spot that connection between Jesus equipping and directing and the different parts of the body working together. “It was he [Jesus] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers,  12 to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.”

Do you see it? Jesus directs the body through specific people. He gave us apostles and prophets – those were the first disciples, the ones who began to spread the message and who wrote the Bible – and he has given us evangelists and pastor teachers – those are the people who pass on that Bible message to non-believers and believers. They are word teachers – they teach Jesus’ word to people. That’s a crucial step in the process. Jesus directs and equips through specific people teaching his word. The sort of thing that’s happening right now. But remember, it’s only a step in the process.

Look again at verse 12. This teaching is “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” Bible teaching makes us ready to serve, like my mind might direct my arms and legs to move. But it’s as the different members get on with serving that the body is built.

I’m laboring that point because it’s so important. Vicars don’t grow churches. Jesus grows churches as the different parts work together. Vicars have their part to play – faithful, patient, pastoral teaching of the Bible is absolutely necessary. But it’s not enough to generate growth. It’s only when the different members respond to the word by serving that the church grows.

The thing we each have to do is serve. In a way that’s obvious. Growth is growth in Christlikeness. The church grows when it becomes more like Jesus. And Jesus, more than anyone else ever, shows us how to serve, doesn’t he? If we want to be like Jesus, then clearly we’re going to have to be good at serving. But so often we forget this. You see, I often find that when I ask people what they think the church needs in order to grow, the thing they say is “the church needs to do this sort of event” or “the church needs to do less of this and more of that.” The church needs better teaching or better music or a better building or better coffee or whatever it is. Not many people say “If I served more the church would grow.”

But here it is. Serving is, as I’ve said on the sheet, using our time and money for each another’s growth. Because it’s serving you’d expect it to be costly and difficult and ongoing and tiring. Serving is like that. Serving requires humility and patience. It’s not necessarily going to achieve a whole lot of recognition. It’s not necessarily going to produce immediate and obvious results. But if we understand what a wonderful thing Jesus has done in bringing us together as this glorious, saved, diverse and united body, and if we grasp his goal for us of making us more like him together, well then it will become something we actually want to do. Through his word Jesus prepares us, we respond by serving. By using our time, our abilities, our resources, our energy, our money to build one another up towards maturity.

So an obvious question is, how are you serving, or how could you serve in response to this message from Jesus? One of the unhelpful things that sadly often happens in churches is that you end up with only a small pool of people who actually serve. That’s not how Jesus wants us to be. If only a few people are serving, then often those people end up exhausted rather than built up. And the others who are not serving are not built up either. It’s like if you imagine going for a run but only actually using one leg. The remainder of the body just resting. It wouldn’t work, would it? It wouldn’t make you fit, just injured.

How are you serving, how could you serve in response to this message? Remember that Jesus has put us together as a gift to one another. I know a pastor who was talking about a particular financial need to his congregation, and he said to them “well the good news is that we have all that we need to meet our costs. The bad news is that it’s still in your bank accounts at the moment.” Growing the whole body towards Christlike maturity needs lots of resources in time and people and money. But we have all we need. Just look around you. Jesus has made the body. We are a beautiful work of his creation, not a botched up Frankenstein’s monster. We’re a perfectly put together but not yet mature body, with all the potential for growth. He has given us all we need. We just need to be willing to share and work together and serve. Not just dipping our toes in like British people at the seaside. Actually getting in and committing.

Practically, if you’d like to think about this more; ways you could commit to serve practically or by giving money; come and talk to me. I’ve got something you could read, some information you can take, and I can introduce you to people. I’m very happy to help you to think.

So, as Jesus directs us by his word, we grow as we serve. And one more thing. We also grow as we speak.

By speaking (v15)

The speaking is just as crucial as the serving. In fact, speaking to one another is a big way that we can serve each other. Have a look at verse 14, which is talking about maturity. “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 men in their deceitful scheming.  15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.”

What do we say? The truth. Speaking the truth. Speaking the truth does include being honest with each other, honest about ourselves, honest about each other. That’s important. We can’t help one another to grow if we are pretending to be perfect already. But it’s more than that. The truth is the truth about Jesus. The truth about who God is and what he’s done for us and who we are because of that. Bible truth. If we are going to grow up together to be more like Christ, we need to speak that truth to one another.

Small talk is fine isn’t it? It’s OK. It’s part of ordinary conversation, it’s part of the way we form relationships with each other, we find it relatively easy. Let’s not despise small talk. But it’s not enough if we want to grow. Small talk results in small growth. If we want to grow then it’s enormously important that we speak the truth to one another.

Because here’s the thing: as verse 14 tells us, we Christians very easily found ourselves blown around by this and that. A bit like walking around last week in the middle of storm Barney, individual Christians in the world and immature churches in the world find themselves blown off course by other teachings, things that will knock us off our feet and turn us away from Jesus. And left to ourselves, trying to follow our own hearts and minds, we will not have the resources to keep going.

So Jesus has carefully put us together so that we can be channels of the truth to one another. The truth, the gospel, reality about God and ourselves and the world, that doesn’t come from in here, you know. It comes from outside of ourselves. It comes from God and his word. And God wants us to pass that truth on to each other.

So if the truth is what we are to say, how should we say it?

Verse 15 again: speaking the truth in love. In love. We speak the truth to one another because we sincerely want each other to grow. Because we want to build each other up. Because we want the best for each other, namely, we want each other to know and show Jesus more.

And that need for love gets emphasised, because the Lord want us to grow a culture of loving confrontation. And without love, confrontation will break down, not build up.

What do I mean? Well, if the problem is that we are in danger of being blown off course, then one of the things we are going to have to do together is try to put each other back on track. Now if we love one another we will want to do that. We will want to help each other. We won’t be content to abandon one another to go wherever the wind takes us. That might mean speaking the truth to each other when it’s uncomfortable. Are you ok? - I’m worried about you. I’ve not seen you around much lately. Or perhaps something that needs a bit more courage: I’m concerned that that relationship might be harming you as a Christian. I’m concerned that that thing is taking up too much of your life. It seems like you might be forgetting about Jesus. How are things going in your relationship with God?  Things like that. Speaking the truth in love is not going to be critical or destructive or just out to pick a fight, is it? We don’t ever want to score points against one another do we? Speak the truth in love.

That’s being members together. Loving one another. Being people who will speak the gospel to one another when we’re in the right and when we’re in the wrong. When we’re feeling fragile and in need of encouragement and when we’re getting too comfortable with the world. That’s what we need. [If you’ve been doing the course of your life, you’ll be familiar with the three p’s that God uses to bring growth as disciples – proclamation, prayer and people. That’s another way of saying this same thing isn’t it?]

Which brings the obvious question: what relationships are you in where that happens? Where you speak the word of Christ to each other? Are you in a housegroup? Housegroups are great for this. Talking together honestly, going through life together and centred on the word of Christ, every time you study the Bible. If you’re not in a housegroup, you should be. One to one? Is there a friend with whom you meet to read and talk and pray with? So helpful? What about coffee time at the end of the meeting today? The coffee questions on the sheet are meant to help in this. People sometimes find that difficult because there’s not really a culture of speaking the gospel to each other during the social times. We tend rather to make ordinary small talk. Well a culture grows when a number of people start doing the same thing. So here’s the challenge: why not try it today. Talk about a coffee question together as a starter. Just give it a go, you can blame me if you find it awkward. As an aside: if we ever want to get better as sharing the good news with non-Christian people around us, one of the keys to that is getting better at talking about Jesus with each other. If we can do it here, we can do it out there.

Coffee questions:

Which of these things do you find difficult to do?

How can we help each other to do them?

The church is a body made by Jesus, made to grow. Our goal is to grow up together to be like Christ. Jesus will do that, he will direct us in it by his word, but it has to involve us serving and speaking the truth in love. We members are here to help one another grow. Let’s pray, and let’s put it into practice.