Sermon: Growing in Maturity (Eph 4.7-16)

Before I came to Croatia, I prayed for God to show me what my ministry was supposed to look like.  In the time I’ve been here, I’ve been in several churches, talked to a bunch of ministers about what the churches need.  I’ve been praying, “What is the goal?  What do you want to produce through my ministry?  What do you want to do through Biblijski institut?”

It’s easy to say, “We want the churches to be stronger, bigger.”  But that’s not specific enough to begin acting, planning.  HOW are they supposed to be bigger & stronger?  How do we get there?  

God keeps bringing me back to same texts that describe what mature Christians look like, and what mature churches look like.  “Mature” doesn’t mean OLD; it means robust, healthy, thriving.  God wants to fill the church with mature Christians.  Then God wants those churches full of mature Christians to bring the influence of Jesus’ presence into Croatia around them, in their jobs, neighborhoods, wherever they are.

One of the most important NT passages that describes mature Christians is Ephesians 4.7-16.  This passage describes how God is ruling the universe through Jesus.  

In 4.7, the picture is that Jesus is a conquering king, returning from battle.  As he returns, what is he doing?  He is giving prizes, gifts to the people who served him in his victory.  It’s a big parade, with Jesus at the front, handing out prizes to those who have served him, rewarding them for their service.

In 4.11, Paul tells us what the gifts are th- J is giving to his people.  Not money, lands, wealth; the gifts th- J gives are the leaders in the church.  “Some to be apostles, “ prophets, “ evangelists, …”  Are you with me so far?

In 4.12, Paul tells us why Jesus gave these gifts.  He gave them “to prepare the saints for works of ministry.”  Who are the saints?  This is a difficult word for us, because that word, “saints”, is often used to refer to superChristians, who have performed miracles and lived perfect lives.  

Is that how the Bible uses the word “saints”?  NO!  When the Bible uses the word “saints”, to whom is it referring?  Who are the saints?

It’s US, ALL CHRISTIANS.  The Greek word translated “saints”, hagioi, refers to all Christians everywhere.  YOU are the saints.  I am a saint, which is kind of frightening.

When this verse says, “God gave the leaders to the church to prepare the saints for works of service,” who is it talking about?  Who is being prepared to do the works?  Who does the works of ministry in the church?  

It’s YOU. It’s all of us.  We are all the ministers of the church.  The people who do the work of ministry aren’t just the ones who get paid, the superChristians who are super busy with it.  It’s supposed to be everybody.  We are ALL supposed to be involved in the work of ministry.

We’ll come back to that in just a minute.

The main idea for us this morning is what this paragraph tells us about being mature Christians.  What should a mature Christian look like?  Wh- should we be pursuing as a church?  

Paul gives us eight points, I’m not going to preach all eight, but I want to show them all to you, and then focus on three of them.  What mature Christians should be:

  1. We are equipped and empowered to serve according to the gifts God has given us.  Some of you think, “I don’t have any gifts, so I’m off the hook.”  

I have good news: every Christian has a gift, and every Christian’s gift is different.  Some preach and teach, some encourage and pray and help.  Paul says: Those are all gifts, and they are all important, all go into the work of the body.  

God gave you the gift he gave you because he has a specific ministry, a specific work in mind for you (Ephesians 2.10).  And you will never know greater satisfaction, you will never know greater joy, than when you minister in the place where God created you to be.

2. The Body of Christ is strengthened when we minister with the gifts God has given.  There are five major lists of spiritual gifts in the New Testament, and every one of them has somewhere in its context a statement admonishing the believers to use their gifts to serve the church.  

Why do we need to be reminded of this?  Because our human tendency is to use our gifts to serve ourselves.  Why did God gift you the gifts you have? So that the church could be strengthened.

3. We become mature, fully alive, inside and outside, when we minister with the gifts God has given us.  Our goal needs to be to look more like Jesus, both on the inside (character, attitudes) and on the outside (actions, obedience).

4. We are all striving to grow, no longer spiritual infants.  Too many Christians treat the church like a spiritual kindergarten.  It’s easy to come to church and let everyone else do all the work.  We sing the songs, pray the prayers, listen to someone preach on and on and on, and we think, “What more could God expect from me?  That guy preached for an hour, I’ve suffered for God this week.”  

God has bigger things in mind for you.  God wants more than that from you, or he wouldn’t have given you the gifts he has given you.

5. We are growing in strength, in confidence, our assurance of the truth of the gospel.  This point goes together with the next one:

6. Because we are convinced of the truth of the gospel, we will not be swayed by spiritual fads and bad teaching.  There are a lot of fads in the church, people who make promises, “If you’ll just do this, … If you’ll just listen to me, … If you’ll just pray this way, then you will have power over demons, … If you’ll do what I say and send me money, God will make you rich.”  

THIS IS NOTHING NEW.  These kinds of spiritual fads and bad teaching have been around since the earliest days of the church.  

In Colossians, Paul writes to a church where the people have been told that they’re not really mature, not really good Christians, unless they follow “spiritual” diets and celebrate the right holidays and the right rituals, and keep the sabbath.  Paul tells them, “Don’t let anyone judge you by those things.”  

If you have the truth of the gospel, you have what you need, and those things might be helpful or they might not be helpful, but THEY ARE NOT NECESSARY.  

If you have the truth of the gospel, you have the foundation that you need.  And what is the truth of the gospel?  It is that God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only son, so that whoever entrusts themselves to him has eternal life.  

If you have that, you have the gospel, whether you have all this other fancy stuff or not.  

And if you don’t have that foundation, no matter how much of this other stuff you have, no matter how you worship or pray or sing or dance, then you DON’T have the gospel.

7. We will know the truth and speak it with power to the unchurched world around us.  

8. We will follow Jesus in everything we do; he who is the source of everything we have, who keeps us in step with each other.

This is not everything the Bible says about being a mature Christian, but this passage gives us a LOT to deal with.  We’ll see these eight points many times in the coming months.

Now: I want to focus on three of these things that God wants from us, right now.

  1. God wants us to become active, stop being passive Christians.
  2. God wants us to become mature, stop being infants.
  3. God wants us to begin to love each other, or become better at loving each other.

FIRST, God wants us to become active, stop being passive (v 11-12).  It is easy to be a spectator at church, and to treat it like a sporting event or a movie, sit back and watch.  Church is not supposed to be a spectator sport.  It’s meant to be participatory.  You are supposed to be part of what is going on.  Committed to it, active in it.  God gave you a spiritual gift, and he expects you to use that gift.

SECOND, God wants us to become mature, stop being spiritual infants.  We have to grow up, and to want to grow up.  We have to know that there is something better, more mature, and we have to want that better thing.  

Babies are adorable.  They’re adorable when they slobber, and spit up, and everything.  But if a 20 year old man acts like a baby, you have a serious problem.

Being a mature Christian isn’t about how much theology you know, or how much of the Bible you have read, although those things are important.  It’s about how you live, and that your commitment to God is deep, deep inside of you, inside of your core being, so that you become more like Jesus in how you think and in how you act, and in how you treat people, in how you respond to temptation, how you respond to bad times and testing.

It is dangerous when Christians stay immature:

  • Immature Christians are more likely to fall away when times get hard.
  • Immature Christians are more likely to fall to temptation.
  • Immature Christians are more easily deceived when the teaching is bad.
  • Immature Christians are more likely to judge other Christians who are different from them–different beliefs, different customs, different expressions of faith and worship.
  • Immature Christians have unrealistic expectations of what God is going to do; “God is going to fix all my problems, God is going to heal all my diseases.”  When what they hope for, pray for, doesn’t happen, their faith is damaged.
  • Immature Christians are unreliable, hot and cold at the same time.  When they feel like being there, you can count on them.  When they don’t ….

Mature Christians are the opposite in all these ways, and a few others:

  • Mature Christians know how to test the things they are taught, and how to deal with bad teaching.
  • Mature Christians know how to get through difficult times.
  • Mature Christians know how to face testing and trouble, and say, “Even though I don’t see where God is in this, I trust him and I know he is there and that he is in control.”
  • Mature Christians are better able to respond graciously, like Jesus did, when people mistreat them or are unfair to them.  1 Pet 2.21-25: “Jesus has given you an example by how he faced mistreatment.”  This is a picture of what mature Christians do.

Paul says, “When I was a child, I thought like a child, I spoke like a child.  But now I am a man.” What am I supposed to do with all my childish things?

Some of us are hanging on to childish things, we need to put them away, so that we can do the work God created us to do.

THIRD, God wants us to love one another better. Eph 4.2-3:

The picture: Paul is urging them to be unified, “be completely humble and gentle.” Croatian translation doesn’t seem to get that strongly enough; very strong admonition in the Greek text.  “Make EVERY effort to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.”  VERY strong in the original text.

Eph 4.15-16: “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 … grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

Notice that the word “love” is used twice, once in 15 (“speaking the truth in love”) and once in 16 (“growing and building itself up in love”)?  How important is love in these verses?

Remember the gospel, “God so loved the world that he gave”?  Go back to that verse, and understand that God not only loved the world, he loved YOU.  God forgave YOU.  

If God has forgiven you greatly, if God has loved you greatly, then you absolutely must love each other, we must forgive each other & be gracious with each other, because he first loved us.

“Speaking the truth in love”: sometimes we think we’re really good at speaking the truth, but we forget about the “in love” part.  And we get it in our minds, “I’ve got to straighten that person out.  He is so wrong!”  

Paul says, “speak the truth”.  But how are you supposed to do it?  With love, with gentleness, with grace, as he has been loving, gentle, and gracious with us.

Prayer: Father, you don’t just forgive our sins, you don’t just cleanse us and make us new.  You call us to follow you and to follow your son.  Give us a new commitment and a new heart, that we may grow as reflections of your son.  Wit hearts that love you, and that love your son, and that love the world around us with the same love that you love them.

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