Life is filled with many, many ordinary days, punctuated here and there with some really memorable days. But the exclamation points are the days that are indescribable. We only have a few of those in our lives. They’re the days that change our lives forever. Some days are indescribable because something absolutely terrible, traumatic, that happens on those days. But others are indescribable because something really great happens and your life is forever changed … for the better.
One of those days for me was the day I met Becky. The church I was serving didn’t have anyone my age, and someone had invited me to a young adult Bible study at their church. Becky was the host. And when I pulled up to that little yellow house over on Pinebrook, knocked on the front door, and gazed into those gorgeous eyes for the first time, my heart flip flopped and it was all over. I don’t know about her, but for me it was love at first sight. Another day was the day she said she’d marry me, and of course there was the day we said “I do.” I can’t remember what I had for dinner two days ago, but I remember every detail of those days. And then there are the days our kids were born. Aubrey on June 29, 2000. Sterling on October 25, 2002. Zeke on August 10, 2005. And Eli on April 30, 2008. I’ve always been fascinated by human development, and watching my kids grow and develop and change has been one of my greatest joys. Hearing their first words. Watching their first stumbling steps. Seeing their personalities emerge and develop. Walking with them as they grow toward adulthood, and maturity, it’s been an incredible experience. And we’re on the cusp of some hard and emotional but incredible times as they prepare to leave home and move into the life that God has for them.
Aubrey is our oldest. She’ll turn 18 this summer. She’s been with us the longest. It’s been a joy to be her parent as she’s grown into the wonderful young woman that she is today. But imagine for a minute that even though she’s a senior in high school and driving, she were still wearing diapers. Imagine that we still fed her from a bottle. Or that she was still crawling. Or talking in baby talk. You’d be wondering what went wrong, right? What happened to her, or where did our parenting fail, to cause her to not grow and develop? We don’t all develop on the same time table. Aubrey was talking before she was one. Zeke didn’t really talk until he was three. But we all develop. And when someone doesn’t, we know something is wrong, don’t we? It might be genetic. It might be environmental. Traumatic experiences mess with development. But if Aubrey were still wearing a diaper, drinking from a bottle, babbling like a baby, and crawling instead of walking, we would all know that something, somewhere, somehow, had disrupted her development. She wouldn’t be growing the way we’d expect.
In the passage we’re looking at this morning, in Ephesians 4, St. Paul describes the growth and development of those who follow Christ. Just as we grow and develop physically and mentally and emotionally, we are wired by God and empowered by the Holy Spirit to grow and develop spiritually too. We’re supposed to grow and mature in Christ. Jesus calls our new life in him a “rebirth.” That’s where we get the phrase “born again.” I was alive physically in my mother’s womb. And I was made spiritually alive in Christ when I placed my faith in him. For many of us, our spiritual rebirth came much, much later than our physical birth. Some come to faith in Christ during their childhood. Others during their teen years. Still others in their 20s, or 30s, or 60s, or even their 80s. It doesn’t matter when you come to faith in Christ. All that matters is THAT you come. So some of us might be physically mature AND spiritually mature. Others might be physically mature and spiritually immature because you haven’t been walking with Christ that long. Others might be less physically mature but more spiritually mature. But no matter where we are on our life journey with Christ, we are ALL to be spiritually MATURING. Growing. Developing. St. Peter actually takes physical human development and uses it as an analogy for spiritual growth and maturity. In 1 Peter 2:2, he says “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation …” So when we are spiritually young, like infants we need pure spiritual milk from gifted teachers. But we’re supposed to grow beyond that. Sadly, there are those who have been following Christ for a long time, but are spiritually stunted, like our imaginary Aubrey who is 18 and can drive but still wears a diaper and drinks from a bottle and crawls around. The writer of Hebrews chastises his readers when he says “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food …” (5:12). What Paul describes in this passage is the expected, normal growth of a follower of Christ. Turn to Ephesians 4:7-16.
The first mark of a maturing disciple of Jesus is an understanding that you are gifted. Sounds like the opposite of humility, doesn’t it? Like, “Hey, look at how gifted I am.” But that isn’t what Paul is saying. He’s saying that each disciple of Jesus has been gifted by God. Truth be told, all of our gifts come from God. Even what we would consider our “natural” gifts, things we were born with. Because God is Creator, those gifts come from him too. But those are the gifts he bestows on all people everywhere through the act of being born in a certain part of the world, under certain conditions, with specific genetic backgrounds. Every human being everywhere has SOMETHING they are good at. Those are our natural gifts, but they’re really gifts from God too, because he is our source, our Creator.
But Paul is talking about something different here. He’s talking about what we call “spiritual gifts.” Gifts given by God through the Holy Spirit to those who have placed their faith in Christ and thus have entered into the Kingdom of God. Look at V. 7. If you have placed your faith in Christ and are following Jesus, if you have been reborn in Christ, whether that happened a week ago, or a year ago, or a decade ago, you are gifted. God has given you a gift. An ability. Are some more gifted than others? Of course. Do some have only one gift while others might have more than one? Yes. It is according to “the measure of Christ’s gift” that we are gifted. In other words, the type and extent of giftedness are determined by God. But Paul is careful to point out that everyone, EACH ONE OF US, has a gift of grace. He isn’t talking about grace as we typically think about it, as our receiving undeserved forgiveness from God in Christ. He’s talking about the grace of God in gifting each member of the body of Christ. And if you have been reborn in Christ, if you have placed your faith and trust in Christ for salvation from sin, guess what … you’re a member of the body of Christ. And you are gifted.
Now, look at V. 11. The ESV, the Bible from which I preach because it’s an excellent word for word translation, says “shepherds and teachers” like these are two separate things but the Greek language Paul used here actually treats them as one: Shepherd/teachers. These are the gifts given to those who lead the body of Christ. So Paul mentions these leadership gifts, but he doesn’t focus on them. Look down at V. 12. The job of those called to lead isn’t to DO ministry, is it? What is the job of those who are called to lead? Those of us who lead – doesn’t matter whether we’re paid or volunteer – those of us who are gifted to lead are to teach and equip. Who? The saints. That’s you, by the way. I know, some of you have never been called a saint. Have never dreamed of being called a saint. Humanly speaking, should probably never be called a saint. But that’s exactly what God calls each one of you. Look at the person next to you and tell them, “You’re a saint.” How many of you could do that with a straight face? Depends on who you’re talking to, I guess. But the truth is, not one of you lied. If you’re following Jesus, if you have been reborn in Christ, you are a saint. That’s what God calls you.
And the job of the leaders, the calling of the leaders, and the gifting of the leaders is to equip the saints. For what? For the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. We’ve kind of lapsed into a model of church that sees pastors and staff as the doers of ministry and the congregation as receivers of ministry. Pastor and Bible scholar Howard Hendricks said “The church is too much like a football game – fifty thousand people in the stands, desperately in need of exercise, watching twenty-two people on the field desperately in need of rest.” That’s the model of most churches today. But it isn’t a biblical model. The biblical model is that we are all doers of ministry, and we are all recipients of ministry, as are those outside the church, and the leadership are equippers for ministry. The first mark of a disciple maturing in Christ is a realization that you are gifted. The second mark is beginning to use your gift in ministry.
But how do I know what my gift is? The absolute best way is to try things. Get involved in ministry. You’ll find that you’re a better fit for some things than others, and it may or may not align at all with what you do for a living. Just because you’re the world’s best kindergarten teacher doesn’t mean that you should be teaching in Sunday School. It might. But it also might not. But that kindergarten teacher might make an awesome church treasurer. Or adult Bible study leader. Or something else. When I was a child, I was painfully shy. Today, I’m introverted, but I’m not shy. Those two things aren’t the same thing. I can talk to people just fine, but it drains me and I need time alone or with my family to recharge. When I was in Kindergarten, I didn’t talk above a whisper until about April. Mom used to get so frustrated with me because I absolutely refused to talk in school. My teachers thought there was something wrong with me because of that. Today, I’m a pastor and a counselor. I earn my living with my mouth. If you could travel back in time and tell my mom, when I was 5 years old, that I would earn my living with my mouth, she would have laughed at you. She wasn’t even sure my mouth worked. Hard to believe, huh?
Now look at what Paul says happens when we each we realize that we are gifted by God for ministry and begin to put our gift to use in ministry. Vv. 13-14. Did you see that? That’s a crazy big result! “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” The goal is not for a select few to achieve maturity in Christ while the rest of us muddle along. The goal is for ALL of us to grow TOGETHER until Christ fills us. Paul contrasts that maturity with the immaturity of childhood, believing everything we hear just because the person is on TV and uses the name of Jesus. We’re like the Berean believers mentioned in Acts 17:11: “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” Eagerly teachable, but also examining Scripture daily to see if what is being taught is true. Can a young believer do this? No. That is why the church needs gifted, godly teachers. But can every believer grow in their ability to do this? Of course. If we’re committed to doing so.
And what is the biggest mark of maturity in Christ, of the “stature of the fullness of Christ?” Speaking the truth in love. Maturing followers of Jesus are growing in their ability to speak the truth to one another in love. The word “speak” actually includes more than using our voices. It’s a word Paul made up that would actually be better translated “truthing,” but no one would know what that meant, so the translators did the best they could. We are able to speak and live the truth in a loving way. In the Kingdom of God, truth and love are two sides of the same coin. Some of us are good at the truth side of things. We can spot an error a mile away and love to call people out on it. We love a good argument and love to win arguments. But we aren’t able to do it in a loving way. We’re harsh, arrogant jerks. Others of us are really good at the love side of things, but soft on truth. We want everyone to feel good, loved, but we aren’t as good speaking hard truths, and we shy away from conflict. Maturing followers of Jesus can truth in a loving way. Jesus didn’t shy away from hard words and confrontation. He also didn’t rake non-believers over the coals. John Stott said “Truth becomes hard if it is not softened by love; love becomes soft if it is not strengthened by truth. [Paul] calls us to hold the two together.
So what does this look like? If you back a few pages in your Bible, you’ll come to 1 Corinthians 13. The famous “love” chapter. Probably the most commonly read passage at weddings. Beautiful words. You know, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.” It’s a literary and theological masterpiece and could only have been written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. But Paul isn’t talking about marriage here. It isn’t even on his mind. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul is talking about spiritual gifts and working together in unity the body of Christ. And in 1 Corinthians 14, Paul is talking about spiritual gifts and working together in unity in the body of Christ. So what is Paul talking about in the chapter between them? The exercise of spiritual gifts and working together in unity in the body of Christ. Paul isn’t describing marriage here. He’s describing our life together a co-followers of Christ in the body of Christ. Marriage is an acceptable extrapolation, so don’t accuse a pastor preaching from this during a wedding of heresy. But Paul here is describing the love we are to have for one another in the church!
So when I need to speak a hard truth, I MUST take the time to pray for wisdom and ask myself, “How can I say or do this in a way that is patient with my brother or sister in Christ, and kind? How can I say or do this in a way that isn’t arrogant or boastful. His gift is just as valid and important as mine is. How can I say or do this in a way that isn’t irritable or resentful?” It basically prohibits shooting your mouth off and acting rashly. But nowhere does it say that we can’t confront. Or correct. Or rebuke. But we are to do it in love, motivated by love, and kindly and gently. Never harshly. So enough with the harsh posts on Facebook, the angry emails, the harsh texts, and harsh and angry words. They have no place in the body of Christ. And when you mess up, it’s perfectly okay to say, “I’m sorry. Can I reword that less harshly?”
It is only as a body, working together, learning together, growing together, loving one another and others, that we will be able to grow to “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” That’s what it means to be a Christian, for Christian means “little Christ.” Will we ever hit that mark perfectly in this life? No. None of us will grow to that level of maturity in this life. But John, known in the gospels as “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” one of Jesus’ three closest friends, gives us this promise. “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears (THEN) we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn. 3:2). Let us pray.