I enjoy a good cup of joe as much as anyone. And its not always for the early morning stimulation. I like a variety of flavors and origins, both regular and decaf. One add for a particular brand of energy shot asked the question, “Why drink 3 or 4 cups of coffee when you could have 1 (perhaps 3 ounces) of [this energy shot]. My answer was simple. I enjoy drinking coffee.
But I remember when I was younger, in my teens, and I received this warning from a few adults – “Coffee will stunt your growth.” I didn’t want to stunt my growth! I was a skinny dude back then. Perhaps the fact some older men would occasionally inform me that coffee would help grow hair on my chest brought the balance I needed to continue the coffee habit.
Isn’t it funny that we will so seriously consider the impact of something on our physical growth and development, but pay little attention to those things that affect our spiritual growth and development?
In Ephesians 4:1-16 the Apostle Paul provides us with insight into stages of spiritual growth. There are individual and corporate implications to these principles. This letter, in providing a dissertation on “body life”, transitions from the doctrinal to the practical at this point. In doing so, we are given sort of a check list, if you will, to examine where we are and how we’re doing in our spiritual journey.
1. Evangelized with the Message of Christ. (Verses 1-9)
In the first verse we are reminded that salvation, as described in the previous chapter, is a calling to be lived out. So “walk in it.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 informs us that we a new creation, old things are passing away and all things are becoming new. Anyone reading this should stop and ask, “Has there been a time in my life when I turned from sin and self, trusted Jesus Christ and His Gospel alone for salvation, believing completely in the finished work on the cross and confirmed by the resurrection?”
Verses 2-3 describe the fruitfulness of such a life transforming response to the Gospel. Our lives give evidence of faith and repentance in how we relate to others. So there is a test of our fruitfulness that is described throughout the New Testament in passages like John 15:1-17.
There is also the test of right beliefs. In verses 8-10, Paul describes the humiliation and exaltation of Jesus Christ. The fact that Christ “descended” points out that He is the “Word Made Flesh” from John 1:1&14. Philippians 2:5-11 describes his “descending” as becoming obedient to the point of death on a cross, but now having been exalted (resurrection and ascension) to the right hand of the Father! There are also glimpses of Pentecost and the indwelling Spirit in the final words of both verses 6 and 10. Paul would build on this in Ephesians 5, specifically verse 18 which admonishes us to be continually filled with the Holy Spirit.
Hopefully this clarifies the fact that evangelism isn’t just leading someone to make a faith decision and chalking them up as being on “our side” now. Evangelism and discipleship are mutually exclusive. In fact, they are so far from that they are almost synonymous. To be evangelized with the message of Christ is to have begun cooperating with the process of discipleship. This leads to the next stage in our checklist.
2. Equipped for the Ministry of the Cross. (Verses 10-12a)
As Paul continues to describe the “body life” that believers who have been evangelized are called into, he promptly explains that ministry leaders, including pastor-teachers, have been placed within the various local congregations for the “equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry.” (vs. 11)
One might think that Paul would have dealt with growing toward maturity, as he does immediately following the subject of equipping, before he explains that those who are evangelized are called to a ministry. I have certainly taken that approach as a leader at times. I mean, why would we be given an assignment before we’ve proven ourselves and become better established, right?
One way to illustrate what I believe Paul is setting forth under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is to compare it to when I became a father. There is nothing like knowing that you are about to become a father, nothing like holding that newborn in your hands, to make you see the importance of being a leader, growing in maturity, acting like an adult, and learning everything you can about being a dad.
If new believers understand that they are called to be equipped for ministry, this will increase their recognition of the need to grow in grace as disciples of Jesus. There is a holy sense of inadequacy that accompanies God-given ministry that drives us to be all that we can be for His glory.
3. Edified toward Maturity as a Christian. (Verses 12b-13)
Both individually and corporately we are being “built up” as a mature Christian and a unified body prepared to exert major kingdom influence in the world for the glory of God. In fact, love and unity among members of the body becomes an evidence that we are being edified (or built up) as individuals Christ-followers.
Mature believers hunger for depth in the study of God’s Word as it pertains to all of life. You will find them taking notes during sermons and small group Bible studies. They will learn to depend on a daily devotional time in the Word and in prayer. Though avoiding legalistic tendencies, you will find them tuning their car radios (or designing their playlists and accessing podcasts) more and more around the music and Bible teaching that feeds their souls.
4. Established in the Mutuality of the Church. (Verses 14-16)
A spiritually mature believer, or one who is moving toward maturity, will delight in being knit into the fabric of the church. This is authentic body life. We may seem like a small and insignificant part of the body, but Paul says that we are all “supporting ligaments.”
If you encounter me on the street, in the pulpit, or in the bleachers of a football game, you may conclude that I am in relatively good health other than being a little overweight. What you likely will not discern is that I am far from being at my best when it comes to pick-up basketball (which I used to really love) or hitting the tennis courts with my kids. No, I am not referring to the aging process here, though that may not be totally unrelated.
The fact is, I have blown out the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) for yet a second time. And, at my age, I am delaying surgery for now. Indeed, our church may look healthy to outsiders. And in many areas we are functioning with a great degree of “church health.” But we aren’t reaching our full potential. Why? There are various supporting ligaments that are not in place. Paul describes a need here for the “whole body” to be functioning as one.
I am afraid that we must constantly strive to overcome the consumer mentality of the church. The temptation is to show up on Sundays for a little encouragement to get through this thing called life. But when one comes to faith in Christ after being evangelized with the message of the Gospel, he or she has been enlisted in God’s army. And one doesn’t enlist to simply wear the uniform and enhance their resume. No, we then receive equipment for the duty we’ve been assigned. We begin to grow and develop. We realize we are part of a team that depends on us to help accomplish a mission. And, in the body of Christ, our mission is to make Him known to our neighbor, the nations, and the next generation.