Monday, January 28, 2008

Grow Up! (Ephesians 4.14-16)

January 27, 2008
Sermon by: Robert Austell
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For the last two weeks we have been talking about gifts, specifically God’s gifts to us. From Ephesians 2 we talked about “the great gift” of God’s grace, whereby God made us alive, raised us, and seated us with Him out of love and a desire to show us that love. Last week we talked about additional gifts God has given us, providing for each Christian to be equipped for works of service and the building up of the community of Christ. Paul used the image of a body, with Christ as the head, to help us envision what the Christian community was supposed to look like.

And in today’s text, he continues this analogy and these thoughts. Verse 14 begins, “As a result…” and all this that has gone before is what stands behind that. As a result of God’s great gift, as a result of the gift of being equipped to worship and serve, and as a result of the gift of being in the body-like community of Christ, Paul continues with verses 14-16. As a result of all this, and to say it bluntly, Paul says, “Grow up!... Don’t settle for being baby Christians, stunted and stuck in your spiritual development, but grow up!” God has provided all you need for this, even as He has designed the human body to grow up from childhood to maturity. This is a message for the Church, for the gathered Christian community; it is a message for us.

No Longer Children…

There are two parts to Paul’s message here. The first is that “we are no longer to be children.” Now remember, Paul is not just describing individual Christian maturity, but the related maturity of the gathered Christian community, which is a kind of inter-related sum of the parts. He is challenging us individually and corporately to not remain contentedly stuck as an under-developed body.

He describes this state using another analogy. The immature church is “tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind” (v. 14). The image is one of a small boat at sea, tossed and blown about with little to no control or direction. The result is one of helplessness and lostness. Specifically, the winds and waves of his metaphor are false teaching, deceit, and human scheming. One of the primary ways that spiritual immaturity misdirects the church as a whole is when its members are captive to every new fad and novel idea that blows through our culture. One thinks of “The Secret” and motivational speakers on TV who glob together multiple religions with a healthy dose of self-help and pop psychology. One also thinks of the spiritual elites within the church sub-culture who hold up a single verse or theological point to the neglect of the whole of Scripture to declare the “true way” and exclude all but the “true believers.” We are so anxious to find heroes that we will follow after human peddlers of truth rather than after God’s Truth.

Grown-Ups

In stark contrast to these diversions and distractions, Paul provides the mature alternative: “BUT, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up…” (v. 15). The first phrase sets off the key difference between immaturity and maturity. Immaturity is distracted and diverted by what is false, but perhaps alluring; maturity is signaled by an earnest desire to speak and hear truth, recognizing that the chief motivation for truth is love. Truth and love are not always the easiest path – indeed, often they are the hardest, like rowing a small boat through pitching waves and strong winds (to maintain the metaphor). But it is striving for loving truth that develops a mature and healthy Christian community, both individually and corporately.

Any parent should recognize what Paul is saying here. While dinners of candy and ice cream would seem to produce happy children, a truly grown-up parent recognizes that feeding children this way is not the loving thing to do, but is actually a cruel thing to do. This example is simple enough with young children, though even then the looks one gets for making children “eat their vegetables,” “brush your teeth,” and “drink this medicine” are enough to melt the strongest heart. And it only gets more challenging from there. Every parent and teenager struggles through the heart-rending storm of boundary-setting, losing and gaining trust, and wanting to give in to what is easy over what is right. These examples hint at what is involved in growing up spiritually. One of the hardest things to speak and one of the hardest things to hear sometimes is the truth. And yet this is what God says is spiritual growth hormone! Loving truth is what grows us up and trains us not to go running after easy lies. And this is why Paul mentions it in this context: there is no more supporting and safe place to do this than in the family of God.

At least that is God’s design for the Church. Churches can, of course, be just as dysfunctional as families. But that’s exactly Paul’s point here. God’s design and desire for us is that we grow up to be a mature expression of Christ’s body. And the point of verse 16 is that as goes the health of the parts, so goes the health of the whole. The way the Church works is not like 250 worker bees… each adding a little to the overall total. Rather, we are like the human body, with many necessary parts. With Christ as our head and the Holy Spirit working in and through us, God has knit us together as a functioning (or semi-functioning!) whole.

What that means is that each one of you is vital for the health and growth of this church. If you are not connected or plugged in or participating or exploring and doing personal ministry and mission, then we are not “one man down,” we are running a race with a broken leg! Look carefully at the end of verse 16 – I had to re-read this several times to see it. Do you see the phrase “causes the growth of the body?” What is it that causes the growth of the body? You might say, “God,” and you’d be partly right. God designed the body for growth, whether the human body or the church body. But it is the proper working of the parts with the whole that God has made to cause the growth. To compare this to the human body: God designed us to grow, but we must exercise, rest, eat, and take care of the body for it to grow properly. So it is with the body of this church. God designed us to grow and function as Christ’s body. But in order to do that, we must feed, rest, exercise, and care for THIS body.

This is why, for the past month, we have been singing the song, “I Need You to Survive.” It is taken from this passage in Ephesians. The point is not that we don’t need God to survive; that is foundational and true. But God has designed us to need each other to survive and to thrive as a church… as His body.
I need you, you need me; we’re all a part of God’s body.
Stand with me, agree with me; we’re all a part of God’s body.
It is His will that every need be supplied
You are important to me; I need you to survive.
The song also picks up on the part about “speaking truth in love”:
I pray for you, you pray for me
I love you; I need you to survive
I won’t harm you with words from my mouth
I love you; I need you to survive.
Dwell on those words – we need to soak in those and take them to heart.

Can You Picture It?

Can you envision our life together as a fully grown body? I’m not saying that we are not partway there… we are. Many of you have discovered your role in the body of Christ. Yet, we continue to be distracted by the waves and wind. We continue to view church as one commitment among many rather than as our IDENTITY in Jesus Christ. Hear God’s Word to you today: we need you to survive; we need you to grow up; God needs you to find your ministry and mission and connect to this body as living tissue connects the parts of your body.

I want to give the same invitation I did last week. If you are not already plugged into a ministry or mission of this church, read the Voice or talk to me about how God might use you as part of this Body. If we are not doing something that you think God wants you to do, come tell me and we’ll do it! A number of our exciting new ministries have started because people did exactly that. Shannon loved yoga and had completed instructors’ class and she wanted to integrate her Christian faith with that and reach people in the church neighborhood. So we’re doing it. John has always loved water coloring and wanted to encourage others to explore, develop, and use their artistic gifts for God’s glory. We’re doing that; you can see some of that artwork out in the gathering area. Vicki wanted to offer Zoe, other church children, and neighborhood children something that would build community and character in a safe, Christian environment, so we started the Daisy Troop. Come explore with me. We need you, not to be a church doing lots of things, but to be healthy and to survive.

May God grab hold of your imagination, heart, and mind, and not let you go! Amen.

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