Friday, November 16, 2012

Unity, Diversity And Maturity In The Church

God calls for his church to be unified. Yet he has made us diverse!

Diversity In The Church (4:7-10). Paul has called for our eager maintenance of church unity. But unity does not mean we are carbon copies of each other. Verse 7 begins with ‘But…’
Unity, ‘but...’
Diversity is From God. Diversity is not an accident, or a problem to overcome. It is God’s will! However, it was in response to sin that God brought it about. At the tower of Babel, an effort of man’s pride and godlessness, God multiplied the languages, creating diversity of nations and peoples. And through this diversity he will be glorified by every language and nation! Jesus accomplished a unified diversity at the cross (Eph 2:11,ff). And now we learn that he continues to encourage diversity in his unified people by giving differing gifts of grace!

Diverse Grace-Gifts Given (4:7). “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift (4:7). Paul spoke of the grace of God in his ministry to the Gentiles (3:2, 7-8), and now he shows that he is not alone (O’Brien). Each believer has received a measure of Christ’s grace in the form of a gift to be used to build up the church. This grace differs according to the will of God (see also Romans 12:6 and context).

Diverse Gifts Are A Sharing of Christ’s Triumph (4:8-10). “Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” [9] (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? [10] He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things)” (4:8-10).
Paul quotes Psalm 68, a celebration of God’s victory over his enemies, and implies that Christ is the fulfillment of this Psalm. Though the verse in the Hebrew speaks of Christ receiving gifts from men, Paul emphasizes Christ’s giving gifts to his people (Acts 2:33 shows that Christ received the promise of the Spirit and then gave him to his church). Christ triumphed over the rulers and principalities at the cross (Col 2:15), and has shared the spoils of his victory with his saints! Paul also speaks of Christ’s descending and ascending: he lowered himself to become a man and descended into the grave, and he rose in victory, ascending to the right hand of God, ‘that he might fill all things!’ The victorious Lord Jesus now pours out diverse gifts of grace on his saints that we may be a unified diversity, progressing in maturity, for the purpose of displaying the glory of God to the universe!

Maturity In The Church (4:11-16). James Boice asks a good question. If Christ gives diverse gifts to the believers, what is to ensure that we stay together? What is to keep us from going off in our own direction? The answer is the purpose of the gifts! Paul tells us that the gifts are given in diversity but are to be used in unity, in order to build maturity in the church.

Diverse Leadership Gifts (4:11). “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers… “ (4:11). Christ’s gifts to the church begin with leaders who declare God’s word.
  • Apostles and prophets. Paul seems to be speaking here of apostles and prophets in the ‘technical sense’ (Boice); the original recipients of the gospel revelation on which rests the church (2:20). There are apostolic and prophetic gifting today, but not those who write Scripture and serve as foundations of the church. Christ’s apostles gave us the New Testament, and appointed elders in the churches to teach it to the church.
  • Evangelists. While all believers in the church share the work of evangelism, some are gifted to lead the church in proclaiming the gospel.
  • Shepherds (pastors) and Teachers, or Pastor-Teacher. There is only one definite article in the Greek before these two giftings (O’Brien), leading many to see this as one office rather than two. The apostles who planted churches appointed elders (plural) in the local churches to lead the churches by (1) overseeing, or tending the flock, and by (2) teaching, or feeding the flock (John 21:15-17; Acts 14:23; 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5; 1 Tim 3:1-13; 1 Thess 5:12; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Peter 5:2). Shepherd, pastor, refer to the function and are interchangeable with the offices referred to elsewhere as elders, overseers, and bishops.
All of these church leadership gifting are based on proclaiming God’s word. This is Christ’s gift to his body, that by the word the church may corporately grow up into maturity. It is the duty of every believer to make sure they are receiving the teaching of the word, in godly submission to local church shepherd-teachers (Hebrews 13:7, 17).

Diverse Ministry Gifts (4:12). “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” (4:12). While leaders are to be seen as gifts from Christ and thus followed with respect (1 Thess 5:12-13) they are NOT special Christians who do all the ministry. Church leaders are given to the church for the purpose of equipping the believers to do the works of ministry. Elders equip the saints through prayer, serving the saints, providing an example to follow, encouraging the believers in their ministry gifting, etc, but first and foremost by the faithful teaching of the word of God. Thus each member of the church is to be growing in the proclaimed word and applying that word by doing “the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” Each member of the body has an important function in the church, and should be concerned about the maturing of the local church of which they are a member.

Stott comments that there are five lists of gifts in the New Testament, recording some 20 different gifts; of which some are ‘unsensational,’ such as ‘doing acts of mercy’ (Rom 12:8).

Maturity Through Unified Diversity (4:13-16). “…until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, [14] so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. [15] Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, [16] from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (4:13-16). All of the varying gifts in the church are for the purpose of building up the church towards maturity, for the glory of God.

A Few Observations From The Text:
  1. How long are the gifts necessary? “…until we all attain…the stature of the fullness of Christ.” The gifts will be in operation in the church until the day of glory when the church is perfect in the presence of God
  2. Maturity has to do with doctrinal stability (v14). Immaturity is compared with being tossed around by the storms of false doctrine.
  3. Maturity involves both truth and love (v15). This phrase is literally ‘truthing in love.’ It is easy to be all about truth while lacking in love, or all about love but soft on truth; Christ wants his church growing in both!
  4. Maturity happens as each part of the body does its job (v16). “when each part is working properly.”We are not merely a group of saved individuals, but a BODY that is dependent on one another. None of us alone is the body of Christ; each of us is a member of the body. Each part of the body must be fulfilling their function for the body to grow. Are you living in dependence on, or independence from the body of Christ?
  5. Maturity is a corporate, not just an individual, process. This text emphasizes the collective maturity that happens through unified diversity in the church. It’s not about ‘me’ maturing in Christ, sitting at home with my Bible (‘me and Jesus’ attitude), but rather it is about ‘us’ maturing together. This is how God has chosen to display his glory. This is why it is impossible to be a ‘solo’ Christian. You can worship God alone, but this is not God’s eternal purpose (3:9-11).
Our call now is to walk worthy and showcase the glory of God in the church by using our diversity in unity to build maturity.

Apply The Word
-Believe God’s word concerning the body of Christ. See this vision and receive it as God’s plan. Embrace it. Love it!
-Commit yourself to the ministry of the word from the leaders in your local church. Podcasts from SuperPreachers are good, but they are not the ones God has placed in your life to be your primary ‘shepherd.’ God has given you local elders who can know you and minister to you in a special way. Commit yourself to this!
-Are you doing your part? How can I help the church grow in unity and maturity? Are you a functioning part of the body? How has God gifted you, led you, equipped you to serve?
-Do your ministry in the context of the church! Many in our day despise the church and emphasize their ministry, apart from a church context. We can overemphasize ‘MY ministry’ or a parachurch organization and forget God’s plan of a local church ministering to one another and growing up together in love.

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