A Healthy Body

If your church is like ours, you have a lot of health-conscious individuals in the community. We have nurses, pharmacists, and fitness center coaches, just to name a few. Some have disciplined eating habits. Many of them exercise daily (even running marathons!). I am also interested in health and enjoy exercising (I used to teach health class in high school). Recently my wife was told to drink "parsley water" to help an ailment. I decided to have a few glasses myself. There is nothing like a mouthful of grass water at 9:00 p.m.! (Well, not really.)

98Here is another example of how Jesus is portrayed as a giver! In turn, we are to be givers. We are to be generous with the gifts and resources we have received.

These gifts are ways in which we extend the ministry of Jesus on this earth. When you see gifts at work, you should adore Jesus who gave them. When someone's gifts bless you, you should see that as Jesus blessing you.

In verse 8 Paul cites Psalm 68 and relates it to Christ's triumph and authority. Instead of directly quoting Psalm 68:18, Paul apparently gave a general summary of the entire psalm.

Psalm 68 is a victory hymn. Historically it was typical to bring back the spoils of war after a king won a significant military victory (Num 31:7-9; 2 Sam 12:29-31; see also Exod 3:19-22). Here, having triumphed over sin, death, hell, and the grave, our Savior gave His congregation spiritually gifted people that they might minister to His church.

In verses 9-10, which function like a parenthesis, Paul speaks of Christ's descent and ascent. Paul sees the incarnation (descent) and ascension of Christ as evidence that Christ is Savior and King. Therefore, Christ is our ascended Lord. He came all the way down (Phil 2:5-8) and has now gone all the way up (Phil 2:9-11). Christ is above all. Christ fills all. Christ gives gifts to all. Marvel at His generosity and authority!

Christ gave us gifts so that we would use them (cf. 1 Pet 4:10-11). These responsibilities are different for different believers. Here Paul notes the leaders and the members. Each of them has the same value to God, but they share different roles. In baseball pitchers are not known for hitting, and hitters are not known for pitching. In football you usually do not want the nose guard playing quarterback! In basketball you do not want five seven-footers on the floor at one time! Likewise, the church needs people playing different positions to be a unified and effective team. Some have gifts of encouragement, some have gifts of administration, some have gifts of hospitality, and so on.

The leaders equip the saints (4:11). Paul mentions those in unique positions of leadership in the church: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. He focuses on those gifted in articulating the gospel, teaching the Word, and shepherding God's people.

The titles apostle and prophet have a broad range of meaning. In one sense the apostles and prophets were foundational to the church99 (2:20; 3:5). Apostle, in a technical sense, refers to the Twelve (defined in this way, we do not have apostles anymore). In a general sense it can refer to a "sent one." Prophets were forth-tellers even more than future-tellers. We see prophets throughout the Old Testament and also mentioned in the early church in the New Testament (Acts 11:27-28; 13:1; 15:32; 21:9; 1 Cor 14:32). Used in a technical sense, as with apostles, we do not have biblical prophets any longer. In a general sense prophets are those who apply God's Word to God's people.

Evangelists are those gifted in proclaiming the gospel (Acts 21:8; 2 Tim 4:5). Everyone is called to evangelize, but some are uniquely gifted in this area.

The term pastor is used here to refer to a ministry in the church, though the related verb shepherd appears elsewhere (e.g., 1 Pet 5:2; Acts 20:28; John 21:16). Pastor is to be understood alongside the terms elder and overseer. I take them as the same office and use the terms interchangeably at our local church (cf. Acts 14:23; 20:17, 28; 1 Tim 4:14; 5:17, 19; Titus 1:5, 7; 1 Pet 5:1-4). The noun flock refers to the church (Acts 20:28-29; 1 Pet 5:2-3). In addition to the important role of teaching, pastors are to oversee the flock (1 Thess 5:12; Heb 13:17). They nurture, defend, protect, know, and sacrifice for the flock. In turn the New Testament says they should be honored and respected (1 Tim 5:17; 1 Thess 5:12-13).

The imagery of the shepherd applied to God in the Old Testament; He is the ultimate Shepherd who cared for and protected His people (Gen 49:24; Pss 23:1; 80:1; Isa 40:11). Leaders in the Old Testament were also referred to at times as "shepherds" (e.g., 2 Sam 5:2; Ps 78:71-72; Jer 23:2; Ezek 34:10). In the New Testament Jesus is the good shepherd (John 10:11-18), the great Shepherd (Heb 13:20), and the chief Shepherd (1 Pet 5:4). He is "the ultimate Senior Pastor," and pastors today are undershepherds.

Some take teacher as the same office as pastors, translating them "pastor-teacher." O'Brien provides a helpful conclusion:

While we wrestle with these distinctive positions and gifts, one thing is abundantly clear: God has blessed His people throughout redemptive history with gifted proclaimers of His Word. The author of Hebrews tells us, "Remember your leaders who have spoken God's word to you. As you carefully observe the outcome of their lives, imitate their faith" (Heb 13:7). Such leaders are instruments in the Redeemer's hands, used for our sanctification. Their teaching strengthens us and, as Paul says next, equips us for ministry.

The saints do the work of ministry (4:12). Church leaders prepare, complete, train, and equip God's people for ministry. We all have a work of ministry because we all have spiritual gifts given by Christ (1 Cor 12:7, 11; 1 Pet 4:10).

This is not the first time Paul has mentioned "work." Earlier, he said that God saved us for good works (Eph 2:10). Later he will tell us to imitate God (5:1). God works, and we imitate God by working. The pastor works and the people work. The church is to have an "every-member ministry."

What are you doing with what God has given you? The church will be enriched in worship and mission when everyone is serving. When members give, work in child care, visit those in need, make meals for new parents, and minister to one another in groups, the body is edified, blessed, and built up (4:12).

Every member should grow up and use a towel, not wear a bib. They should not be immature consumers but eager servants. This is how Paul Tripp puts it:

101There is nothing greater to do with your life than to spend it for the glory of our Redeemer-King and the advancement of His kingdom.

A Healthy Church Is Marked by Spiritual Maturity

Ephesians 4:13-16

The result of the church's unity and diversity is the church's maturity. Notice how this body metaphor in verse 13, "a mature man," is contrasted with "children" in verse 14. Paul wants the people to grow up. Notice also that while one is doing the work of ministry (v. 12), one grows into maturity. We tend to think that one must be totally mature to serve in the church, and while we must be careful not to appoint leaders too quickly, we need to recognize that spiritual growth is not merely cerebral. Service is a means of growth in maturity.

Paul mentions four traits of a spiritually mature person.

The ultimate picture of maturity is Christ: "a stature measured by Christ's fullness." "Christ's fullness" is an expression of completion or perfection. This makes obvious sense. The goal for us is to be like Jesus. We should long for the character qualities Paul mentions in verses 2-3 to be present in our lives. We should long for maturity individually and corporately.

Paul mentions the need to grow in our "knowledge" of truth. In verse 13 he mentions growth in "unity in the faith" (the body of doctrine) and "the knowledge of God's Son" (which involves both the intellect and the heart, cf. Phil 3:10). In verse 14 he says we should no longer be "little children" thrown around by every wind of doctrine.

Children are gullible and easily deceived. False teachers can creep in and toss them around. They prey on the gullible, saying things like:

Children must be taught as they grow up. I would not say to my youngest daughter, "Hey Victoria, drive your brothers and sisters to 102corporate worship!" She is only nine years old! She has to be taught. And so do believers. We enter the Christian life as babies, but we are to grow through the Word and become disciple-making teachers (1 Pet 2:1-3; Heb 5:11-14).

God means for Christians to present the truth to others, and it should always be presented in love. We must hold the truth high (1 Tim 3:15). And Christians must remember the centrality of love (1 Cor 13). The wording in Greek in verse 15 is "truthing in love" (Stott, Ephesians, 172). Of course, "truthing" is not a word in English, but the idea is clear. Maturity involves a truth-telling, truth-maintaining, truth-doing love.

I pray that folks would say this about my church: "They teach the Bible faithfully." I hope they also say, "They love each other like family and their neighbors as themselves." If people do not agree with our doctrine, I pray they will see that we love them. Are you known for truth and love personally, and is your church known for truth and love corporately?

Paul returns to the body metaphor, where every member is a "limb" in Christ's body. Because you are a body part, you are important! We need one another. Every member is to contribute, using what he or she has.

Our ultimate need is Christ. We grow up into Him (v. 15). We are dependent on Christ, who is the head and source of the church. But we are also members of the body, and we are dependent on one another. "[E]ach part ... working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love" (4:16 ESV). As we grow into Christ and as we use our gifts in love, the body becomes healthy. What an unspeakable privilege it is to be united to Christ and to one another!

It is wise and good to be health conscious—taking care of our physical bodies. But let us be more concerned about the health of the body of Christ. May our local church bodies be marked by spiritual unity, spiritual diversity, and an ever-increasing maturity. Paul's teaching serves as a "spiritual checkup" in these vital areas. Let us make the necessary changes with the Spirit's help.

Reflect and Discuss

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