Sunday, October 19, 2014
A Community Of Truth & Love: Growing Together In The Gospel
Ephesians 4: 11 – 16
11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Today, there are lots of discussions on how we can grow the church. Some say you gotta know your market segment and meet their felt needs. Others say the key is to have a network of cell groups where real community happens. Some say forget about church, just meet at Starbucks and have spiritual conversations. Others say lets bring back ancient religious symbols to give people a sacred experience. Still others say: If it brings people to church, does it matter how you do it as long as it’s ethical?
I’m not saying all of them are wrong. In fact, we can learn lots from them. For example, we have a children’s library because we discern that people in Puchong have young families and there is a need we can meet. And we do have covenant groups where close bonding and relationships are formed, sometimes over Starbucks or Coffee Bean. During Good Friday/Easter, we do appreciate time-honored tradition of The Stations of the Cross filled with sacred symbolism.
But having said that, it would be silly to start construction on a building without first knowing what kind of structure we plan to build. An apartment is different from a bungalow. They all have different blueprints, different materials, uses and shapes. The process of building will depend on what you want to build. (Picture courtesy of He Qi Art)
The same goes for building a church. Because a church is not a profit making entity. It’s not a multi-level marketing company. It is not a social club. It’s not a Rotary Club where people come together to provide social services. In fact, a healthy church is unlike any other human organization because it’s not devised by men.
The church is God’s idea. It is a central theme in the biblical salvation story – the church is a new humanity created by God the Father, she is the Bride loved and redeemed by God the Son and she is the new temple in whom God the Holy Spirit dwells.
So it only makes sense to see what God’s word has to say about how He wants to grow His church. We should look to God’s instruction manual to build His church since it’s His design. Otherwise, looking back in 10 years’ time, we may end up building in vain. So that’s what we will look at together as we consider church membership today.
1) How does the church grow?
The Greek word for church is ekklesia, a gathering or a congregation of people for displaying God’s glory and sharing His gospel in the world. And the Scriptures use various metaphors to describe her: We are branches of the same vine, sheep of the same flock, brothers and sisters in the same family, stones built in the same building and, from the passage we read just now, we are members together of the same body.
It means all of us are connected to the Body of Christ though we have different functions, abilities and roles. And the entire body grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work (v16). If any member is cut off from the body, it will shrivel and die. Every member is joined and held together by every supporting ligament. We are all needy people. And we are needed. Our lives are inter-dependent. We rely on each other to grow. The hand cannot say to the foot, “I don’t need you”. And we receive instruction and nutrition from Christ himself, who is the head.
Now, how does the body grow? How do we grow into Christ-likeness? Paul tells us in verse 11: Christ himself gave us leaders (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers) to equip his people for works of service, so that the body may be built up. Verse 15 says: “speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Christ”. Speaking the truth in love is HOW we build the body up.
But what does “speak the truth in love” mean? Is it like when your wife asked: “Do I look fat?” you will tell it as it is, but gently: “Well, dear, let’s just say you are horizontally endowed. Don’t worry, there’s more of you to love.” You tell the hard facts, but do it in love. That’s partly true, yes. But crucial to spiritual growth of the church is we need to speak biblical truth to each other. We need to feed each other with truth about God. Spiritual truth of His promises. Encouragements from what Christ has done on the cross. Confront sinful patterns with the truth in love.
You can tell by looking at the context: In verse 11 all the leaders that Christ has given to equip us are all truth agents: apostles and prophets are the authoritative, foundational witnesses to the truth (their teachings are now preserved for us in the Bible), the evangelists (who do the work of evangelism with the truth of the gospel), the pastors and teachers (who take the truth and use it to feed and protect the flock of God). Every one of them equips us with God’s truth. They are truth agents who equip us for ministry.
We can also see in verse 14: “speaking the truth in love” is put in contrast with childish thinking, being easily deceived and swayed by every wind of false teaching. As we speaking God’s truth in love, it transforms us, strengthens us, comforts us and gives us a stable anchor and unity in sound doctrine. That’s how we grow.
Another way to put it: The core business of the church is to grow people into mature, disciple-making disciples of Christ by teaching them to obey everything that He commanded. We are talking about people growth and gospel growth. God’s word is like seeds that we sow. It’s like rain that nourishes us and makes us bear fruit.
If this is not happening, it doesn’t matter how much programs, how many members, how big is the budget and how grand a building we have – there is no spiritual growth.
How do we help each other grow into the measure of the fullness of Christ? Answer: by speaking truth about God and about Christ in love. Both are crucial: Truth and love. Truth without love is judgmental and puffs up in pride. But love without truth is confused and compromising. We need to learn the art of listening well in order to understand, not judge and feel what others feel. We also need to learn the courage to speak a word of truth in love even when it may get uncomfortable. God’s truth comforts and assures us. It can also challenge and call us to change.
This can happen in many wonderful ways in CDPC Puchong:
1) It can happen in small groups when we gather for covenant groups, youth groups, Sunday school, ministry meetings and one-to-one Bible study.
2) It can happen when we read prayers and the Bible with our children and spouse. Or in daily conversations as we eat and drive to school.
3) It can happen during water cooler conversations at the work place with colleagues.
4) When people prayerfully speak God’s truth in love from the pulpit, in class rooms and training workshops. When worship leaders lead us in worship grounded in Scripture. When pastors, teachers and evangelists model how to faithfully read and apply the Scriptures, we are equipped to serve others.
5) Or when we follow up with new comers at the children’s library over lunch or invite guests on Sundays to our homes. Perhaps just over Kopitiam, when we discuss what we learnt during sermon and invite God into our conversations.
There are endless possibilities but what happens is the same: God’s people prayerfully speaking God’s word in love to someone else… That’s what the Holy Spirit would use to cause people to grow and bear fruit. That’s our core business. Everything else supports it.
Who will do the works of ministry?
If a guest walks in here and asks you: “Who is the minister around here?” How would you reply? What’s the correct answer: Rev Wong? Pastor David? But the biblical answer to “Who is the minister around here?” is: “All of us are. All of us do the works of ministry. All of us speak the truth in love”.
Yes, God has given some members of the church with the gift and responsibility to lead and equip God’s people. But look at verse 11: Equip them to do what? For works of ministry… For works of service… So who are the ministers? Only the pastor or teachers who do the equipping? Nope, a minister is a servant so all of us serve by doing ministry.
There is a die-hard belief that only full time, paid people have a ministry or only what happens on the pulpit on Sundays count as ministry or only “specially-called, specially-trained” people have a ministry. The main function for the rest of God’s people is to assist a few who can do “real ministry”. We support with our time, energy, prayer and finances so that full time, ordained pastors-teachers can do the really important thing.
But that’s not the model given in God’s word. Leaders equip God’s people to minister. God’s people do the ‘real ministry’ of speaking the truth in love to each other. Of encouraging and comforting each other. Of challenging and correcting each other. As members of the Body of Christ, we all have various spiritual gifts and roles that would enrich and are needed by others. The hand cannot say to the foot, “You don’t need me anyway so I can sit back, relax and enjoy the show”. The apostle Peter says: You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people so you could show forth the praises of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. We all are called and have ministry as prophets, kings and priests in the world.
For example, let’s imagine a discussion about the Children’s Library. Some people would look at it and say: “I’ve been around for four years. It’s wonderful to see so many families come to read and borrow books. But how do we reach them with the gospel? It’s just not happening yet.” Others look at it and say: “You know what we need first of all. We need to encourage and mobilize more people to support the work. Strategically, we need more librarians, story tellers and befrienders.” Still other say: “But you know what’s even more important: Have we thought about children who cannot read or come from poorer families or with special needs? How can we serve them too?”
If we are not careful, we may misunderstand each other: “That fella is always thinking about evangelism, what about serving the poor?” or “That fella is always thinking about social justice, but who’s going to do the work?” But in truth, each one has a unique perspective because the first person has a prophetic ministry (how can we evangelize?), the second person has a kingly ministry (how can we get organized strategically?) and the third person has a priestly ministry (how can we sacrificially serve others?) And we need all of three contributing to the same Children Library so it can be more effective in serving others and evangelize. And we need each other to make the best decision (blind spots). That’s why as part of the church membership class next month, Tom will discuss about how we can serve and use our spiritual gifts to build up each other.
If prayerfully speaking God’s word in love is what brings spiritual life and all of us are ministers called and gifted by God, how would that change the way we think about church growth?
Here are important mind shifts: It means our priority is in equipping people for evangelism and to make disciples, rather than running events, attending committee meetings, managing property or organizing programs. Yes, we do need to be responsible stewards of our resources and finances. But we cannot be so caught up in running programs and committees that we lose sight of our core business in making disciples. Rather than to start with gaps in our ministries and programs and see how people can fit into them, our priority is to start with people and where they are at; and then consider how we can help them grow in spiritual maturity and what gifts and ministries look like for them.
A newcomer (let's say, Wendy): She is a solid Christian, a teacher and has a passion for evangelism in her network of colleagues and students: “David - how can I serve?” Do we look around and see a gap in the worship/music ministry: “OK, you can plug the gap here?” Or do we see her gifts and encourage her to pursue evangelism? That’s the test. (Ministry Mind shift ppt)
Lastly what is the goal of our ministry in CDPC Puchong?
Every process has an end product. So what is the result from our process of speaking the truth in love with each other? What is the goal of our ministry?
The first goal of our ministry is the building up of the body of Christ. Verse 12: Christ gives leaders to the church "for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ." It means we are in the business of raising up mature Christians - equipping disciples who do interpersonal ministry wherever they are. The fruitfulness we are after is that people are trained and sent out to make disciples, plant new churches and make an impact in the work place. In this hectic and mobile world, people don’t remain in the same place for very long… There will always be people who come and go for work, for studies, for relocation. And that’s ok… The priority is not that this church will grow in size and budget. That’s secondary. The priority is that we want to produce and export mature disciples who speak the truth in love wherever they are – to
Australia, Vietnam, Norwich and beyond. The church should function like a body where
every member serves in the power of the Holy Spirit.
The second goal of our ministry is the unity of faith and the unity of the knowledge of the Son of God. Verse 13: "until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God." That’s why in November (as part of church membership) we will have conversations on “Basic Beliefs”. There are lots of things that Christians can agree to disagree about (small or big government, GST or no GST, different opinions about rap music, organic food, football teams etc). But at the same time, there are historic doctrines of the Christian faith shared by believers across the ages – we need to have unity of faith, unity in knowledge of Christ and what he has done for us in the gospel.
Why is such a unity and foundation important? Look at v14: So that we will no longer be infants. We should be humble and be child-like in faith. But we should never be childish in our thinking. We should not be tossed back and forth by winds of popular opinion or cultural fads: “It’s not cool to preach about sin and judgment in this day and age. Relax and forget about it”. The opposite of having unity in faith and knowledge is to be naïve and easily conned by craftiness of people in deceitful scheming. I do consider myself a ‘charismatic’ Christian – I believe God works miracles, heals and delivers people from bondage today. But I don’t think it’s spiritually healthy for us to chase after signs and wonders, to be obsessed with the latest phenomenon that comes to town like holy laughter, holy bark, holy roar, gold teeth/gold dust. Some of these movement leaders were exposed with marital and financial scandals. Don’t be naïve. Be centered on the gospel.
The final goal of our ministry is that the church becomes mature like Christ. Verse 13: Build up the body "until we all attain… to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ." A common feeling among Christians is that they only get prayed for and visited by when they’re sick or in trouble. Of course, we are all people in need of help, friendship and prayer. It takes courage to be open to share needs and find help. But we shouldn’t have a culture where people pray only when reacting to crisis. The goal of ministry is also about pro-actively encouraging people to move forward in holy living and spiritual maturity whether they have problems or not. We want to be comfortable teaching and praying for one another even when things are going well that we may present everyone mature in Christ. (Colossians 1:28)