I have been reading and thinking more about instructions and exhortations to the church. We need to get away from thinking of these instructions as directed to each of us as individuals and remember that they are addressed to our community. We are part of a community; we aren’t lone wolves.
Many of us long for community. The potential of the church to be a true community that meets that longing is tremendous. The Spirit is doing the work, but many times we work against the Spirit.
I want to share Ephesians 4:11–32 (NLT) and make some comments:
11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.
Christ sets us up for success. Probably the gifts of pastors and teachers are the most influential for the local church. A pastor is another word for a shepherd. A shepherd is not a CEO or a leader in the mode of John Maxwell; a shepherd is in the field with the sheep. It’s rare to see that kind of leadership these days. We’ve rebuilt the church on a different model. I think that, perhaps, our changes were not for the better. If you have a true pastor, count your blessings.
Teachers interpret the word of God for the people of God. (Hint: It’s not about financial peace, or parenting, or being a good spouse, although these things are not unimportant.) Teachers don’t go off on their own as individuals — they stand in the tradition of the church through the years. In other words, if a teacher’s teachings conflict with the Apostles’ Creed, you may need to examine those teachings carefully.
These gifts are given to the church so we can be built up. I doubt that means the same thing as church growth. The goals are unity in our faith and in our knowledge about Jesus. We are to become a mature church, like Jesus himself. Individuals will be at all stages within the church, but the church is to be mature through the work of the Spirit of Jesus.
14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.
Churches can be immature. We aren’t supposed to be, but sometimes we are. When we are immature we fall for stuff. Like spurious “spiritual” movements that are for the benefit of a person and not the church. Like involvement in teachings that have nothing to do with living for Jesus. Like tons of activities that have no place in the church of Jesus Christ.
We need to mature like the body of a person. We are too often stunted. It’s not too late.
17 With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. 18 Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. 19 They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.
20 But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. 21 Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, 22 throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. 23 Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.
So let’s get our act together and get back to the basics of being the church. We aren’t a community center or a daycare center or an athletic club or a social club. We are the church. The very church established by Christ and sustained by the Spirit. Let’s get back to job one.
25 So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body. 26 And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 for anger gives a foothold to the devil.
28 If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. 29 Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.
30 And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.
31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.
See how the church community behaves? We don’t let anger control us. We are truthful with one another. We treat one another with respect. We encourage one another. I suppose it would be good if we got to know one another in more than a passing acquaintance.
We live in tune with God’s Spirit. He lives within us, individually and corporately. There are all kinds of ways we can grieve him if we try hard enough. Let’s not. Bitterness, rage, anger, harshness, slander, etc. have no place in the church. These are our brothers and sisters in Jesus. Instead, kindness, tenderness, and forgiveness should characterize our community.
It’s not too late. Read your Bible.