New Members and Fellowship

(This is the portion of the New Members' class I teach at church, with my comments serving more as discussion starters and guides.  Hopefully this will be an equal blessing as a blog post.)
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We will eventually be in Ephesians 4, but we will start with some preliminarily passages from which the pastor has been reading that will set up our time.  First, look at Philippians 2:
Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus (vv. 3-4)
This is the model of Christian living, the model of the kind of thinking we should have.  Look also to what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount:
  • Matt 5:21-22: hating a brother
  • Matt 5:27-28: keeping one's mind pure... we could also note that God is concerned with how we feel about other people (such as hating a brother).  There are more verses that speak to this, but lets look at something else Jesus said:
  • Matt 7:21-23: in some of the most frightening verses in the Bible, we see that doing things for God is not enough.  We need a right relationship with Him, and everything we do must be filtered through this relationship.

So, what goes on in the local church is a matter of thinking right (a genuine, loving attitude) and being in a right relationship with the Lord.  Everything else follows naturally from these two things.

All of that was introductory to the main passage I want to explore today.  

Turn to Ephesians 4:7-16.  There are six points I want to highlight in this passage.  I know we are only supposed to have three points, but there is some overlap here, so that makes it okay!

Note from this passage:
  1. We each have grace in Christ (vv. 7, 11)
  2. We each have leaders from Christ (v. 11)
  3. We each have ministry for Christ (v. 12)
  4. We each have unity in Christ (vv. 12-13)
  5. We each have maturing toward Christ (vv. 13-15)
  6. We each have tasks for Christ (vv. 15-16)


1 - We each have grace in Christ (vv. 7, 11)
Verse 11 is one example – some Christians are teachers and pastors.  Others are something else.  The point is not whether you are in the limelight or not, but that each Christian has a gift that the Holy Spirit grants.  This is not some pseudo-mystical experience, but usually a talent God providentially provides and supernaturally empowers.  There is more to say to this, but we’ll touch on it as we go.  Begin to pray for God to guide you to where you are gifted.


2 - We each have leaders from Christ (v. 11)
We live in an individualistic, narcissistic age.  We want our own way, and we distrust authority or even uncompromising unity.   This is a problem in the Christian life.  Jesus has appointed leaders in His church.  What are we to do but submit?  Of course, leaders are human and err, and we have the responsibility to make certain that they are guiding us correctly.  Yet, that is not a blank check to live without oversight and accountability.  Submission to godly leaders is a way in which the Holy Spirit can work in our lives.


3 - We each have ministry for Christ (v. 12)
This overlaps with number 1, but I want you to notice the different emphasis.  Leaders exist to help equip us.  For what?  For “the work of the ministry.”  If there were any doubts as to what God expects of us, here is the clarification.  Leaders exist to build up the body, and one way they do that is by multiplication – they train up more leaders and ministers.   We are expected to fit in there somewhere. 

We are in constant tension: being led, but also leading.  Of course, when we're parents, we are also still learning, so it is not such a strange thing to see the dual leader/follower function we find ourselves in while serving in ministry. 

There is always someone you can reach out to, someone you can help guide or disciple, and this church will not function unless we are each serving one another.

John Piper, speaking on this passage (“How Christ Enables the Church to Upbuild Itself in Love”) said that there is a serious problem with viewing “church” only as a worship service and a class (like this one).  We rob ourselves of something as we become “relationally passive,” dependent upon the pastor and teachers here while simultaneously neglecting one another.  It's not enough to have right vertical relationships, we need right horizontal ones, as well.

It's a wonder that the multi-billion dollar industry of psychology has grown up when the majority of what people pay for is simple talk.  Could we not provide that for one another here for free?  Can we not fellowship with one another meaningfully in church?  Do we need to pay someone to hear our woes? 

Should we simply brush people off who come to us in pain to someone who has a secular degree?  “Behold the power of God! … Oh, well, you should really go down the road to talk about that.  We can’t help you there.”  Perhaps a friend at church looks blue; is it not within our charge to put our arm around that person and love him? 

Now, that’s not to say that some people don’t need medication for certain mental aliments.  We live in a fallen world, and we many times need to seek out help in our helping of others.  Yet, we should wonder what would happen to the national statistic of people who take pills to cope with life if we, as a church, would do our job.

For someone like me and some of the others at this church currently in seminary, a temptation arises to say that the only thing a church needs is sound teaching from the pastor and teachers, proper worship songs, and a lot of outward ministry to reach people with the Gospel.  Indeed, those are fine things for a church to have. 

But what does Jesus have to say about that?  We're in the book of Ephesians, a letter Paul wrote to the Ephesians to strengthen them in Christian doctrine and in church life.  Later, Paul meets with the Ephesian elders and warns them that savage wolves and false teachers would attack the church (Acts 20:29-31). 

They heeded Paul's warnings.  When find them again in Revelation 2:1-7, Jesus has many good things to say to the church.  However, the one condemnation He has is a chilling one: they had left their love of Him.  They had good teaching, good apologetics, diligence, and discernment – all the good qualities in a church – but they somehow left their first love.

John Piper used the image of the outbreak of scurvy among sailors and pirates of old – we may have plenty of steak in church, but sometimes we forget the limes and oranges.  May we never do that as a church.  Each of us needs personal love for God and personal love for one another. Let us have fruitful relationships (pun intended!).

4 - We each have unity in Christ (vv. 12-13)
The body is built up “until we attain to the unity of the faith.”  There is one sense where this will never happen this side of heaven.  In a more practical sense, however, this is supposed to be a present struggle. 

5 - We each have maturing toward Christ (vv. 13-15)
I counseled a guy a while back who had a few interesting beliefs.  One was that 1 Timothy 4:12, written to a young pastor, was about him.  Particularly, this middle-aged man believed the words "Let no one despise you for your youth" was a command for him to remain "forever young."  So, he began to tell people he had a teenager inside of him.  He told me he was being a child for Christ, and certainly I wouldn't discourage kids from coming to Jesus.

A proper exposition of 1 Timothy 4 aside, what was wrong with this man's belief about Christian living?  He did not account for verses like these: "until we all attain ... to mature manhood ... so that we may no longer be children."  He was correct that we need to first come to Christ with child-like dependence, and that we continue in our dependence the rest of our lives.  However, Christ also calls us to become like Him, and Jesus did not come and remain a boy.  We each are to grow toward "to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ," as much as it is possible in this life.

6 - We each have tasks for Christ (vv. 15-16)
Note that these verses say the body makes the body grow!  Each member working in harmony, in Christ, in His power and love produces this reality.  Each of us acts as a tool in the holy hands of God to repair the body whenever sin damages it.  Every Christian is a gear that drives the machine of the Gospel forward, both outside the church walls and inside the walls of believers. 

Iron sharpens iron (Prov 27:17).

Note that part of the task is speaking the truth in love toward one another.  As in the passage from the Sermon on the Mount, we are admonished never to call a brother a fool or to be otherwise disrespectful.  Perhaps the man Jesus spoke of was speaking the truth, but it definitely is not speaking the truth in love. 

That concludes our time together, but I hope that you will ponder each of these points this week.

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