Sunday message 5 August – Equipping the saints – building up the body
Readings: Ephesians 4:1-16; Matthew 16:13-20
Equipping the saints/ Body Building
Winnie the Pooh once took an evening walk with his friend Piglet. They walked for a long time in silence, but Piglet finally asked, “When you wake up in the morning, Pooh, what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”
“What’s for breakfast?” Pooh responds, “And what do you say, Piglet?”
“I say, I wonder what exciting thing is going to happen today.”
The question today is this – are you like Winnie the Pooh, or like Piglet? Do you see life (in general and in church) in terms of how it can benefit you, or in terms of the adventure of helping others?
Last week Mike made a distinction between office-bearers and ordinary people exercising ministry. That terrible distinction between “officials” and plebs. Or in some churches “clergy” and “laity”. He involved all in the congregation to be part of the prayer ministry for healing and restoration of others by asking people to lift their hands in the direction of those receiving prayer.
Listening to the recording, of course, did not tell me how many actually did that. But the point he made is really important. It is a significant thing to note from today’s reading that we are all in ministry, and that Jesus builds his church. Or wants to if we are willing!
The key verse is in Ephesians 4 – God gives people as gifts – ‘To equip the saints for the work of ministry” (KJV V11). Or in the NIV which we are more familiar with, from verse 7:
Eph 4:7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.
Eph 4:8 This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.”
Eph 4:9 (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions?
Eph 4:10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)
Eph 4:11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers,
Eph 4:12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up
I’ve always been a bit nervous about titles. My official title is “minister”. I am called “the Reverend Robin Palmer”. Reverend sounds very religious. Rev sounds like an old car struggling up a hill – which is more real to me. Minister sounds exclusive. Like the old church joke about church life – the Minister ministers, the congregation congregates and the organist organises! And boy I have had some interesting organists over the years. Only one of them yelled at the congregation on a bad day.
And “saints” sounds like the description of very holy and almost perfect people! The old TV programme “the Saint” comes to mind – Roger Moore with a halo on his head.
Titles are one thing. Giftings are another. As are functions. The bible talks about people gifts and spiritual gifts. There are four or five GIFTS that Paul tells us about here. They are people gifts.
The picture is of the Risen Ascended Christ in verse 8: (He quotes from Psalm 68:18)
“When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.”
This Jesus, “the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe” (verse 10) – gives gifts!
Apostles – those sent to plant churches. The first apostles were witnesses to the resurrection and commissioned and sent out by Jesus. (Paul is an exception with a different story of course).
Prophets – those empowered to speak his word or message to those churches. They literally “speak forth” God’s word or message.
Evangelists – those who share the good news. They are bearers, literally, of “good news”.
Pastors and Teachers – those who shepherd and train the sheep – the people who have responded to the Gospel work of the first three categories of people gifts.
Like Winnie the Pooh, it would be easy to think: “how nice, these people gifts are there for me!” Remember again the quote I read: They walked for a long time in silence, but Piglet finally asked, “When you wake up in the morning, Pooh, what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”
“What’s for breakfast?”
The primary people gift in the modern church is that of Pastor/Teacher. There is a feeding aspect to the pastor/teacher ministry.
It can be very inward looking of course (feed me Pastor!). We can be stuck like little chicks in a nest crying “feed me” – or be a little like the seagulls in “FINDING NEMO” crying out “mine ! mine! mine!”.
You can watch that clip here. It really is very funny.
We are not meant to be like that! Our pastoral ministry – the gift of pastor/teacher – does involves nurture and teaching of the church.
Verse 12 tells us why these people gifts are given. We read from verses 11:
Eph 4:11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers,Eph 4:12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up
The point of these people gifts – the point of the ministry today (through the pastor-teacher function that we have in our ministry) is to EQUIP THE SAINTS (The church folk) for the work of ministry. These people prepare God’s people for ministry – for works of service.
The ministry – works of service – is the responsibility of the whole church. Many Christians would say that BAPTISM that is effectively the ordination of the people of God to service.
So are you Pooh bear or piglet? Pooh bears first though in the morning is about feeding his tummy. A rather inward thought. Piglet says: “ I wonder what exciting thing is going to happen today.” That sounds a little less self absorbed! A Christian Piglet would say “I wonder what exciting things I can do for God and for others today?” What ministry can I exercise? How can I serve?
So when Jesus says in Matthew 16: Mat 16:17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. Mat 16:18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
– he was not talking about an actual rock or referring to Peter’s name(meaning rock) – but that the church is made up of people whose lives are built on faith in Him! He builds his church with people because people are the church! And He promises to protect us as we do his work – the gates of Hades will not overcome it!
These people are given gifts to strengthen the body of Christ – the church.
So what is your gifting? How will you serve and use that gifting?
You may have a pastoral or teaching gift. If God calls you to use this to build up the body of Christ – then that’s what you should do.
In a sense all of us are apostolic – sent by God into the world to be witnesses. Some people do have apostolic ministries in that they are church planters. And all of us should be evangelistic – sharing the evangelion – the good news. And we should be open to being prophetic – speaking out on God’s behalf.
We don’t have prophets (an office in the church with “Prophet Smith” on the door.) We don’t have apostles formally. We do have evangelists today – and they do reach people (even if we are suspicious of some of the TV types).
The people gifts are there to equip the saints – and build up the members of the body to create a strong church with
- Maturity (v 13)
- Stability (v 14)
- Community. (v 15)
- a working body (v16) – 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.
So are we being the kind of church Jesus wants us to be?
We’re not if we are being like Winnie the Pooh – thinking only of receiving honey in our tummies.
WE are being the church he wants when we are open to be EQUIPPED – or PREPARED FOR WORKS OF SERVICE. What we learn here should help us to BE GOD’S PEOPLE out there in the world.
And of course we need to be united and of one mind as we do this.
HOW DO WE BEGIN? Probably here:
Eph 4:1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Eph 4:2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Eph 4:3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
The impact of our ministry here should be on the kind of lives we live – that they are worthy of the calling that we have received (verse 1).
Are you open to being changed – transformed – and equipped to be used by the Lord in works of service? The end result will be the building up of the body of Christ!
We need depth in our Christian lives – commitment to seek the Lord – sort ourselves out – and open our hearts totally to Him as we allow the Holy Spirit to work in us and through us to minister into the lives of the church – building up one another! It’s an exciting option!
Winnie the Pooh or Piglet – what will it be?
They walked for a long time in silence, but Piglet finally asked, “When you wake up in the morning, Pooh, what’s the first thing you say to yourself?” “What’s for breakfast?” Pooh responds, “And what do you say, Piglet?”
“I say, I wonder what exciting thing is going to happen today.”