Interesting Descriptions for Church Members
Ephesians 4:7-16
By Paul Robison

While interviewing a young African-American soldier on the eve of Desert Storm, an ABC correspondent asked, “How do you think the battle will go? Are you afraid?”  “We’ll do OK.  We’re well trained,” the soldier said, gesturing toward his fellow GIs. “And I’m not afraid, because I’m with my family.”  The other soldiers shouted, “Tell him again. He didn’t hear you.”  The soldier repeated, “This is my family; we’ll take care of each other.”  A general to these soldiers added this advice: "We have to start thinking of America as a family.  We have to stop screeching at each other, stop hurting each other, and instead start caring for, sacrificing for, and sharing with each other.  We have to stop constantly criticizing, which is the way of the malcontent, and get back to the can-do attitude that made America.  We have to keep trying and risk failing to solve this country’s problems.  We cannot move forward if cynics and critics swoop down and pick apart anything that goes wrong to a point where we lose sight of what is right, decent, and uniquely good about America" (Powell).  The general's advice also applies to the body of Christ. We would do well to stop finding fault with each other and strive for unity, maturity, and stability (Powell quoted in Larson/Elshof). 

Our lesson this morning comes from Ephesians, 4:7-16.  It's a section of the book which is very interesting and has prompted much discussion.  There is no consensus among commentators (even among our own brethren) as to what exactly is happeing here.  So my interpretation probably has its flaws.  You are most welcome to take issue and share your thoughts on this difficult passage.  We will focus on what might be called interesting descriptions for church members that arise from this passage.

Let's begin with verse 7: "But to each of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift."  Grace was given to each of us, but what kind of grace is being discussed here.  You see, in Eph. 2:8, Paul talks about a saving grace, but in Eph. 3:7, Paul talks about a serving grace.  Paul said that he became a minister or literally "a servant" according to the gift of the grace of God given to him.  So, this sounds like God's serving grace is what gave Paul the role of a minister.  This role that Paul was given is a called a gift.  Verse 7 would then be affirming that every Chirsitan is given some serving grace or role to fulfill in the body of Christ.  So the first interesting description is that every member is grace-gifted for a particular and specfic role in the body.  Do we know any more about what roles Christ gives?  We do.  Look now at verse 11: "And He Himself [i.e. Christ] gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers."  Most of the time we think about gifts in the New Testament, we think of miraculous manifestations, such as speaking in tongues, or healings, or prophesying some new revelation from God.  But , we see in this passage that gifts can involved roles as well.  Now apostles and prophets we've seen before in Ephesians because 2:20 calls them the foundation upon which the temple of God or church has been built.  Look at Romans 12:6-8: "Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them.  [Then Paul mentions two gifts already mentioned in Ephesians, prophesy and serving, but now note what eles he adds in verses 7-8 (and these don't seem to be miraculous).] "he who teaches, in teaching, he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads [or another version has supervises] with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness."  So putting Ephesians and Romans together, we find these roles given as gifts which could be applicable for today: servant, evangelist, elder, teacher, exhorter, giver, supervisor, and sympathizer.  So Christ gives each of a us a role to fulfill through His serving grace.  Brother Lynn Vanderveer serves in several roles here in our congregation: he's our exhorter in worship, he's our youth supervisor, and he's an adult Bible class teacher.  Now, Lynn and others here fulfill several roles, but this passage shows that each of us has been given serving grace so that each of us can fulfill at least one role.  Recently, one brother in Italy told me: "I can't stand in the pulpit and preach, but I have donated much money to pay for the floor on which the preacher has stood!"  Yes, that's the spirit.  You see, this grace-gifted brother saw his role as one of giver to strentgthen the body.  If your role to this point has been only that of simply a pew-warmer, then realize that Christ wants you to be so much more than that!  We can all be servants, if not even more! 

Jesus has given you the gift of some role to fulfill that will bless the church here!  How can such a bold statement be made?  Well, notice what follows.  The Apostle Paul really wants to underscore what Christ has done.  Let's read 8-10: "Therefore, He says: 'When He ascended on high, He lead captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.'  Now this, 'He ascended'--what does it mean but that He first descended into the lower parts of the earth?  He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things)."  Paul goes to the Old Testament and quotes a passage to back up his previous affirmation about Christ giving gifts.  The imagery Paul uses here is that of a victorious army which takes its prisioners back to their home base, and then they take the spoils from the battle and give them to the soldiers who fought or to other citizens.  The part of the passage that is translated "descended into the lower parts of the earth" is a little misleading.  It would be better to translate the passage: "he descended to t
he lower parts, which is, the earth.”  Christ came to this earth, and then He ascended above all the heavens, whatever the number Paul may have had in mind (this means that Jesus is at the highest place, and He fills every realm where any demon or any pagan god could claim to rule).  Paul wants to show that Christ is the supreme Conqueror Who has given the spoils of His warfare to members in order for them to build up other members! You get to enjoy the role that the serving grace of Christ has provided you from His powerful victory—servant or whatever more it may be!  You are grace-gifted, so rejoice in that truth!

Now let's read verses 11-12: “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”  “The exalted Christ has given His gifts to the church so that by building His body, immaturity and instability will increasingly be left behind. ... 'The ministry was given not only to enable the church to grow but also so that it would be able to resist any forces that might corrupt or destroy it'” (O'Brien).  “It is the men themselves, not their special abilities, that Paul envisions as Jesus' gifts to the body.  There are four roles mentioned here. ... The work of the apostles and prophets was absolutely essential in the maturing of the body of Christ [since they taught and directed the church].  While there are no more apostles and prophets in the biblical sense [today], these members continued their ministry through their written records.  [Everything needed for our spiritual growth] is recorded for us in the pages of the [New Testament].  The function of these members who were Christ's gifts to the church still continues as we listen to them from the [New Testament].  Jesus' third gift to His church was the evangelists.  Literally, 'bearers of good news,' these men traveled from community to community, telling the lost about what their God had accomplished for them [and all people] at Calvary.  ... The apostles and prophets laid the foundation by revealing God's truth; the evangelists through the ages built on the foundation by winning people to Jesus by using that truth.  The final gift Jesus gives to the body are the pastor-teachers” (Bullard).  The word “pastor” here does not refer to a preacher that runs the church, but it refers a role in the New Testament also called elder, bishop, or overseerer.  “Whereas the evangelists goes from place to place converting folks to Jesus, the function of the shepherding elder-teacher was to remain in one place and nurture those converts in their new faith. ... What general would call all of this soldiers together, instruct them in the principles of war, and then send them back home to eat chicken dinner while he picks up a rifle and goes off to fight?  That is not the general's job!  His task is to instruct, to train, and to provide leadership so that the soldiers can be properly equipped to do their job on the battlefield.  Likewise, these gifted men Jesus gives to His church teach the saints the will of God [and the skills necessary] so that the saints can do the work of ministry” (Bullard)!  “... for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”  So a second description of members is that they are body-trained.  This approach of elders and preachers training members has some far-reaching implications doesn't it?  First of all, it means elders and preachers should be at the forefront of all teaching and training within the church.  As a brotherhood, we are failing miserably in this area because too often we think we can hire a preacher to do all the work involved in the ministry of the church!  We are letting the general do all the fighting!  According to this passage, this is NOT the way it is supposed to work.  If more elders throughout our churches were doing more teaching and training, just think how much more could be accomplished!  Secondly, if our leadership here is failing in our teaching and training, then we need your feedback!  We have a suggestion box in the foyer.  Why don't we start using it?  You might write a note like: “When are we going to have some training on how to do personal work?”  Or “Could we have a quarterly study dedicated to our understanding the errors of other religious groups?”  Or “Is there anyone who can train us as to how to answer questions that we get on the job?”  If leaders are to equip, then help us to understand what we need to be doing to better equip you!  Yes, you should be body-equipped. 

Now note why you are to be equipped. “ ... for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”  We are equipped for the work of ministry and for the edifying the body.  You are body-equipped to become servants of all and helpers of other members.  Here we see that we are being described as others-oriented.  Being servants and helpers is the the responsibility of ALL the saints, and all the saints are all the members!  How do we honor Christ?  We do it by being others-oriented!  We have been equipped not to focus on ourselves, but on others.  “After an accident in which she lost her arm, Jamie refused to go to school or church.  Finally, the young teen thought she could face her peers.  In preparation, her mother called her Sunday school teacher and asked that he not call attention to Jamie.  The teacher promised, but then he got sick on Sunday, he had to call a substitute. 
At the conclusion of the lesson that day, which was about inviting friends to church, the substitute teacher led the class in doing the hand motions to the familiar children’s poem: Here is the church, Here is the steeple, Open the door, And see all the people.  Jamie’s eyes filled with tears.  A thirteen-year-old boy sensed Jamie’s pain and knelt beside her. With one hand apiece, they supported each other, making the church, steeple, and people.  Together they illustrated what real church is” (Waters in Larson-Elshof).  Isn't it grand to be a member of Christ's church where we are: grace-gifted, body-equipped, and others-oriented!

Now notice why we must all work together in verses 13-14: “till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting.”  “God has a purpose [for the members of the body].  He wants them functioning for a reason.  When God's people are properly trained, then their unity of faith and their knowledge of Jesus will be such so that all of them become mature or perfected.  We are no longer infants but all-perfected.  “God is not looking for professional religionist [Jesus saw too many of them in His day called the Pharisees].  Nor is He interested in developing just a group of church-goers.  Rather, what He wants is a whole family of children just like Jesus, who live in conformity to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29).  The more we become all-perfected, more like Jesus in our lifestyle, the more mature we are as a body of believers.  Immature people look out only for themselves.  They seek their own needs.  But believers who have been equipped are becoming more and more like God's Son.  They love, they give, they sacrifice, and they hurt with others as Jesus did.  As each member discovers his or her Christ given role in the body and begins to fulfill that function, serving others as they have been equipped, that member is helping the body to mature.  All are becoming all-perfected.  Everyone begins to manifest greater discernment and stability.  Immature churches, like immature children, are so gullible and terribly undiscerning.  They do not know how to distinguish what is good from what is bad.  The mature church, on the other hand, will not be caught up in every new religious fad that comes along.  Instead, there will be a steadfastness about them that gives them the conviction to stand on what they believe” (Bullard).  When members are all-perfected, they are grounded in their convictions, and it is hard for others to shake their faith!  So another description is all-perfected.

W
ell, how does this continual maturity take place?  Look at the next verse: “But, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him”  In contrast to the false teachers who use cunning craftiness and deceitful plotting, Christians are to act just the opposite.  The false teachers “deceive others to make their own gain, [but] Christians are to hold forth the truth in order to bring spiritual benefit to others ...” (Foulkes).  And here's another interesting description: we are people who want our lives to be truth-personified.  The more we stress, and defend, and uphold the truth with a benevolent, kind, and humble spirit, the more we will continue to grow and to mature and to become like Christ, who always had the perfect response of truth in love on every occasion that He confronted.  “There was once a Scottish evangelist who had lived a life that was anything but Christian.  Once, just before he was about to enter the pulpit in a church in Aberdeen, he received a letter that recalled a shameful series of events that he had been engaged in.  The evangelist's stomach turned.  It concluded by saying, 'If you have the gall to preach tonight, I'll stand and expose you.'  The evangelist dropped to his knees, and then a few minutes later was behind the pulpit.  He began his sermon by reading the letter from start to finish.  And then he said, 'I want to make it clear that his letter is perfectly true.  I am ashamed of what I have read and what I have done.  And I come tonight, not as one who is perfect, but as one who is forgiven.'  Then he continued to preach and drew others to Christ as a magnet draws iron to it” (Barclay in Swindoll).  Jesus told Pilate in John 18:37: “... for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth.”  When we have the courage to uphold the truth in love, we are acting very much like Christ!  Let's be truth-personified in all our relationships with each other!

Now look at what comes next: “... may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ”.  We are going to be Christ-controlled.  That's what Paul is saying when He speaks of Christ as being the head of the body.  Paul is not providing an anatomy lesson, but He's saying that just as the head controls the actions of our physical bodies, so Christ is the center of command for the church, which is His body.  The head gives the command to the body; Jesus calls all the shots concerning our behavior.  Jesus' teachings set our standards above those of our culture.  We are Christ-controlled.  He is the source of our spiritual growth.  Our power is not in our programs, not in our organization, not in our promotional campaigns.  These can be helpful at times, but the real source behind the body's growth and development is our Lord Jesus Christ!  We must be applying His teachings, listening to His voice, following His example, living out His directives.  In the church, we are all-perfected, truth-personified, and Christ-controlled!

Now notice the concluding verse in this section: “from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”  This passage seems to sum up all that has gone before.  The whole body is joined and knit together in Christ.  “Every joint supplies” sounds like those church leaders who are equipping the body, and then all the members, every part doing its share, contributes to the growth and the strengthening of the entire congregation through love.  One commentator notes: “The focus here is on the body as a whole growing up and maturing, continuing in a positive direction they have already started in.  One of the keys to the process is, of course, love.  The phrase 'in love' is placed last in this long sentence and is thereby emphasized” (Witherington).  Everyone in the body is love-focused because Christ's love constrains each member to act in love!  Someone once asked Vince Lombardi what it took to have a winning team, and he replied that it went beyond the fundamentals and plenty of discipline.  It required the third ingredient: each team member caring for one another.  You've got to love each other.  Each player has to be thinking about the next guy and saying to himself: 'If I don't block that man, Tom is going to get his legs broken.  I have to do my job well in order that he can do his. ... The difference between mediocrity and greatness is the feeling these guys have for each other.'  In a healthy and maturing congregation, each Christian learns to care for the other members.  As we take seriously Jesus' command to love one another, we contribute to [an effective congregation]” (Stinnett in Rowell).  Being love-focused also means going out of our way to welcome our visitors.  In all things, we are to be love-focused.

We would do well to stop finding fault with each other and strive for unity, maturity, and stability in the church.  Paul describes members of the church as: grace-gifted, body-equipped, others-oriented, all-perfected, truth-personified, Christ-controlled, and love-focused.  Let's take a lesson from the geese.  “By flying as they do, the members in a flock of geese create an upward air current for one another. Each flap of the wings literally creates an uplift for the bird immediately following.  One author states that by flying in a V-formation, the whole flock gets 71% greater flying range than if each goose flew on its own” (Harmon).  When are we going to realize that we as individuals will get more living range when we serve together in Christ's body, which will create an uplift for one another and cause us to do more than we ever could alone?  What a great advantage Christ offers to all peoples through His church! 

Knowing this advantage begins by being Christ-controlled.  Have you become His follower?  Have you been immersed into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as Jesus commanded disciples should be?  Will you allow Him to add you to His church, His body?  Remember, we are not asking you to become a professional religionist or just a church-goer, but to become a part of whole family of children striving together to be just like Jesus!  “This is my family.  We'll take care of each other.”  Won't you join our family right now?