The church faces a continual battle to hold fast to Christ its Head and to hold fast to Christ’s pattern for His body. Because of remaining depravity and indwelling sin; the church tends to morph into an institution in which programs, pulpitism, and popular culture crowd out its testimony that she is Christ’s living body. In light of this hypnotic pull toward institutionalism; my aim today is to draw a line from Christ’s Person in His church, to Christ’s pattern for His church. The goal being that you might more fully occupy your place of true fellowship in the body, AND in this manner you might be conformed to Christ—unto His glory. Because of our supernatural connection to Christ and to each other, the body of Christ is designed to reveal the glory of Christ, her Head.
But, in order for the church to reveal Christ, her glorious Head, she must live upon Him and live out her vital connection to Him AND live out her connection to the brethren. In regard to living out this connection I want to affirm that I have been fed abundantly by the ministry of the Word in your churches. And agree with your teachers that living out our connection to Christ depends upon a heart knowledge of Christ.
READ EPHESIANS 4:7-16
There is a way of experiencing Christ (akin to heart knowledge of Christ) that can only be gained corporately (in order for this to make sense—we must be willing to see our fellowship as Christ sees it—that we comprise His body—believers are His present incarnation on earth). Reformed fellowships tend to get high marks in their precision of doctrine, and reverence of worship, and preservation of unity. But we must show care that we do not rate ourselves where we excel to some degree and turn a blind eye to our weakness in obeying Christ. Like Ephesus of old—insistence on purity of doctrine as a solitary test is woefully inadequate. When saints leave their first love; precision can eat up passion. My goal today is to show that in holding fast to Christ our head we are best equipped to move into Christ’s pattern for the church.
I. God intends that the church function as an organism; not as an institution.
(By organism I mean that a living body is composed of interdependent parts, each taking its orders and instructions from the “central nervous system” which emanates from the head. Natural institutions and organizations such as Elks Club or the PTA are not organic.)
A. The church is an organism; not an institution. The ‘secret’ of the living body of Christ is that all parts share life together in Christ. The members of the body possess supernatural connectedness by mystical union with Christ through the Holy Spirit. (The fact that we are members one of another in a living organism is not grasped by most church members.)
B. The members of the body are vitally connected to Christ and to one another for the purpose of fellowship (1 Jn 1:1-10). (Institutionalism and formalism tend to organize the church in such a way that the very nature of the body as a living organism is denied in practice and obscured.)
C. When we use the term, “organism,” to refer to the body of Christ we mean that the life of the church is a group of individuals who have life in Christ in common. The members are united together in the reality of the indwelling Spirit. According to 1 Corinthians 12:7, “each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Unlike any other organization in the world the connections which make up the body of Christ transcend natural connections.
D. “Ministries (gifts) have been given by Christ . . . to enable the body of Christ to attain its ultimate goal, that is, ‘the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’” (4:13) (Peter T. O’Brien).
E. The nature of the church is that of a true community of interdependent people who are committed to doing spiritual good to others. This is how God intends the body to function. Now when the body functions in this manner—the church reveals something that a natural organization could not.
II. God intends the local church be a corporate display of His glory and wisdom.
A. The body of Christ is the corporate expression of the grace of Christ. The gifts in the body at work are each a facet of Christ’s character reproduced and made visible (it is Christ’s virtues produced in us by Christ’s Spirit.) The Holy Spirit produces Christ’s personality and virtue in us.
B. God’s character is known by both the truth of the gospel and by the church’s organic union with Christ as her members function in harmony—showing collectively the character of Christ.
C. In this way, the church is a medium of revelation—revealing the character of God. It does so ONLY when it incarnates the disposition of Jesus. Only then, will nations and angels behold in it the manifold wisdom of God. “Wooing, winsome, conquering grace is a function of the church manifesting the qualities of her Head” (Jefferson).
D. The fellowship of the members of the body is proof of the divine power of Jesus— “that they may be one” (Jn 17:21-23). The unity of the brethren is evidence to the watching world that Christ came from heaven—that He is divine. The Lord declares His ministry to be that of binding men together by indissoluble bonds (Jefferson).
III. God intends that believers follow Christ’s pattern for the body (4:7-16).
A. Christ is building His church and He commands every member to build with Him. To edify is to build up. We are commanded to please our fellow believer so as to “build him up” (Rom 15:2). If we are to be pleasing to Christ we must be intentional and we must be always conscious of what Christ is building (Jefferson, p. 29). That means embracing His pattern for the local body. That means when I encourage my brother or sister in Christ, I am able to see their faith increase; their hope developed; their vision clarified; and their service unleashed—all to the glory of Christ (Heb 10:22-25).
B. The church is a body with Christ as its Head (Eph 4:7-16). Every member of the body is ruled by Christ and nourished by Christ so that the growth from Christ is mediated through particular persons (O’Brien, p. 315). (This is exciting because Christ’s pattern for the body reveals the pathway along which spiritual nourishment flows.)
C. Paul tells us about that “pathway” of ministry and nourishment in verse 12. The members of Christ’s body are to do the “work of service” of building up the body. That means that church members are responsible for the major part of the transmission of the transforming Word of God to one another. This activity, carried out by its members, is to be the normal function of the church! (Col 3:16). (Colossians 2:19 helps us interpret what Paul means in Ephesians 4:16—Christ communicates His nourishment through each ligament, joint, member of the body.)
D. Regarding our mutual serving—the very unity of the body depends upon a deep and practical appreciation of the diversity of gifts in the body (1 Cor 12:14-31). It is the diversity of the body contributes to the unity of the body according to 1 Corinthians 12 (O’Brien, p. 317).
A deep appreciation of the body’s diversity means that we ought to be willing to be on the receiving end as others exercise their gifts. Through the action of complementary gifts; the body is built up. “I need your gift and your ministry in my life and you need mine in your life as well.”
IV. God intends that His pattern for the body accomplish a specific purpose: to build up the redeemed unto the unity of the faith and the KNOWLEDGE OF THE SON OF GOD—out of which flows spiritual maturity (4:12-13) (John MacArthur, N.T. Commentary on Ephesians, Chicago: Moody Press, p. 156).
A. In this passage, the “unity of the faith” is the content of the gospel in its most complete form—and our text has in view especially how the unity of the faith is lived out ‘incarnationally’ by believers who are properly taught to faithfully carry out the work of service (4:12) (ibid.). Believers must be properly taught otherwise the church regresses into an institution and ministry becomes centralized in the pastoral staff.
B. The redeemed are to be built up unto the true knowledge (epiginosko) of the Son of God (4:13). This is the knowledge of Christ Himself as the embodiment of God’s treasure, and as the Source Person/Supplier of all the church needs (Col 2:3; Eph 1:18; 3:8) (Ralph P. Martin).
The deep knowledge of the Son of God is only attainable by prayer, study of the Word, fellowship with Him, and obedience (subjection to Him)(John MacArthur, p. 157).
C. The unity of the faith will be ultimately reached by means of the true knowledge of Christ (4:13).
1.) Why does the church appear so fragmented at times with the unity of the faith seemingly out of reach? In part, it is because its members lack the true knowledge of Christ.
2.) What may be new to you in today’s message is that the true knowledge of Christ is a corporate as well as a personal experience. Only in this way will the church ‘come of age’ and become full grown as a ‘mature man’ (4:15) (A. Skevington Wood, NIV Commentary, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994, p. 769).
The ‘corporate experience’ of the knowledge of Christ is imparted through mutual edification. The reason why is because each joint and ligament and member is a channel for Christ’s nourishing of the body. Individualism and private piety without close ties to other believers is a mark of immaturity (ibid.).
D. The unity that Christ prayed for in John 17 implies that perfect knowledge of the Son of God and perfect holiness are yet to be perfected. The church will someday attain unto ‘a perfect (mature) man’—complete in glory and complete in conformity to Christ (Heb 12:23) (Charles Hodge, p. 167).
The believer committed to holiness must reckon with the goal of conformity to Christ. And, the question I am seeking by God’s grace to answer today is “What does our fellowship need to be in order to cooperate with this controlling principle of conformity to Christ?”
E. Growing up ‘in all aspects unto Him’ is a call for comprehensive Christ-likeness. Christ is both sovereign Ruler and organic Head of His body, the church. He is the source of the body’s power and functions. In order to grow into His likeness, the members of His body must be subject to His controlling power in obedience to His will, and submissive to His pattern for His church (MacArthur, p. 160).
V. God intends that His pattern for the body of Christ be your mindset.
T H E M I N D S E T (‘mindset’ is another word for obedience.):
A. I am a steward of God’s grace (1 Peter 4:7-11). We are “stewards of God’s grace,” we are to care for something that we do not own. We are accountable to the Lord for our care of what is entrusted to us.
B. My sanctification is to take place within the context of the body of Christ. The Christian community (the local church) is the context for change. Individual redemption is played out in our relationships (Lane/Tripp, pp. 76-79).
1.) Relationships reveal character. Relationships amplify what we are. Relationships involve risk—we risk being offended and offending.
2.) The community is a mirror—our self-absorption shows up. Community is the very thing we need to move us out of self-centeredness. The corporate body is needed to make me like Christ. Are we in the habit of thinking about our relationships as the context for sanctifying change? (Lane/Tripp, pp. 83-86).
C. I am a channel of the grace of Christ to my brethren: “My brothers and sisters need the ministry that Christ died to accomplish through me” (Stabbert, p182).
VI. God intends that each believer stay close to Christ his Head and faithfully use his gift. The fact that Christ causes the growth of the body in no way negates the efforts of the believers in building the body (MacArthur, p. 161).
A. Yes, the church grows by the action of Christ on its behalf, BUT we must understand that Christ is working to accomplish this end through the activity of each member.
B. Christ exerts a unifying action by means of His working through ‘every joint which He supplies’ (4:16). As each ‘joint’ (member of the body) exercises Christ’s gift for ministry there is a “chain reaction” produced by Christ among His servants. The whole body is built up, and love becomes the atmosphere (Martin, p. 1116-1117).
C. In the process of mutual encouragement and the responsibilities of edification exercised, each part is playing the role for which it was appointed. Love becomes the air that is breathed. Through Christ, the body generates love like a rain forest generates oxygen. Christ imparts His risen life within the congregation (ibid.). It is in this manner that the body engages in the corporate experience of Christ.
D. The phrase, ‘every joint supplies’ conveys a much needed truth about the function of the body. Christ holds the body together. He makes it function ‘by that which every joint supplies.’ The Spirit of Christ, working through the gifts, provides a flow of ministry that produces growth (MacArthur, p. 162). Christ’s pattern for you is that you bring grace down and funnel it to one another—this is not exceptional—it is the content of normal Christianity (Piper).
VII. God intends that you draw close enough to your brethren to bless them, and be blessed by the ministry of the gifts Christ has given them.
A. Here is where Christ’s pattern is most likely to break down in a solid, Bible believing church. Cultivating close relationships in the body of Christ as first looks like it may be more trouble than it is worth. (“I’m shy, private, over scheduled, etc.” Nevertheless, we must build a case for obedience—telling ourselves, “this is good for me!”)
B. In order to realize Christ’s pattern; each individual part of the body must come in close enough contact with other members that their gifts result in growth. Christ facilitates the effectiveness of the gifts in mutual ministry; BUT the gifts cannot work EXCEPT by close relationships of genuine spiritual ministry.
C. This is a revolutionary truth in a religious world drawn to institutional thinking. God cannot work where relationships are not intimate. No genuine progress in the growth of the body takes place unless each member in union with other members responds to the direction of Christ the Head who rules the body by His Word. An obedient response to Christ means that each part of the body is doing exactly what it was designed to do (this is an immense source of joy).
D. We need to get into relationships of mutual encouragement; mutual edification; mutual dependence; mutual ministry, and mutual prayer. The goal of this part of the message is to awaken in you a strong, deep sense that being together with other believers is incredibly good for you and it brings glory to Christ.
As this evil age moves further into darkness, we must tell ourselves that the way Christ keeps us safe is by putting us in the kind of groups that will sustain our faith—the need for this kind of genuine fellowship is going up not down.
E. We need to repent of our choice to be alone from our brethren. In order to obey Christ; you must whole-heartedly make His pattern for body life and soul care yours. Don’t miss being a channel of power and blessing. Christ has sanctifying, maturing grace He will only give you through close relationships.
Spiritual gifts and ministries are discovered in close fellowship with others—not in the woods alone while reading the works of St. Francis of Assisi.
The glorious enablement of the Spirit means that we will find ourselves ‘anointed’ and gifted in the moment we make ourselves available to the Lord. I wish to ask you today, “ have you stepped into a lifestyle in which you continually put yourself at the disposal of Christ the King to bless His people?”
We’ve seen that in order to embrace Christ’s pattern for his body; we must adopt a particular mindset. Namely that living out my vital connection to Christ and the brethren gives the shape, purpose, and goal to all my fellowship—that goal being maturity and conformity to Christ. I am to exercise my spiritual gift in the context of people caring, praying, ministering, and getting close AND understanding that the grace Christ gives comes through others through mutual edification; mutual ministry. This causes the body to grow to the glory of Christ. We’d agree that Christ owns His blood-bought church and He rules it through His Word. But now we must also affirm that Christ is maturing the church through the nourishment He provides through each member—through each individual part as they minister.
We bemoan that Christ’s rightful place in the church is so often greeted with an epidemic of blindness. But we must sure that we indeed are counted with those who possess sight—we must love His pattern. We must cooperate with His Spirit. We must overcome our natural hesitancy to draw close to our brethren—only then will be able to say with conviction, “I am Christ’s channel to serve His goal for His body.”
Dear people, there is joy in this obedience. It is your preparation now to taste the wine of heaven. And what is the kind of wine we will enjoy there in glory? It is Christ’s love passing through us unhindered to Christ and our brethren. I would love to take away the last of your excuses that stand in the way of loving Christ’s pattern. Perhaps you are far more comfortable with precision in your orthodoxy than you are in cultivating closeness and intimacy in the body. Consider with me for a moment why believers are the best suited, best equipped individuals on the face of the planet for true community.
They are alive in Christ and joined to Him in an immutable covenant of love. They are justified—having the very righteousness of Christ imputed to their account. They are indwelt by God’s Holy Spirit who is eager to produce the fruit of the Spirit which is nothing less than the communicable attributes of God. Their relationships with the brethren are held together supernaturally by Christ. And, they have a comprehensive, transforming, supernaturally inspired book of truth (the Bible) which spells out all the workings of true community. They can be endlessly generous with forgiveness and acceptance because they have received both in infinite measure from Christ.
When Christ’s pattern is followed, and each member becomes a channel for His grace to the other—there is a chain reaction. Mutual edification in the power of the Spirit generates an atmosphere of love. As in 1 Corinthians 13, this is the magnifying glass under which Christ examines assemblies that name His Name.