Background Scripture: Ephesians 4:11-16
Quote of the Week:
"Growing old is mandatory - growing up is optional."
This is the third lesson in being connected. First, we learned that being connected as a believer involves being connected in Christ. He is truly the head of the church and if we are merely some organization that is not connected in Christ, we are missing the key connection of believers. This isn't to say that you can't be connected to others in areas apart from Christianity, but there is a closeness that comes through Christ that cannot be matched by any other means. Secondly, we learned that being connected involves being connected in Unity. This means that we are not to be Lone Ranger Christians, off to live our lives on our own. We need to become part of a church and find a place where we can share our lives with others. We all need help from time to time, and we all are able to help others. You won't always agree completely with anyone, as we are all individuals. We each are created differently, so obviously we can agree to disagree on certain points, but still find unity with others.
This lesson is about being connected in growth. When you see a baby that needs someone to feed them a bottle, you may think it is cute. However, when you see an adult that needs to be fed in the same proverbial way, it is pitiful. As humans, we mature - our bodies grow and at some point, we put aside childish thoughts and become more like 'big kids'. Certainly, there are some people with problems that cause them to never mature intellectually, but the vast majority of people do mature, both physically and mentally. The same should be said about our faith. When we are saved, we are saved from eternal separation from God, but at the same time, we are also saved to change and grow. It is a lifelong process; one that you will never fully mature in, but if you are not on that journey, don't you see that you are missing something? As you read this lesson, consider where you are in your growth. Don't compare yourself to someone else, but ask God to show you areas where you need to take a step in growth.
As we read Paul's words, we see that God has gifted some to be apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, some as pastors and teachers. His purpose was to equip the saints to build up the body of Christ, the church. The goal for the church, as seen in this passage, was to attain the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, so that the church would mature to the point which is the fullness of Christ. The church is not the church that you attend, or the one that I attend, but the body of believers. Sometimes, we minimize what God is trying to do by believing that it is only going to happen in that building we call 'church'.
When you think of the roles in this passage, you would have to wonder what the purpose of an apostle was, if not for others. The same would go for teachers. If you have teaching skills and are able to teach others, of what use is that if you never use it? While these gifts are primarily leadership gifts that are to be used in the church, I would contend that we all are gifted in one way or another and in a way that is intended to build the body of Christ. For some people, knowledge of how they are gifted is evident, but for many others, it is much less clear. What would happen in a church if people only served in the areas that they knew they were gifted in? You would find many positions that go unfilled, because people would say that is not their gift. In some cases, we should look for areas to serve until we know. Many people never realize that they are gifted until they start to do different things within a church.
How does using gifts build unity? When I was younger, I used to play tennis in college. At that point, I followed the game much more than I do now, and one of my favorite players was Michael Chang. I remember a story about him and his brother, Carl, who was his coach in the stands. If you've watched tennis on TV, you've likely seen how the camera will often go to a person or persons in the stands, who are family or friends of the player. Carl was not a professional tennis player, and his role was much less publicized than Michael's, but it was a crucial role in Michael's success. Additionally, the unity of Michael's family contributed to Michael's success on the court. This is a great story, but in our own eye, many of us see ourselves as that player who gets the attention. The truth is that there are many more people who are needed to serve in positions that go largely unnoticed, so that the success of the group is seen.
We aren't called to be professional tennis players, or have a career in professional sports. Our calling is much higher, as we are to be part of the body that is the likeness of Christ. Obviously, the roles of those who are leaders is important for the direction of a specific church. But, it is important for us to realize that the role of others in the church is also vitally important. As we grow and mature as believers, we are to find the areas where God wants us to serve. For some of us, it may be within the walls of a church, but for others, it may be to serve in other areas where we live our everyday lives. We often think of missions as when a team goes to a foreign country and shares the love of Christ. Who of us does not have a mission field right where we are? Do you not see that those you work with and those whom you associate with are people who need to know Christ? Many of them will not enter a church on their own. We aren't called to pound the gospel over their heads, but the things we do and the words we use can be the light of Christ to them. Have you considered how the things that you say to others, or the things you post online, leave an impression of who you are and what you believe? As we grow and mature in Christ, we will extend the walls of the larger church to those whom we are in contact with, as well as potentially serving in positions within the church.
What do you think are qualities of a Christian child? We can assume that any Christian has accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, and a child in Christ can be any age. We are to approach Jesus as a child would. So, there is nothing wrong in a being a child of Christ, but if we stay in that position, there are problems. I think about those who have a vague idea of what they believe, but really aren't sure. This passage says that we should not be as children tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming. One of the biggest problems for believers who have not matured is how easily they can be thrown off track. It is vital that you learn what you believe and why you believe it. It isn't as if there is a set of things that somebody wrote down that you need to memorize, but these things are your life. I think of the Israelites, as they were entering the Promised Land. In Deuteronomy, the people have been told of God's intent for their lives. In Deuteronomy 32:46-47, Moses said to them, "Take to your heart all the words with which I am warning you today, which you shall command your sons to observe carefully, even all the words of this law. "For it is not an idle word for you; indeed it is your life." The same is true for us today, these words and the things that we believe are our life.
For those who work outside the home, you may find various lists of instructions and guidelines for your job. To be successful, you know the importance of knowing what those words say and how they apply to you day to day activities. Would you just get an idea of what you are supposed to do in a job and then just do what you think you ought to do, rather than reading how the job is supposed to be done? Obviously, you wouldn't be employed long if you did that. Have you ever wondered why most of us take those work instructions to be more important than what God has given us? Those work instructions are for your job. God's word is for you life.
Verse 15 says that we should speak the truth in love and grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ. How do we do this? First, we speak the truth in love. There are two very key points here. One, we are called to speak the truth, but to do so in love. This is a vital part of our maturing as a believer and it's an integral part of life.
Have you ever heard somebody just trash somebody else to others, and then add the disclaimer, but it's true? Simply stated I'm talking about gossip. If you are just randomly talking negatively about another person for the sake of getting someone else to dislike or mistrust them, that is wrong and your motive is not loving. Other times we see that people have exchanged the truth for a lie and have spoken it in a very demeaning way. It is as if some people believe that they can say whatever they want, to whomever they want, however they want, if they believe it to be true. Truth is a fact that can be proven - opinions are what we think about a certain situation or person. We would be wise to remember the difference when we are asked to 'tell the truth'. Have you ever wondered why a person who is taking the witness stand and being sworn in has to swear to "Tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth"? It's because the truth can be twisted and when it is twisted it is usually done so to serve a personal agenda. There are times that telling the truth in love does mean disclosing some negative details about a person or a situation. If we feel we need to share a 'truth' with an individual we would be wise to go before God and ask to Him to search our heart for any impure motive and also pray that the intent of your message be heard as it is intended. Even when you are sharing a negative truth about a person or situation, we have to remember that we are all saved by grace, and that we have all fallen short, therefore we should be careful so that we do not become conceited thinking that we would never do what 'they' did. One last thought on this subject - we all have a story and our story has our 'truth' in it. When we have a problem with another person who is also a part of the same story, it is wise to make sure that all parties have an opportunity to speak their story. Not their mom or dad's story, or their sister or brother's story - but their story. This happens so often in families - something happes and everyone is hurt - and relationships become fractured. For healing and restoration to take place everyone needs to be able to be heard - to have an opportunity to tell things from their perspective. Until that happens, nothing will ever be fully healed. How can it be? If you believe something about me that isn't true, and you won't let me tell you why what you are saying is wrong, how can we ever build anything of value? We can't build on trust, because you aren't being honest with me and letting me be honest with you. We must set aside our presumptions and really hear with our heart, if we want mending to take place. To do any different would be like trying to fix a cracked wall on the second level of the house, while the foundation is separating. Until the foundation is corrected and repaired, nothing else that sits on top of it can ever really be fixed.
Unfortunately, this can happen within the church as well. People get hurt or angry and no one ever takes the time to listen to each other's view point. We go off in a huff and form our camps of anger and 'we don't like them', or we leave and go someplace else. We pack our bags and go hauling our garbage to the next place. Healing can happen but it does require love, truth and a heart set on mending, not tearing down. Being able to set aside differences and being willing to listen to someone who might alter our thinking is never easy, but it is a part of maturing.
We are to grow in Christ. How does this happen? It is a process that goes throughout our lives. It certainly is not overnight. It is more like how an oak tree grows, which takes many years, as opposed to other plants that can grow in a matter of weeks. Take a look at your life and ask yourself if the things in it are promoting Christian growth. Some telling questions might be these:
Rather than just growing in knowledge, we need to grow in Christ, in whom the whole body is fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies. Each individual part needs to work properly, causing the growth of the body. Can you imagine how your body would work if you had each individual part, working as they were supposed to, but not in concert with one another? If you are the knee, but you only bend when you want and not when the body wants to walk or get up, of much use are you to the body. Don't just get better at what you do, but do so in a way that builds the body of Christ.
Know what you believe and why you believe it. I have often enjoyed learning about Apologetics - what I believe and why I do. When you understand what you believe and why, you are less likely to get thrown off track by somebody who says something 'close'. I am amazed that people want to throw us off track. If you read this and are not a believer, realize that this is not an attempt to pull you to 'our team', but to offer true life to you. When you come to faith in Christ, you realize that you have found that true life, and life with meaning and purpose. It doesn't mean that things will always go as you would hope, but you can have peace and joy in the midst of whatever you experience.
Don't be an attender. Get involved. You may not be a teacher or a pastor, but what can you do? Find a place to be involved. It's less that the church needs you, but you need the church. When you allow yourself to share lives with other believers, you will have a much greater appreciation for how God works in the lives of others.