TEXT: Ephesians 4:7-8,11-13; Galatians 5:13-14; Psalm 100
This past Friday night Heather and I went down to Columbia to see Abby for parents’ weekend at the University of South Carolina (or as we called it in SC growing up, ‘Carolina’). We went out to a wonderful restaurant and enjoyed visiting over some delicious food and we had a great server. He was attentive, communicative, and one of my favorite things, really encouraging about what I ordered: “Good choice, great choice!” 😊
That’s one of the things you appreciate in a restaurant, right? Good service. Sometimes if it’s really good it can be invisible so that you can enjoy the setting and the food to the max. But when it’s lacking, you really notice, and that’s not good.
Today we are going to talk about what it means to SERVE as a Christian and as a church. We are not only to serve the Lord with gladness (see our call to worship from Psalm 100), but we also are supposed to serve one another. And that service is one of our core commitments as a church. It’s part of who we are and have been, but also part of who we are becoming as we develop our commitment to GROW, SERVE, STEWARD, and CARE.
In our current series we are grounding those core commitments, that vision, in scripture; and today we will be looking primarily at Ephesians 4:7-13.
God’s Great Gift (vv.7-8)
“But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” (v.7)
The gift of Christ is that God sent His Son, Jesus, into the world so that we who were spiritually dead might be made alive, raised up, and seated in Heaven with Christ. God did this because He loves us and in order to show us that He loves us. How do you measure that gift? It’s a BIG gift! That’s the message of Ephesians up to this point and it is the Good News we call the Gospel. This salvation, this resurrection, this being joined to Christ in heaven, is God’s great gift, a gracious gift, grace that EACH ONE of us receives through faith in Jesus Christ.
“Therefore [scripture] says, “When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men.” (v.8)
Literally, that reads, “He took captivity captive.” The best commentators I have read say that this is describing Jesus’ defeat of sin and death. Jesus broke out of their captivity (for they hold humanity captive) and he not only was free, but took sin and death captive, binding their ultimate power over us. God’s great gift came at the expense of Jesus’ life and through his victorious defeat of sin and death. God has not only raised us up to life and assured us of a home with Him, but Jesus has also shared gifts with us that result from his victory over our former captors, sin and death.
What Other Gifts? (v. 11)
What are the other gifts mentioned in verse 8? Look at verse 11. It begins, “And he gave…” What follows is just a sampling of gifts Christ has given. He mentions four in terms of a person or leader in the church. The first three exercised leadership broader than a local church. These included apostles, who were specially appointed heralds of news, in this case, the Apostles of Jesus Christ. Prophets were spokespersons for God, not unlike Apostles, but without the special rank and authority of the Apostles. Evangelists were also messengers, bearing the Gospel message in particular, and often traveling to spread that news. The last two items, pastors and teachers, are probably referring to a person or persons who shepherded a local church. These leaders used both gifts in teaching and caring for their “flock.”
It is timely that this passage fell on the Sunday in which we install new elders and deacons for the church. Indeed, God has called SOME of our membership for service in a particular way, just as described here in verse 11. The real point of this passage, however, is not to list and define various leaders in the Church. Rather, it is to talk about the gift of Christ, and specifically gifts that Paul says are for ALL believers.
Each, Some, and All
It would be easy to be confused by this passage over overlook it, thinking it is only for pastors, elders, or deacons. Let’s focus on the key words EACH, SOME, and ALL.
Verse 7 speaks of God’s great gift of grace in Christ. That is for EACH ONE who trusts in Jesus Christ!
Verse 11 says that God gives SOME to the church as leaders – pastor, teachers, elders, deacons. These are positions to aspire to, but they are positions of service, not power or prestige. One reason we know that is what follows in verse 12, which describes the purpose of leadership in the church.
And that’s what we’ll look at next, but note that this purpose is again for ALL of us in the church. It’s twice there in verse 12: “until we ALL attain to….” and, a little harder to see at the beginning of v. 12, “for the equipping of the saints.” The saints is how the New Testament talks about ALL followers of Jesus. It’s not the special saints of the Catholic church, but all believers.
So grace for ALL who trust in Christ; SOME called to be leaders in different seasons of the life of the church for a purpose that involves ALL of us again. Let’s look at what that purpose is.
Why These Gifts? (vv. 12-13)
In vv. 12-13, Paul explains WHY God raised up some to bear and teach the Good News.
For the equipping of the saints for the work of service
These are the marching orders for me as pastor, for our elders and deacons, for our ministry staff. Our job is to equip YOU (the saints) and build YOU up. And it’s specific. We are not just to equip you with sports equipment, so we can have a good softball team.
We are here to equip EACH OF YOU for the work of service. Service is a biblical word that has multiple layers of meaning. First and foremost, it is worship. It is loving God with all you are and all you have. The work of service is also the ministry of love and compassion that is “love of neighbor” and we do that as we get up and get out of the walls of the church and engage the world and neighbors around us. The work of service is joining God in the work He is doing. This is the essence of our SERVE ministry, to equip YOU for the work of service!
To the building up of the body of Christ
Your leadership is also here to build YOU up as the body of Christ. This is the essence of our GROW ministry, to grow deep and wide, to increase in numbers and in spiritual maturity. Our job is to remind you of who you are in Christ, so that you will function more and more like his body.
Until we all attain to unity, knowledge, and maturity
Paul began chapter four talking about unity… one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, and he returns to it here. Unity of the faith is not only theological agreement, but perhaps more importantly, it is unity of vision and purpose, with Christ at the head. So we are to attain to – strive toward – unity of the faith, knowledge of Jesus, and maturity in and of Christ.
Maturity is the Greek idea of the fully developed person – body, mind, and spirit. And Paul bends that secular notion to his Christian letter to say that God’s desire is for us – the Church – to grow up and get past the everybody-go-their-own-direction stage so that we can be unified in heart, mind, and purpose… not with me, but with Christ.
SERVING God’s Food
God has gifted us all with the grace that is salvation, new life, and a call to be united to Christ in obedience and discipleship. God has raised up some in the church in order to lead and equip ALL in the church to these specific ministries of service and growth. And these ministries are also God’s gifts to us and to the world.
The word for ‘serve’ in the New Testament is the Greek word for waiter, one who serves at the table. Last Friday night we had a great server. He had access to the best food and drink, he interacted with us to find out what we needed, and he brought it to us with humility, diligence, and joy.
This image is vivid for me. It strikes me that we stand between God’s kitchen and a world hungry and at the table. God has already fed us and is feeding us still, but if we do not leave the kitchen to serve those around us, we have missed the purpose of being the church. Every patron of a restaurant knows what it is to receive poor service: “They made me wait… they didn’t come back… they didn’t listen well and got my order wrong.” But every patron also knows what it is to delight in good food and good service.
This work of service… it is for ALL of us in the church. Come ask me about what we are already doing in the neighborhood. Volunteer when we ask you to participate. Brighton Place, Group Home guys, Old Providence Elementary, preschool families, community garden, CROP Walk in our neighborhood this year, Christmas Shoppe!
Ask God to open your eyes to opportunities around you – they abound! Share with me – or an elder, deacon, or staff member – ideas that you have about meeting neighbor’s needs with God’s good provision.
Some Music Used
- Love the Lord Your God
- You Have Shown Us
- I Will Offer Up My Life
- Great are You, Lord
- Lifting Those with Heavy Loads (Youngblood/Boesel)
- God Has Smiled on Me (Bobby White, piano)
- Take My Life and Let it Be