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“There is No Plan B”
August 20, 2017
The church is Jesus’ plan, a body gifted and growing to maturity.
I. Walking as one Body (Ephesians 4:1-6)
II. Gifted as on Body (Ephesians 4:7-12)
III. Growing as one Body (Ephesians 4:12-16)
Remember the Titans was a good movie with all the classic sports movie elements: team-building, overcoming adversity and . . . racism. “In Virginia high school football is a way of life. It's bigger than Christmas day. My daddy coached in Alexandria. He worked so hard, my mama left him, but I stayed with Coach. He needed me on that field. Up until 1971 in Alexandria, there was no race mixing. Then the schoolboard forced us to integrate. They combined the white school and the black school into one called T. C. Williams High School.” Denzel Washington plays Herman Boone, the new football head coach of the Titans. With the former head coach, Yoast, he takes the team to summer camp in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. And as you might expect, racial tensions flare.
“Blue, shut up. I don't want to see your smilin' and shufflin', and hear all your minstrel show singing on this bus. You, too.” “Got that right.” “You can shut up, too.” “That's my bed. And that's his bed.” “I ain't lookin' at that for 2 weeks, man. Take it down.” “You can close your eyes for 2 weeks, all I care. Why don't you look at your wall, and I'll look at mine?” “I'll look wherever I want to, and I don't want to be looking at that for 2 weeks.” “Then you better use your X-ray vision, Superman, and look right through it, 'cause it ain't comin' down.” “Aah!” “Fight! Fight? Fight!” “Follow me!” “Get off me!”
The Titans had been told they were on the same team, but they weren’t. They needed to become one team. The Ephesians had the same problem. Paul tells them they are part of one team. “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.”
That’s the plan, that Jews and Gentiles would come together in this new team called the church, Slave and free, male and female, working together to advance the cause of Christ. But like the Titans, it was going to take brilliant coaching to pull this off. So Paul writes Ephesians 4. He tells us that the church is Jesus’ plan, a body gifted and growing to maturity. He tells us that we are supposed to be walking as one Body, that we’ve been gifted to become one Body, and that this one Body grows to maturity in Christ. There is no plan B.
First point: we are one body. Ephesians 4:1-6 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Each of us is on the path of sanctification, growing to holiness and Christlikeness. But you’re not on that path alone, nor just for your own sake. We’re called into community.
So Paul, imprisoned in Rome, persecuted for Jesus’ sake says “I urge y’all to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which y’all have been called.” These are plural pronouns, it’s a community thing. Yet sanctification requires individual Christlikeness, each one walking with humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love. This kind of list that characterizes the ethical and moral teaching of the New Testament. Jesus isn’t concerned with how many doves you bring to the temple or whether you wash your hands. He’s concerned about the heart, your attitudes, and your behavior. Jesus is outraged and grieved, as I believe he was last week, when racial supremacy or any other de-humanizing hatred wraps itself in a dead husk of so-called Christianity.
No, he wants a living church, “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” because Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female, black and white, Hispanic and Asian, middle class and lower class, are now united into one body. Look at the oneness in verses 4 and 5, oneness in so many of the foundations of the church we studied this summer. “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” There it is: one body, one team, no plan B. We have the same Lord, the same Spirit, the same Father. We have the same hope, we have the same faith. So we should rejoice to be in the same body. If we don’t pull together as a team, as a church, as the church, we’re going to lose.
That’s what Boone tells the team. He takes them on a morning run. “Anybody know what this place is? This is Gettysburg. This is where they fought the Battle of Gettysburg. Men died right here, on this field, fightin' the same fight that we're still fightin' amongst ourselves... today. Listen to their souls, men. ''I killed my brother with malice in my heart.'' '' Hatred destroyed my family.'' You listen... and you take a lesson from the dead. If we don't come together... right now, on this hallowed ground... then we, too, will be destroyed. Just like they were. I don't care if you like each other or not, but you will respect each other, and maybe... I don't know, maybe we'll... learn to play this game like men.”
Paul’s concern is that the church, the body of Christ recognize it’s calling and live it out. He rejoices that God has gifted the church, given leaders, coaches, to encourage the church to maturity. Verses 7-11 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” 9(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers.
Each believer, each person in the body of Christ has been given grace. And it’s not just grace that saves that Paul is talking about. It is also grace that equips his people to serve and encourage each other. Each and every person has a different gift or gifts, a different serving grace. Elsewhere in the Epistles these gifts are listed, but here we don’t have a list of gifts at all. Here Paul lists leaders whose used their specific gifts are used to bless the church.
Before he gets there Paul pauses to focus our attention on Jesus, the giver of the gifts. He quotes Psalm 68: “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” This Psalm pictures God’s rescue of his people, leading them to the promised land and ascending to Mt. Zion. Paul is linking the gifts given by Christ to the reign of Christ. Having ascended to the right hand of the Father he poured out the Holy Spirit, who gives gifts to people to bless the church. Jesus made this possible because he descended from heaven to earth, emptied himself of his glory, humbled himself as a servant, and died on a cross. But God exalted him above everything, to his own right hand.
It is out of this victory that he gives the blessings of redemption to those who believe. In “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” by C. S. Lewis, the children, the heroes are given gifts: A sword and shield to Peter, a horn to sound at need to Susan, a vial of healing liquid to Lucy, gifts to use in their service of Aslan. Lewis knew that those who do God’s will need God’s gifts. But what are these gifts? It turns out they are people, gifted people. Verse 11: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers.” God gives specific, gifted individuals to the church as the first step toward its maturity.
So, Paul was an apostle, as were Peter, James, John. They are all eyewitnesses to the risen Christ, chosen and authorized by Jesus, sent out to found the church, and to reveal its mysteries. This kind of apostle was given, I believe, only to the first generation of the church. Their gift was foundational to the church and it is in the New Testament writings that their authority is with us today. There are no more apostles, but we are still under the authority of their words.
The second gift is prophets. In the Old Testament, the refrain of the prophets was ‘hear the word of the Lord’ and in the New the prophets also reveal His truth. The parts of the New Testament not directly written by the apostles, Mark, Luke-Acts, Hebrews, and Jude, were written by those with this gift. Paul said that the church is built on this foundation, “of the apostles and prophets.” But unlike apostles, I believe a prophetic gift is still at work in the church today. Prophets, today, are gifted not to create Biblical truth but to discern its import in specific situations, often for specific people. They speak to us what they sense God is asking us to do here and now. But always under the authority of the Word. We have to be cautious of any prophetic ministry, any dream or vision that makes man the key, that gives him as much weight as God’s word, or undermines the Word’s role in the lives of believers. God gives prophetic guidance without diminishing the pre-eminent, direct, authority of Scripture.
After apostles and prophets, Paul names evangelists. The verb, ‘evangelize’ or ‘share Good News’ is found often in the New Testament as a duty of all Christians. But the noun ‘evangelist’ occurs only three times: here, once of Philip the evangelist, and once of Timothy’s work. Some believers are specially gifted and effective in evangelism. While all get to share the Gospel, a few are especially fruitful. I’m thankful that God has gifted Todd Cobbs in this way.
Paul identifies the fourth gift as shepherd/teacher. Or the fourth and fifth gifts are shepherd and teacher. The Greek can go either way. The word shepherd, of course, is used of Jesus, ‘that great shepherd of the sheep.’ It’s also used of church elders. Peter says “To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care.” Paul tells the Ephesian elders “Be shepherds of the church of God.” Elders are also required to be ‘apt to teach,’ that is to be gifted as teachers. So, it seems these last gifts, shepherd and teacher, are characteristic of the elders God gives to the churches.
So how does this fit with church history? The early church uniformly recognized that Apostles, in the way that Paul was talking about them here, were a one generation thing. They recognized an ongoing role for evangelists and, less uniformly, for prophecy. But they saw the elders, the pastors and teachers, as inheriting authority from the apostles. They called it ‘apostolic succession.’ In the early days this meant that elders and overseers commissioned the next generation of elders, and passed on the teaching of the apostles. So a church, with multiple elders, like ours, was the norm. But soon it became common for one elder, who came to be called the bishop, to be given authority over all the churches in a city. He in turn, in consultation with other bishops, would ordain new bishops from among the elders of the churches. The council of Nicea that we’ve talked of often, was almost entirely made up of bishops from cities.
It wasn’t until later that hierarchy developed, ending with Patriarchs in the Orthodox church and the Pope in the Catholic Church. As we’ve seen in our study of church history, that didn’t go well over the long haul. But Paul is addressing a simpler and better situation. He’s says that in a local church the elders, acting as pastors and teachers, along with those with evangelistic and prophetic gifts are the catalysts by which the church reaches her ultimate goal, maturity.
The two coaches in Remember the Titans turn out to be gifts to each other and to the team, and they each act as shepherds in different ways, keeping each other in line. Herman Boone is demanding and sometimes merciless, but helps the team become a team and to get past their racial divides. Bill Yoast is more encouraging, but sometimes needs to be pushed to do what’s right. Here’s one of their exchanges, after Boone had benched a player named Petey, and Yoast gave him a role on the defense. “All right, listen, about Petey... No thanks required, Coach. Thanks? You challenged my authority in front of the entire football team, Coach. Now, you think you're doing these boys a favor taking them aside every time I come down on them, protecting them from big bad Boone. You're cutting my legs from under me.” “Some of the boys just don't respond well to public criticism. I tell them what they need to know, but I don't humiliate them in front of the team.” “Which boys are you talking about? Which ones you talking about? I come down on Bertier. I don't see you coddle him. Come down on Sunshine. Don't see you grab his hand, take him off to the side. Which boys are you talking about? Now, I may be a mean cuss, but I'm the same mean cuss with everybody out there on that football field. The world don't [care] about how sensitive these kids are—especially the young black kids. You ain't doing these kids a favor by patronizing them. You're crippling them. You're crippling them for life.”
So the church is built first on Jesus, but he graciously gives multiple coaches in the local church to refine each other and, by God’s grace, to lead people to maturity. That’s what the last section of our text beautifully pictures. Verses 12-16, God has given the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
God has given the Spirit, given oneness, given spiritual gifts and gifted people for the sake of the church. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are given “to equip the saints for the work of ministry.” Not so much to do the ministry, but to equip others. In God’s design of the church there are no rock stars, but only servants helping others who are also serving. So, what is your ministry? It’s a very broad term. At Trinity your ministry might be Awana, it might be Slovakia, it might be the nursery, it might be faithfulness to a home group. It might be caring for an individual, or a family. It might be outreach, community, worship, teaching, administering. All of these are ministry. If you don’t feel equipped for that, I can give two bits of advice: (1) seek somebody to equip you. Don’t assume they’ll seek you. Look for someone doing something you’re attracted to. Ask them to help you. But, (2), until you’re equipped, serve anyway. Look for someone who looks lonely and connect with them. Look for something that needs doing, and do it. That’s ministry.
I love that these small individual contributions have huge results. Works of ministry build up the body of Christ. The church is edified when each person engages in works of service, when each organ is functioning, when each player on the team does their part. And the next outcome is “unity in the faith.” Paul has already said we have one faith, but the experience of unity comes as leaders coach, challenge and guide and as the people of the church engage by serving. In fact one answer to a very common feeling of disconnectedness that people struggle with is to find connection in serving others.
But the unity doesn’t stand alone. Engaging with the church also leads to knowledge of the Son of God, partially through the ministry of teaching, but also through contact with others who know him and model a relationship with him. So, in the end, we mature, as individuals and as a body. Paul says we attain “mature manhood, the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” We become like Jesus. Mature yet ministering people in a mature yet equipping church are filled with Jesus like air filling a parade balloon and giving it its shape.
The consequence of that is doctrinal stability. Verse 14 says “so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” Doctrinal stability is important. That one of the reasons we’ve done this series this summer. Church history helps us sustain doctrinal stability. But immature beleivers are likely to be carried about by doctrinal winds. And there are many. The prosperity gospel heresy, appealing to American materialism and spreading it across the world, is a wind of false doctrine. Many are attracted to it. The rejection of the Trinity by no few Pentecostal churches is wind of false doctrine. The denial of the Bible’s authority is wind of false doctrine.
But a mature church is not just characterized by doctrine. It is characterized by love. Verse 15. Jesus wants us to engage each with truth and love, so that we grow more and more connected to Jesus, to Christ who is the head, and thus grow more and more connected and equipped as a body, which build itself up in love. These two summary verses begin and end with love. The summary itself is beautiful, every part working together, fitted together under the guidance of the head, growing into a mature body for Christ to dwell in and minister through here on earth. But it is the love which binds everything together in perfect unity (Colossians 3:14). If love is not the source of our words and our serving, if love is not the nutrition of our growth, we will not grow.
A church with foundational oneness, equipping leaders, and engaged believers, grows in love. The team grows in love. The family grows in love. The word family isn’t used in this text, but it is as strong a Biblical model for the church as body or team. Clearly we are brothers and sisters in Christ and fellow heirs with Jesus. Clearly God is our father. Clearly we all have the same Spirit. That makes us family. And a family is different than a club or a web of friendships. As many have said, you can choose your friends, but you are given your family. And you don’t lightly abandon your family. Leaving a church is more like getting a divorce than it is like changing jobs. It’s not just a matter of preference, but of a distinct and recognizable calling to another body.
All this equipping and engaging leads to love, and makes us a body, a family, a team. I love the end of Remembering the Titans because it shows that family and team love. Near the end one of the key players, Bertier,is in a car accident and is injured, paralyzed from the waist down. Based on a true story, by the way. And his best friend, Julius, comes to visit him. I love this snippet. “Only kin's allowed in here.” “Alice, are you blind? Don't you see the family resemblance? That's my brother.” “All right.” “Oh, man.” “Well, you think I look banged up, you should see my Camaro.” “Man, I sure am sorry, man. I should have been there with you.” “What are you talking about? You would've been in that bed right next to me.” “You can't be hurt like this. You--you're Superman.” “I was afraid of you, Julius. I only saw what I was afraid of. And now I know I was only hating my brother.”
And then, of course, they play the big game. I’m not going to show you the game, just a few clips of how they’ve learned to love. “This is the granddaddy of state high school football championships: the Virginia AAA. It just doesn't get any better. We have Coach Herman Boone's Titans vs. the legend, Ed Henry, with over 250 wins in 30 years.” “Entering the stadium now is Jean Bertier. She's the mother of injured all-American linebacker, Gerry Bertier. And the Titan fans are really giving her a warm reception.” “Gerry! Gerry!”
“And here come the Titans, entering the stadium in what's become their own unique style. “! We feel, hoo, hah, real good ! ! Hoo, hah, we feel ! ! Hoo, hah, we feel ! ! Hoo, hah, we feel ! ! Hoo, hah, real good!”
“All right. We're in a fight. You boys are doing all that you can do. Anybody can see that. Win or lose... we gonna walk out of this stadium tonight with our heads held high. Do your best. That's all anybody can ask.” “No, it ain’t, Coach. With all due respect, you demanded more of us. You demanded perfection. Now, I ain’t saying I'm perfect, 'cause I'm not. And I ain’t gonna never be. None of us are. But we have won every single game we have played till now, so this team is perfect. We stepped out on that field that way tonight, and, uh, if it's all the same to you, Coach Boone, that's how we want to leave it.”
“Titans trail Marshall 7 - 3. All Marshall has to do is hold on to the ball, and they will be the state champions.” “Coach, they're slanting to our strong side every time. You got to catch 'em in that slant and let 'em overpursue. He's onto your game. You got to throw something at him he's not ready for.” “Rev! Where's Rev?” “Yes, sir.” “Cover deep! Watch the deep pass! Cover it deep!” “Ready! Set! Hut!” “Yeah!” “Yeah! Ha ha ha!”
There is no plan B, because Jesus has absolutely guaranteed that plan A is perfect. He has given his church a foundation of oneness. He’s given servants to equip it. He’s made it, made us, a body, a team, a family that we might do ministry together, grow in unity together, know Jesus together, and become mature together. In love.