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Series:  The Gifts of the Spirit - Part Three

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
April 1, 2001

Over the last few Sundays we’ve been looking at the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We’ve seen that the Holy Spirit desires to work in us and through us - with His power - using us in tremendous ways that go beyond what we could accomplish on our own. The Holy Spirit has given each believer in Jesus Christ a “gift” - a supernatural ability - that He distributes within the church - to each one of us - to enable us to do together - the ministry that Jesus calls us to, with the result that God’s will is accomplished - that God is glorified.

Today we want to focus on “The Maturity of the Spirit” - how God uses spiritual gifts to mature us as believers - as a church. I invite you to turn with me to our text - Ephesians 4:11-15.

There are times when “church” feels like a stained glass fishbowl. We come and we swim around and around - big fish and little fish - we have events together - ministries - programs - meetings. But, what’s the purpose of all this swimming around? Are we going anywhere?

As Jesus began His ministry He passed by the Sea of Galilee and called Peter and Andrew - the fisherman - to follow Him. They came. Others were called and they also followed. For three years the disciples followed Jesus from town to town - along dusty roads - watching and learning from Jesus.

After three years, Peter - this rough fisherman - who cursed and swore that he never knew Jesus - Peter becomes the Apostle Peter - one of the first leaders of the Church. Andrew becomes a great missionary to Asia. There’s a pattern here that is repeated over and over through-out the Bible. Jacob - who fought with God - becomes the first to be called “Israel.” The murderer and adulterer is King David - “a man after God’s own heart.” The great persecutor and torturer of the church - Saul - becomes the greatest missionary - Paul.

That’s the point - the purpose. God’s work of maturing us - ordinary people - to use us for His glory - to demonstrate and to declare the power of Jesus Christ in today’s world. That’s our focus this morning. How the Holy Spirit can do this work of maturing in us and through us.

Ephesians 4:11: “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,”

If you look at quarter there are two sides - heads and tails. Heads has one purpose - tails another. But, both are part of the same coin. Looking sideways its hard to tell where heads ends and tails begins.

In verse 11 Paul mentions four gifts that are “up front” types of gifts - heads - more noticeable teaching gifts. Reading 4:1-7, Paul refers to the other side of the coin - the less noticeable gifts - tails. Gifts like mercy, giving, helps, and so on. All are needed. All need to work together if we’re going to mature as the Body of Christ.

Take two cats and tie their tails together and drop them in a barrel. We can just imagine the chaos that results. That’s what its like when we try to work at this maturity process as individuals.

We can only mature if we work together. There’s no such thing as competitive maturity - out doing others spiritually. Each of us needs to be teachable, moldable, open to God’s working in our lives. We need to allow the Spirit to use what He’s gifted us with to help others and to be helped by others. We need to be as excited about helping the person next to us become what God wants him or her to be as we are about becoming what God wants us to be ourselves.

Verse 12 - here’s the process of maturity - all these gifts working together, “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;”

The first part of the process is “equipping.” The Greek word for “equipping” is “katartismon.” It has the idea of preparing - making fit - completing. When Jesus called James and John - the fisherman - to follow him. - they we’re in their boat “mending” “katartizo” - same word - they were mending their nets - getting them ready to be used. We need to be mended spiritually - prepared - made complete - to be useful in God’s service.

In the Bible we see that the disciples were acquainted with Jesus before they became His disciples. They became disciples when they choose to leave everything and follow Him. Following Him, they were in a place to learn from Him - to be mended spiritually - to be matured and prepared for useful service. That’s the attitude we need to have in order to be equipped.

One day the disciples were arguing with each other about which one was the greatest. Jesus called a child over to Himself and turned the child around so they all could get a good look at the child. Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted - notice that conversion comes first - so He’s talking to the already converted - those who thought they had maturity in God’s kingdom - unless you are converted and - then - become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:1-4)

That’s hard to hear. Especially if we’ve been around the church for a while. It means that we need to admit that we need to be equipped - prepared for service. In 4:11 - Paul specifically mentions up front - teaching gifts - to emphasize that we need to be taught. We need to be teachable. To seek to be discipled by Godly teachers - those who have been gifted by the Spirit to teach in the Body.

The second part of the process is “building up” the Church.

In Matthew 14 there’s an account that’s familiar to us. Jesus is out by the Sea of Galilee teaching. Towards evening the crowd - about 10,000 or so - become hungry. Jesus takes five loaves of bread and two fish - blesses the food - breaks bread - distributes it - and everyone is fed - stuffed. A powerful lesson in trusting Jesus - having faith in Him as the bread of life.

Somehow the disciples didn’t get it. We can almost see them yawning. “We’ve heard this before. Trust Jesus. Trust Jesus. Now the miracle. Okay, next town.”

So, Jesus sends them out on to the Sea of Galilee - alone into a storm. The wind is blowing them around. The waves are crashing over the boat. The boat’s taking on water. The disciples are hanging on for dear life. They look out over the waves and they’re terrified. Because here comes Jesus walking on the water. When Jesus gets into the boat the wind stops. Jesus turns to the disciples and says, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Jesus got their attention. Its a lesson they won’t forget. (Matthew 14:14-33)

To often people come to church and want to hear the same old thing - the comfortable - what we already know - what we want to hear. Or we say to ourselves, “This is a great sermon. I hope so-and-so is listening. They really need to hear this.” Its easy for us to discount or reject what challenges us as Christians. Or, to reject the one given by the Spirit to teach. To swim around and around in a stained glass fishbowl well within our comfort zone.

Hebrews 4:12 says, “The word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

To be built up - God’s truth needs to get under our skin - to bother us - to challenge us - to bring us face to face with ourselves and what God wants to do in our lives. Have you heard the slogan, “No Pain. No Gain”? Its true spiritually. It hurts. But allow God’s word to penetrate into our hearts - to be taught - and that builds us up - that brings spiritual maturity.

Verse 13 - the purpose of all this equipping and building is so that, “we - all of us together - attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.”

When I was growing up we had a ritual that took place on my birthdays. My dad had a long board that he would bring out. I would stand with my back to the board and dad would record my height. Later on I’d get weighed and he’d write down my weight on the board. Each year I could see that I was getting taller and heavier. He also recorded the heights and weights of some adults too. Somehow I think that board may have mysteriously disappeared.

Verse 13 is God’s measuring of our spiritual stature - our spiritual maturity.

First - “unity of the faith” - a singular - unquestioned - commitment and devotion to Jesus Christ who is the Head of the Church. A unity that comes from a deepening personal - intimate - knowledge - relationship - with Jesus Christ. As we grow closer to Him we grow closer to each other.

Second - “to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” Literally - maturity as a Christian is when we’re like Christ. Please hear this: Being like Christ does not mean that we do whatever Jesus did - that somehow we become Jesus. Being like Jesus Christ means that we live our lives as if Jesus were living our lives today.

Have you seen these bracelets and key chains that have the letters WWJD on them? WWJD stands for What Would Jesus Do? We ask, “What would Jesus do in this situation?” That’s having the “fullness of Christ” in us. It’s a process of being equipped - built up - maturing in our relationship with Jesus - so that our minds and hearts are full of Him - so that we live in each circumstance of our lives - living according to how Jesus would live our lives.

Imagine this as a church. The Holy Spirit working in our lives - orchestrating all the gifts He has given to us - to lead us together through a process of maturing - so that together we live demonstrating Jesus to the world.

Verse 14: “As a result, we are no longer to be 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;”

Children are captivated by the latest thing. As a church, we’re in trouble when we get our eyes off Jesus - captivated by opinions of others - gossip - peer pressure - teaching that has no Biblical basis.

Verse 15: “but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ.”

We’re all familiar with the fable of the tortoise and the hare. The tortoise by its slow and steady - dogged determination - beat the faster rabbit. Maturity is a slow and steady process with a definite goal - a finish line with tremendous reward. As far as the fable goes - the lesson of the tortoise and the hare is clear.

But, there’s another side to the nature of a tortoise. It withdraws into its shell at the slightest sign of danger. A tortoise shell may be comfortable and secure, but its very limiting. When we retreat into our safe and secure shells we can’t grow. We can’t mature. We shrink.

The kind of person - the kind of church - God wants us to be can never be produced through our own effort That lack of control bothers us. But when the Holy Spirit fills us - controls us - has freedom to work in us and through us - He will bring forth His fruit in us - maturing us - to use us for His glory - to demonstrate and to declare the power of Jesus Christ in today’s world.