God's Plan for the Church - Part 2

Tom Pennington • Ephesians 4:11-12

  • 2003-10-12 PM
  • Sermons


We're looking again tonight at Ephesians 4. When you think about the church, there's so much confusion about what the church is to be today in America. There're so many different ideas about what the church's mission should be. There're hundreds of books that have been written. There have been several best sellers in the last few years that have remained at the top of the Christian best-selling list about the church. There're dozens of magazines devoted to life in the church.

I've been amused as Sheila and I have driven around this area, and we've seen a number of churches. In fact, there're definitely more churches here than there were in Southern California. And, as we've driven past some churches we've seen banners hanging across the front of churches that are spending forty days to they try to discover what their purpose for existence is. Well, while I appreciate their desire to do what they do on purpose, they could save thirty-nine of those days, because the purpose of the church is not something you need to pray about. It's not something you need to do neighborhood surveys about. You don't even have to poll the staff. You simply need to look at the Scripture and what has God said about the church, what it's to be and what it's to do because that's what really matters.

God has set up a pattern, a plan for the church and our objective as a church is to understand that and to line ourselves up with it. Christ has promised to build His church and He will build it. We just don't want to compete with Him. We want to find out what He's doing and get on board with His plan rather than creating our own. As we begin today to serve together, I wanted us to look at what the church is to be; to remember why we're here.

What is God's plan for how this church should function? Well no passage in the entire Scripture sets that out more clearly than Ephesians 4. And tonight we get to what really is the heart of God's plan for the church. In the genius of the Spirit the plan for every church is recorded in Ephesians 4 in two short verses, just thirty-one Greek words; the entire plan for every church that exists or ever will exist encapsulated in two short verses. Those verses are verse's 11 and 12 of Ephesians 4. I want you to notice that every believer is included in the plan. In verse 11 you find church leaders, and in verse 12 you find all the rest of the saints. No one is excluded from this plan for the church.

Notice what Paul says in verse 11.

And he gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastor teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, for the building up of the body of Christ;

There in those two short verses is the plan that you and I should embrace for how the church functions. And God's plan for the church is very simple. Basically it consists of four very distinct parts. A church that wants to be a biblical New Testament church should seek to follow the four parts of this divine plan, and it's the same plan for every church. It's the same for our church; it's the same for every other Bible believing, Christ exalting church. If we want Countryside to be a church that honors God and reflects God's will then we should be seeking to get in step with the divine program laid out in these two verses.

So, what is the plan? Well let's look at the four parts separately. The first part of God's plan is found in verse 11 and it's this; Christ appoints the leaders of the church, Christ appoints the leaders of the church. There's the first part of the plan. Notice, He gave some that is Christ "gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastor teachers." You see not only did God give spiritual gifts to individual members of the church as we learned this morning, but He also gave gifted men to the whole church.

Now there are several important points about leadership in the church that are contained in this Greek verb translated "gave" Christ gave. First of all, when Paul says Christ gave these leaders to the church it implies that it is completely within Christ's power to decide who will be in leadership. You see the church is not a democracy for which we can be grateful after some of the recent news items both in California and Texas in terms of democratic politics. The church is not a democracy it is a monarchy, or more accurately it's a sheep fold with one chief Shepherd who mediates His loving care and rule through under shepherds He appoints. Christ is in charge. That expression He gave, or Christ gave, also means that the leaders of the church from the apostles all the way down to the individual elders in this church are gifts to the church. They are intended as Christ's gift to His church. They are for the church's benefit for its good.

So, who exactly are these gifted men Christ has given to His church? You'll notice four specific offices that are outlined in verse 11, apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers. Let's take the first two together, apostles and prophets. These two positions were foundational in the life of the church. Notice Ephesians 2:20, as he's as Paul is developing the idea of the church he says in verse 20 of chapter 2, "having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone."

These two positions were absolutely foundational to the church and their roles were similar. Their roles were basically two-fold both the apostles and the prophets. Number one, they were to receive and declare God's revelation, they were to receive and declare what God had revealed. You see this in chapter 3 of Ephesians and verse 5, let's start at verse 4, "By referring to this, when you [when you] read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ," Verse 5, "which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men," [ He's talking about the church again,] "as it has now been revealed" [How?] "to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit;"

And of course, the apostles and the prophets made known to the people this mystery that God revealed to them. So, the function of these two offices - the apostles and the prophets they were foundational to the church, they were to receive revelation from God, and they were to communicate it to the people of God.

The second role that these two offices had was not only to receive and declare God's revelation, but also to confirm that word through signs and wonders and miracles. I noted this morning for you 2 Corinthians 12, but turn there for a moment, 2 Corinthians 12:12. Paul says, "the signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance by signs and wonders and miracles."

As I mentioned this morning those miraculous temporary gifts were intended to confirm the word that was spoken by the apostle's and the prophets. And so, their words were accompanied by these miraculous events to confirm to the people who heard that they were, in fact, speaking God's Word, they were speaking truth. You see this again in Hebrews 2. Hebrews 2:3. You're familiar with the expression

how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at (the) first spoken through the Lord, [There's our Lord's ministry] it was confirmed to us [t he writer of Hebrews says] by those who heard, [ There are the apostles and prophets and notice] God also testifying with them both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by the gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.

The writer of Hebrews says, listen what the Lord spoke was passed along to us from these men who were foundational in the life of the church, the apostles and prophets, and when they spoke and when they told us what Christ had taught they confirmed it by signs and wonders and miracles. So, the apostles and prophets received and declared God's revelation, and they confirmed that word through signs and wonders and miracles.

The title "apostle" is used of a number of different groups in the Scripture. It's obviously used of the twelve; you're familiar with that one. In in addition it's used of Paul as an apostle out of due time, he says, but it's also used of others. For example Silas and Timothy are called apostles in 1 Thessalonians 2:6. Other leaders in the church were called apostles as well, Romans 16:7 and 2 Corinthians 8:23. So, you had in the early church, in the foundational days of the church, you had these two offices that were important to receive revelation, in some cases from the Lord Himself while He was on earth, and then to communicate it to the people, and they confirmed it by miracles.

Now the office of prophet in the early church seems to be different than the gift of prophecy today. The gift of prophecy today primarily includes the ability, or I should say, exclusively includes the ability to speak the Word of God, to communicate it, what has been revealed already in the Scripture to others. But there was an office of prophet in the early church when apparently these men received revelation from God that they communicated to the people. Both of these offices, apostles and prophets disappeared with the completion of the canon, and you see that implied in Ephesians 2:20 where the church was built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets and grew up from there.

But that may be why in 1 Corinthians 12:28, Paul says God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, and third teachers. He actually uses those denominations, first, second and third. He may mean to imply that that was the chronological order in which Christ gave these gifted men to the church. First, He gave apostles, then He gave prophets, and then finally He's given teachers.

The third office Paul mentions in addition to apostles and prophets is evangelists, evangelists. Now that term is only used a couple of places in Scripture. It's used here obviously; it's also used of Philip in Acts 21:8, and in 2 Timothy 4:5 it's used where Paul tells Timothy that he's to as a pastor to do the work of an evangelist. He isn't an evangelist, but he's to do the work of an evangelist. The Greek word that's translated "evangelist" is related to the verb meaning 'to proclaim the good news', and to the noun "gospel or good news". So, the work of an evangelist is to proclaim the good news of forgiveness from sin, to preach the true gospel.

In the New Testament these men were missionaries and church planters who went to a region and evangelized and then trained those people in the Word of God and then moved on to another region where they would duplicate themselves again. Our church here is and should be very much involved in supporting men like this. Unlike apostles and prophets, this office still exists – those who are especially gifted in communicating the good news. There're some who remain in a local body like ours who are especially gifted in this area. But primarily this speaks of those who are sent out who go to areas where Christ is not known in name and who take the gospel and communicate it clearly and effectively.

The final office in verse 11 is pastor-teachers. Now you've noticed that I have pronounced that as one office. Some see these as two different offices, but the construction of the Greek and the fact that these two responsibilities, pastoring and teaching, are usually combined in one office in the New Testament probably mean that this is referring to one office and that is the office of a pastor-teacher. The word pastor is translated from the normal New Testament word for shepherd. So, we could say it this way, these men are teaching shepherds or shepherding teachers. Pastor-teachers teach in such a way that they do for the church what an actual keeper of the animal sheep does for the animals. What are those things? What does a shepherd do for sheep, and what does a spiritual shepherd do for his spiritual sheep?

Several things, number one: they feed the sheep, feed the sheep. If you're a shepherd that is your number one priority because if you don't feed the sheep you're not going to be a shepherd very long. The same is true in the church. The primary role of a pastor teacher is to feed the sheep.

There's a second responsibility and that is: to keep the members of their flock from going astray. When you think of a shepherd, that's one of his roles, it's to keep the sheep in line and following him and not allowing one of the sheep to go astray. That in that involves in the church teaching and warning and admonishing brothers and sisters in Christ to avoid the trouble of sin and to stay on the path.

A third responsibility of a shepherd is: to go after their members when they do go astray. Try as we might to keep everyone on the path, try as a shepherd might to keep his sheep on the path, eventually there will be strays. And the responsibility of the shepherd is to leave the other sheep and go and rescue the one that's gone astray. There's a powerful illustration of this in Matthew 18, and I don't want to get sidetracked. I don't have the time tonight to go there. But there's a there's a lesson to leaders in Matthew 18. Sometimes when there's a troubled person in a congregation in a church and that person chooses to leave there's this sort of expression, I shouldn't tell you this, among some pastors, they'll say something like blessed subtraction. Christ says there are no blessed subtractions, He says if a sheep leaves if a sheep strays, you leave the ninety and nine, and you go and you seek the one that's strayed. That reference by the way, that Matthew 18 reference is not about salvation, Christ seeking someone for salvation. It's about the responsibility of a shepherd to care for his sheep. It's about the responsibility of a shepherd to go after a stray sheep from the fold.

A fourth responsibility of a shepherd is: to protect their members or their sheep from wolves. In the church this involves protecting against false doctrine. Several things are implied in this responsibility, certainly teaching and warning people about false teaching. It also includes discipline when there's someone among the church who's teaching false doctrine, disciplining that person. And I think also implied in this responsibility is the responsibility to make sure that the guidelines for admitting someone to membership, we're as careful as we can be in drawing up those boundaries so that we don't get people into the church who aren't converted and who're going to turn into wolves and savagely tear the flock.

A fifth responsibility of shepherds is: to help heal those who are hurt. This involves coming along side those who are either spiritually or physically hurting, giving them physical help if that's what they need, or giving them council or direct encouragement from the Scripture if that's the need. Those are the responsibilities of a literal shepherd to his sheep, and they're also the responsibilities of the spiritual shepherd of the sheep in the church. That's what a pastor-teacher is.

Now what is the relationship of this office of pastor-teacher to the other offices that are outlined in the New Testament? For example, to overseer and to elder, you're familiar with those terms. What relationship is the pastor-teacher to an overseer and an elder? Those three New Testament words, elder, overseer, and shepherd all refer to the same office and the same person. How do I know that? Well let me give you several arguments for that because not everyone would agree with me. When you read the word "elder" and you read the word "overseer" and you read the word "pastor" in the New Testament those are synonyms for the same person and the same office. Why?

Well first of all the qualifications for an overseer in 1 Timothy 3, if you turn to 1 Timothy 3 and verse 1 you see that the qualifications are laid down there for an overseer. If you turn to Titus 1 you see that the qualifications for an elder is what he's called there, they're basically identical, the qualifications are the same for those two positions, overseer and elder. Also, this is interesting when you turn to Titus, in fact do this for a moment, turn to Titus 1. You'll notice that in verse 5 Paul tells Tim tells Titus to appoint elders. Notice that? "I want you to appoint elders in every city." But then when he gets to verse 7 he says, "for the overseer must be above reproach" and so forth. So, he's laying down qualifications for an overseer. He simply uses the words elder and overseer interchangeably. It's the same person. It's the same office.

But you see this especially clearly in two passages in the New Testament, that these are all the same office. One of those is 1 Peter 5, 1 Peter 5. You can see that Peter understands these three responsibilities to be combined in one person. First Peter 5:1,

Therefore, I [exert I] exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness to the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker of the glory that's to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God" [ Elders shepherd the flock.] "exercising oversight…."

There are all three concepts describing the same responsibility, the same office. You see the same thing, and I won't have you turn there, but you see the same thing in Acts 20 where all three terms are used interchangeably. You remember that Paul, on his way to Jerusalem, stopped one last time to see the Ephesian elders. And now you understand why this was such a heart-rending separation because he'd spent three years there shepherding and pastoring this flock. And listen to what he says, in verse 17 of chapter 20, he says, "he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church."

But in verse 28 Luke reports that Paul said this, "Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood."

So, all of those three terms describe the same office when you encounter them in the New Testament. They're used of the same office. The term "elder" emphasizes his character, he's spiritually mature. The term "overseer" emphasizes his function, he exercises oversight. And the term "shepherd or pastor" emphasizes his attitude; he has a shepherd's caring heart. John MacArthur in his commentary on Ephesians says, "The term elder emphasizes who the man is, overseer speaks of what he does, and pastor deals with how he ministers." But all three refer to the same office.

Now the question arises, how is it that the church identifies these men? Obviously with the apostles we know how Christ gave the apostles. This passage in Ephesians 4 says, "He gave the church these men." We know how He gave the apostles, He hand picked them. In Mark 3 it says "he summoned to Him those He wanted." Everyone was clear on who the apostles were. But how do we discern today whom Christ has appointed as a leader in His church? What is the biblical process for discerning the Lord's will in terms of pastor teachers or elders or overseers? I won't take a lot of time with this but I do want you to see this. Turn to 1 Timothy 3. How does He give the church today pastor teachers? And how can we be sure that that the person who's putting himself forward as a leader has been given to the church, has been appointed to the church by Christ?

In 1 Timothy 3 Paul lays out very clearly how we recognize someone who is genuinely appointed by Christ to the office of overseer or elder, and there are four tests to see if the person who's putting himself forward as an elder or a pastor has in fact been appointed by Christ. The first and for ease of memory I've identified each of these with a "c".

The first is "craving". Notice in verse 1 of chapter 3, "It is a (trust) trustworthy statement: if any man aspires" [that's a word for desire] "to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do." It starts with a desire in a man's heart. And it isn't the office he desires, notice the end of the verse. It's the work, he desires to do. He wants to do the work that's involved in being an elder, in being a shepherd of people. So, it starts with craving, but that's not where it stops. There are a lot of men who say they have a desire for the office but who aren't qualified, who aren't appointed by Christ.

Secondly there has to be "character", not only craving but character. And that's laid out here in chapter 3 of 1 Timothy it's also laid out in chapter 1 of Titus; what the man's character is to be. He has to meet the character qualifications.

But it doesn't stop there, there's a third 'c' and that is 'c' of "capacity". Notice in chapter 3 of 1 Timothy and verse 2 that he has to able to teach. We're familiar with that one. He has to be able to take the truth and refute those who're in error, he has to be able to take the truth and explain it in such a way so that people can understand it. But he needs another capacity as well, not only the capacity to teach, but notice verse 4.

"He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity." [Verse 5, why, because] "If a man doesn't know how to manage his own household, how will he (manage or) take care of the church of God?"

So, he has to have a capacity to teach and he has to have a capacity to oversee or manage that's demonstrated by how he cares for his home. So how do you recognize an elder? There has to be a craving for the office, there has to be the character qualifications that are listed in the two passages in the New Testament, there has to be the capacity to teach and the capacity to manage or oversee. And finally, there has to be confirmation, the confirmation of the church. Notice 1 Timothy 3:10. It's in reference to the deacons but notice what he says. "These men" [ That is the deacons] "must also first be tested;" Notice "must also" that's a reference back to the elders, just as the elders must be tested, so the deacons must. So, he's making a point that there must be this testing for the elders, those would be elders. And once they're approved, then let them serve.

So, there has to be "confirmation" is the word that I use. Confirmation that is there is a confirmation by the elders of the church, the other elders that already exist that this man meets these other criteria. And there has to be confirmation by the church as a whole. Why do I say that? Because this passage 1 Timothy 3 occurs in a section of Timothy that was written to the entire church not just to Timothy. You can tell that by the references of the pronouns that are used in the original language. This section was written to the entire church in Ephesus, not just to Timothy. And so, he's saying that the congregation must affirm and test them.

So, Christ gives these special men, these gifted men to the church and how do we recognize them? We recognize them 1 Timothy 3 says, by their craving for the office, by their character, by their capacity, and by the confirmation of the elders that already exist in that local assembly and the church as a whole. If those qualifications are met, then that is a gift to the church from Christ. That man becomes a gift, and the elders confirm that by the laying on of hands. That's the process by which Christ gives or appoints leaders in the church today.

Now you know the fact that Christ has given this church its leaders should affect your response to those in leadership. Scripture is very clear about what your obligations to those in leadership are to be. In Hebrews 13:, it says that you should imitate their example. In 1 Thessalonians 5 it says you should respect them for their works sake. Hebrews 13:17 says you should obey them and be submissive to them as they speak the Word of God. And that's a very important point by the way, you should submit to the elders of this church and you should obey them as long as they can point you to the Scripture. Our authority stops with the Word of God. I have no right or authority to tell you what car to drive or what house to live in or what job to take unless the Scripture speaks to the issue. I can tell you something that may be wise. I can give you counsel on that level, but I can never say "thus saith the Lord" unless "thus saith the Lord." That's your response, imitate their example, respect them, obey and be submissive to them. And according to Ephesians 4, you should also view them as Christ's gift to you, and thank God for them.

I've already come to appreciate the men God has assembled as the elders of this church. I've found them to be godly and certainly courageous men whom the Lord used to bring this church through an extremely difficult time to this day, and I'm looking forward to working alongside them, and you should be grateful to God for them because God intends, Christ intended them to be a gift to the church. So, from the deep love of His heart for His church, Christ gave the church gifted men. He appointed them for a very specific purpose. And that brings us to Paul's second point.

The first part of God's plan for His church is that Christ appoints the leaders of the church. The second part of the plan is leaders equip the members of the church; leaders equip the members of the church. Christ appoints the leaders and secondly leaders equip the members of the church. Notice the beginning of verse 12, he gave these gifted men "for the equipping of the saints…."

Now when you look at verse 12 the most important decision that you need to make to interpret this verse is discerning the relationship of the three clauses that are in verse 12. Notice back in Ephesians 4, "for the equipping of the saints" [There's clause number one] "for the work of service," [Clause number two] "to the building up of the body of Christ;" [Clause number three.] Now some see those clauses as coordinate. That is, they express what the leaders are to do. So, leaders are to equip the saints, leaders are to do the work of service, and leaders are to build up the body of Christ. Others argue that the first two are coordinate, that is the leaders are to do both the first two but the third is kind of a climax. It's the ultimate end of those efforts.

But the best way to understand the relationship of these three clauses is that they build on each other. We could read it this way, "the leaders equip the saints which enables the saints to do the work of service which as a result causes the church to be built up." This third view best reflects the original language, but it also makes the most sense of why Paul just spent three verses talking about spiritual gifts. The verse's we looked at this morning, verses 7 - 10. It makes no sense if he's going to tell the leaders what they ought to be doing. But instead he's saying the people of the church are going to be active in ministry and that's why I talked about their spiritual gifts. So, the primary role of leaders in the church is not to do the work of ministry or as the NAS says the work of service, but the primary role of leaders is to equip the saints to do it - to equip you to do it.

The Greek word translated "equipping" is actually a noun that describes preparing something or putting something right. It was used in the context of surgery of setting a bone, setting a broken bone. In the New Testament the verb form of this noun is used of mending nets in Matthew 4 and in Galatians 6:1 it's used of restoring a fallen brother, a brother who's fallen into sin. The verb form of this word equipping is also used in 2 Corinthians 13:11, where Paul says, "Finally, brethren, be made complete…." That's the verb form of the noun that's translated equip in Ephesians 4. In 1 Corinthians 1:10 it's used the same way, "be made complete."

But perhaps the best insight into this word is found in Luke 6. Luke 6:40 is a familiar saying of our Lord, it's "A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained,"

There's our word, there's the verb form of the word "equip", "fully trained, [or fully equipped] will be like his teacher."

So, "to equip" involves restoring something to its original condition, or making something complete providing it with all the parts it needs to function properly and teaching and reproducing yourself in others. That's equipping. So, to equip is to move believers from sin to obedience to provide them with all the spiritual parts and skills that they need to function properly and to train them to imitate the leader's faith. That's what it means to equip.

But how exactly do leaders go about doing that? How do leaders go about pouring themselves into a life so that life is equipped? Well God has primarily given us two tools. The first is the teaching of God's Word. Back to Luke 6. In the context of Luke 6:40 the emphasis is on teaching. It's clear that much of equipping is teaching. Everyone after he has been fully trained or equipped will be like his teacher. The reference is to teaching. A teacher is teaching a pupil and when he's done, his pupil is equipped. So, obviously, a great deal of equipping has to do with teaching. Remember the title given to pastors? Pastor-teacher. How does a spiritual shepherd feed his sheep? He teaches them the word of God.

It's interesting when you look at the encounter and the exchange between Christ and Peter after Christ's resurrection, you remember the encounter where he Christ asks Peter if he loves Him and Peter responds and Christ responds with a very interesting phrase. He says, "feed My sheep." And He also says, "shepherd My lambs." He uses those phrases interchangeably. His point is that that is how people are equipped. They're fed, they're shepherded when they're taught. People are equipped through the teaching of the word of God.

But this shouldn't be a surprise to us. You're in a Bible church. You understand the power and authority of the Word of God. The Word is God's power and salvation. James 1:18 says, "In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth,"

First Peter 1:23 says, "you've been born again not of corruptible seed but by the living and abiding word of God." It's the word of God that's involved in our sanctification.

John 17:17, Christ prays to His Father, "Sanctify them through the truth, Your word is truth."

In Acts 20:32 as Paul talks to the Ephesian elders, he says, "I commend you to God and to the word of His grace which is able to build you up."

So, the word of God brings new life into our hearts. The word of God brings sanctification to us and the word of God sustains us. Matthew 4:4, "Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God."

Christ says, as He quotes Deuteronomy. And we're very familiar with 2 Timothy 3:16 and 17 which said that "it's through the Scripture, it's through the word of God that was breathed out from God that we are equipped, the man of God may be adequately equipped for every good work." So, it's no surprise that the Word of God is the tool that shepherds and leaders can use to equip the saints.

It's very interesting when you think about the power of God's word, that the growth of the church is often tied to the to the word of God. I find this very interesting. Turn for a moment to Acts 6 let's start there. Acts 6:7, when Luke wants to say that the church grew, notice what he says in verse 7. "The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem." You see the same issue in chapter 12 of Acts. Chapter 12 and verse 24, "But the word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied." Chapter 13:49, "And the word of the Lord was being spread through the whole region."

You see the growth of the church is directly tied to the word of God because that is the tool that both brings new life into the church and that builds up those who are already in the church. These passages that we've been looking at underscore the importance of teaching, of teaching the word of God in the church.

We live in a day when churches are reducing their teaching time to ten or fifteen minutes so multimedia and drama and even interpretive dance can take a place in the corporate worship. Now you just wait until I cut across this platform on my toes. Other churches are replacing the teaching of the saints entirely and instead of, are focusing all of their services on reaching unchurched Harry and Mary. Charles Hodge has correctly written that

"throughout history true Christianity has flourished just in proportion to the degree in which the Bible is known and its truths are diffused among the people. The nations where the Bible is unknown sit in darkness."

It's the Word of God that brings light. It's the Word of God that sanctifies believers. It's the Word of God that changes peoples thinking, that changes their hearts. As wonderful as music is, music won't do that. As helpful as a skit can be, a skit won't do that. It's the Word of God alone that changes people. And that's why that's the tool that we have to use. So, place yourself regularly under the teaching of God's Word here. Read and listen to sermons by godly Bible teachers. Read the Scripture for yourself. Go to the bookstore and get some good books that explain the Scripture and that challenge you to think about what the Scripture says. That's how you will be equipped. It's through God's word.

But in addition to teaching, there's another way that I and the other spiritual leaders here can ensure that you're equipped. You see, we can teach you and we can be examples to you, but God is ultimately is the only one that can really equip you. That's why the verb form of this word equip occurs in Hebrews 13 in the middle of a prayer to God. The writer of Hebrews says, "now the God of peace equip you in every good thing to do His will." So, we can teach you God's word, and we can pray that God would use that word to equip you.

Those are the tools we have at our disposer disposal. So that the leaders, the elders, the pastor- teachers of Countryside are to equip you by teaching and preaching and praying that God would equip you through that word. What an amazing plan. I'm overwhelmed at the wisdom of God's plan. You see by giving pastors and elders of the church the responsibility to equip the saints so that the saints do the work of ministry, it multiplies our efforts.

You see examples even in the world of politics of a shift to this way of thinking. There was a time when US Foreign policy to third world countries that were in economic need was to simply give them wheat or give them money. And that still happens, but there's been a shift in recent years, to instead of giving them wheat or giving them money, going to that third world country and bringing in expertise to teach them how to grow their own wheat, to teach them how to increase the per acre yield of the crop they're already growing. All they're really doing is imitating the divine model, and that is: the leaders equip the people and the people do the work. It's like the old adage, don't give a man a fish, teach him how to fish. My role and that of the elders is not to do the work, but to equip you to do it.

Christ's plan for His church is very clear and straightforward. First Christ appoints the leaders of the church, secondly leaders equip the members of the church, and thirdly members accomplish the service of the church, members accomplish the service of the church. Back to verse 12, he says, "for the equipping of the saints, for the work of service." Our job is to equip you with the Word of God and through prayer so that you then can do the work of service.

The Greek word translated "work" is the normal word for work. But the word for "service" is interesting. It comes from the word "deacon". It's a general word for any kind of service. Now it is used in Acts 6 for example to refer to the ministry of the word. And it's used in Acts 12 to refer to missionary work. But it's often used in a general sense to speak of whatever is done for God, and sometimes it's even used of everyday service, everyday tasks. For example, in Luke 10 it's used of preparing food. In Luke 22 it's used of serving food. And in Acts 6:2 it's used of serving food to widows. Here's Paul's point: every member of the church is to be involved at service in service at some level, from teaching God's Word to preparing food and everything in between. That's the responsibility of every member of this church - to do the work of service.

James Montgomery Boyce points out in his Systematic Theology that misunderstanding this principle that every believer has a job to do in the church, has caused three erroneous or wrong views of the relationship between the leadership of the church and the membership of the church. Three wrong views of the relationship that exists between them. The first he calls clericalism, clericalism. That's the view that the work of the church is to be done by those paid to do it. In this system the role of the lay people is simply to work to support the work financially. You've been in churches like this perhaps where your only job was to make sure that the money kept rolling in.

How did this view start? Where did it come from? This view that the paid people are to do the work of the church, and we're supposed to come and enjoy it. Historically, it grew out of the Roman Catholic church where only the priests were authorized to serve in the church much like the Old Testament priesthood. You had to meet certain standards before you could serve in the church and that's where this idea come from, I think comes from. It also reflects the human predisposition to dominate others. There's a tendency that some men have to want to be in control and therefore they want no one else to do it. I'll do it. Just stay out of the way. Don't mess up what I'm doing.

A third factor that contributes to this "clericalism", let the paid staff do it, is the tendency of lay people to sit back and let the pastor do it. Sir John Lawrence, I love this quote, quoted by John Stott says this, "What does the layman really want? He wants a building which looks like a church. Clergy dressed in the way he approves. Services of the kind he's been used to and to be left alone." Sadly, in many church's that's exactly what the lay people want and that has contributed to the notion that the paid staff are to do the work of ministry.

There's a second erroneous view Boyce identifies; not only clericalism but "anti-clericalism". This is the view that the relationship of the leaders to the people that basically the people say we don't need leaders. This is when the lay people become so fed up with their leaders that they overreact against the whole concept of leadership. And a third false view is "dualism"; that's the perspective that the clerical and the laity have their own territories, and neither should trespass on the territory of the other. You stay out of my kitchen, and I'll stay out of yours. The right view is that the leaders equip, and the people serve.

In our day I think Christians are more likely to be tempted toward clericalism that is relying on the paid staff to serve because we live in such an audience culture. We are professional spectators. We watch movies. We listen to music. The average person spends more than 5 hours a day watching television. And we watch sports. Someone described professional football as 80,000 people who desperately need exercise in a stadium watching a couple of dozen men on the field who desperately need rest. It's hard to break the habit of just watching, but church is not a spectator sport. It's about work and service. If all you do is come week after week and take in the truth, you're like a spiritual leech or a spiritual tic. It's time to get involved in the work of service. That's your role in the church.

Now what forms does this service in the church take? In other words what should the saints be doing when they're doing the work of service? I like the way Wayne Grudem summarizes the work of the church. Basically, he says the church has three duties.

A ministry to God and that is worship.

A ministry to believers and that is to nurture and care for them so they grow toward maturity.

And a ministry to the world and that is evangelism and mercy, acts of mercy.

A ministry to God, worship; a ministry to each other, and that is to nurture and care so that we grow toward maturity in Christ; and a ministry to the world and that is evangelism and caring for them, mercy toward them, just as God does toward His enemies.

Sadly, most churches allow those three responsibilities to get out of balance. And they end up specializing in one. But the service of the church is a three-legged stool. If it fails in one of those duties then the church collapses into irrelevance. We must as a church commit ourselves to all three of those responsibilities: the worship of our God, the care for each other and the reaching out and evangelism for the world. That's what the work of service is about. And that's what every person under the sound of my voice should be doing. You have received. Those are the categories of your service. You've been given a very special giftedness to enable you to serve in one or a combination of those ways. Christ intends that you use your gift to serve in the church.

There's nothing wrong with your being involved in a parent church ministry or even a secular organization but not if it pulls you away from the priority of filling the role that Christ has assigned you in the church. Don't exhaust yourself in professional associations, social organizations, organized sport, or any other activity so that you have no time or energy for the church. That would be a prostitution of your gifts and to waste your life. In Christ's plan, the members accomplish the service of the church. They're involved in worshiping God, in nurturing and caring for each other so that we're built up in Christ and in reaching out in evangelism for the lost. That's our duty. That's your duty, each and every one of you.

If Christ appoints the leaders of the church, and the leaders equip the members of the church, and the members accomplish the service of the church, then the fourth part of the plan will happen. The fourth part of the plan is: the outcome will be the growth of the church. The outcome will be the growth of the church. Notice the end of verse 12. If all of that happens, it'll mean the "building up of the body of Christ." That clause summarizes what the result of the plan will be.

Now the phrase the body of Christ is a metaphor that New Testament authors often use for the church. There're other New Testament metaphors for the church, for example, in some places the church is called a family. Scripture often uses agricultural images for the church, like branches or harvest. The church is called a building, specifically a holy temple or even God's house. The church is called a kingdom of priests. It's called a holy nation. And here it's referred to as a body. That is the body of Christ. Let me give you a little warning, be careful not to think of the church by just one of those metaphors, or you'll miss the well-rounded picture that the New Testament provides, that's intended in all of those metaphors for the church.

This metaphor, the body of Christ, can describe a local church as it does in 1 Corinthians 12:16. Or it can describe the entire family of believer's world wide as it does in Ephesians 1:22 and 23. I think both of those concepts are intended in the passage we're looking at. I think Paul means to imply both the local church as well as the church world wide, the universal church. Here is Paul's point. When Christ appointed leaders here at Countryside equip you, and you get involved in serving this church not only is this church built up, but we become a part of something that's bigger than any of us. We participate in the building up of the universal church, the entire body of Christ, of which He is the head. You see we can become very myopic. But Christ isn't just concerned with this local church and neither should we be. We should serve here faithfully with the understanding that we are having an impact on the kingdom of God. We are a part of the building up the body of Christ worldwide.

Now what does it mean to build up? To build up the body of Christ doesn't mean to increase in numbers, although there is certainly nothing wrong with that as long as the numbers represent true Christians. Unfortunately, it's become common for pastors and churches to redirect their energies from building up the body of Christ to building up the numbers. When they do that, they betray a basic misunderstanding of the fundamental difference, listen to this, the fundamental difference between a church and a crowd. There are things that I could do here that would quickly attract a crowd and would embarrass my wife. But that doesn't mean that we would have a church. That just means we would have more people.

What does it mean to build up the church? The Greek word was used of literally erecting a building, of construction. It refers here to construction of spiritual maturity of the entire church. Certainly, the church is built up through evangelism that is people are added to the church. But here the reference isn't adding people to the church; it's to the internal spiritual growth of every part, just like your body grows. It's an amazing reality those of you who have had children or who have children understand this picture of growth. Remember that first call men that you got from your wives telling you that there was something special happening inside her womb. And that something had begun to grow, and you, maybe as we did, went to the store, and went to the bookstore, and you got some books that would help you understand the process and see that growth and see how it develops and the incredible miracle of life as though that cell grows into by a miracle of God a human person and at some point then is born and grows up to become that child that you love and have become so attached to. That's the kind of growth Paul is talking about. The body grows in its energy. It grows in its strength. It grows in its maturity. It grows in its stature. As we'll find out next week it grows into a full-grown man that resembles Jesus Christ. That's what it means that the body is built up.

When a church has gifted men appointed by God, identified by the elders and confirmed by the congregation, and those gifted men teach and equip the people, and then the people mix the teaching they're getting from the leaders with their own spiritual gifts, and they serve, then the individual members of that church and the church as a whole and the universal church of Christ all grow spiritually. That's God plan for the church. That's Christ's plan for this church.

I want you to take a spiritual inventory as we close tonight. If you're in leadership in this church, particularly if you serve as an elder, I want you to ask yourself as I've asked myself are you equipping the saints? Are you teaching and praying for them that God would equip them to do the work of service, to worship God, to nurture and care for each other, and to reach out in evangelism to the world? And as a member of this church are you using your gifts to serve here? Are you doing the work of service? Because that's your part of the plan.