Sunday 22 April 2012

Walk in truth (Ephesians 4:7-16)

On June 3, 1974 a man named Charles Colson pleaded guilty to the charge of obstruction of  justice. He was one of seven former political White House aides to President Richard Nixon known as the Watergate Seven. Charles Colson was Special Counsel to the President and once wrote a memo that said, “I would walk over my grandmother for Richard Nixon.” He was a brilliant man, successful in his career, influential in politics, but by his own admission lacked any moral compass for the first forty-one years of his life.

One day, a friend told him about Jesus. Charles ignored him, of course. He was intelligent, self-made, independent middle-aged man. The only reason he called up his friend was to try and make a business connection. But his friend, Tom Phillips didn’t talk about business. Instead, Tom told him about Jesus Christ and prayed that Jesus would open Chuck’s heart “to show him the light and the way”. That night, Chuck Colson broke down in tears in his car and repented of his sin of pride. He gave his life to Jesus.

Against the advice of his lawyer, Chuck pleaded guilty to the charges made against him in the Watergate Scandal. While he was in prison his father died. His career was over. His son was arrested for drugs. Yet it was there in prison that Chuck learned humility and trust in God. He read the bible. He started a fellowship to pray with other prisoners.

The apostle Paul quotes Psalm 68 to explain what it means for us as Christians to grow as the church. It is a strange verse because it talks about God leading a group of prisoners. It is strange because these prisoners are not referring to God’s enemies. It’s talking about us as Christians.

When he ascended on high,
he led captives in his train
and gave gifts to men
Ephesians 4:8

What does it take for us to grow as a church here in Cambridge? Maybe we need to be more focussed on reaching the Chinese students. Some say we need a more engaging worship experience. Or perhaps it’s fellowship opportunities, sharing our lives with the local community and building bridges. Paul says the first thing we need is for God to take us captive. We need more prisoners like Chuck Colson here in the church. Only then will we grow. Only then will God be glorified.

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to pastors and teachers.
Ephesians 4:11

On a Sunday like today, many traditional churches begin with a procession: the organ starts playing, everyone stands, and from the back of the hall, the minister and the worship leader walk down the aisle led by a deacon holding a great big bible. In some churches, the pastor or vicar is dressed in long, flowing robes wearing a big pointy hat. Wouldn’t it be cool if turned up next week wearing a long black robe, went up to the mic and said in a deep throaty voice, “Hi, I’m Batman.” That would be awesome.

When you see the list of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, I don’t want you to think of an impressive line-up of CEO’s and celebrities. “Hi, I’m Apostle Calvin,” and everyone goes, “What an idiot.” Think prison. Think terrorist or thief; Sirius Black the prisoner of Askaban. Dressed in orange jumpsuits, arms and legs in chains. God takes these convicted felons, he parades them in front of the church and then says to us, “Here you go. Here are your leaders.” Why does he do that? Two reasons.

Firstly, that’s who we are. Verse 7, “But to each one of us, grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.” Grace means we do not deserve God’s love. We deserve punishment for rejecting God’s love. But grace means pardon. Jesus has forgiven us, freed us and enables us to serve him out of grace. Paul says every single one of us has received grace. We are pardoned prisoners, that’s who we are.

Secondly, we are given to serve others. It’s not about my gifts and my gain. “I have the gift of singing. I should enter X-Factor and be famous!” Or even, “I’m really good at bible study, I should be a pastor.” Gifts to do not define a Christian, grace does. In verse 12, it says the apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastors are given “to prepare God’s people for works of service, to build up the body of Christ”. Their job is not to focus on their gifts but others, to prepare God’s people. Later today, Lydia will be gathering the musicians and song-leaders together and the main thing we will be discussing is not, “How can we play better. How can the songs sound like Stuart Townend in the MP3.” but “How can we, through our playing and leading, help others to serve. How can I help them serve God.” It’s preparation. It is serving others by giving them what they need (asking them, “How can I help you?” so that they can serve God better.

So two things: Have you received grace? It is grace that defines a Christian, not gifts. And secondly, Are you serving others with your gifts? Preparing them so they can serve God, not using them to make your job easier (and calling it “delegation”), but instead saying, “How can I encourage you? What do you need that I can provide?”

Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors - that’s their job. To prepare God’s people, to build the body of Christ. Yet notice this, they all have one thing in common: the bible. The apostles and prophets are the foundation of the church in Ephesians 2:20. That’s important because Paul is not saying we need to have apostles and prophets in the Chinese Church, he is saying we need the witness of the apostles, the witness of the prophets, and that we have their combined witness here in the bible - the Old Testament (representing the prophets) and the New Testament (representing the apostles). Next, evangelists: they preach the gospel. When you have an evangelistic meeting, the whole point is to hear the gospel - Jesus Christ is Lord. He died for your sins. He was raised for your justification. That’s the gospel. But actually, what Paul means by evangelist is actually missionary. Evangelists were church planters. When Paul says to Timothy, “Do the work of the evangelist,” he didn’t mean, “Invite all your non-Christian friends to Solid Rock.” What he meant was, “Remind the Christians what it means to trust in the gospel.” When there are problems in the church, when people are falling away from the church, the number one cause is always the same: Christians have forgotten the gospel. Finally, the pastor: his job is to teach the bible. Pauls says at the end of verse 11, “pastors and teachers”, which means pastors who are teachers. Pastors are not counsellors, they can do counselling, but that’s not their calling. Pastors are not worship leaders, they can play the guitar if they want to, but even if sound horrible when singing, that’s OK. Pastors are shepherds of the church. Their job is to lead, to protect and to guide the church and the way they do that, Paul tells us, is through the authority of God’s word. They teach.

Why all this emphasis on teaching? The church isn’t a university. Pastors are not professors. No, but we all start out as kids and like all kids we need to grow. In the same way that the physical body needs food, our spiritual lives need to be fed with God’s word. The problem is, like most kids, we like junk food.

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.
Ephesians 4:14

This morning I was reading about Jamie Oliver’s campaign for healthy school lunches. Two out of five kids are obese, Jamie says. What’s his approach in tackling obesity? It’s not simply the case of getting rid of all the junk food, of getting kids to eat less food. That won’t work. Jamie Oliver is putting in his own money, drumming up publicity to get schools to provide good and healthy food.

Paul is saying the same thing. When you get rid of bible teaching, and people do that sometimes for sincere reasons, saying, “We don’t have the time,” “We need to focus on worship,” or “We need more fellowship and less doctrine,” the surprising thing is you end up with more teaching - bad teaching. We are “blown here and there by every wind of teaching.” All kinds of weird ideas start floating around the church and people can’t tell the difference. Why? Because we’re kids. If you ask a kid, “Do you want Haribo for lunch?” of course, they’ll say, “Yes!”

The purpose of bible teaching - the apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastors - is not to produce scholars. It’s to help people grow up. Verse 13: “Until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the full measure of the fullness of Christ.” The point is not to be a perfect church - Get this right, fix this, fix that. The point is to be a healthy church - everyone growing together, helping one another, loving one another. Paul says, this is what it means to love another as the church.

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From his the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament,  grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Ephesians 4:15-16

Two ways we’ve seen we need to grow as Christians - we grow in God’s grace - serving one another; we grow in maturity - in the truth of God’s word. But what holds it together is love. Verse 15: We speak the truth in love. Verse 16: We build one another up in love.

Each year I write a report for the church reviewing the events and activities here in the English Ministry. In such reports, it is easy to get away with talking about all the stuff we did, to give statistics, to mention all the people who were involved. That’s the kind of report you expect from any social group - this is what we did, these were the people who did it. The real challenge is look back at all the stuff that’s happened here the past twelve months and ask, “How have we been loving? How have we grown in our love for God and one another?” Paul tells us.

Verse 15: It’s speaking the truth in love. The most loving thing you can do for another human being is tell them God’s love. Have you done that recently?

Verse 16: It is growing together in love. Jesus says, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” If you say you love God but hate the church, you’ve missed the point. Jesus says your love for one another, as brothers and sisters, as the church - that’s the kind of love that you’ll never find anywhere else. That’s the kind of love that outsider will see and then say, “Those guys, they are the real thing. They follow Jesus.”

Chuck Colson spent seven months on his sentence before being released on parole. But the truth is he spent the rest of his life as a prisoner of Jesus Christ. The last forty years were dedicated to starting a prison fellowship helping convicts hear and grow in the gospel. It was unglamorous, hard work, but Chuck took seriously a verse in Hebrews 13:3 which reads “Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners.” Chuck knew true freedom in the gospel and Chuck learned true service in Jesus Christ. It meant loving his brothers, his fellow prisoners. It meant serving the church, the body of Christ. Yesterday, at the age of 80, Chuck Colson died on 21 April 2012.

What does the church need to grow? It takes men and women freed by sin and taken captive by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Only then will God receive all the glory due him for his grace shown us through the giving of his Son, Jesus Christ.

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