God's Plan for the Church - Part 4

Ephesians 4:14-16

Tom Pennington  •  October 19, 2003
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Well, let's turn again tonight to Ephesians chapter 4 and finish up what has been for me anyway and I hope for you a wonderfully rich study. I told my wife that God is good in many different ways, but He's good even in providentially directing because as I was trying to determine where to start for my time here, my mind was drawn to Ephesians 4 and a study of what the church is to be and to do. And I knew it was important but I don't think I understood how important it was both for me and for you until I really got into it and began to study it in more detail and refresh my own mind in the great truths that are here. And I hope you've found it to be that way as well. As we begin to serve together, this is the call that God has given us as to what we're to do. And I hope you have embraced it as I have and we're eager to do it.

Well as we've examined this passage about God's plan for the church we've seen how Christ has individually gifted each believer. And how He has given men whom He has gifted to the church to equip the saints to do the work of service. This morning we saw the ultimate goal that we're to be striving for – the destination that we're to arrive at someday when Christ returns and that we're to be striving for today. This evening I want us to come to the last three verses of this section, this paragraph that we're examining, verses 14 to 16. And these verses provide us with the purpose which God had for setting that goal before us. This morning we saw the goal, this evening we see why God set that goal for us to pursue.

The Greek word that begins verse 14 is translated "as a result." That is a word in the original language that speaks of purpose. It could be translated "in order that." It is often used to speak of the goals God had set for human action. So Paul is saying that as a result of God's plan for the church, and the final goal that we saw this morning, God intends that there should be a change in our behavior. So while these verses, verses 14 to 16 are not in the form of a command, practically that's the essence of their message. They're a command to us. These three verses are, if you will, the application of the passage to his readers, his original readers there in Ephesus and to us here at Countryside. As a result of what God is doing in the church and as a result of His goal for the church that we saw this morning, each of us should make two very specific and yet very simple changes in our lives; two very specific and yet very simple changes.

The first change that Paul calls us to make in this passage is grow up. Grow up. Verses 14 to 15 Paul writes, "As a result," or, he did this, he set this goal before us, in order that

We are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by the waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth (or holding to the truth) in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ,

Paul says we are no longer to be children. He begins by highlighting what should not be true of us. Children, in Scripture is a common analogy for spiritual immaturity. The Greek word is used of infants; you can see that in Matthew 21:16. It's also used of young children, of minor age, that have not yet or are not able to be on their own. You can see that in Galatians 4:1. It's also used figuratively speaking to speak of those who are immature. Turn for a moment to Hebrews chapter 5. I think it's the most graphic illustration of this use of the word. Hebrews chapter 5. You'll notice in verse 13, let's back up and start in verse 11,

Concerning him we have much to say, and it's hard to explain, (speaking of Melchizedek) since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food."

Now notice verse 13, "For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant." That word translated infant is our word children from Ephesians 4. But here it's used not of actual infants as it is in Matthew but it's used figuratively speaking of infants in terms of their spiritual maturity. They're immature, they're untaught, and they're unable to understand the deep things of God.

Now in Ephesians 4 when Paul uses this expression, "be no longer children," this is figure of speech both in Greek and English that's called a metaphor. A metaphor has three parts, let me teach you a little bit about grammar here. When you see a metaphor, a metaphor has three parts, first it has a subject and then it has an image or a picture, and then it has a point of similarity between the subject and the image. Let me give you an illustration. In the gospels, Christ refers to Herod as a fox. You remember He says, "Go tell that fox" and then He goes on to say what message to be given to Herod. In that metaphor, Herod is the subject, fox is the image or the picture and then what's left to us as exegesis to do is to find the point of similarity. He doesn't mean to say that Herod shares every characteristic with the fox. He means to say there is one point of similarity that they have in common. In the case of Herod and a fox, it's what? It's slyness.

Now when we come to Ephesians 4, we look at children the first thing we need to identify is what is the subject? It's immature believers. And the picture or the image is children. What's the point of similarity between immature believers and children? Well in this case Paul makes it easy for us because he tells us. Here he specifically likens children to immature believers because both are unstable and undiscerning. This is true, if you have children you understand this principle. If you were to take your small age child and put in front of that child a thousand dollar bill and three very shiny pennies you know which that child would choose. I want the shiny ones.

Well just as physical children are undiscerning when it comes to issues of worth and value, so immature believers, those new in Christ or those who have struggled in their growth, lack that kind of discernment. They make the same kinds of choices. They make the same kinds of misjudgments about the value of things. Notice Paul's description of this instability that's true in the lives of these immature believers, it's graphic. He says, in verse 14, "they are tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind." What a graphic description of the instability of these immature believers, of these children in Christ.

The word translated "carried about" has the idea of such violent swinging and swaying that dizziness results. Now I don't know about you, but I've never been on a small boat in the kind of circumstance that Paul pictures here, and I'm glad and I hope in God's providence I never am. The closest I've ever come was on a massive cruise ship. When I was at Grace to You, it was part of my responsibility to oversee the annual Grace to You trip. Some years we went to Israel, other years other places in the Middle East. But on a number of years we would take a cruise to Alaska or to Canada or New England, as they did again this year. It was one of the toughest parts of my assignment at Grace to You.

But Sheila and I, because of that, went on a number of cruises to oversee the group of 300 or 400 that would typically come with Grace to You. And one of those trips to Alaska as we hit open water, there's a stretch where you actually go out, those of you who had the opportunity to do that, there's a stretch where you hit open water and that day there was a storm and it was extremely windy and we hit swells of 25 to 35 feet. Now even on that massive ship we were tossed around in those kinds of seas. I remember the experience of standing at the end of the, the end of the deck and looking out the window at the very end of the deck of the hallway of which I was standing and watching the ship rise and fall against the horizon with every wave, this massive ship. As a result more than 50 percent of the people on board were seasick and only 30 percent of the people came to dinner that night. Which was perfect for the 30 percent of us who were well and enjoying dinner.

But imagine encountering the same seas on a small rubber raft. You would have absolutely no control. You would be completely at the mercy of the wind and waves carried wherever they took you. That is exactly how unstable immature believers are. But unstable in what sense? How are they tossed about? Notice Paul says, "carried about by every wind of doctrine or teaching." A new teaching comes along and they're carried this way by it and another comes and they are carried this way and they're tossed to and fro by every new doctrine that comes along. Their entire direction is changed by the next wave because they lack a knowledge of the faith that we talked about this morning. The body of truth that is part of our Christian belief, that's taught in the Scripture.

Now if you've been a Christian a while, you've grown in Christ and you've seen how these trends and fads come and go in Christianity. Some are more harmful than others but you've learned to ignore them. You've become stable in what you believe so you remained unaffected by them. But immature believers are redirected by every new trend. They uncritically accept error and every ridiculous interpretation of Scripture that comes down the pike. One commentator writes this about these who struggle with immaturity, "Some men have just enough of Christian intelligence to unsettle them and make them the prey of every idle suggestion, the sport of every religious novelty. How many go the round of all sects, parties and creeds and never receive satisfaction. If in the pride of reason they fall into rationalism, then if they recover they rebound into mysticism. From the one extreme of legalism they recoil to the farthest verge of antinomianism, having traveled at easy stages all the intermediate distances." He says, "Decision and firmness are indispensable to spiritual improvement. Only one form of teaching is beneficial and all deviations are pernicious."

Yesterday a man came by my house to give me a bid on some work that I need done. As I talked to him the best I could tell, he's in Christ. But he had completely bought into false teaching. He kept quoting Ken Copeland and Kenneth Hagin and he mentioned several others. I did my best to direct him to the Scriptures, but he's currently being tossed here and there by every wind of doctrine. And there's so many believers like that. Where do these unsettling winds and waves of teaching that destabilize immature believers come from? Well, sometimes unfortunately they come from well-meaning but confused Christian leaders. Trends like "The Prayer of Jabez" phenomenon, for example. But Paul is concerned about a particular kind of destabilizing force; and that is false doctrine.

Notice what Paul says, "these winds of doctrines" he said, "come by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming." Paul's talking about false teachers and notice how he describes them. The word for trickery comes from the Greek word for dice. It refers to sleight of hand. It's not the kind of innocent card trick that one child may play on another. He's talking about deceivers and frauds. By choosing this word trickery I think Paul is implying that like most sleight of hand frauds, the false teachers are in business for financial profit.

But he continues, not only is there trickery but they do it by "craftiness in deceitful scheming." The word craftiness speaks of devious cunning. It's used of those who tried to trick our Lord in Luke 20:23. Those who came forward with questions that they really didn't sincerely want to know, this sort of devious cunning to trip someone up. The word is also used, the word craftiness, of the "guile of the serpent" in 2 Corinthians 11:3. And in 2 Corinthians 4:2 Paul explains exactly what this kind of ministry looks like. In fact let's take a moment and turn there. Turn to 2 Corinthians 4:2. Paul's defending his ministry and he begins in chapter 4 verse 1, this way, "Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart." Notice how he ministers, he says, "we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness." What is it, how exactly do people who walk in craftiness act or adulterating the Word of God?

That is the most common approach of false teachers. It's not that they come up with some new message totally different than the Scripture. It's that they adulterate, what a poignant word, they adulterate the Word of God. And they do it craftily. They do it deceptively. Paul says we don't do it that way, he ends the verse by saying, "but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God."

Our approach is wholly different. We have, we deal with the truth and there's an open; the word manifestation has the idea of a display. There's an open display. We're an open book, Paul says. There's no craftiness. There's no subtlety. There's no devious cunning scheming, instead we simply speak the truth to every man's conscience.

Now back in Ephesians chapter 4, the last phrase of Ephesians 4:14 is literally with regard to the schemes of error, with regard to the schemes of error. So we could read it this way, "As a result, we're 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 devious cunning in regard to the schemes of error, in regard or with regard to the schemes of error." The word schemes is the noun form of a verb that means to pursue a plan. It's used in Ephesians 6:11 of the schemes of the devil. You remember that verse, that talking about the armor, putting on the armor of God and he says beware of the schemes of the devil. That's the same word.

So, false teachers are frauds. They're frauds who cunningly trick people into various schemes or systems of error. That's what Paul is saying. He's saying immature believers are especially ripe to be picked off by these tricksters, these cunning devious people who have an agenda and that agenda as Jude tells us is just their own advancement. Whether it's financially or whether it's sexual favors or whether it's their pure pride. They have only themselves at heart and they set out to deceive. And the end result is these immature believers end up locked in schemes of error.

I'm sure all of us have known someone who's taken this path; some immature believer who has been picked off by one of the cults. Eventually they, if they're in Christ, they come out of that and they are saved from that. But they're tempted to be involved in the part of that kind of devious plot on the part of Satan and even on the part of men. By the way this is a common New Testament warning about false teachers. Paul told Timothy this is an interesting expression in 2 Timothy 3:13, he says that "there were people lying in wait to deceive."

You know as believers it's hard for us to imagine that, isn't it? We love the people of God and we want the people of God to prosper and we want them to understand the truth. We want to help them. We want to be involved in their spiritual growth and development. But there are people who lie in wait. The picture, the picture is of a crouching animal waiting for its prey. They lie in wait to deceive. And children are especially susceptible to deception. Whether it's physical children or whether it's spiritual children. But Paul says we are no longer to be children, verse 15 instead, "we are to grow up."

As I pointed out earlier the expression we are no longer to be children, but we are to grow up could be expressed as a command. Stop being children and grow up. But how? How can we grow up? Well the NAS and the Greek text begin verse 15 with a participle. That participle modifies the verb grow up. It's translated "speaking the truth in love." It can refer to speaking the truth in the sense of confessing the truth. So what is Paul saying? He's saying the Ephesian believers had heard the saving truth and embraced it. And they had also been exposed to false teaching. Paul is charging them to continue to confess the truth which they had learned from Paul. So you could translate it this way. "Holding to the truth in love, grow up." That, by the way, better explains how the truth is connected to spiritual growth. It would read like this, "but holding to the truth in love, grow up."

In that phrase there are two factors that influence our growth. How are we to grow up? How can that happen? Well, first of all an increase in our knowledge of the truth. Holding onto the truth, grow up. But there also has to be a moral change in our disposition toward God and others. It's encapsulated in that expression "in love." Holding to the truth in love. That's how we're to grow, by holding to the truth and by loving God and others more deeply. Grow up. Holding on to, confessing the truth that you've been taught and growing in your apprehension and understanding of the truth and expressing love to God and to the others around you. Grow up. That's what we can do. And God expects that of us.

As I mentioned this morning God doesn't zap us with some heavenly lightning bolt and suddenly we're this deeply spiritual person. God has given us specific tools and responsibilities and He expects us to use them for our spiritual advancement. But in the end, ultimately, even though we use those tools, God is the one who causes our spiritual growth. We can't just decide to grow any more than we can physically decide to grow. God is the one who causes it. We saw that this morning in John 17:17, very interesting expression it's in the High Priestly Prayer of Christ the night before His crucifixion. And He prays there to His Father, "Sanctify them by Thy truth or by means of the truth, because Your word is truth."

Notice how human responsibility and divine sovereignty meet in that verse. How are we sanctified? By means of the truth. Does God pour the truth into our heads? No, He expects us to put ourselves under the teaching of God's word. He expects us to read it. He expects us to study it. That's how the truth comes to us that God uses to change us. But then notice the divine side, Christ is praying to God and He's saying, "Father, You sanctify them as they are exposed to the truth." There's how divine responsibility and human responsibility meet in sanctification. God is the one who causes the spiritual growth. In 1 Corinthians 3:6-7, Paul says,

I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.

That's true both of evangelism and of spiritual growth.

Now notice Paul's description of our growth. He says you're to grow up and you're to do that by holding onto the truth and you're to do that by expressing a deeper and greater love for God and for others. But you're to do it in all aspects. Verse15 says that is in every part of life you're to grow up into Him who is the head, even Christ. What does it mean to grow up into Christ? What does that expression mean? One commentator I think puts it best when he says this. "This means more than we are to grow in resemblance to Christ, or that our growth is to be according to His example. It means that as He is the source from which the grace or power comes, that makes it possible for us to grow. He is also the object and goal to which our growth in its every stage must look and is to be directed." In other words we are to grow until our entire life has its center in Jesus Christ. Grow up in every part of life into Christ. Brothers and sisters, grow up. That's what Paul is saying. Grow up into Christ in every part of life until He becomes the center of everything.

So what should our response to God's amazing plan for the church be? First, grow up. That's our responsibility and we do that by taking in the Word of God and growing in our love for God and for others. Secondly, Paul says not just grow up but get involved. Get involved. Notice verse 16. He's just referred to Christ and he says, "from whom (Him that is the head) the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love." This is one of the most difficult verses in the book of Ephesians in the original language. But you get the big picture. Paul ends this amazing passage on God's divine plan for the church with an illustration. With a picture of what the plan looks like. And that picture is the growth of the human body. It's an extended metaphor if you will. But throughout this extended metaphor there is a clear, albeit implied, call to individual action; a call for each of us to get involved.

Notice how it works, verse 16, the head provides the life for and directs the functioning of the entire body and it helps every joint in the body fit and hold together. So the head provides the life for and directs everything that goes on in the body. But then notice what happens. Every part performs its specific function according to the proper working of each individual part. Paul couldn't be clearer could he in this picture? Every part performs its specific function and when that happens what ensues? The body grows and builds itself up in love.

Paul's clear implication is this; for the body to grow, all the parts have to fill their role. His application is equally clear for each of us. Are you filling your role in the body? Are you filling your role in the church? Just as the human body, he says in 1 Corinthians 12 has many members, even so the body of Christ has many members. But each member has he says a very specific role to play in the growth of the body, and in the functioning of the body of Christ. The implication in verse 16 of Ephesians 4 is we are to get involved. It only works he says if the proper working of each individual part happens. When that happens, the growth of the body happens and the building up of itself in love.

Are you filling the role in the church that God designed you to fill? Or have you neglected the church and your gift? If you use your gift to serve in this church, if you will obey the Scripture that we've studied in these two Sundays and you will serve in this church using the gift God has given you, using the capacity God has given you for service, not only will you grow as a result but you will contribute to the growth of this church. But it doesn't stop there. This is the amazing thing, as you and I contribute our part in this church, something beyond our own growth and something beyond the growth of this church happens and that is we actually contribute to the growth of the entire body of Christ. Because just as each one of us has a role to fill in this local body, we also have a role to fill in the entire body of Christ. So grow up, he says, by holding to the truth and get involved by filling the role God created you for. That's his application.

Sir Christopher Wren was born in 1632. He was an English architect, a scientist and a mathematician. But he never would have become well known if it hadn't been for the great fire of London in 1666. Because in that great fire, 87 of the most magnificent churches of London were destroyed. It fell his responsibility to redesign all or part of 57 of those churches. The most famous one is one that if you've been to London, you've probably seen and that is St. Paul's Cathedral.

The story has been told, and there's some reason to believe that it's true because it dates back several centuries, that when this renowned British architect Sir Christopher Wren, was overseeing the rebuilding of St. Paul's Cathedral after the fire of 1666, a journalist interviewed several of the workers asking them about their role in the rebuilding. The first man replied as far as what his role and responsibility was, he said, "I'm cutting stone for three shillings a day." The second responded, "I'm working ten hours a day to support my family." The third reportedly said, "I'm helping Sir Christopher Wren build the greatest cathedral in Great Britain for the glory of God."

It's all a manner of perspective, isn't it? What's your reason for being involved in this church? Are you just doing your job? Do you do it because you enjoy being involved or you feel like you need to be involved? Or are you helping Christ build this church to the glory of God? Paul says, grow up and get involved. This is God's plan and this is what He has challenged each one of us to be and to do. And if God gives us the strength to do it, this is what we will do at Countryside Bible Church.