Ephesians Study, Part 30: Building Spiritual Maturity in the Church


Last week, we discussed Paul's claim that Jesus descended into Hades (not Hell) after his death on the Cross.  I argued that it was both his victory lap, to proclaim his victory over sin and death, as well as his trip to collect all the believers and take their souls with him to Heaven.  In that discussion we also tried to understand, the best we can, some of the aspects of Hades.  In Hades you find saved souls and you find unsaved soul, all there after their bodily death, but you can't get from the unsaved side of Hades to the saved side.  There is a great chasm between them. 

Then we looked at the leaders that God gave to the Church as gifts: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, and we looked at the definition of each of these roles in the Church.

Today's Lesson: Building Spiritual Maturity in the Church

This morning we will see what these Church leaders were sent to do, what their real job is.  We will see that they were not sent to form a hierarchy, a bureaucracy.  They were sent for a single purpose.

Paul says that a pastor is not hired to do the work.  So many people make that erroneous assumption.  Some people think you just get together, hire the pastor and he'll do everything.  That's not how it's supposed to be.  He is called to equip the believers to do the work of the ministry.  Paul says that he is supposed to equip the saints to do the work to build up the body of Christ. 

Biblical Illiteracy:

The greatest tragedy in the church today is the biblical illiteracy sitting in the pews.  A hundred years ago it was tough enough for evangelists to bring people to Jesus, but at least then they were speaking to an audience that had some awareness of the Bible.  Unfortunately today the average person knows virtually nothing about what the Bible really says.  And what little most people think they know is wrong.  Biblical illiteracy is one of the tragedies of modern society. 

One of the reasons I suspect that many of you enjoy the teaching in this class is that although you may have been raised in or around one church or another, you, like most, have never really studied what the Bible actually says and therefore are anxious to know what it really says.  Unfortunately it doesn't matter too much what denomination you were raised in, the biblical illiteracy is spread throughout most of the denominations.  Few churches today teach what the Bible says, verse by verse. 

If you watch what the press has to say about denominations, the most common statement is that their membership is dwindling.  Then on the other hand you see articles about the mega churches.  And while most churches are decreasing in membership the mega churches continue to grow and grow.  If you will look at the differences between the two, you may figure out why some churches are having a tough time just surviving and others are growing by leaps and bounds.  The churches that seem to be prospering and growing are the churches that have rediscovered the Bible and what it really says.  They have a program for their congregations to go through the Bible verse by verse.  And of course today that's exactly what Wayne is doing here at Hoffmantown.  Today the average Christian does not really know the Bible.  Think about it.  Would you get into an airplane if the pilot didn't know any more about flying than the average church member does about what the Bible says?

Healthy sheep multiply:

Here's another point to be made.  From the perspective of the pastor, you feed the sheep so that they'll be healthy.  Healthy sheep multiply.  It's the people in a growing church that bring in the other people.  It's the people who invite other people and get them involved.  The purpose for those called to be church leaders is to train and equip the members to do the work of spreading the Gospel and building the Church. 

The measures of Christian maturity:

Sometimes people ask how to measure spiritual maturity.  Paul is going to give us four significant measures of maturity.
  1. How much are we like Jesus?

    There's an easy way to tell.  Turn to First Corinthians 13.  Remember, this is the chapter that is stuck in between the two chapters on spiritual gifts.

    Starting with the last verse of Chapter 12:

    He was speaking of the gift of tongues, a gift that some claim to be a higher gift, but Paul says that that gift without love is just noise. This is a familiar passage, I think, to most of us.  One of the interesting ways that you can demonstrate that God is love is to put the name of Jesus in here instead of love.  Start with verse 4.  It is interesting.  If you put Jesus there instead of the word love, it fits.  You can read that passage very comfortably with that change.  Why?  Because Jesus is love, right?

    So let's see how spiritual we are. 

    I can't even say that with humor.  Even in satire it is difficult.  There is such a gigantic mismatch between the words and my action.  You might say, "none of us fits that."  I think the question is, how close do you come?  Some people come a lot closer than others.  The point is, that is one measure of spiritual maturity as a Christian.  In verse 13 Paul implies that our maturity is measured by how we match the likeness of Jesus.

  2. Doctrinal Stability:
    Haven't we all seen people who pick up on whatever the latest trend is in Christianity?  Some little germ of truth that gets exaggerated or over-emphasized and taken to extreme, derails the Christian body in one direction.  If you don't like it, don't worry about it because a few months later it will be something else in another direction.  One of the ways you protect yourself against those, by the way, is spiritual maturity.  Spiritual maturity will protect you.  The spiritually mature will be very slow to follow those Christian fads. 

    But another mistake is the error of looking for experiences.  It is amazing how many people seem to build their Christian walk on experiences.  It does not mean that those experiences, at least some of them, are not valid.

    Twelve weeks ago, a close friend of mine, who is a very strong believer, with deep faith in Jesus, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  Eleven weeks after the diagnosis, a week ago yesterday, he died.  If any of you ladies are in women's Bible Study Fellowship, you may have heard about this, although the story got a little distorted and confused.  The true story was related at his funeral service last Wednesday, by his sister who was a participant in the story. 

    About a week before Gene's death, he was at home and his body just crashed.  A major infection hit him and they almost lost him.  They rushed him to Presbyterian hospital, of course, and admitted him to the Intensive Care Unit, where they were able to keep him from dying.  The next day, Gene could communicate via motions and writing on his yellow legal pad.  He could not talk because of the life support system in his airway.  He told the family, including his wife and sister, "last night I was at a party. " Since it was difficult for him to communicate and he was under heavy sedation, they did not pursue his statement.  They were intensely trying to determine if the life support should remain and if so, for how long.  So his statement about going to a party was not pursued.

    However that night his sister, while in her prayer time, asked God for understanding about what Gene had said, and what that was about.  The next morning when she woke up, it hit her as clear as a bell, that Gene had seen a glimpse of Heaven.  In his near death condition, God had shown him what he had in store for him.  She remembered a little book about heaven that she had in her house somewhere, and she set about to find it, but after searching everywhere she thought it would be, she could not find it. 

    So went to Bibles Plus to see if she could find it there.  She asked to see all the books they had about heaven.  The clerk brought her a stack of books, but after looking at all eleven of them, she still could not find the one she was looking for, the one she knew she had at home, if only she could find it.  As she was walking out of the store, having given up, the clerk called to her and said, "I found one more."   She turned around to see what this other book was, and it was a small book, not the one she was looking for.  The little book was entitled "Heaven is a Party."  She bought the book and gave it to Gene's wife to explain why Gene had said he went to a party last night -- that God had given Gene a glimpse of Heaven, the party that was waiting for him.  The next day the family agreed, with the advice of the physicians and after a lot of prayer, to let Gene go to the party that God had waiting for him. 

    At Gene's funeral, his sister read a couple of passages from the little book, Heaven is a Party

    I relate this story because I think it is a very strong real life experience that has a teaching for us.  But I use it here also to make the case, that this experience should not be used to go off on some experience-based tangent.  The Bible gives us all we should depend on for our Christian walk. 

    Basing your Christian walk on experiences is dangerous, even if the experience may be valid.  If you start looking for experiences you'll discover that you will be going from one experience to the next, each one leading to another one, and so forth.  It is amazing how most of these strange deviant practices or teachings come from people who are seeking experiences rather than just putting their trust in what the Bible says.  So be careful.  Think about it, when someone comes up to you and says "I am a truth seeker."  Of course most of the people who might come up to you and make that statement tend to be people wearing sandals with long stringy hair and they say that they are a truth seeker.  There are a couple of approaches you can take to that statement.

  3. Manifesting the Truth in Love:

    The NAS translates this as "speaking the truth in love "as do most other translations.  However it really isn't a very good translation.  The word that is translated "speaking" is actually a present participle formed from the word truth.  If you are going to translate this literally you would say, "truthing in love."  But that doesn't work very well in the English language.  So the translators say "speaking the truth in love."  Maybe what would have been more accurate would be to say "manifesting the truth in love".  Perhaps that captures the original meaning better, capturing the truth in love.  Truth without love is brutality.  Love without truth is hypocrisy.  See, they need to go together.  Truth unites.  Lies divide.  Love unites.  Selfishness divides.

    Proverbs 27:6 says:

  4. A functioning member of the Body:

    Paul continues:

    This echoes what we looked at in First Corinthians.  That was where Paul was using the idea that the body has different members, all different but each essential.  Every believer, no matter how insignificant he may appear, has a ministry to other believers.  An isolated Christian cannot minister to others, and neither can others minister to him.  God did not call us into a monastic order, to go off and sequester ourselves in a monastery.  He called us to be functioning members of the body.
All through here we see Paul's emphasis on love.  We see it in verse two, verse 15 and verse 16.  Love is the circulatory system of the body, in a sense.


Next week:

...we will continue with Paul's teaching about how we are to live, worthy of our calling as Christians.  He will tell us some things we are not to do and some we are to do.  He will give us more measurements to use to measure the quality of our individual walk.

We will start with Ephesians 4:17.