As we reflect on the Incarnation of Christ, the Word becoming flesh, we need to ask, “Why did Jesus come?” There are many answers to that question and one of them is found in these verses today. Hear now God’s word.
7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it says:
“When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.”
9 (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 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 people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him 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 4:7-16
Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant and whoever wants to be first must be your slave, just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus in calling us to serve one another, reminds us of what he came to do: to serve and give his life as a ransom for many. Jesus came to ransom us, to set us free from slavery to sin that we might serve. This is hinted at throughout this passage. In verse 7: to each one of us grace has been given. Then in verses 11-12, he gave gifts to prepare us for works of service. Jesus served us. We are to serve others. This of course does not mean that we are to literally die on the cross for others, but that, yes, symbolically we are to in humility count others as better than ourselves. We have been set free to serve. This morning we will consider: the source, the responsibility and the end of our service.
We must go the source of our service. Who is the source of our service? Clearly it is Christ, verse 7. To each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is not something we do on our own initiative or in our own strength. Thus there is no room for boasting in self, “Look at how great I am. Look at the wonderful acts of service.” The source of our service is Christ. It is he who gives the gifts. It is he who empowers; it is he who sends; it is he who brings fruit.
How has Christ, as the source, given his gifts? According to his will. Verse 7 teaches us that Christ has apportioned or given according to his measure. Not everyone is gifted the same way. This is evident in verse 11; he gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, some to be pastors and teachers. Just an aside, the apostles and prophets were uniquely gifted by God to speak His word, to say “thus saith the Lord.” I do not believe that there are such people today, so beware of those who proclaim themselves to be modern-day apostles and prophets. Note too that this is not an exhaustive list; the apostle discusses spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12. From these passages it is clear that God has gifted each one of us differently. While this is really comes as no surprise to us, this can be rather threatening to us. We might think that one gift is more important than another so we might complain, “Why are they gifted that way and I am not. No fair.” They are gifted that way and you are not because that is the way Christ wanted it. Sometimes in a our insecurities we will try to tear down others who are gifted differently in an attempt to make ourselves feel better about who we are, as if all we have received is a lump of coal in our stocking for Christmas. We must see how grievous a sin this is because when we despise our gifts we are in essence despising the giver, we are despising the Lord. We need to repent of that, for your gifts have been given to by God himself. We must give thanks to God for the diversity of the gifts and how we benefit one from the other. I am very grateful for those gifted to serve with their hands—those who placed the tile in the bathroom; those who constructed that wall in the Sunday school room; those who landscaped the front of the church; I am personally grateful for Maureen who is gifted in administration. I shudder to think how many important details would have fallen through the cracks were it not for her. These are but a few examples: all kinds of service all kinds of gifts each one precious gift for it is given by Christ, the source of our service.
Therefore, we must fulfill the responsibility of service. Who is responsible for serving? Each one of us. Each one of us is equipped for service, verse 12. The church is functioning properly only as each part does its work, verse 16. I realize that this can be taken the wrong way coming from one who is paid to minister, but the idea that ministry is limited to the “paid professionals” is not Biblical. If you have placed your faith in Christ, you have a responsibility to serve. It is too easy, too tempting to sit on the sidelines and criticize as if service was a spectator sport. Here, I tell you what; I will watch you as I sit in the stands and critique your performance. There are many things that I would like to go back and change in my life. My attitude during my years at AT&T is among them. How easy it was to almost become a bystander and sit back and criticize those in management or those who were trying to work for positive change. It is almost the American way. It must not be so in the church. Each one of us is gifted to serve and you must be fulfilling your responsibility. Christianity is not a spectator sport. Today one of the biggest challenges that we face as Christians is that we live in a culture that is so consumer oriented, that it can influence our view of the church, the view of service. Rather than thinking of how you can serve your neighbor, someone at work or in the church, you think of yourself, “What is in it for me.” Charles Spurgeon said, “If you would just roll up your sleeves for work, for service....you would find your spiritual health mightily restored...” It is not a question of whether we serve, but what form that service will take. What is it you want to do?
As we serve whatever the specifics might be, we are all required to speak the truth in love, verse 15. Here is a key scriptural balance: we speak the truth in love. Make no mistake, whether it is in the workplace, preaching in the prison, tutoring in the city, reaching out to the neighbor, cleaning the church, lifting someone up in prayer, we stand for truth, for the gospel of Jesus Christ who is the source of our service. But sometimes we convince ourselves that if you have a problem or an issue with somebody, don’t speak up, and don’t rock the boat all in the name of love. But two things: if someone is entangled in some sin, whatever it might be, is it really loving to turn our heads the other way? Second, let us be honest, often in such cases, it is not love that is driving us, but rather that we are too timid, too fearful of man to speak the truth. Don’t call people to repent if their sin, they may get mad at you. We need to confess that to our God, for we are not fulfilling our responsibility. Yet you might be one who speaks truthfully but you do so with a sledgehammer of arrogance, not love. Think about this, when you have concerns or issues that need to be addressed, how do you bring them up? Do you attack; does your blood pressure increase? If so, you need to confess this to God, for you too are not fulfilling your responsibility. Speaking the truth in love impacts everything we do. The story is told of a woman working at Crisis Pregnancy Center who daily counseled women to choose against abortion—since the center was located near a major university, pro-abortion demonstrators would often picket the center. One cold, snowy Michigan day, she personally brought hot coffee out to the demonstrators, “I know we disagree on this issue, but I thought you might like some coffee.” They stood speechless. They mumbled thanks and stared at the coffee though most refused to drink it (perhaps they thought that she had laced it with poison). Speak the truth in love. Your service may be restraining a brother or sister from engaging in some horrible sin, or lifting them up out of depression and giving them hope; your service may cause someone to consider the truth of the gospel for the very first time.
As we do this, we will move to the end, that is the goal of our service. What are these goals? First: we will be building each other up in love, verse 16. This leads to unity and deep roots. Unity is established in the contrast found between verses 13 and 14. Notice that in verse 13 we are exhorted to reach maturity or mature manhood, this is singular indicating unity that we would grow together into maturity. Contrast that with infants in verse 14 which is plural. I believe the difference in person is deliberate, that the stability that arises out of serving one another makes us one, but when we are immature, focused on ourselves and our own interests we are infants. When infants do not get what they want they have a temper tantrum or they whine. Sometimes we are no different, just a gathering of isolated individuals who want attention now. As we serve, though, we build each other up in unity, we are in this together.
Second, as we build each other up, we will develop deep roots. Verse 14, those who are infants are easily tossed back and forth by the waves and blown here and there by every wind of teaching. As we serve one another and build one another up, as we speak the truth in love, we will be deeply rooted in the truth. Too many though are like a big tall tree that has shallow roots, a big strong wind comes and knocks them over, easily swayed, easily influenced by the smooth talking of others. There are all kinds of teaching out there that will seek to lead people away from the truth of the gospel. Here let us focus on how God wants you to be rich; or how God wants you healthy or God wants you to have some sort of ecstatic experience - or here is the latest solution for dealing with this or that problem and so we go here, then we go there - we try this and we try that rather than rooting ourselves in the truth of the gospel that Jesus Christ came to save sinners like you and like me. Of course, the implications of the gospel affect all areas of life, but we must never be diverted from this, this is where we must begin every single day: Jesus came to save sinners; he came to set me free that I might serve.
As we grow in our understanding of this we not only build each other up, we move towards the ultimate end, the goal of our service: Christ himself. Verse 13, “until we all reach unity in the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Verse 15, we will grow up into him who is the head, that is Christ. It has been observed that a newborn baby has a head that is out of proportion with the rest of her or his body. Growing up brings the infant body into right proportion with size with the head. So it is with the church, we grow into the head who is Christ. We become Christ-like. He is the end, the goal of our service. If we do not keep our eyes on the end, the goal, we will drift. The goal is not that we become rich or healthy or more affluent, the goal, the end of our service is Christ-likeness.
As we grow in our Christ-likeness, the world will notice. A concert was held at Wembley Stadium in London. For 12 hours groups like Guns and Roses perform for the crowd of 70,000. For some reason, the organizers scheduled an opera singer as the closing act. She strolled on stage, no backup band, no musical instruments, the crowd grew restless, some yelled for Guns and Roses, others joined the chorus, the scene began to grow ugly when alone, she began to sing: Amazing Grace how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost but now am found. Was blind but now I see. An amazing thing happened. The raucous crowd fell silent. What happened? One author suggested: the world thirsts for grace and when grace descends, the world falls silent before it. Christ descended to set us free, free to serve—he is the source and the end of our service and the world will notice—this is why Christ came. Let us pray.