Ephesians 4:11-16, "And he gave some apostles and some prophets and some evangelists and some teaching pastors for the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry for the edifying of the body of Christ. That we all come in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God into a perfect man unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. That we henceforth be no more children tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine by the slight of men and cunning craftiness by which they lie in wait to deceive. But speaking the truth in love may grow up into Him into all things who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body fitly joined together compacted by that which every joint supplieth according to the effectual working and the measure of every part maketh increase of the body under the edifying of itself in love."
Now here we have a passage of Scripture, which for the sake of a sermon we have entitled Perfecting the Saints. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus made a rather shocking statement. He said, "Be ye therefore perfect even as your Father who is in heaven is perfect." Now that really puts the standard up there. Our Lord asked of the Jews perfection. Now that statement really in one simple phrase gives the will of God for men. God wills that we be perfect. God's desire since man's fall was to call out a redeemed people to be perfect. The perfection of the saints then, is the redemptive plan of God from eternity past.
Now what are we talking about when we talk about perfecting the saints. Let me make some clear doctrinal distinctions to begin with. There are three kinds of perfection that the Bible talks about. The first one is what we call positional perfection. Positional perfection. That is we are perfect in Christ before God. In I Corinthians 2:6, we've been seeing in our study of I Corinthians Paul says, "We speak wisdom among them that are perfect." And there he makes reference to believers. When you believed in Christ, when you received Him, positionally before God through salvation, you became, in God's eyes, perfected in Christ.
In Colossians 2:10, the Scripture says, “and ye are” what? “Complete in Him.” In Hebrews 10:14, the writer says, "For by one offering He has perfected forever them that are His." So from the positional standpoint that is our standing before God. We are made perfect when we believed in Jesus Christ. When sin is paid for and removed, as a barrier between us and God, in Christ we are made perfect.
Second kind of perfection is ultimate perfection. This is something that we haven't yet experienced, but we will experience it in the future. In Hebrews 12:23 it refers to “the church of the firstborn who are written in heaven to God the judge of all and the spirits of just men made perfect. The spirits of just men made perfect.” What it means is saints who have been taken to heaven.
Now when Paul in Philippians 3 talks about his death and resurrection he says, "Not as though I already attained," Philippians 3:12, "Either were already perfect." He's looking toward his ultimate perfection when he's like Christ. So there's a positional perfection, which is ours now, we don't need to worry about that, done. There is an ultimate perfection, which is ours in the future, which we can't do anything about 'til we get out of this world.
There's a third area of perfection. That's what we call experiential perfection. And here is the practical day-to-day life of the believer. And this is the emphasis that the apostle Paul wants to make in Ephesians Chapter 4. Positional perfection, that's taken care of, ultimate perfection, that will be taken care of, what we need to work on is experiential perfection. This is the point of our Christian life to become perfect in practice.
Now notice verse 12, the reason that there are evangelists and teaching pastors, as there were apostles and prophets, is for the perfecting of the saints. Now mark it. Those men couldn't make you position ally perfect, only Christ could do that. Those men can't make you ultimately perfect, only God can do that. But we are called to bring the saints to a practical kind of perfection. Now that's what this passage is all about.
Now the word perfecting deserves our attention. It's the word in the Greek contarkiso is the root word. It means fully equipped, full-grown, mature, complete, total. God is not demanding out of us sinless perfection. If He was demanding that we wouldn't be able to deliver and we'd be in a lot of trouble. God is not asking for sinless perfection, but He is asking for fully equipped, full grown, mature, complete Christian, as Christ-like as possible in this world. God is asking that we mature to Christ-likeness and beloved nothing less than that satisfies God. God's standards must be absolute and they must be high, and He settles for nothing less. That's why II Corinthians 7:1 says, "We ought to perfect holiness."
Now this is what the church age is all about, and this is what the church is all about, and this is what the ministry is all about, this is the purpose of the church, the purpose of its leadership to bring believers to perfection. Now God uses a lot of things to bring you to maturity, a lot of things. One thing he uses, of course, is the Holy Spirit. In Galatians 3:3, it indicates that you have begun in the Spirit but you could never be made perfect by the flesh and the implication there is that you could only be made perfect in the spirit in which you begun.
The Holy Spirit is the divine person of the Trinity involved in the maturing of the saints, Galatians 3:3. So the work of the Spirit is maturity, to mature the saints. Another thing God does in your life to bring about maturity is He brings you trials. In James 1:2, it says, "Count it all joy when you fall into various trials knowing that the testing of your faith works patience and let patience have her perfect work that you may be perfect and entire lacking nothing." God's going to send along trials to make you mature.
In I Peter 5:10 it says God is going to make you suffer before you're perfect. So the work of the Holy Spirit is to make you mature. The work of trials and suffering is to make you mature. And there's a third agency of your maturity and that is the word of God. In I Peter 2:2, it says, "As babes desire the pure milk of the word that you may grow thereby." The word of God is the agency of perfection. In II Timothy 3:16, it says, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for correction, for instruction in righteousness that the man of God may be perfect, mature, truly furnished unto all good works." All right the Holy Spirit is working on your maturity. Trials and suffering are working on your maturity. The word of God is to work on your maturity, to make you mature.
Now watch this: I don't need to help the Holy Spirit, right? He can handle His own work. He's never said, "John, would you help me?" He has no need of me, so I don't need to get in His way. And I don't need to make you suffer and give you trials in your life; God will take care of that. But the one area in which I am involved in perfecting the saints is the area of using the word of God to bring you to maturity and that's what this is saying. He has given evangelists and teaching pastors for the maturing of the saints, not by suffering and trial, but by the use of the word.
The purpose then of everything that occurs in your life, the word, the work of the Spirit, trials, suffering, all of these things are to bring about experiential and practical maturity, to make you mature, make you grown up, complete, fully equipped. At the end of the letter to the Hebrews, this was the final benediction, verse 20 in Chapter 13, "Now the God of peace that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the ever lasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do His will." This is the benediction. Paul said to the Corinthians, "Be perfect." This was the desire, this was the goal of the Christian's practical life, through the ministry of the Spirit, through trials, through suffering, through the word.
Now the gifted men then are given to the church. Clearly it says, "For," look at it in verse 12, "the maturing of the saints." The pastor teachers, the evangelists, who were the ones who founded churches in biblical times were the catalysts to set in motion the maturing of the saints until the whole body would be built up.
Now in this passage we find three features of perfection emphasized. Let's look at them. Number one is the progress to perfection. Number two is the purpose in perfection. Number three the power of perfection. The progress to perfection verses 11 and 12, very simple. Some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists and teaching pastors, we believe that's hyphenated for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.
Now you'll notice there's a progress there. Step number on is this: the gifted men equip the saints. The word perfecting can be equipping or maturing, whatever. He gave, verse 11 says, who gave? Christ gave. He gave what? Some men: apostles, prophets, evangelists, and teaching pastors. To whom? To the church. For what reason? To perfect it, to make it mature. They are trophies of his conquest over Satan at the cross. They are given back to the church as gifts for the purpose of maturing and equipping the saints.
Now our given tasks, given to us by God, is to bring you to maturity, to completeness, to a full grown individual in Christ and the word, beloved, never ceases short of that. People have asked me again and again what is my goal in the ministry? Almost every time I have an interview with somebody they ask me, "What is my goal in the ministry?" And I always say, "Simply my goal is to bring the saints that God has given me to maturity." I'm not interested in getting more people in this building than somebody else has in their building. I'm not trapped in some kind of a success psychosis which says, "Success is based upon how many people you have." That just isn't biblical.
My purpose is not to fill a building. God didn't say that He's given some evangelists and teaching-pastors to fill the building. That's not the purpose. It isn't even to get people saved. The work of an evangelist, beloved, was not just to bring people to Christ. No, no. It was to bring them to maturity in Christ. It is not a biblical concept that an evangelist is a guy with fifty sermons and fifty suits who keeps on the move. No. The biblical concept of an evangelist is the same as the teaching-pastor. He has the same responsibility. The only difference is he went to areas where Christ is not named. And our God given task is not to fill a building.
A young man came to Spurgeon one time and said, "I have a complaint. My congregation is too small." Spurgeon said, "Well perhaps they are as large as you'd like to give account for on the Day of Judgment." Pretty good answer. You're not responsible for how many; you're responsible for what kind. My responsibility as a minister of the gospel, as a teacher of the Bible, is not to put on a program. The responsibility that I have to you is not to provide the greatest social program as possible in this church. My responsibility to you is not to make sure you're entertained. The task that I have is simply stated: equip the saints.
And beloved, the early apostles didn't miss on this. Man, they understood this totally. Just to give you a glimpse of how clear it was in their minds listen to what Paul says in Colossians 1:28, referring to Christ, as the antecedent to the word whom he says, "Christ whom we preach," now listen, "Warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, giving him all the wisdom of God, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus." Paul said the goal of my ministry is mature saints to build them up not just to leave a whole bunch of squalling spiritual babies lying all over the world, but to win them and build them that they may be mature.
There's a dear saint of God named Epaphras. He's one of you, a servant of Christ," verse 12 of Colossians 4. It says, "He always laboring fervently for you in his prayers." And what's he praying for? "That you may stand perfect and complete." Now he knew what the goal of the ministry was. He knew what the objective of the ministry was. Paul says, as I mentioned earlier to the Corinthians in that parting farewell note at the end of II Corinthians, "Finally brethren, farewell, be perfect." Boy that's a high standard, but there is no other standard. David even said it right. David said, "I will be satisfied when I awake in Thy likeness."
Beloved, as a minister of God, I will never be satisfied until I see saints come to maturity. That's my calling. That's the reason we teach the word of God. The call to be an evangelist, the call to be teaching pastor is not a call to a profession. It's a call to a passion. We belong to the church not to entertain it, not to program it, not to run around and have coffee and tea with its members, not even to organize it, but to bring it to maturity, to perfection, full grown spiritual maturity. Nothing less than that and all of our energies have to be concentrated in that area.
You say, "John, how does one equip the saints? How is it done? There's so many men who don't seem to be doing it." That's right. There are many men the ministry far more concerned with how many people they've got than whether they're mature. I was at a pastor's conference recently and there were some huge churches represented, the biggest churches in America, their pastors were there. I mean monster churches with fleets and fleets of busses, you know where if you get there too early you're liable to die of carbon monoxide poisoning, you know, when the fleet pulls out. But, and I'm not against a bus ministry. It can be very effective, but there just huge churches from the Midwest and they invited me to be one of the speakers as an alternative. That's exactly what the guy said.
But anyway I sat on a panel with three of these men and I was the fourth one on the panel and the first series of questions came to the panel and finally one pastor, maybe there were 800 - 900 pastors there, stood up and said, "I'd like to know what your habits are in terms of study and preparation for your pulpit ministry." I'll never forget the answers these three men gave and you might know them if I were to name them. The first man said, "Well I read the Bible every day." That sounds a little insufficient. But he had a habit all of his life of having his devotions every day. The second man said, "I've made it a habit all my life to read one good sermon a week, which being interpreted means he subscribed to the Sword of the Lord or some other Christian paper. The third man said, I'll never forget this, he said, "I don't have time to study. God has given me so many ministries I just trust God that when I get up to speak He'll give me the words." Well you know that's tragic.
There was a man there who was a pastor of a church in the south whose church was the fastest growing church supposedly percentage wise going and they were going to give him an honorary doctor's degree for the growth of his church. So they did, brought him up, gave him his honorary doctor's degree because his church had gone from so many to so many fast. Well he was there and he was listening. I was the fourth guy on the panel. He said, "How much do you study?" I couldn't believe it. I said, "I study somewhere between five and seven hours every day." And they looked at me like boy this kid is thick. I see the church as a school where people need to be educated into maturity, not just sermonettes for Christianettes.
So, this guy who received the doctorate, I didn't know about this, but I got a phone call, a long distance phone call some weeks later, and over the phone he said, "You know, your talk and your sitting on that panel left an impression on me." He said, "We have a fast growing church, but," he said, "I haven't got the faintest idea how to teach the Bible. Could you help me?" He said, "I'm a brokenhearted man because I'm not doing what God wants me to do." All of our energies have to be concentrated on one thing: perfecting the saints. How are you going to do it?
Let me show you what Paul said to Timothy. II Timothy 4:1, "I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the living and the dead at his appearing and His kingdom. Preach the word." Now watch, "Be diligent in season, out of season, reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all long-suffering and doctrine." Our exhortation must be built on doctrine. There must be continually the teaching of sound doctrine. This is how you build the saints. In I Timothy 4:6, Paul said to Timothy, "If you put the brothers in remembrance of these things you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and good doctrine." Give them doctrine. Give them something that's going to make them grow. In II Timothy 2:2, he said, "The things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, the same to commit to faithful men who should be able to teach others also, constantly reproducing mature believers." And in order to do that Paul says, "You're going to have to study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." There must be a commitment to teaching and teaching properly, teaching rightly the word of God.
Paul said to Timothy again in I Timothy 4:11, "These things command and teach." This is your job, command and teach. "Let nobody despise your youth, be an example." In other words, let your life support your message. "Till I come, give your attendance to reading, exhortation, and doctrine." You know what those three things mean? Read the text, explain the text, and apply the text. That's biblical teaching.
In the Old Testament they gave it, they read the text and they gave the sense of it. They explained its meaning. "Don't neglect the gift that is in you. Meditate wholly on these things. Take heed to yourself and unto the doctrine." This is the heart of the ministry. And, of course, as I said the word is the key. "all Scripture is given in order that men might be made mature." That's why when Paul went to Ephesus said, "I have not failed to declare unto you," what, "the whole counsel of God." I have withheld nothing that was profitable unto you and all Scripture is profitable. The word is the key. This is the heart of the ministry: to teach the word of God. Not constant evangelism, evangelism, evangelism, evangelism. You'll stunt your people right into carnality. Too much milk!
In Colossians 3:10 it says this: "Put on the new man that is renewed in knowledge," the facts, the truths, the doctrines of the word of God. Similarly Ephesians 4:23 says, "Be renewed in the Spirit of your mind." People will never be able to function on principles they do not know. It is the word of God that brings growth.
When they had a revival in Nehemiah's day it started in Chapter 8, verse 1, with these words, "Bring the book." Did you ever read that? "Bring the book." We have one primary duty to teach the word of God that you may become mature. My ministry and that of any other that is appointed by God as an evangelist or a teaching pastor is to equip the saints. That is our ministry and my task is never complete as long as there is one individual who lingers in spiritual infancy. That's why I say I have never ever asked God for more people in this church. Never.
I have never asked God to bring more people to this church. I never would. I haven't made disciples out of the ones that are here. Many of you are not yet mature. It's fearful enough to be responsible for you. Hebrews 13 says I have to give an account to God for how I labor. That's why James 3:1 says, "Stop being so many teachers, theirs is the greater condemnation." It's a serious responsibility. But I'll tell you it's a serious responsibility to just keep giving people pabulum all the time, to get people misdirected into social programs and all kinds of church activities and never teach them the things of the word of God. I think men will be accountable for that, 'cause I think anything less than a total commitment to teaching the word of God, to bring the saints to maturity, is a prostitution of the ministry. That's a strong statement, but I believe it. We can be so preoccupied with empty pews.
A lady came to our church and she said, "I left my church." I said, "Well what caused you to leave?" And it always bothers me, you know, when people leave because it manifests maybe a problem either with that person or with the church and both are a great concern to God. I said, "Why did you leave?" "Because they had a contest where they paid 50 cents for everybody you brought and they lined the people up in the morning and they gave out the money to the people who brought the people who were sitting." How would you like to be 50 cents worth?
If we're going to mature the saints then we're going to be on the apostolic wavelength and we're going to feel the passion that Paul felt. We're going to catch his heart. This was his burden. When he wrote to the Thessalonians in I Thessalonians 3:10 this is what he said, "Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face," now watch, "Night and day this guy prayed and we might perfect that, which is lacking in your faith." He had one objective: maturity, to bring people to maturity. Now that's what it means to equip the saints, to build them, to make them complete, and you're only complete as you learn the word of God as it finds root in your life, as first of all your mind is renewed, and then your behavior responds to your mind.
But there is another thought. Back to Ephesians Chapter 4 where it says perfecting the saints, that also can mean something different. There is the thought in the word that it can refer to the coming together of many dislocated limbs. That's how it's used in I Corinthians 1:10. He says, "I don't like to see divisions among you, I want you to be perfectly joined together in the same mind and the same judgment." And he said earlier, he wants them to speak the same thing.
Now watch, perfecting the saints means then two things: one, bringing individual believers to maturity; two, welding together all those individual believers into one harmonious group, bringing together dislocated limbs, joining the saints, the life of the body of Christ, the ministry of spiritual gifts, fellowship responsibilities, sharing, praying for one another, serving one another, ministering our gifts to one another, restoring one another, confessing to one another, forgiving one another, admonishing one another, praying for one another, all this unity is part of perfecting the total body of Christ. So it's not just to seek to bring an individual to maturity, but to bring the entire body of Christ into unity.
I think Peter might serve as an illustration. You know there are several things that have to be in a man's heart in order to make him do this. One is a concern for this priority and unless that concern is there it just doesn't happen. In II Peter 1:12, Peter says, "Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though you know them and are established in the present truth. Yea I think it is fitting as long as I'm in this tabernacle to stir you up by putting you in remembrance." Peter was committed to their maturity, to the place where even the things they knew he kept repeating. We forget, don't we? We forget. I keep doing it, I keep doing it and I will continue doing it, verse 15 says, “so that after I am dead you'll never forget these truths.”
When Paul was going to leave the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:36-38, they fell on the ground and Paul with them and they prayed and then these men fell all over his neck and they wept tears down his neck and they kissed him. Why? Because he had given to them the word and they never forgot him and they never forgot what he taught them. Peter knew that. He knew that was the priority and he says, I've said it, and I've said it, and I've said it, and I've said it so much, I've given you the principles so often you will remember them when I'm dead. I feel like that. If something were to happen to me, which you know would be find if that's the Lord's plan, I would pray that you would remember some of the things that you have learned because we've repeated them so many times. It's a serious responsibility and there has to be that sense of concern to fulfill that responsibility. And there has to be a sense of urgency to get to the priority. Peter says, I want to do what matters.
Out of the Israeli Arab war there came a very interesting story told by Drew Pearson. It was when LBJ was the President and he was reading the Washington Star newspaper one day and he read a story written by Smith Hempstone, a rather pathetic story about how 50,000 Egyptian soldiers and prisoners were released and lost in the Sinai and they were dying of thirst, 50,000. Hempstone was flying over the Sinai Desert with an Israeli Colonel and he reported seeing Egyptians with their hands raised over their heads in the universal sign of despair. The Colonel said they would give all they have, their lives, their women, for a canteen of water. LBJ immediately ordered the U. S. Air Force to fly planes from Wheeler Airbase in Libya, just a stone throw from the Sinai and drop great drums of water and food to the 50,000 who were lost in the desert. Then the bureaucrats stepped in.
At the State Department it was decided that the International Red Cross in Geneva must be consulted. Permission was needed to fly over the Sinai and no one could figure out who was going to give that permission. The Red Cross delayed, finally came back with a neutral answer, back to the bureaucrats who decided it was too dangerous, too hard to locate the men, the idea was abandoned and only God knows how many died. That's sad. But I'll tell you, people, it's not as sad as the frequent and indifferent program-oriented churches who linger in committees while people go to hell. You never can be satisfied with just functioning. You can only be satisfied with winning people to Jesus and maturing them. There's got to be that concern. We must operate on priorities.
The job is simple. Listen. Equip the saints to take the water of life to the thirsty people. That's it! Don't do all the evangelism here. Equip the saints to do the work. This is the heartbeat of the ministry.
All right let's go to the second feature. First we see in the progress to perfection the gifted men equip the saints. Secondly, now watch, the saints do the work of the ministry. "For the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry." Now who does the ministry? The saints. A lot of people who think that the pastor has to do everything. That isn't what the Bible teaches. The gifted men do not do the work of the ministry. They concentrate on the word, they perfect the saints, and the saints do the work of serving one another.
In Acts 6, you remember the Grecian widows weren't getting a fair shake of whatever food was being distributed. So they were reporting back to Jerusalem, "We're not getting what we're supposed to get. They're favoring the Jerusalem Jewish widows." So the apostles said, "Look, we can't get bogged down in that. You choose out some people to do that. We will give ourselves continually to what, study of the word and prayer. You get some saints to carry out that ministry." Our task is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry and then they will do it. The word ministry is diakonia, practical service, spiritual ministries. Every Christian is to minister spiritually. You all have spiritual gifts, don't you? Every believer has them. You all have callings and administrations in which the Holy Spirit would prefer to see you functioning. Every one of us is called to serve. In Romans 12, Paul says, "If you have a gift use it." Have you read that in verses 3 to 8? If you have the gift of prophecy, prophesy, if you have the gift of giving, give. Whatever your gift is use it; minister.
At the end of Peter's first letter in the 4th Chapter, near the end, he says in verse 10, "As every man has received the gift, even so minister the same one to another as good stewards of the multicolored grace of God." God has given you a gift, you're a steward of it, which means you don't own it, you only manage it for God, and if you have this gift use it. If you're going to speak, speak the oracles of God; if you're going to minister do it as of the ability, which God gives." And there he gives you the two areas of gifts: the speaking gifts and the ministering gifts. Whichever ones you happen to have, in whichever category, if you know what they are, use them. If you don't know what they are, find out what they are and use them. That's what it's all about. Every Christian has a spiritual task. Some people aren't serving. They have no ministry. We're trying to equip you making you able to serve effectively.
I believe during every week, every Christian should be engaged in ministry, spiritual service to the body of Christ. You're gifts aren't for you, they're for somebody else, and if you don't minister them somebody else doesn't benefit. You know if you go back in history and study the book of Acts you'll find that Christianity began as a lay movement. You know that? There weren't any professionals really. They were lay people serving each other, witnessing to the world, and somehow it degenerated into a professional pulpitism financed by lay spectators and that is what it is today.
And now it's sort of looked on as a profession and you get a degree at the end of your name and you get a special little thing for your license plate, you get a little tax break, and if you're in that kind of a thing you get a funny little collar and you're a part of a profession. And when a church wants to get something done they usually go out and hire somebody to do it. There's not a week that goes by that somebody doesn't call me up and say, "You know we need somebody to do this and we need somebody to do that in our church and we need somebody to do the other thing. You know what I always say? "Why don't you check around and see if you've already got them." That's the way to do it. Believe me, people, if you can't raise your own leadership up within the church, now there may be reasons at times when you need someone else, but generally if you can't raise your leadership up from within the church you're not involved in perfecting the saints. We will equip the saints and as a result of that they will do the ministry.
So limit the ministry to a bunch of select people with degrees after their name stifles the cause of world evangelism and robs the saints of their ministries and stunts the true growth of the church. In fact MacDonald says the distinction between clergy and laity is unscriptural and perhaps the greatest single hindrance to the spread of the gospel. There's no such distinction biblically, none whatsoever. I'm just one of you. I happen to have certain gifts. I happen to manifest those certain gifts in this fashion, that's all. No different than you. It's not for me to do visitation of the sick anymore than it's for you to do. Not for me to do the working and discipling of new Christians anymore than you, following up people with problems, spiritual counseling, prayer, physical provision, showing love, reaching people with the gospel. That isn't my work, that's your work. It's all the service of the Christian and the church is the training place to bring the saints to maturity where they can get their spiritual preparation and go out and minister. Our task is to develop full-grown equipped saints and see them serving.
Boy you know it's exciting when you look at the New Testament and you see this happening. You start out with a guy like Philip. He begins with being a deacon and he winds up as an evangelist. You could just see his maturing. We believe here at Grace Church that we are to develop our own leadership. We believe that this is what God would have us do. When we first got started and I first came to Grace there was a little handful of people, faithful people who were working and we looked toward the future. We didn't know where this thing was going to go. We had no idea what God was going to do. I didn't know. It's the first church I ever pastored. I didn't even know what to expect, nor did very many other people, but I knew one thing, and the one thing I knew was that I wanted the saints to do the ministry, and I wanted to mature the saints so that they would grow to a fullness of ministry. Today we have on our staff 23 or 24 people and they've all come through our congregation, people that have matured, grown up, and proven faithful in ministries. God has brought them to the place where they're now your teachers and your leaders and your servants.
When the saints are equipped, beloved, they will do the work of the ministry. If a church is having trouble getting its people to function it is because the people are not maturing. Now it could be sin in their lives, but it could be a failure to have a maturing environment. If you teach the word of God continually, and you live it by example as well as precept, you create an atmosphere in which growth occurs. It's like a hot house. And things grow, and when they grow they begin to reproduce. Did you know that adults have babies, not babies? Babies don't have babies, adults do. Mature saints are reproductive. Mature saints are effective.
All right, so we perfect the saints, saints will develop ministries and believe me we have seen that here. It's absolutely exciting to see the ministries that have developed right here. I remember when the first of our tape ministry began. A fellow came to me and said, "We need a tape ministry." And I said, "Start it," and he did. Somebody came to me not too long ago, Mrs. Hall, and said, "We need a ministry with convalescents. What should I do?" And I said, "If God's laid it on your heart, do it." And she did it. And now there are all kinds of people helping.
One of the beautiful things about our little Bible school a few weeks ago was they brought in the shut-ins from the convalescent hospitals where they've been ministering to them and let them have a little program from the children, and the children made their little crafts to give to those people. Well that's a ministry that all was spanned out of somebody who matured and wanted to use their gifts. That's how it ought to be. I don't have to start programs. I haven't started any programs. I told you one time I tried to start a program once at Grace and it got voted down unanimously so I gave up.
That was the first month I was here and I had this terrific program. They canned it fast. I went out of there with my tail between my legs and I thought there's got to be another way. And I decided I'm not going to try any programs and try to crank up people to take those programs and make them happen, I'll just wait until the people get motivated by the Holy Spirit.
I went to the circus with I was a kid, never forgot it. There was a guy with about ten sticks and ten plates. Have you ever seen that? The guy tries to spin the thing on the plate and he keeps running down to the end because the one starts wobbling. You know that's a perfect illustration of many pastors. It is! I mean they have spent hours developing a stick in a plate. Man, they want that baby to go and they go and they go find some plate to spin on their stick and they spin for a little while and then they got to go over and crank up brother so and so. By that time sister so and so is starting to run out of gas and they run down there why because the motivation to do those things was not internal. It was some kind of external obligation to the pastor who asked them. How much better to sit back and work on maturing the saints and let them develop their own ministries? It's exciting! And then you see being done what God wants done through the lives of people and you give them the freedom of expression, the freedom to do what they want as God directs them.
Now the third thing in the progress is this: the gifted men equip the saints, the saints do the work of the ministry, the third thing that happens, the body is built up. The end of verse 12, "For the edifying of the body of Christ." When we all do our part the whole church matures, the whole body matures. When we minister to each other, when we serve one another, when we use our gifts toward one another, then the whole body grows to maturity and God's will is fulfilled. Now that, beloved, is the progress of perfection. We want a mature church, don't we? Don't we want a church that can stand in this world and represent Jesus Christ? It's going to come if we equip the saints and the saints do the work of the ministry then the body will be built up and Christ will be made visible. That's the progress to perfection.
Number two, the purposes of perfection, the purposes of perfection. These are not only purposes, but results. For where there are divine purposes there will also be divine results. What God intends to do He accomplishes. The first one, the first result or purpose is verse 13. "Till we all come in the unity of the faith," the unity of the faith. God wants a united church. God wants a mature, working, serving, united church.
Now watch. Now watch this. As every member is built up there is a growing maturity. The whole body becomes mature and is one. And you know you can try all you want to try to create unity. You can struggle to create unity all you want and you never will as long as you have immaturity. Paul said to the Corinthians, "You are babes. You are carnal. Is there not division among you?" There will always be division where there is spiritual infancy. There will always be division where there is not maturing. So when we mature the saints, unity comes. Mature saints are one. It's a heartbreaking thing when there isn't that maturing process because then the church is fractured and factions and disconnected and the testimony to the world is tragic.
A young lady came to me this morning. She said, "I'm visiting from out of town. My heart is broken over the divisions in our church. What shall I do? What shall I do?" She said, "The pastor has lost all commitment to doctrine and he's beginning to teach wishy washy." Well there's nothing she can do except go to him because if there's not the sound teaching of the Word to bring about maturity there will never be the unity of the faith. But if it is there and the body grows up there will be a unity that will manifest itself in joy for believers and testimony for the world.
Second, in this purpose he says, "Not only do we want you to come in the unity of the faith, but of the knowledge of the Son of God." We want the church to grow up into the knowledge of the Son of God. Now this isn't basic knowledge; this is deep personal experiential acquaintance with Christ. We want you to really know Christ. We want you to mature where you plumb the depths of who He is. Paul prayed in Philippians 3, "That I may, what? Know Him." He didn't mean superficially, he meant deeply. When the gifted men equip the saints, and the saints do the work of the ministry, and the body is built up, there will be a supernatural unity and there will be a deep personal experiential intimate fellowship with the Son of God. It's like Ephesians 3:17 where he says, "I pray that Christ may settle down and be at home in your life." Katoikeso. Christ may settle down and be at home in your life; deep, intimate fellowship. A body learning, a body serving, maturing will be united, and it will be deeply involved with Jesus Christ.
Beloved, you that are mature, don't you recognize how much more joyous it is to know Christ now than when you first believed? How much more fulfilling it is to have plumbed the depths of all that He means to you? This is what Paul is saying. The results: unity and deep knowledge of the Son of God.
Another reason, a third one, "Unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." The third result of perfection is that we become like Christ. When we mature the body is built up, we're one, we have a deep knowledge of Christ, we find ourselves becoming like Him. In fact, in II Corinthians 3:18 it says, "As we gaze at His glory we're changed into His what? Into His image by the Holy Spirit." So the deeper our knowledge of Christ, the more we penetrate who He is, the more we're transformed into His very image. Notice what he says in verse 13, "Unto a perfect man." The aim of every believer, the aim of the whole body is to be mature, full grown, that the whole church may represent a full-grown Christ. They look at us and they evaluate Christ.
God's not satisfied that people just go to church. He's not satisfied they're decent respectable people. He demands they be full-grown spiritual men, robust, vibrant, strong, that they be the image of Christ and that the church collectively be the stature of the fullness of Christ. You measure the stature of Christ. You evaluate the fullness of Christ and you'll know what God wants His church to be. Nothing short of that. We are to be just as perfect as Christ. That's God's desire. That's our goal.
Now there's a fourth result when the progress is followed. Verse 14, "That we henceforth be no more children tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine by the sleight of men and cunning craftiness in which they lie in wait to deceive." What He wants to see in us resulting from perfection is experiential oneness, a deep abiding fellowship with Christ, Christ likeness, and watch this, the knowledge of sound doctrine. When the church is matured they won't be hassled by false doctrine. Look at verse 14. Who really gets tossed to and fro carried about by winds of doctrine? Who is it? Children. Children. They're gullible, they're undiscerning. I remember one time I was preaching on this subject and I said, "Why I remember when Matt was a little boy and he crawled around on the floor. He wasn't discerning. He didn't know what was good for him and what was bad. I mean he stuck lint in his mouth and cotton in his mouth and pins and paper clips and tacks and anything else he could find. He didn't know the difference." Somebody came up to me afterward and said, "Boy your wife must be some housekeeper." So I don't use that illustration anymore. My wife is a good housekeeper. We were visiting friends.
Children don't make any distinctions. You ask a kid what he wants for dinner and if you gave him what he wanted it'd kill him in a few years, ice cream, peanuts, candy bars, etc., etc. What you have to do is get that spinach down. You see he can't understand, he can't discern. He is tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men and cunning craftiness. Our Lord wants us nourished up in the words of sound doctrine. That's part of it. When the word abides in you you're equipped. You're like I John 2:14 says, "You are strong because the word of God abides in you and you've overcome the wicked one."
And many Christians get pulled into false doctrine because they're babies, 'cause they're infants. Satan's clever. Notice the word sleight. The sleight of men kubeia literally means dice playing, human trickery, deceivers who trap people, cunning craftiness. That means treacherous deceitfulness. They lie in wait to deceive. You know what that is? That's plotting a deception. That is a beautiful definition of the cults, beautiful. Walter Martin says, "Isn't it amazing that a 90-day wonder out of the Jehovah Witnesses can take apart the average Christian in 30 minutes. Believers must be strong to be safe from instability and gullibility and the only way you're going to protect them from false doctrine is to give them true doctrine so they know where they are.
So our Lord's purpose here is a body of believers who know the word, who stand firm, who don't get blown around with all the false winds and I'm telling you they are really blowing. Finally, we come to the last and climax and purpose, evangelism. A built up, united, Christ like, strong, mature body, will live the truth in love before the world with a profound evangelistic effect.
Look at verse 15, "But speaking the truth in love." Stop right there. Beloved, one of the purposes of maturity is that we may speak the truth in love. People say, "Well you know the kind of church that you are talking about is the kind that doesn't go out and win souls." I don't believe that for a minute. I believe mature people will minister and evangelize. I believe that is the outgrowth of their maturity. I do believe that. I believe that people who are built up in the faith are going to be better able to communicate the gospel. They're going to have a stronger motive to do that. They're going to take the ministry that belongs to them. I'm telling you immature, fractioned, fighting, hassling Christians don't lay any platform for evangelism anyway, do they?
Bunion said, "When all their garments are white the world will count them his." Hind said, "You show me a redeemed life and I might believe in your redeemer." And what he's saying here is we can speak the truth in love. When we are mature the truth will come out in love. We are to speak in love. I like the fact that we are to speak the truth in love, don't you? Lovingly! There are two great enemies of a successful outreach. Two great enemies to evangelism: number one, not speaking the truth. That's a great enemy to evangelism, departure from the truth. The second is indifference to people, chilling, cold indifference to people where you don't care.
So he says, "Mature saints will speak the truth and they'll care." They'll do it in love. That's evangelism and it is a by- product of a growing church. Look at Acts 2 in your mind. Remember the passage? The church was born there. 3,000 people moved into the church that first day. They met together for prayer, communion, breaking of bread, fellowship and the apostles' doctrine. They went from house-to-house and house-to-house breaking bread and sharing and teaching. It doesn't say they did any evangelism. They were just growing and growing and it says, "The Lord added to the church daily." And you go later in the book of Acts and they were exhorting and they were studying the word and the Lord multiplied the church. Evangelism is a by-product of maturity. So very important to go God's pattern, do it God's way.
There we see the progression for the church. Watch it. The gifted men equip the saints, the saints do the work of the ministry, the body is built up, the results of a grown up body are unity, deep fellowship with Christ, Christ likeness, the knowledge of sound doctrine, and a dynamic loving caring evangelism to the world.
Now to conclude Paul gives the truth that makes the whole thing hang together, the power of perfection, the power. Verse 15, He desires to grow up into Him, that is into Christ in all things who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplies, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, makes increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love." All that scrambled King James English means is this: ultimately it is Christ who is the head from whom the whole body functions.
The power for all of this is not ours, but who? Christ. All the parts come together because of His power. All of the effectual working of every part is due to His power, the increase of the body due to His power, the building up of the body in love due to His power from whom? And who does that whom refer to? Verse 15: Christ. The emphasis has been on us, majoring on our effort, our service, our task, our responsibility, but here it comes back to the real issue, Christ. If we will build the church with Christ the way He's doing it He will be honored, Scripture will be fulfilled, and believe me, people, we will know the fullness and the fruitfulness as God designed it to be for the church. Let's pray.
We are thankful, Father, for this clear word tonight. We speak boldly because this is a bold text. It is not human opinion. I would not give my opinion, Father, but only Your word. We would not be unloving to those who do not know this truth, though we would exhort them, and those who would know it but disobey it we would admonish as a brother.
God we love Your church. We love what Jesus loves. He loved the church enough to shed His blood for it. We love it. We want it to be all you intended it to be. Our hearts are broken and grieved because it is so far away from the goal of perfection. And so we care.
Father we know we can't do everything, but we can do all we have strength to do in Your power, to make this local assembly all that You would have it to be. Keep us from the evil one. Keep us humble. Never let us fall into a boasting attitude as if we were knowers of everything, but in our humility may we have confidence that this is the truth. And may we speak boldly to those that need to know. Father may every dear saint, every blood washed child of Yours accept the responsibility for ministry that You've given.
God help me, and all others who teach and lead, all the elders and leaders of this church. God help everyone of them to be faithful to this high calling to equip the saints. Make us disciplers of men who in turn can reproduce. Help us to be reproducers as well. We thank You that in all of this the glorious Christ because the power is His and we would not speak of anything which He has not wrought. In His blessed name, Amen.