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Service: Full-Body Participation

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This is a modified transcription from the audio.

I. Introduction

We are continuing a series about the church, the body of Christ. Seven different images are given to us in the New Testament to represent the relationship between the Lord Jesus Christ and his people (the saints, the chosen of God, believers in Jesus Christ). One of the seven images is that of the body of Christ -- that Jesus Christ is the head and that we, his people, are the body. This is part four of a five-part series, The Body of Christ. Our series on the church will conclude next week, as we talk about outreach and growing the body of Christ.

Today our topic is service in the church – full-body participation. The Lord God wants one hundred percent participation from the body of Jesus Christ, as we communicate with each other, as we minister to each other’s needs, and as we are actively involved in the body of Christ. Last week, we talked about spiritual giftedness. We talked about the community. Today’s message dovetails on last week’s message, continuing along the same lines of application. Learn what your spiritual gift is. Get equipped, so that you can use that spiritual gift maximally, and then contribute into the body of Christ. I watched the game show “Family Feud” a few months ago. The host said that one hundred people were surveyed, and their top six answers were on the board. The survey participants were told, “Name a place where you serve.” The number four answer was that they served in the church. It is great to know that in the community of the broader world, people still think of the church as a place to serve.

I believe that a new wave of consumerism unfortunately has hit the twenty-first-century church in the United States. The church is no longer viewed by Christians as a place to serve, but as a place to be served. We see larger churches with wonderful facilities -- gymnasiums, food courts, and other wonderful things that benefit members -- and we often make church membership decisions based upon the needs we can have met by the church. There is nothing wrong with gymnasiums or food courts in a church; however, if people select a church based upon the consumer mentality of where they can best be served, then that is a problem. Yes, we are to be served. On one hand, the church is to be a place that provides for the needs of the body of Christ. On the other hand, have you ever thought about looking for a church that is a good place to serve? Have you thought about looking for a church that has needs that you have been specially gifted to fill?

Today, we will talk about service. Many of you have heard of the book by Gary Chapman called The Five Love Languages. It has been read by millions of people, and it has helped hundreds of thousands of marriages. In The Five Love Languages, Chapman lays out five specific ways in which people are “wired” to receive love, or languages of love in which individuals are fluent. The book is intended primarily for couples. The idea is that a person needs to find out what his or her spouse’s primary love language is, and then speak in that language -- not in a person’s own language, but in the spouse’s language. Learn that language, and use that language to communicate love. Chapman lists at least five possible love languages. Words of Affirmation. Some people especially need to hear, “I love you. You are great! You are the most important person in my life.” Words of affirmation communicate love to some people, and that is one love language. Quality Time. Other people need for you to communicate your love by spending quality time with them. They just want you to be there with them. They need for you to listen to them. Quality time would be their love language. Receiving Gifts. For some people, receiving gifts is meaningful. You communicate your love to them by giving them gifts. Acts of Service. For others, the language of love is acts of service. This is often the way a husband ministers to the needs of his wife and communicates that he values her. He shows how much he loves her by performing acts of service around the house. Many wives truly respond to that, because that is their love language. Physical Touch. For others, the language of love is physical touch. Those people want a hug, an embrace, a pat on the back, a touch on the arm, and “I love you” with a physical touch.

I believe that God has a love language. We should implement all of the love languages in our relationships with our spouses; but I believe that at the heart of God, there is one language that stands above the others as God’s primary love language. We could even look at the person of Jesus to learn what that is. Learn from Jesus, the incarnation of God himself. We can discover God’s love language by looking at Jesus. Was Jesus lifted up by words of affirmation? Certainly, he was. He even encouraged other people with words of affirmation. Quality time? Absolutely. Receiving gifts? He received gifts of worship, and he received those with joy. Physical touch? People touched him, and he touched other people and ministered to their needs. Even so, the one language of love that stands out is service. He even said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt 20:28). What did Jesus train his disciples to do day in and day out? He trained them to serve others. In the upper room, he got on his knees and washed their feet. “I have given you an example – you should do just as I have done for you” (John 13:15). I believe that God’s primary love language is acts of service. In obedience to him, we return service to him indirectly through the body of Christ. He wants us to serve him by serving one another. “Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples – if you have love for one another” (John 13:35), in the context of serving each other.

Let us put some biblical flesh on this. If you have your Bibles, open to Ephesians 4:11-16. We will look at one Greek sentence today, although we will be using our English translations. Ephesians is made up of eight very long sentences, with several small sentences interspersed throughout. We will examine the seventh of the eight long sentences, looking at three components of ministry in this powerful passage.

II. The People of Ministry

The first component is the people of ministry. Whom did God place in the local church to do ministry? Let us look at the people of ministry in verses 11 and 12a. Paul writes this: “It was he [Jesus] who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry ….”

The context here is Jesus Christ’s giving gifts to the church, repeating the idea of giving that had previously been stated in Eph 4:8. Jesus Christ has given to the church particular gifts. These gifts come in five different packages, we are told: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. These are Jesus Christ’s gifts to the local church to equip the saints to do the work of ministry. That is what the text that we just read says. Let us look at the people of ministry.

A. The Equippers

1. Apostles

First of all are the apostles. The word “apostle” in the New Testament means “a sent one.” There is a difference between the office of apostle and the gift of apostleship. This context is referring to gifts, so this refers to the gift of apostleship. The office of apostleship no longer exists. The office of apostleship belonged to the original group of twelve that Jesus himself personally sent out. It also belonged to Paul, whom Jesus himself encountered on the road to Damascus and personally sent out. Other passages in the New Testament refer to one person or another as an “apostle,” and in those cases the person has a special gifting in apostleship. That is not the office of apostle, by which one was delegated by Jesus himself to do the work of ministry on his behalf; rather, it is a specific spiritual gift of apostleship -- probably a pioneering ministry in the name of Jesus Christ.

2. Prophets

The second gift that Christ has given, or the second person listed in ministry here, is the prophet. The prophet appears in the same scenario with the apostle. There is an office of prophet, as we see in the Old Testament. People in that office spoke the Word of God authoritatively. Most of the time, the words were written down for us, canonized now in the Bible. The Bible is the Word of God spoken by prophets authoritatively. There were New Testament prophets, as well. Ephesians 2:20 says that the church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets,” referring to those offices of apostle and prophet. There is also a gift of prophecy, probably having to do with discerning truth. Whereas a person in the office of prophet spoke authoritatively the Word of God, a person with the gift of prophecy discerns the truth of the Word of God.

3. Evangelists

The third person involved here, having the third of the five gifts given to the church by Jesus Christ, is the evangelist. That gift was not much different then from the gift of the evangelist today. In the first century, an evangelist probably was an itinerant preacher who preached the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is, in fact, what the first three groups (having the gifts of apostleship, prophecy, and evangelism) have in common. All three were itinerant, not married permanently to a local church. They traveled. Paul was an apostle, not married to one particular local church. He traveled to different churches, as did those gifted in prophecy and evangelism.

4. & 5. Pastors and Teachers

The last two are linked, even grammatically (syntactically). They are driven by one article in the Greek language, and they are also coupled with a conjunction, kai. The connection is even brought out somewhat in the translation: “and some as pastors and teachers.” They come together. These individuals serve permanently in the local church. They are different from the itinerant apostles, prophets, and evangelists. These are individuals serving in the local church. By connecting them closely with a singular article, Paul is probably saying one of two things. He is either saying these two gifts simultaneously exist in one person, or he is saying that the pastor and the teacher both serve in the same assembly and work closely together. Either way, the gift of pastor involves shepherding. The term is often used in connection with sheep. It involves watching over, caring for, and protecting a flock. Teaching, of course, is instruction in sound doctrine. These last two gifts are intended for the local church.

B. The Equipped

It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, some as pastors and teachers for the work of the ministry. Right? No, I skipped a phrase! I think that if you and I were to bring our own theology to this passage, perhaps that is how we would translate this passage: “It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers for the work of ministry.” We have missed five words in the Greek, and four very important words in this English translation: “To equip the saints for the work of ministry.”

The last group of people involved in ministry is the saints, (hagioi, holy ones). It does not mean “those who are holier than thou.” It does not mean the super-bionic spiritual ones in a congregation. “Saints” is the most popular word in the New Testament to represent Christians (believers, followers of Christ). If you have trusted Christ as your Savior, then you are a saint, scripturally speaking. We have a dilemma in this passage. Think with me about the implications of this passage. For many of you, this will require a paradigm shift in your thinking about how church works.

According to this passage, a church does not hire full-time, paid pastoral staff to do the work of ministry. That is not why you pay us, or why you voted us into the positions we hold. The offering plate is passed back and forth, zigzagging its way to the back. It then disappears through the back doors, and you do not know where it goes. That offering is not to pay the full-time people to do work. “I have given the money. I am paying him. I am paying a few hours of his week’s salary so that he will work, because I do not have time to do so.” That is not what the Bible says! For many of us, this is a major paradigm shift. “What are we paying them for? Why are we writing these checks?” You pay the pastors to equip you -- to prepare you, the saints, to do the work of ministry. If we all understand that, let us just close our Bibles now. We will pray and go home, because that is the message. I think for many of us that will take time to sink in. You do not pay the pastoral staff to do the work of ministry on your behalf. According to this passage, there is a system set up: Christ has given gifts to individuals so that those individuals can equip the saints (who have other gifts) to do the work of ministry.

Those are the people of ministry. The group includes the apostles, the prophets, and the evangelists – people who are gifted in those ways. It includes those who are gifted in the area of pastoral leadership, as well as in teaching. It also includes the saints, who do the hands-on work of ministry.

III. The Privilege of Ministry

Let us look at the privilege of ministry. Ephesians 4:11-12: “It was he [Christ] who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, some as pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ.” That is you. It is your job to be ministers -- saints who do “the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ.” That is your job. So what exactly is the relationship, then, among those gifted individuals that Christ has given to the church to equip the saints? What does that relationship look like? What is involved in equipping? What will happen when the saints are properly equipped? What is that whole relationship about? In other words, why are you paying the pastoral staff?

What is involved in equipping? Unfortunately, the word “equip” occurs only here in the New Testament. It is called a hapax legomenon because it occurs only one time in the New Testament. Fortunately for us, it occurs outside the New Testament in other first- and second-century Greek literature. One place in which it occurs is a medical manual written by a physician specializing in bone fractures, bone breaks, and dislocated shoulders. The physician uses the word that is translated “equip” in Eph 4:12. In the manual, the word is used forty-seven times to describe setting a bone or restoring a shoulder that is dislodged. Forty-seven times the word describes making it right, putting it to the right, preparing it, or equipping it. The manual was written at about the same time that this letter to the Ephesians was written. I like the translation “to make useful.” To equip means to make useful, and so Christ gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers to make the saints useful to do the work of ministry.

Each of you saints has received a spiritual gift. Is your gift being used to its maximum potential in the body of Christ? If it is not, then there is a breakdown. Either you are not being properly equipped by the leadership to make that gift useful, or you are being properly equipped but you are negligent in making that gift useful in the local body. To equip is to make useful. To equip the saints is to make you useful for the work of ministry. The phrase here is interesting. “Ministry” stands in apposition to the word “work,” so the phrase could be translated “to equip the saints for the work, which is ministry.” Ministry is hard work. The word “ministry” here has the same root word as the word from which we get word “deacon” or “servant.” “Servant,” in fact, is the noun form of the verb that Jesus uses in Mark 10:45: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve …” The Son of Man came not to be ministered to but to minister, “and to give his life as a ransom for many.” To be a minister is to be a servant. Some of your translations may say “the work of service.” That is a good translation, and that is what we are about. How are you doing in the area of service, or ministry? How are we doing in the area of equipping you, of making you useful? This gives a new definition to the term “ministry.” Each of you is a minister.

For several weeks, the leadership of the church has considered a model of ministry which you will now view. Plot yourself on this model, which shows a natural progression of the believer. When you first become a believer, you are in the growing stage, meaning that your focus is on your personal growth in your relationship with the Lord. You are copiously reading through Scripture and memorizing it. You are praying fervently. Someone is building into your life. Your focus is on you and the Lord, and that is a necessary first step. Prayerfully, at some time in your relationship with the Lord Jesus, your eyes turn from yourself. You move on to become a serving Christian. It is cumulative. You are still growing, but now you are serving other people in the body of Christ. At some time after that, you continue to grow and to serve, but you move on to become a reproducing disciple of Jesus Christ, humbly and biblically saying, “Be an imitator of me as I imitate Christ.” Paul said that.

I know what the elders of our church are wrestling with right now. You elected your elders because they are spiritually mature, having grown in their relationship with the Lord over a period of time. You elected them because of their track record of service. You have watched them serve. Their eyes are off themselves and on other people as they serve. I will tell you what the elders are considering now. They are thinking through the implications of reproducing shepherding. How should elders, spiritual leaders of the church that you have elected because of their growth and service, reproduce themselves in the lives of other people? If your elders are only growing, then the church is not going to grow properly. If your elders are only serving other people, then the church is not going to grow properly. Elders have to go beyond growing and serving, and begin to reproduce people who will, in turn, grow and serve and then reproduce. It is the 2 Timothy 2:2 model of passing on – entrusting -- this treasure to those who are capable of passing it on also.

Where are you? If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, hopefully you are at least in the growing stage. You are focusing on your relationship with the Lord. Perhaps, though, you have outgrown that stage. Perhaps by this time you should be on solid food and not just milk alone. It is time to move on to the serving stage -- getting your eyes off yourself while continuing to grow, and now focusing outward in serving others. Someone came to me after the first service and said, “I hear you, Pastor. I hear exactly what you are saying. I am in the second stage and I need to be in the third stage. I need to be reproducing and I have known that. You just captured it well. The picture was clear. That’s where I need to be.” I replied, “Well, let me ask you this: are you well equipped to do so? Has the leadership done its job to equip you to move to that stage?” She said, “Yes, I think so.” I replied, “Well, then, you know where the breakdown is.” She said, “It is right here. I need to be moving to the third stage.”

Where are you in this model? Where should you be? There are only two possible points of breakdown that I can think of. Either the leadership -- the five gifts that Christ has given to the church -- is failing to equip you (to make you useful), or you are being properly equipped but you are not moving through the natural progressive changes of a Christian’s life. It has been said that the body of Christ, the local assembly, has three bones. There are three bones in every congregation. First is the wish bone -- those who wish somebody would do something about the problems. Then there is the jawbone. All of you are familiar with jawbones -- those who complain all the time about the problems. Finally, there are the backbones -- those who do the work of the ministry. Trinity Bible Church -- saints who have been called to do the work of ministry -- you are the backbone of the church that Christ has called to do the work of ministry. If you stop doing the work of ministry, then we shut the doors, we turn off the lights, and we all go home. It is done. You are the backbone, called by the Lord Jesus to do the work of ministry, and that ministry is a privilege with which you have been entrusted.

IV. The Purpose of Ministry

Let us look at the purpose of ministry. Why do we do this work of service, or work of ministry, as the body of Christ? Let us continue, finishing out this long Greek sentence in Eph 4:13-16: “… until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God -- a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature.” You cannot see it here, but there are three purpose prepositional phrases that were laid out. In the actual Greek text, we are told three purposes for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry. We are building up of the body of Christ for three purposes. The first one is to “attain to the unity of the faith” and “the knowledge of the Son of God.” That is driven by one Greek preposition, and it is a purpose preposition. The second prepositional phrase is “to a mature person.” That is driven by exactly the same preposition. It is a purpose prepositional phrase. The third phrase is “attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature.” Do you see the image here? It is that of his body -- a full man. Christ was a man. The text uses aner, Greek for “man,” rather than anthropos, “mankind or person.” This is a mature man, Christ’s full stature. You have the idea of a human body that grows to maturity. There are three goals, or purposes.

“So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes. But practicing the truth in love, we will in all things [there it is] grow up into Christ, who is the head. From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body grows in love” (Eph 4:14-16). The purpose is corporate growth of the body, not necessarily numerical growth, in this context. Collectively we are growing in the beauty of our faith and in our knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are growing to become a mature person – growing to the full stature of Christ. What does verse 14 say? We are “no longer to be children.” It is not acceptable to remain children. There is an expectation or anticipation of corporate, community, collective growth. We are not children tossed about by trickery and schemes and evils of the world. We are growing up (verses 15 and 16) “in all things … into Christ, who is the head.” In verses 15 and 16, the phrase “growing up” is repeated three times. That is the purpose of ministry.

V. Application and Conclusion

Why did Christ give these five gifts to the church? It was to equip the saints for the work of ministry. Why is it that we do the work of ministry? We work to build up the body of Christ in order to grow up collectively -- to see growth take place. What does that look like?

I want to show you a “snapshot” of what a healthy, growing body can look like. About three months ago, I was walking back and forth in the foyer about an hour before church was to start. I usually get here a few hours before the first service. A certain member arrives an hour before the service to run PowerPoint. I saw her in the foyer emptying a full trash can one hour before the church service was to start. It is the same trash can that I had passed four or five times already that morning. She saw it and determined that she did not want someone to come in from the community and see an overflowing trash can that had been left from a previous event. She took it upon herself to empty the trash can.

One couple is involved in greeting and making coffee, among many other things they do here at the church. Another couple accepted responsibility for the pictorial directory, in addition to folding the bulletins on Thursday, greeting, making coffee, and helping with the newcomer luncheon once a month. A member who heads up the newcomer luncheon works alongside a team of volunteers. Another person works on the air conditioning, having put in several hours this week. That is in addition to the hundreds of hours he had already worked to help with the transition from the old facility to this one. One woman worked to beautify the prayer garden, digging out 30-gallon pots with her hands so that she can replant them with beautiful plants. She was sweating and getting dirt all over her in forty-degree weather – doing the work of ministry. Now she is painting our hallway mural in the children’s ministry wing. Three members help with administrative tasks each week. Volunteers, many of whom are college students, lead your children each Sunday. Two members directed a team of volunteers in building this stage. One is involved behind the scenes for every Easter and Christmas presentation at this church.

An IT technical computer expert shares his skills with us computer-illiterate staff members who keep crashing the computers. A volunteer makes the communion bread in her home oven every month for our celebrations. Two members edit many of our publications. A member does a phenomenal job of designing my outreach publications. Unpaid staff sing in the choir and on our worship team, and play in the orchestra that we enjoy every week. The PowerPoint folks and the sound team serve every week. Volunteers work diligently in our library during the week. Some teach adults. Our junior high youth intern, unpaid, ministers to Trinity’s junior high students. A former project manager of our church now gives over twenty-five hours every week, directing projects as lay volunteer administrator. Elders, deacons, and deaconesses whom we elected serve behind the scenes in labors of love many hours every week. I could include many more individuals or committees involved in different projects. Many work behind the scenes, not even within the confines of these walls, but ministering to the needs of others in the body. One example of service outside of the church walls is that a member helps others regularly by caring for children in her home, giving other moms relief.

This is a portrait of the body of Christ, functioning and growing collectively as a community. None of the people I mentioned is paid a cent. It is a glorious thing to see! Each of them has the same twenty-four-hour clock that you have. Each of them has the same time restrictions that you have. Each of them has looked at his or her schedule and has said “no” to opportunities, or “yes” to service to the body -- within this building, as well as outside of these walls. I believe that God has a love language, and I think his love language is service to one another. Trinity we are doing a good job. I feel like Paul writing to the church at Thessalonica. He told them that they were doing well, but now needed to “excel still more” (1 Thess 4:10). Keep up the good work and “excel still more.” Where are you in the graph? Where do you need to be? How can we help you take that next step in bringing service to the Lord, thereby communicating our love to him?

Abstract

In a recent broadcast of the game show “Family Feud,” contestants were asked to give the top six answers to this question: Name a place where people serve. Out of 100 people surveyed, the fourth most popular answer was simply “church.” The general population still views the local church as a central place to serve others. How refreshing! Jesus modeled it for us: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” In our consumer age, however, many have embraced a thwarted view of the church as a place to be served. We too often go to church only to receive teaching, encouragement, fellowship, counseling, and the use of wonderful facility resources. These are all good things, and prayerfully our needs are being met in each of these areas through the local church. But are we involved in serving at our local church as well as being served? Do we give as well as receive?

Related Topics: Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Leadership