Growing Churches by Grace: On to Epehsus

We do everything humanly possible to grow churches. We make sure the building is nice and comfortable. We want a dynamic pastor who can “preach.” We bathe our ministry with powerful, emotionally charged music and drama. We work hard to accommodate every age group. We organize to the hilt!  We have pastors to meet every personal need. Then we develop an advertising campaign to convince people to come. Come to our church. Look at all we have to offer!

Could it be that we do not understand God’s prescription for the growth and unity in the body of Christ? We have focused on the apostle Paul and especially upon the small phrase that he claimed often “according to the grace of God that was given unto me.” This small line became Paul’s trademark expression.

Let’s rejoin Paul as he begins to carry out his stewardship responsibility at Ephesus.

Paul had gone to the city of Ephesus and preached the gospel.  Many people believed in Christ and became a part of His body. Now, note carefully Paul’s special use of the small “grace phrase,” according to the grace of God given.”

God’s Grace to Us

“But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”  (Eph. 4:7)

Paul had said on other occasions “according to the grace of God given to me.” Here he subtly changed the direction of God’s grace! He said “to each one of us” God’s grace has been given. The Ephesian believers were included in God’s stewardship plan. A grace stewardship is being extended to all believers.  God passed His plan of communicating the gospel and building up the body of Christ on to the Ephesians and to us!

Like Paul, each believer has been foreknown by God, called, justified, and equipped to carry out a grace responsibility (Rom. 8:29-30).  The gift of apostleship is not around today! That is to say, no believer today has the unique gift to be an apostle. The apostles were the foundation builders used by God at a particular time and for a particular purpose.  But believers throughout the centuries have been set apart, called, and equipped by God to build on the foundation that the apostles have laid. This is God’s grace way of building churches!

Christ’s Gift

“Christ’s gift,” the word “dorea,” means without a cause!  “Dorea” emphasizes the freeness of the gift given by Christ. Christ’s gift here is not talking about eternal life.  It is an ability to carry out a stewardship responsibility. God did not want the Ephesians to think that they had in some way earned this equipping grace. It was all based on the plan and work of God. Grace always comes from the top down! God is always said to “give grace.” Grace is given according to His choice.

“Therefore it says, ‘When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, And He gave gifts to men.’  (Now this expression, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth?  He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things).”  (Eph. 4:8-10)

The second person of the Trinity became flesh and descended to earth in order to die and pay for sin.  He was buried, and He rose from the dead. Shortly after His resurrection, He ascended back into heaven. At His ascension, Jesus Christ began to build the church that He had spoken of to Peter (Matt. 16:13).

“I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” (Matt. 16:18)

As Christ ascended into heaven, He distributed gifted believers all through His body to perform their grace stewardship.  He began with the apostles!

  • “And He gave some as apostles. . .”

 Apostolos: one sent with a message. This included Paul and the other disciples who became apostles.

  • “. . .and some as prophets. . .”

 Prophetes: fore-telling or forth-telling.  We assume that this refers to New Testament prophets

  • “. . .and some as evangelists. . .”

Eangelistes: those who are especially gifted to present the good news.

  • “. . .and some as pastors. . .”

 Poimen: those who shepherd; the elders.

  • “ . . . And teachers . . .   (Eph. 4:11).

Didaskolos: instructors.

It was not Paul’s intention to mention all the grace-gifted believers here. He just wanted to show that God’s grace was being extended to the Ephesians.  Each believer was being placed into the body of Christ in order to grow His church.  This is God’s design for growing churches.

Growing Churches by Grace

There is no clearer diagram in the entire Bible for how to grow a church than right here. This method will produce growth and unity within the body of Christ because it is God’s plan. In fact, Christ’s church can grow no other way. Let’s slow down and go through this formula line by line!

“For the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.” (Eph. 4:12)

  • For the equipping of the saints

Jesus Christ placed gifted believers throughout His body in order to equip the saints. The word “equipping” means to train or to prepare.  The various gifted believers first become the recipients of God’s grace extended to them. They responded to His call and were set apart for a special stewardship purpose. They were placed precisely where God wanted them to be.

  • For the work of service

Work is the Greek word “ergon.” It implies energy being used. Service is the word “diakinos” or ministry.  Every Christian has been given the grace to help equip others to minister. Believers are not called of God to sit in a building and listen to a sermon! Believers are called of God to serve!

  • To the building up of the body of Christ

“Building up” is a combination word made up of “oiko,” to build, and “dome,” the top or the roof.  When put together, the word gives the idea of building from the ground floor all the way to the top. God’s prescription for the growth of the body of Christ is based on the spiritual contribution of every gifted member in the body. No one is left out!

“Until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” (Eph. 4:13)

“Until” is a time word!

  • Until: until such time
  • We all: every believer in the body of Christ
  • Attain to: arrives at
  • The unity of the faith: Unity is a word that implies “oneness.”

When believers share their stewardship responsibility with others in the body, that body will be marked by a unity of faith.  That means that everyone will be on the same page doctrinally and will be able to work together as a unit. This unity can only be achieved when every believer contributes his or her special gift of grace.

  • And a knowledge of the Son of God

Knowledge is “epignosis” or ample knowledge.  When each believer contributes his ministry to the body, then the body will have ample and accurate truth concerning Jesus Christ. This knowledge may involve His deity, His becoming flesh, His birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and His work now as High Priest, Head of the Church, and as our coming King.

  • Unto a mature man

Given time and the contribution of the ministry of every believer, mature believers will be produced.  The Greek word for mature is the word “telios.” Every Christian is to profit from the ministry of every other gifted believer in the body in order to become mature (and balanced).  This is God’s way of growing a church! How are we to measure maturity in the body of Christ?

  • To the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ

Literally “measured by the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.”  The spiritual maturity of each believer is to be measured against the character of Christ. The character of Jesus Christ can be seen in the lives of spiritually mature Christians.  How do we know when gifted believers have accomplished their goal?

“As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming.” (Eph. 4:14)

  • We are no longer to be children

The word “children” is “nepios,” or little children. This word stands in contrast to “telios,” mature adults, in verse 13. Believers are instructed to grow in grace and knowledge of Christ and to ultimately become mature believers (1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18).  Maturity can only be achieved by receiving the ministry of every believer in the body of Christ.

  • Tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine by the trickery of men, by craftiness of deceitful scheming

A failure to grow up in Christ will result in spiritual infancy and instability. Believers are not to remain vulnerable to the tricks and deceitful schemes of evil men.

“But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ.” (Eph. 4:15)

Each believer is to perform his ministry responsibilities mixed with love so that others easily receive our ministry.  This will result in growing up in all aspects into Christ.

“From whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”  (Eph. 4:16)

How is this spiritual body held together?

  • From whom: refers back to Christ. Every Christian’s ministry comes from our Head, our authority.
  • The whole body: the entire body of Christ
  • Being fitted: is being placed together
  • And held together: knitted together like a woven blanket

Now notice carefully what the Lord Jesus Christ uses to hold the entire body together.

  • By what every joint: the word “haphe” or ligament.  Every believer in the body is considered a ligament in the body
  • Supplies: provides, furnishes, or contributes

The Head (the Lord Jesus Christ) fits and holds the body together by the use of every gifted member of the body. There are no useless parts in the body.

How is the body of Christ to grow?

  • According to: based upon
  • The proper working: Proper is the word “measured.” Working is the word “energy” or “output.” According to the measured output!
  • Of each individual part: each believer must understand their giftedness and use it effectively. To the extent that this is done….
  • Causes: accomplishes
  • The growth of the body for the building up of itself in love: The building up of the church is the result of the ministry output of every believer in the body.

Each believer has been given grace from God, has been set apart by the Lord Jesus Christ, called of Him, equipped by Him, and given a special ministry from Him. We all have a stewardship responsibility to proclaim the gospel and to build the body of Christ upon the foundation that has been laid for us. This is God’s grace way to build His church.