Core Value 2: Equipping Our People
Topic: Default Passage: Ephesians 4:7–16
We are in week two of our series on our five core values. As I said last week, this is a bit different than our normal practice of just walking through books of the Bible, but we think it is really important that everyone here understand not only where it is that we are going, but more importantly, why. Last week we talked about blessing our city and this week we are looking at our core value of equipping our people.
We are going to look at this value through the lense of Ephesians chapter four. After last week, you should know quite a bit about the rise and fall of this church. Now we are going to read something Paul had to say to this church. Paul has just exhorted them to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel and now he is showing them how this happens. It happens by equipping the saints (that is, all believers) and Jesus has given us gifts to that end.
I talked last week a bit about the messiness of my house because of the stage of life we are in. Four small kids create a lot of mess with their toys, homework, games, fits and general bad hygiene. It’s ok though. That’s normal. But, what if we fast forward 15 years and my kids are 26, 24, 22, and 18 still living at home, still needing us to cook their food, do their homework, and pick up their toys outside. If we’re still doing that for four grown kids, something has gone bad wrong. Our hope is that our children will be equipped to go and live out in this world on their own and flourish.
And as children of God, His hope is that we would also be equipped as mature believers who experience the joy He wants for us and are able to in turn, be a part of equipping others. In this passage we see that the main way Christ has designed His church to grow and expand is through the equipping of His saints. And we see here 1) who it is that equips us, 2) how we are equipped, and 3) why we must be equipped.
- Who it is that equips us 4:7-10
Paul says in no uncertain terms that it is Jesus who is ultimately doing the equipping.
But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. - Ephesians 4:7 Jesus is giving us all these gifts. Gifts that will look different for all of us, but then He gives us grace that gives these gifts power to glorify God.
And we know this because there is this big transition going on here from the unity of God’s people - one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism - to the diversity of God’s people. But grace was given to each one of us… We all get different gifts from Jesus and the corresponding grace to use those gifts to the glory of God.
This passage confused me for a long time, but when we see what Paul is doing in context, it’s super clear. What does Paul mean when he says that Jesus ascended, led a host of captives, and gave gifts to men? What in the world does Jesus ascending have to do with gifts for us? Paul is using Psalm 68 to give us a picture of what Jesus does. Psalm 68 is a psalm of David where he is celebrating the conquest of the Jebusite city and there is this triumphant ascent by God (in the form of the ark of the covenant) up Mount Zion where God is receiving gifts.
And Paul is using this to paint a picture that would have elicited images for the original audience that are foreign to us because we don’t go to battle with Miami or Tampa and we certainly don’t have mountains. But, in that day, it was common for the victorious king to do two things as he marches back into his city (which was normally on some sort of hilltop). First, he would parade what were called recaptured soldiers. His soldiers who had been captured by the enemy, but had been set free by the king. Second, he would bring home the spoils of war and give them out as gifts to his people.
So, Paul is using the same triumphant picture for Christ. Christ won the war at His resurrection and at His ascension paraded a host of captives now set free and gave them the spoils of His victory in the form of the Holy Spirit and associated gifts. But, Paul seems unsatisfied with this connection to Psalm 68 as it is. He wants to communicate that what Jesus is doing is on a much larger scale than any victory march of David. Look at verse 9: 9 (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into ithe lower regions, the earth?2 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) - Ephesians 4:9
I really appreciate how the ESV translates this verse because it can be very confusing. Paul is simply saying that if Jesus ascended, then that meant that He had to descend to come down here. Remember, it isn’t as if there were only two members of the Trinity and then three quarters of the way through the Bible, Jesus is created. Jesus has always existed and chose to come down to earth to free us who were captive. And Paul uses the words ‘lower regions’ to describe earth and emphasize how far earth is from the throne room of God. We don’t know where heaven is and my guess is that neither did Paul, but he is making a comparison to show how far Jesus descended to claim us and give us these gifts. He knows each of us better than we know ourselves and He gives us these gifts to develop us and conform us into His image. A victory march to the top of Mount Everest would look like an anthill compared to what Jesus is doing here.
Paul is trying to communicate degree here more than distance. C.S. Lewis has this great quote about the degree to which Jesus descended. “The Eternal being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a foetus inside a woman’s body. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab.”
Now, it’s not uncommon to think that this verse is talking about Jesus going down below the earth in some way. Maybe to Sheol or hell. And there is a passage in 1 Peter that seems to say something like that, but I don’t think Paul is saying the same thing here. Peter seems to be saying something about the time between Jesus’ death and resurrection where Paul seems to be saying something about His ascension. I think we should keep these verses separate.
Jesus is the one giving the spoils of His victory to all of His people and He does this so we might be equipped to be used in His ongoing mission. The war is won, the death blow has been delivered, but the battles are not yet finished. So, what exactly are those gifts?
- How we are equipped 4:11-12
We are equipped by spiritual gifts given out by Jesus, through His Holy Spirit, but Paul is intentionally only using four because he has a more specific point to make than just the spiritual gifts. Now, talk about a confusing world to jump into. Some people say there are no gifts, some just focus on tongues and prophecy, some turn everything you do and like into a spiritual gift.
In this passage, Paul names four gifts that we are given that somehow lead to our equipping. Before we look at them though, we need to see that this is not an exhaustive list. There are five lists of gifts in the New Testament and they are all different from each other. If you combine these lists you get at least 20 gifts and almost everyone agrees that there are more. Spiritual gifts are as unique to a person as fingerprints. No two people are gifted in exactly the same way because we are all a diverse body each contributing something unique. Our spiritual gifting is more like a snowflake than a personality test.
But, Paul focuses on four for a reason. They are all so closely linked to the Word of God. These four are apostles, prophets, evangelists, and the shepherd/teacher or pastor/teacher. Let’s break these down. First, apostles. The word apostle simply means sent ones. This was helpful in my language learning in Italy because the word for send, as in send a letter, was apostare. It’s also where we get our word post, as in post office. In the New Testament, the word apostle is used in three different ways, so our task is to figure out which of those three Paul has in mind. The first way this word was used is for all believers. All Christians are at some level sent. This is not the predominant way this word is used in the New Testament, but it is used that way.
The second use of the word apostle is an apostle of the church. Someone formally sent out by the church to do something for the church. It could be preaching the gospel, pastoring or planting a church (like Timothy or Barnabas), or even sent to do something more specific like deliver a letter. Then, lastly, we have the apostles of Christ. This was a specific office, that we can see clearly from the New Testament, does not exist anymore. This was a small distinctive group that included the twelve, Matthias, Paul, James, and maybe a few others. These were people who were personally chosen for the office by Jesus and were eyewitnesses to the risen Jesus.
It seems like this third use is what Paul has in mind here because this is how he has been using the term in this letter. He uses it in the first verse referring to himself. And, as I said, this is not an office that continued. This was a foundation laying office that was incredibly important for the completion and dissemination of the New Testament. Some churches say that it still continues and I think it’s interesting to look at those churches and you can see where the office of apostle is still used, the Bible often is not. At least not seriously. The office of Apostle insured the right communication of the word of God and the dissemination of the Word of God before the Word of God was finally codified and canonized.
The office of apostle secured the Word for us so we go to great lengths here to do the same. This is why we teach expositionally. It’s why we have equipping hour which digs in deeper than a sermon normally would. It’s why our community groups are Word centered. It’s why we have such a high value on personal discipleship. The apostles secured and spread the Word if we see this gift, we will be serious about building on that foundation.
Second, Paul says that Jesus gave the gifts of prophets. Again, there is no small amount of debate surrounding this word. When I worked with Cru, some people called prophets were set up on campus prophesying over the students. So, I went to hear what they would say about me. They said I was going to be really rich one day. There prophesy isn’t really looking like it’s going to pan out at this point.
A prophet in the Bible is someone who stood in the council of God. Someone who spoke for God, who was a mouthpiece and vehicle for His direct revelation as a covenant prosecutor calling his people back. This was serious office and if anything you said didn’t come to pass, you would be killed. I don’t think those guys on campus felt the gravity of prophesy in that way. Paul seems to be using this word in this formal, speaking for God, sense. There seems to be a logical progression here between the offices. Think about the gift of apostle delivering God’s word and the gift of prophet wisely applying God’s word.
But I think there does seem to be a subsidiary gifting here that we could call prophetic. Some people do seem to have greater insight into God’s Word or seem to have just the right verse for just the right person at just the right time. Some people can look at a culture and identify social or institutional sin far earlier than the rest of us. And some have a unique ability to bring about conviction of sin and then build them up in the gospel. Even though there is no office of prophet anymore, I wouldn’t have any problem saying that there are prophetic gifting among us.
Here’s an example. About six years ago, Angela was really struggling with whether we were done having kids or not. We had three kids and we were praying and talking about a fourth and Angela told God, “I really need something audible here.” Well, we were at the beach and Angela was walking over the dunes on the boardwalk from the beach back to where we were staying. There was this older woman there and she made some comment about the kids being cute or something. She then asked, “Are you going to have anymore?” Angela said, “I don’t think so. I’d like to, and I even think God might want me to, but I’m just so tired.” Then the woman said, “I don’t want to weird you out, but I’m a Christian and I have been standing here for an hour because I felt like the Holy Spirit was saying to stay. I hear you talking a lot about you and very little about God. If God calls you to do something, why do you think He won’t give you want you need?” This woman wasn’t a prophet, but she ministered to Angela in a prophetic way.
The office of prophet emphasizes the wisdom to apply the word of God. So, we want to lift up those who are naturally gifted in that way and allow them to equip us to be better at it.
It seems like Paul is talking about Christ giving the church the office of apostle and the office of prophet to lay the foundation for the church. That foundation is Jesus Christ as presented in the 66 books of the Bible. A foundation that would be built on by these other two gifts: evangelists and pastor/teachers. Again, there are other gifts, but Paul seems to have this laser focus on the gifts that develop the whole body in the Word.
So, let’s look at these other two. Evangelists. They share the word effectively with those who don’t believe. There are some people who are just uniquely gifted to evangelize. Evangelism scares most people to death, but there are some who just can’t wait to talk about Jesus. Some of us are so awkward in evangelism, but then you have others who seamlessly bring Jesus into any conversation. I have a friend who manages to break every logical rule of effective evangelism, but people come to faith through him left and right. One time he led a guy to the Lord calling him the wrong name the whole time. I think these would be marks of an evangelistic gifting.
Now, it doesn’t mean that they are the only ones who evangelize and the rest of the church is off the hook. I don’t have the gift of hospitality, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have to be hospitable. Some people are just better at it and they have the responsibility to help the rest of us get better.
Then, finally, you have this gift called pastor/teacher. Those set apart to teach the church the word. There has been some argument over the years as to whether this is one gift or two. The construction of the sentence in Greek makes me think it’s one gift and most of your translations would agree by where they put the comma.
There are those, like myself, who have been called by a church to the formal office of teaching pastor. But, did you notice Paul doesn’t say elder or overseer? Why pastor, or shepherd in some of your translations? Because they are all the same thing. There are men in this church called to be shepherds and teachers, I’m just freed up financially to put more time into this office. But all the men who hold this office bear the responsibility to equip the people in the word.
Now, as in the other offices, there are those in our midst who while they don’t hold the office, they very much have a teaching gift or a shepherding gift to exercise. There are men and women in this church who I think are better Bible teachers than I am. And the call of those who hold the office is to fan those flames. Encourage each of you in all the ways you are gifted and find ways for you to be equipping others. This is a call we take so seriously that we made it one of our core values.
So, what are we doing to equip our people better? Paul seems to be saying that the Word is the THE way the church is established and multiplied. The apostles and prophets secured it and the evangelists and pastors teach it. So, anything we do has to be based in the Word of God.
You can see a comprehensive layout of this on our website, but the first thing we agreed on was the need to assess where we are as a church. Who is here. Do they know the Word, what are they doing with their knowledge of the Word. Are they fruitful with this knowledge? We have done various assessments this year that have been very helpful, but the one that will be most helpful is to understand our missional footprint. What exactly is God doing in and through us and what is God not doing or what are we not doing. We would like comprehensive data to understand where we as elders need to focus our equipping. And, the best way to get this data is in a worship service, because only about 33% of you open the church emails. That’s actually pretty good for church, but we need more for this to work.
So, after the sermon, during our response time, we are going to ask you to pull out your phone and complete a survey that we made for this church. It is very simple and totally anonymous. Our hope is that everyone here will fill it out. It doesn’t matter if you are a member, attender, or first time guest. I’ll give you more info in a bit, but we consider it mission critical that each of you participate.
Second, we believe people need to be in real relationships with each other to be able to process and encourage each other in the Word which is why we focused on community groups last week. Mike has worked very hard and over fifty people were plugged in.
Third, it’s hard to equip people if we don’t know them. Our membership has grown by roughly 25% in the past 12 months and we have 40 people involved in this next membership class. So, we need more elders which is why we had nominations this past month and we are prayerful that God will provide them.
Fourth, we needed to improve the assimilation process. That is, the process from first visit to plugged in member because a plugged in member is being built up in the Word more than a new guest or infrequent attender. This process is crucial if people are going to be equipped. This starts at the door and kid check, it involved a Discover OGC overhaul, it now assess spiritual gifts, we have a fully fleshed out process where plug every new member into ares of service and community groups. Every guest who either fills out a tear off tab or check their kids in for the first time now receives a series of three video emails from me over the course of the next ten days explaining this process from start to finish in hopes that more people become plugged in members and are equipped to go out.
Fifth, we recognize that while it is the responsibility of the elders to make sure the people are equipped, it isn’t only the elders who are doing the equipping. It is all of us using all our gifts. So, we want to grow in our ability to see gifts and fan those flames.
But, the end has to be crystal clear or our gifts will have no power. Lastly, I want to look at why we must be equipped.
III. Why we must be equipped 4:13-16
We can see in the final three verses that we need to be equipped so that we can be spiritually mature, as mature in some way as the fullness of Christ, so that the body of Christ is built up in love and grows.
The last thing we want is to be tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. We want to be anchored in the truth so we can flourish and be fruitful. We want to be the rock the waves break against.
I don’t know how many of you have been in rough seas before, but it’s scary. I vividly remember going off shore for the first time on my dad’s boat as a four year old and it was so rough the coast guard shut down the inlet. We were stranded in the ocean with waves so high your boat was almost vertical to get up it. If you don’t know how to handle them, you will capsize and be adrift at the mercy of the sea. And as dangerous as that is, it’s even more dangerous to be carried about by waves and wind of doctrine and human cunning….And lest anyone blame my dad for that, we didn’t have all these fancy weather apps back then. You did your best, but you never knew really what the seas were going to do.
And when people are equipped, they flourish and the kingdom grows. There is this pastor, many of you might know, named Mark Dever at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington DC and the recent history of this church illustrates what Paul is talking about. Mark arrived at this church in 1993 and the church, in his words, was comprised of about 70 blue hairs. Nothing against anyone with blue hair, it’s just that the longevity of this kind of church is not very promising. But, Mark faithfully loved that church and taught that church. He shared his faith and discipled (another word for equipped) anyone God put in his path. Fast forward to 2002, the demographic of the church had changed a lot, but it wasn’t huge, maybe about 200 people on Sunday. But those 200 or so people were equipped. They knew the Word, they were cognisant of their gifting and calling and in just a few years those 200 became 1000 and a lot of churches were planted. It wasn’t Mark that was bringing in the masses, it was an equipped people who reached a tipping point. That is the way Christians flourish and become fruitful.
It doesn’t matter how great we make Sunday, the day of drawing the masses to some flashy Sunday event is over. It takes something more. Our city is only 6% evangelical. The same as New York and Seattle. So some small percent of that 6% is going to walk in these doors. If we are ok with that, we should just close the doors. But, if our goal is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, I really think more could happen than any of us could imagine. We are called to be equipped and sent out.
We cannot be ok with only reaching the 6% or less of people who already know because there was a time when we were the 94%. While we were still sinners Christ died for us. And not only that, He raised up prophets and apostles and evangelists and and Pastors to go out and tell us that Christ has died for us, more than that, that He lives for us and invites us into saving personal relationship with Him today.
To go out and meet the 94% is what we are called to do and our hope is that we would grow as a church to be equipped to know the Word, to know how to use the Word and to know and to lean into all the ways we are uniquely gifted in the image of God.
Last week I asked you to find a way to regularly pray through our core values and honestly, some crazy things happened. Thank you for making that a regular part of your life.