We’re in our two-week study of what we believe about the church. Last week, we looked at three essentials of the church, the make-up, the miracle and the mission of the church. This morning, we’ll be looking at the maturation of the church.
This week, a lady and her son moved into our neighborhood. I asked if she went to church. She said she grew up in a Catholic Church, but she couldn’t handle the teaching on sin anymore. She always felt condemned by the Catholic Church. Most people avoid church because their experience with churches has been negative.
I don’t believe that Jesus intended for His church to be a condemning community. If we read the Bible, we would discover that the church, the gathering of believers, is to be a winsome and healing community. After all, Jesus came to save, not to condemn.
There are many other areas that the church falls short of Jesus’ intentions. I’m not criticizing the church; I’m part of the problem and part of the solution. Billy Graham has said, "By all means look for the perfect church, and when you find it, join it. But remember, when you join it, it ceases to be perfect!"
This morning, we are not aiming for perfection but for maturity, and maturity in four areas of church life. When I say church life, I’m not talking about the Sunday Worship Service or the church organization. I’m talking about the Church defined as the believers in Jesus Christ. Our text is Ephesians 4:1-16.
Although I distinguished between the Church as the believers in Christ and the church as an organization, one does affect the other significantly. If the believers are not growing toward maturity, the organization will be unhealthy and unfit to serve each other and those outside the church. Let’s look together at how we need to mature.
First, if we are to be a winsome and healing community to present Jesus as the Son of God and the Savior of mankind, the church needs to mature in manners. Verses 1-2.
Mark Twain once said that he put a dog and a cat in a cage together as an experiment to see if they could get along. They did. So he added a bird, a pig and a goat. They, too, got along fine after a few adjustments. Then he put in a Baptist, a Presbyterian, and a Catholic. Soon there was not a living thing in that cage.
Like Paul, I love Jesus Christ, and I love the Church, the believers in Jesus Christ. But becoming a Christian does not automatically make a person easy to live with or to relate to. That’s why Paul is teaching us some manners here.
Paul reminds us that our manners flow from the fact that God called us to Himself. We are humble because God loves us, even while we were sinners. We are humbled because God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the penalty of our sins. We are gentle and patient with others because we have experienced the gentleness and patience of God.
I’m pretty humble, gentle and patient with you in the church. But you don’t know if I’m that way because you pay my salary. But when it comes to relating with Esther, Susan or a service person on the phone or in the store, I’m not quite that humble, gentle or patient.
When this happens, God impresses on me that I am not practicing Christian manners. God reminds me, "If I treated you the way you’re treating Esther, Susan or the other person, how would you feel? Would you feel encouraged or discouraged? Would you feel loved or devalued?"
We are not humble, gentle and patient with others because we want to be accepted by people, or because others are humble, gentle and patient with us. We are humble, gentle and patient with others in light of God’s humility, gentleness and patience with us. Our manners with others, inside and out the church, flow from God’s manners with us.
Second, if we are to be a winsome and healing community to present Jesus as the Son of God and the Savior of mankind, the church needs to mature in motive. Verses 3-6.
People come to Sunday Worship Service for many reasons. Some come for friendship. Others come to learn English. Still others come out of routine. I’m not talking about non-believers but believers also.
During my senior year in high school, I began going to Cumberland Presbyterian Chinese Church, because I had heard that the girl I liked in high school went to that church. At first I wasn’t going to church because I wanted to know God. But after going to church a few times and not seeing the girl there, I continued to go to church, because I began to feel a desire to have peace with God.
There is nothing wrong with coming to church for activities, for friendship, for your children’s moral development or for any other benefits. But as you mature, you will move from coming to church to becoming the church. The church will no longer be a place or an activity that you come to. You become the church, the people who have peace with God through Jesus Christ.
As you continue to mature in your motive, you will move from being united with God alone to being united with God and with those who are united with God who are like yourself. And as you mature even more in your motive, you will be united with God, with those who are united with God who are like yourself and with those who are united with God who are not like yourself.
The mature church will experience unity regardless of differences in race, language, culture or socio-economics status. People will not look up or down to anyone. You will, as Jesus said, be like a child, color-blind when it comes to relating with people.
Back in 1992, I taught at Choate Rosemary Boarding School in Connecticut. I was the only Chinese person in that community, and I didn’t know anyone there. After Sunday Worship Service at an old Celtic Church, a white Christian man invited me out to lunch and helped me buy what I needed to settle in. When our motive is unity with God, we will eventually experience unity with others.
Third, if we are to be a winsome and healing community to present Jesus as the Son of God and the Savior of mankind, the church needs to mature in means. Verses 7-12.
Paul is basically saying in these verses that there are four types of believers in regard to the means of the church. There are believers who are unaware that Jesus Christ gave them abilities to serve God. There are believers who know that Jesus Christ gave them abilities, but they are not trained to use their gifts and abilities. And then there are those who are trained by experience or by the pastor and elders, but they are, for one reason or another, unwilling to use their God-given abilities to serve God. Finally, there are believers who know that Jesus Christ gave them abilities, are trained and are faithfully using their abilities to serve God.
The most immature believer is not the one who does not know that he or she has abilities from Jesus Christ. When you begin to serve through the church, you will find out what you are or are not gifted in. The most immature believer is the one who knows that he or she has abilities from God and are trained but does not use the abilities to serve God.
The story that inspired the classic lecture, Acres of Diamond, tells about a farmer in Africa who became tremendously excited about looking for diamonds. He sold his farm to head out to the diamond line. He wandered all over the continent, as the years slipped by, constantly searching for diamonds and wealth, which he never found. Eventually he went completely broke and threw himself into a river and drowned.
Meanwhile, the new owner of his farm picked up an unusual looking rock about the size of a country egg and put it on his mantle as a sort of curiosity. A visitor stopped by and realized what that rock was. He told the new owner of the farm that the funny looking rock on his mantle was about the biggest diamond that had ever been found. The new owner of the farm said, "Heck, the whole farm is covered with them" - and sure enough it was. The farm turned out to be the Kimberly Diamond Mine.
When I answered the call to be the pastor of this church, I did not see what I could do with this church. I saw what the members of this church could do in this community. I saw the potentials you have and the ways God has gifted each of you. The challenge we face is not that we do not have the means to reach and serve our community. We have the means. We only need the willingness to apply our means.
Fourth, if we are to be a winsome and healing community to present Jesus as the Son of God and the Savior of mankind, the church needs to mature in measure. Verses 13-16.
Gene A. Getz, in his book, The Measure of a Church, asks the question, "What is the measure of maturity in the church?" And he lists what others believe are the measure of maturity:
1. An active church (involving people in meetings and programs)
2. A giving church (supporting the church and efforts financially)
3. A growing church (new people coming and staying)
4. A soul-winning church (leading unbelievers to faith and baptism)
5. A smooth-running church (efficient and orderly)
6. A missionary-minded church (supports missionaries around the world)
7. A Spirit-filled church (enthusiastic, emotional)
8. A big church (large attendance, with many programs)
God used Paul to give us a different measure for maturity of the church. Paul says that the church is mature when it functions like one body, where Jesus Christ is the Head.
When Esther was a newborn, we could see her eyes wanting to reach for a toy, but her hands and arms were not yet able to cooperate. As she became more mature, her body parts began to do what her "head" wanted her to do. Likewise, when we mature as the church, we individually obey what our "head," Jesus Christ, wants us to do.
The Church is not obedient to a set of rules. We are obedient to the Person of Jesus Christ through a trusting relationship and to the truths He has spoken. And our obedience is not just in our head, but in the way we live and serve one another.
Someone tells about a group of tourists visiting a small town. They walked by an old man sitting beside a fence. Out of curiosity, one tourist asked, "Were any great men born in this town?"
The old man replied, "Nope, only babies."
No church starts out mature, but as each member of the church matures in manner, in motive, in means and in measure, the whole church will mature. And only the mature church can positively offer Jesus Christ to each other and to the world.