Work Together With God - Ephesians 4
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Work Together With God – 03.05.2023
[Ephesians 4:11-16 and Matthew 20:24-28]
In Spain there’s an old aqueduct in the city of Segovia. It’s this massive brick and mortar structure designed to transport water all over the place. It was built somewhere around the year 109. For one thousand eight hundred years, it carried cool water down from the mountains to the hot and thirsty city. Nearly sixty generations of men drank from its flow. Then in the 1900s people said, “this aqueduct is so great a marvel that it ought to be preserved for our children, as a museum piece. We shall relieve it of its centuries-long labor.” In the name of preservation they stopped using the aqueduct. They installed modern iron pipes, and gave the bricks and mortar a reverent rest. Very quickly the aqueduct began to fall apart. The sun beating down on the dry mortar caused it to crumble. The bricks and stone sagged and threatened to fall. What ages of service could not destroy, idleness disintegrated. It’s now on World registry for historic places, where they spend a lot of money trying to keep it from falling apart.
Today is the last sermon in our series The Shift. We have spent the last month looking at the way we think about membership, the way we think about church – the good things we do and we have tried to shift our mentality to understand why we do what we do. We started by covering 2000 years of church history in 15 minutes, and then we talked about what church is and why we do it. We realized that we need one another because the church is people, and not a place. We have a messy, broken history – as the church, but also as personal people – and Jesus meets us in that mess. Then we talked about the bible, taking a look at our holy text. We talked about how the bible is bigger than we know, full of poetry and parables and history and more but all of it leads us to truth – leads us to Jesus. Then we got into prayer, about talking to God and listening to God, and then last week we talked about stewardship, setting priorities and how we use our financial gifts in the world. Today we’re going to talk about personal development, growth in our lives as Christians. It goes by a lot of names – discipleship, spiritual growth, feel the warmth, John Wesley really liked the word sanctification, – but basically this morning I want to talk about what comes next.
So, we’re going to start in Ephesians, and then move to Matthew. It’s weird, the passage in Ephesians actually starts with my job description. It says, [read v.11-12]. My job is to equip you to do God’s work – to love and forgive and serve and heal out there in the world, and to equip you to build up the church – and remember, that means the people. And this has been a really good place to learn how to do that. But I want you to think about that word “equip.” To me equip is an action verb. My job is not to put on a show, my job is not to fill your head with bible knowledge, my job is not to make you feel better – though we do all of those things here. It’s not about songs or rituals or fancy clothes. The Pastor’s job is to equip. My job is to train you on how to do this Christian thing. And I think in some ways I’ve succeeded and in some ways I’ve failed as all leaders will. But then it says, [read v.13]. We will keep doing what we do until we have such unity of faith and knowledge of God’s son Jesus, that we become mature. Now if we’re becoming mature, that means we all start out as immature. We start out as children, before we grow up. Here’s the thing – when someone becomes a Christian, it just means that they’ve accepted Jesus into their life. That they’ve dedicated their life to following Jesus as their Lord and savior. But in that early stage – they don’t know much, they don’t know their bible, they don’t know how to live their lives the way Jesus taught. Maybe they don’t even know quite how to pray. And you can be any age and be an immature Christian. Your maturity in Christ and your age have nothing to do with one another. When we start out as a child of God, we are immature – and that’s good. Those first few years are so exciting! When someone opens their eyes to see God’s work in the world around us – it’s so fun to watch them start to connect the dots and see God working. When someone starts getting into their bible, and discovering God in those pages – it’s like watching a little kid go to an art museum or something. We all start out as immature, but what this verse is saying is that the goal is to grow. My job is to train you, to equip you – to help you move from baby Christian to teenage Christian to mature adult Christian.
Verse 14 says, [read it]. When we grow, we become stronger. Like a tree putting down good roots, we will not be blown around by tricks and false teachings. It’s important to grow as a Christian, to grow in your faith – because when you grow you become stronger. I really like the information age. I can learn about anything, instantly in the palm of my hand. The internet has been an incredible tool for the spread of information. BUT, if some people use the technology for good things, you can bet others are going to use it for bad things. False teachings and manipulations and twisting of the bible happens all the time, and if you don’t have good roots you’ll get uprooted by the tornado of tricks that are out there. We want to grow, and when we grow we will be stronger.
Verse 15 brings it home, [read it]. When you grow as a Christian, when you develop as a godly person, you become more and more like Jesus. Simply put, our goal is to be more like Jesus. Verse 16, [read it]. To translate – body of Christ is the church, and the church is not a building, it’s the people. When we are all trying to be like Jesus, this church fits together perfectly, each part doing its own special work. It helps the other parts grow, so that the body is healthy and growing and full of love. To recap Ephesians: My job is to equip you to do God’s work. To train you. We all start out as immature Christians, there’s lots of you in the room – and that’s awesome. We want to train you, to help you grow. Because we all start off as immature Christian, no matter what age we find Jesus, we all start off as immature – but when we grow, we become stronger. When we grow we become more like Jesus.
So let’s switch to a story of Jesus to see what comes next. Now, a little backdrop. Two of Jesus’ disciples are brothers – James and John. And apparently back in verse 21, before our scripture – their mom comes up to Jesus and says, “please let me sons sit in places of honor next to you when you are in heaven.” While it’s probably super selfish for her to even ask – let’s just pause a second and give her some epic mom points. I mean, wow – go big, or go home – hey? Basically Jesus responds “my dad’s in charge of the seating chart in heaven” and then we get to verse 24, [read v.24-26]. There’s two big pieces here. First he says, you know how it is in the world. And 2000 years later, I don’t think it’s any different. Rulers of this world lord over their people, officials flaunt their authority over those under them. That sounds very familiar. BUT among you it will be different. First he says, you know how the world is, but then he says, with you guys, with Christians – it’s going to be different. The passage finishes, [read v.27-28]. Now slave means something different at this time, it was more indentured servitude than the slavery we know in America – but still, that’s strong language. If you want to lead, you must serve. If you want to be first, you must become a slave. But forget leading and being first – if you want to grow as a person, as a Christian, as a child of God into a man or woman of God – you must serve. For even the son of Man, that’s Jesus – the son of the all powerful God up in heaven, he came not to be served, but to serve others – to give up his life for other people. If our goal is to be well trained, to grow and become strong, mature Christians – if our goal is to be like Jesus, then we must follow his example of serving other people. The world does it one way, among you it will be different. As Jesus himself showed us.
The good news this morning is that God wants you to grow. God wants you to have good, solid roots in your faith, so that the storms won’t blow you around. God wants you to be strong and steadfast. God wants you to grow. Here in this church we have a process for that. We call it the “Ministry Process” and we use the metaphor of fire. First we feed the spark, that childlike wonder and discovery of God’s love and forgiveness and awesome power. Then we fuel the flame with Christian Education – like Sunday School, Youth Group and Life Groups. But the point of Christian education, the point of step two is to fuel the flame so it will grow. When the fire inside grows big enough, it radiates heat. You ever sit too close to a bonfire? You can feel the warmth. Sometimes fire even throws off sparks, and starts the process all over again. Feed the spark when you find them. You fuel the flame, get your spark to grow. And when you’ve grown, when you are mature – you will feel the warmth. Step three is when we start to serve others. God wants you to grow, and one of the best ways to make that happen is to focus on serving others.
What I want you to realize this morning is that God wants you to grow as a person, as a Christian. And you grow by serving others. I’m not up here saying it’s always super fun. I’m up here saying it’s necessary for your development as a human being. You grow more like Jesus when you serve others. You know what I will never understand? People who like eating vegetables. My amazing wife is so much healthier than me – so much wiser than me. Me, I’m with the toddler, Cookie? That’s why Sara gets to pick the meal schedule – because if I did it, we’d have pizza and tacos every day. I prefer to eat like a teenage college student, which is a really bad idea. I don’t always like eating vegetables, but I know that they’re amazing for you. Sometimes service is like eating your vegetables. You do it because you know it’s good for you. Our hearts don’t drift naturally towards God. Our hearts naturally drift away from God, to selfish, greedy impulses. And so we need practices in our lives that will push us towards the character of Jesus. It’s basically resistance training, fighting your self-centered impulses. And it works on a lot of levels. Here’s some examples from my life. I have moments when I get very prideful. Pride is something I battle every single day, and when I’m feeling prideful, when I’m feeling full of myself – I stop what I’m doing and I start praying for other people. It’s resistance training because I want to be more like Jesus. I focus on others, lifting them up in my prayers, celebrating and mourning and praying for other people. Or when I get angry with someone. Do you know the best thing to do when you are mad at family? Husbands, do you know what the best thing to do when you’re mad at your wife is? The dishes. Do the dishes, mow the lawn, scrub the toilets – something. Little known fact, nobody ever murdered their husband while he was doing the dishes. Find a task that they do around the house that they don’t like – and do it for them. I’m angry, and I’m mad at them, and I’m stewing – but the activity of serving them, of doing something nice for them, when I’m mad at them – changes my heart. Shows that I’m trying to love them, even when we’re in conflict. God wants you to grow, and you grow by serving others.
So I would hope that the practical application is very obvious – my challenge to you this week is to go volunteer. Sign up for something. Sign up for ten somethings. We got over 100 people here every Sunday, and every single one of us has a prideful heart that is running away from God – we need the opportunity to serve. So volunteer, not because there is a need in the church, volunteer because there is a need in you. Shift your mentality. Volunteering is about YOUR growth, not our needs. We want to grow, we want to be like Jesus and the son of Man came not to be served but to serve others. The question is never how many volunteers do I need for a project? This is something I’m learning recently. I used to ask, what’s the minimum I need to get something done? But the real question should be how many opportunities can we create together so that EVERYONE gets a chance to serve. We don’t serve because there’s a need in the church to get stuff done – we serve because there’s a need in our hearts to be more like Jesus. Little side note – beware of service that benefits you. If you only volunteer in areas that benefit you – like concessions at your kids sporting event. That’s awesome to volunteer, but you also want to have service that does not benefit you – service that works on your heart. Resistance training doesn’t always feel good. So just be careful with that. Some stuff takes training and applications, but sometimes it’s as easy as helping clean up coffee hour. No training required shake hands and smile. The question is not, “do you need help?” The question is, can I please – for my sake, because I want to be more like Jesus – can I please serve you? I’ve been doing professional ministry for years now and I never thought of it this way – but think about it. We should be seeking out chances to serve. So go volunteer. Volunteer not because there is a need in the church, but because there is a need in you.
The second part of that is that we should volunteer because what we do brings people to Jesus. Ephesians told us that Jesus is the head of the church, and each part does its own special work, and helps the other parts grow – and Jesus makes the whole body of the church fit together perfectly. I want to introduce you to something called the principle of the chain. This comes from Nelson Searcy. There is no job too small or insignificant in the church, because everything we do comes together as links in a chain that brings broken people to Jesus. I’m a link in that chain. The janitor is a link in that chain. UMW, FIAT, ushers, the nursery, Sunday School, Kid’s Church, Choir, Ushers, communion stewards, liturgists, sound guys – all of us are links in a chain that connects the broken world to Jesus Christ. Let me put it another way, changing diapers in our nursery is vital to the kingdom of God. Cleaning up coffee hour, and working the cameras on the computer is an essential link in bringing someone to salvation. I know it sounds like I’m being dramatic – but I’m not. Ephesians literally says, “Jesus Christ makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work.” You can change someone’s life by holding communion elements. You can bring someone into a relationship with Jesus by setting up crafts in Vacation Bible School, or staying up all night with a bunch of teenagers. The principle of the chain is that everything we do comes together as links in a chain that brings broken people to Jesus. So volunteer, not because there is a need in the church – but because there is a need in your heart. Volunteer, because what you do in this place brings people to Jesus.
The aqueduct in Spain lasted for centuries, but fell apart when it stopped serving. The loving, all powerful, forgiving God up in heaven wants you to grow. He wants you to be the man of God, or woman of God that he created you to be. He wants you to be strong, firmly rooted able to withstand the storms of life. Jesus shows us how. We grow when we serve others. So I’ll leave you with this. May you eat your vegetables. May you use resistance training to keep your heart aimed at God. May you experience the power of volunteering. Amen.