11 – It was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers,
12 – to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up
13 – until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 – Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching—and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.
15 – Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him Who is the Head, that is, Christ.
16 – From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
If you have children, then you know that after they are born you have to take them to the doc for regular check-ups—to make sure they are healthy and growing. Last week our daughter Sarah took our youngest grandchild, Emma, in for her four-month health-check. The doc listened to her heart and lungs—and that all sounded great. I’m sure he checked her reflexes—looked in her ears—stuff like that. The nurse gave her shots to protect her from measles and mumps and other diseases. All that went well—except I am told Emma did not enjoy the shots.
But then they weighed her and measured her—and that didn’t go as well. The doc made Emma’s first-time mom concerned because he commented that she was a little underweight—when compared to other four-month old infants.
Now—I’m not a doc. I don’t even play one on TV. But I question his comments. I mean, look at these next couple pics. Does Emma look underweight to you? Do you see any ribs showing? Nope—just plenty of good ole baby fat. Look at her legs—-do they look boney and undernourished? I think not—I love those fat little appendages!
The doc also said her head was a little small—again in comparison with other baby heads her age. Well, look at this head—how can that possibly be small! I think the doc needs to have his own head examined! By the way I consulted Dr. Google and inputted Emma’s stats—and her health is great—her weight—head size, etc. is perfect. In fact, her head is in the 97th percentile! I think the doc was looking at the wrong chart or something.
By the way the doc also said she was not as cute as she should be at 4 months. Look at this pic—what do you think? Just kidding about that last one.
My excuse for showing all these grandbaby pics is because no matter what our age—need to have regular health check-ups—and as Christians I think It’s even more important for us to have times when we examine our spiritual health—times to see if we are making progress—to see if we are developing as we should. And since our vision this year—neighboring—involves that kind of growth—I thought we’d take a Sunday four-months in—for our “four month” health check so to speak.
Remember, God’s Word tells us that in a very real sense all Christians begin their spiritual lives as “babies.” As I said last week, when we accept Jesus as Savior and Lord we are “re-born.” It follows then that, just like physical children, once we are born spiritually, we SHOULD grow and mature. 1st Peter 2:2-3 refers to this when it says, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation…” But you need to understand: our standard of spiritual growth and development isn’t other believers. I mean, we don’t compare ourselves to the development of other Christians and say, “I’m in the 90th percentile so I’m doing okay.” No, our standard is Jesus Christ Himself. As verses 13 of our text says, we are mature when we attain, “…the whole measure of the fullness of CHRIST.” Jesus Himself is our standard. We’re talking about growing to become more CHRIST-like. So—how do we gauge this? How do we know if we are “putting away childish things” and conforming “…ourselves to the image of Christ” as Paul said? (1st Corinthians 13:11, Romans 8:29) I mean, you can’t monitor a spiritual baby’s growth in the same way you do a physical baby’s growth. We can’t weigh or measure our souls. So how do we know if we’re making healthy progress as believers?
In his book, The Miracle of Life Change, Chip Ingram lists four check points found in our text for this morning that can help us answer these questions. Think of them as litmus tests that can be used to measure different aspects of spiritual progress—toward becoming the kinds of neighbors God wants us to be. Let’s look at them together.
(1) Ingram says the first evidence of developing spiritual maturity is DOCTRINAL STABILITY.
This is what Paul is talking about in 1st Timothy 4:16 when he says, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” In this verse Paul is reminding us that one way we know we are growing in Christlikeness is if we have a settled knowledge of His written Word. In other words, if we are indeed maturing, we have to have studied the Bible enough to have a firm grasp of the basic, essential beliefs of the Christian faith. We’ve read the Bible not just for information but for transformation such that these Scriptural truths become part of our way of thinking—our convictions—and as a result we are maturing, or as Paul puts it in our text, we are “no longer 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.” (Ephesians 4:14 NASB)
Paul uses the example of children here because as any parent knows, when we are little, when we are physically immature, we are notoriously fickle. I mean, kids will be interested in one thing for five minutes; then they change their minds and focus on something else entirely, and five minutes later they move on to a third thing. The focus of their attention changes with the wind—if you doubt this then notice how many different toys your kids have. This is because whenever something new comes out they forget their current favorites and long for this new toy. Remember—that’s how Woody felt in the movie Toy Story when Buzz Lightyear came along!
Here’s something else Paul reminds us about kids. They can be easily fooled. It is fairly simple to deceive them. This is how uncles are able to pull quarters from behind their niece and nephew’s ears. And—if any of you children are listening—please understand, I’m not putting you down. I’m just pointing out that this is part of what it means to be a child. It’s why you guys need mature parents to guide and protect you! In fact, I would encourage you to lean over to your parents right now—and say, “Thanks!”
Well, Paul uses this characteristic of children to communicate the sad fact that many ADULTS don’t grow out of these aspects of childishness and as a result they are easily manipulated—they are gullible. Without a doctrinal base—their beliefs are easily changed. Their spiritual health suffers as they begin to be deceived by the popular beliefs and lifestyles found in this sin-sick world of ours—and as such they cease becoming more like Jesus.
I’m reminded of a true story from a couple years back. A group of students were touring the Cairo Zoo—and everyone was having a great time looking at the animals when they came to the zebra enclosure. At this point, one student—who was obviously grounded in the “doctrine” of zoology realized the zebras were not zebras. This young man, Mahmoud Sarhan saw the animals were just donkeys with black stripes painted on them. Their ears made him suspicious—and then he noticed the paint smudging on the “zebra’s” nose. Mahmoud posted his pics on Facebook and they went viral. I read that apparently fakes like this are common in zoos around the world. An Italian circus once tried to pass off this painted dog as a Panda. In a Tibetan zoo they claimed a Mastiff dog was an African Lion. But the worst was a zoo in southern China that filled a penguin enclosure with inflatables—some of which weren’t—inflated that is. I doubt that fooled anyone—but my point is—without knowledge of God’s Word—we are easily deceived. And the tragedy is that many Christians don’t mature for this reason. They take their cues from the “wisdom” of this fallen world—instead of from the eternal truth of God’s Word. In fact, the word, “trickery” here in Ephesians 4 refers to skill in manipulating dice.
Too many believers are tricked—they fall for these schemes of the devil. They are not grounded and so they are always up for the latest spiritual fad that comes along, even if it involves beliefs that are contrary to Scripture. This reminds me of a cartoon I read this week about a pastor who sat behind his desk with a look of utter disbelief upon his face. Standing in front of him was church member who said, “Pastor, according to my horoscope this is a good week for you to preach on false doctrine.” All kidding aside, the adversary has people with cleverly disguised but heretical beliefs all over the place these days, so doctrinal stability is very important. We must heed Paul’s warning in 2 Timothy 4:2-3 where he says, “the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires—they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”
Well, how are you doing when it comes to this first measurement of spiritual health? Would you judge yourself as someone who is doctrinally stable? Are you well-grounded in the Word of God? Do you regularly, systematically study the Bible alone in your personal devotions? Are you in a Sunday School class or small group where you study Scripture with other believers? Are you stable doctrinally such that you can “correctly handle the Word of Truth?” (2nd Timothy 2:15) as a tool for dealing with erroneous teaching? Do you know it well enough to use it to “rebuke and correct” false beliefs? (2nd Timothy 3:16) If a Jehovah’s Witnesses were to knock on your door and tell you that Jesus Christ was not God in the flesh—would you say, “Actually Jesus was God in the flesh. John 1 says, ‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.’ That’s Jesus!”
Are you able to be the kind of neighbor who can answer tough questions like, “If God is good, why is there so much bad in this world?” Or just basic questions of our faith like we dealt with earlier this year: “Who is Jesus? Why is He the only way to God?” “Where did the Bible come from?”“How do you know God exists?”
(2) Here’s a second indicator of spiritual health—AUTHENTIC RELATIONSHIPS.
Paul refers to this aspect of our “spiritual check-up” in verse 15 of our text when he says, “Speaking the truth in love we are to grow up in all aspects into Him Who is the Head, even Christ.” Don’t miss this very important word combination here. Paul says the kind of relationships that indicate and promote spiritual health—involve both TRUTH and LOVE. He says we need those kinds of friendships to “grow up in all aspects into Him Who is the Head—even Christ.” Paul is talking about telling HARD truth to someone—truth they need to hear. This kind of TRUTH telling is motivated by love, because truth without love can be harsh, judgmental, legalistic and unforgiving. Truth without love promotes a pharisaical brand of self-righteousness and immature believers do this all the time. They can speak the truth, but only mature, healthy AUTHENTIC believers speak truth with love. And we are talking about genuine love here because love without truth is NOT real love in that it condones sin. It’s actually unloving not to tell someone truth they need to hear. I mean, when members of a church family truly love one another, they speak up when a brother or sister in the Lord needs correcting. This is because, as someone once put it, “A family is a group which possesses and implements an irrational commitment to the well-being of its members.” Love without truth is wishy-washy and unbalanced. Some call it “sloppy agape.” In fact, love that is not based in truth is not really love but rather phony emotionalism.
Someone once summed it up this way, “Truth without love is brutality but love without truth is hypocrisy.” Healthy—Christlike—believers are lovingly committed both to people and the truth, not just to people and the truth when it’s convenient. In other words, we know we’re genuinely maturing in Christ when we see a brother or sister in the Lord who’s moving in a direction that would be harmful to them or harmful for the body—and despite our fears, we go and tell them—not others—-tell them, the truth they need to hear. We schedule a breakfast or a lunch or we meet them for coffee to tell them something like, “I love you too much to simply stand by in silence when I see what’s happening in your marriage.” Or, “I love you too much to not tell you that you’re beginning to compromise your integrity at work.” Or, “I need to tell you—in love—that you are compromising your witness by constantly bragging about going to happy hour.” Or, “This guy you are dating is bad news. You really need to pray about this and ask for God’s leading.”
I mean, when maturing believers see the need for a one-on-one encounter like this they practice their words, they pray, they get knots in their stomach, they don’t sleep the night before—but they go through with it. They go to the person and speak the truth in love. If you’re a maturing believer, you’re the kind of friend about whom they say, five years later, “If it weren’t for you, I would have shipwrecked my life. Thanks for being honest with me.”
And one thing that indicates spiritual health is our ability to welcome people who speak the truth in love to them. We cherish the truth of Proverbs 27:5-6 where it says, “An open rebuke is better than hidden love! Wounds from a friend are better than many kisses from an enemy.” This week I read an excerpt from Jawanza Kunjufu’s book: Restoring the Village. In it he shares an experience from his own life. He writes:
“When I was a 14-year-old high school freshman, school was dismissed early for a teachers’ meeting. I conveniently neglected to tell my parents about the change and arranged to bring my girlfriend over to my house. We weren’t planning to study. As we were going up the steps, my neighbor, Mrs. Nolan, poked her head out of a window and said, ‘You’re home awfully early, Jerome.’ ‘Yes, Ma’am,’ I said, improvising a lame story about how we planned to review algebra problems. ‘Does your mother know you’re home this early,’ Mrs. Nolan persisted, ‘and do you want me to call her?’ I gave up. ‘No, Ma’am. I’ll go inside and call her while Kathy sits on the porch.’ Mrs. Nolan saved our careers that day. If Kathy had gotten pregnant, she might not have become the doctor she is today. And my father had warned me that if I made a baby, the mutual fund he set up for me to go to college or start a business would have gone to the child. I’m glad Mrs. Nolan was at her window, looking out for me.”
Listen. Authentic friends know that silence is not always golden. We all need others who love us enough to admonish us when we need it—people who love us enough to keep us on the right road. As Paul Cedar puts it, “My most painful experiences have been when I’ve had a problem and no one loved me enough to tell me about it.” To be HEALTHY—to grow—we both need the kinds of friends who will tell us hard truth—and we need to BE that kind of friends. We need AUTHENTIC relationships. If you have friends like that, thank God for them!
And then go and thank them for putting themselves in a very uncomfortable position out of concern for your welfare. If you don’t have friends like that, get some! Ask God to give you Christian friends who are mature enough to confront you when you need it. And we all need it from time to time!
(3) Here’s a third evidence of spiritual maturity cited by Ingram: full participation in the Body of Christ.
Look at verse 16 where Paul says that the whole body—the church—is, “joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love as EACH PART DOES ITS WORK.” Please note three key words that stand out in this verse: “whole,” “every,” and “each.” Maturing believers—healthy believers—understand the importance of these words.
They know they are one of those individual parts and their relationships fit into the whole called the body of Christ, the local church. They know that they are specially-gifted for service in the local church and so when they move to a new area, they join a local body of believers and get involved. They understand that Christianity is not a spectator sport so they are fully engaged in the ministry and mission of their local church.
As I’m sure Zach Rogers would tell us—our bodies contain an almost endless list of organs and cells and systems and sub-systems—each of which fulfills a vital function when it comes to keeping the body healthy. How anyone could believe that we humans just accidentally evolved is beyond me! Well, the older I become spiritually the more I understand that the local body of Christ is just as complex. I mean, there are tons of jobs to do here, each of which contributes to the health of this local body of Christ, known as Redland Baptist Church. I’m talking about everything from giving a warm greeting to a parent who picks up their child in the nursery—to praying with a family at the deathbed of their loved one—to preaching a sermon—directing our orchestra and choir—building our new website—laundering robes after baptism—weeding at work day—working in our Thrift Store—volunteering at Manna—working with our youth—I could go on and on and on.
Now—the comparison doesn’t work on all levels. I’m sure, as a med student, Zach would do a much better job at this than me—-but in a very real sense this church has parts that resemble those in an actual physical human body. For example, there’s what I think of as our “digestive system,” —those body parts who feed us nutritious Scriptural truth in Sunday School and worship and the small groups that meet on here on Tuesdays and in homes during the week. Remember, as Jesus said in Matthew 4:4, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” And to be healthy this church needs to be “fed” Scriptural truth so this body part is vital! And then, there’s what I refer to as our “repair system,” those people who serve on the building and grounds committee and keep our facility looking good. They keep a constant watch on needed repairs whether it involve new carpet or a new roof or a new furnace. They keep the physical facility healthy. And of course if we are mature—as I just said—there are those of us who help keep a fellow member SPIRITUALLY healthy by steering them away from behaviors and attitudes—that hinder our growth and health. There’s also our “circulation system,” those body parts that circulate financial resources needed to purchase Bible study materials, and go on mission trips and finance youth ministry events. This includes the tellers who count money every week and Hugh who records giving and Sandy who writes the checks and the stewardship committee—that helps us make and keep to a budget
Next, there’s the heart of Redland, those people that keep our fellowship loving and strong by planning picnics and parties, preparing our midweek meal and cleaning up afterwards. This also includes those people who serve as deacons, men and women who preserve harmony in the body helping us to love one another so we can function together as one. There is our staff, who don’t serve as a “head” but rather constantly point us all to the True Head—Jesus Christ—urging us to constantly follow His leading. I could go on and on and on and on.
I mean you would not believe all the different things that have to be done in order for this church body to function and be healthy. My point is that mature believers—HEALTHY CHRISTIANS—understand this principle so they are fully involved! They know that as members of the One Body—the local church—we belong to each other; we affect each other; we need each other.
They know that this “body” didn’t just accidentally evolve, but that God specifically designed us, gifted each individual body part, brought us together and because He did—each believer, no matter how insignificant he may appear, has a ministry to other believers. Maturing believers know that the Body grows as the individual members grow, and they grow as they feed on the Word and minister to and with each other. They’re not just hearers of the word, they’re doers as well! Unfortunately, this is an aspect of Christian maturity that is becoming more and more rare.
And I don’t say this to be judgmental—but rather to be loving. Too many Christians these days just attend a church—they don’t get involved. They don’t participate—and their spiritual health suffers as a result. Plus—the health of a church suffers because there is one less believer working in it.
In his book, The Cure for the Common Life, Max Lucado gives us a word picture of this problem. He writes, “Colorado aspens provide a living picture of the church. Have you noticed how they grow in groups, often on the otherwise bald sides of mountains? They are sun-seekers and root-sharers Unlike firs or pines, which prefer shade, aspens worship warmth. Unlike oaks, whose roots go deep, aspens roots go wide. They intertwine with other aspen roots and share the same nutrients. Think of it—Light lovers-root sharers—sounds like a healthy church doesn’t it?! Oddly though, some people enjoy the shade of the church while refusing to set down any roots. God, yes. Church, no. They like the benefits, but they resist commitment. The music, the message, the clean conscience-they accept church perks. So, they date her, visit her, enjoy an occasional rendezvous. They use the church. But commit to the church? Can’t do that. Got to keep options open. Don’t want to miss out on any opportunities.”
Well, let me ask you. Are you involved? Are you using your giftedness in a local church or are you just a spectator? Are you just dating the church or have you made a commitment to it? Remember, the whole body—the whole church is healthy—-if it is: “fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies according to the proper working of each individual part.”
You are each one of those parts! Someone once said, “Attendance is a poor substitute for participation in ministry.” And it is. God didn’t save you to set you on a pew; He saved you to serve. He gifted you to work in a local body of believers so don’t be satisfied with the pew! You’ll never be content or fulfilled just sitting there. You’ll never grow spiritually until you fully participate in a local church body because as Rick Warren says, “We are created for community, fashioned for fellowship, and formed for a family, and none of us can fulfill God’s purposes by ourselves.”
(One more point and our health check-up is done. Then you can write a check for your “co-pay” and head home.
(4) Here it is—the final test for spiritual maturity: a growing capacity for LOVE.
Paul refers to this in the last part of verse 16 when he talks about the church, “building itself up in love.” The caliber of love he’s talking about here is one that always looks at people and responds to people in love. Let me put it this way. When immature people are hurt by others, when people intentionally wound them with their words and actions, their response is to get even, to hurt back. They classify people who hurt them as “the bad guys” and want nothing to do with them. But not spiritually mature people. No, when they go through times like this their response is to love that person all the more and to wonder, “Why are they this way? What made them into this kind of person?” In other words, they display a maturity that expresses itself in empathy and compassion instead of revenge. I think this aspect of maturity is what John is talking about in his first letter when he says, “We know that we have passed from death to life, [we know we are making progress as Christians, we know we are becoming more like Jesus] if we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death.” [They’re still immature] (1 John 3:14) Maturing believers, Christians who walk in close fellowship with Jesus become like Him in this way, have an almost limitless capacity to love people.
In the days leading up to 9-11, fighting in Afghanistan between local groups and then the Taliban resulted in thousands of refugees pouring down into neighboring Peshawar, Pakistan. There they were squashed into tents and mud hovels in refugee camps in intense heat and poor sanitation. J. Dudley Woodberry and his wife Roberta were working in the refugee camps at the time. Woodbury describes what happened in the camps: “Conditions at one camp were harsher than at the others; so Roberta and her class took school supplies to the students so they had more than just blank slates with chalk. Another group of eight workers imported thousands of sandals for the children who ran around with bare feet on the rough parched ground. But they decided that they would also wash their feet as Jesus had. My daughter-in-law joined the group. For a week they washed every foot with antibacterial soap, anointed with oil, and silently prayed for the child. Then they gave each of them new sandals, a quilt, and a shawl, plus a small bag of flour for every family. At first the sores, pus, pink eye, and dirt were revolting. But then our daughter-in-law felt a deep love as she silently prayed, ‘Dear Father, this little girl looks like she does not have anyone to care for her. Let my touch feel to her as if you are touching her. May she remember how you touched her this day, and may she seek after you hereafter. Thank you for those who seek you will find you.’ Many children looked up and shyly smiled. Sometime later a teacher in one of the tents used for a refugee school asked her class, ‘Who are the best Muslims?’ A girl raised her hand and replied, ‘the kafirs’ (a term meaning unbelievers that is often used by Muslims for Christians). After the teacher recovered from her shock, she asked, ‘Why?’ The young girl replied, ‘The Muslim fighters killed my father, but the kafirs washed my feet.”
Let me ask you: is this aspect of spiritual maturity seen in your life? Are you known for your Christlike love—even for people many consider “the enemy?” Is your capacity to love others growing? Do you follow our Lord’s command and, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you?” (Matthew 5:44)