Part 2

Last week we introduced our fourth objective as a church – to nurture spiritual growth to transform everyone into God’s holiness. I wouldn’t blame you at all for thinking that is a mighty lofty goal. Let’s be honest, how does the average person have time to nurture holiness in others much less oneself? How does one make the time to grow spiritually in the midst of the sort of busy-ness of the work week? Not only is there the ever growing demands and stress of the workplace, but we have housework as well. There are bills to be paid, rooms to be cleaned, cars to be serviced, and any number of repairs to the house and our labor-saving devices – which don’t seem to be saving us that much labor. How can all that buzzing and whirring of activity contribute to holiness and spirituality?

I wouldn’t blame you at all if you told me that it is hard to fit in the daily routine of bible study and prayer. I understand, about the only time we can find for spirituality is at church – and even church can seem like a lot of activity that may or may not promote spiritual growth. There are potlucks to cook for, there are projects to work on, there are plans to meet over, but where’s the spiritual growth? Is holiness a realistic goal for the average person? Maybe it is something that will come in retirement? Maybe it is just for the ministers and church leaders? Maybe the only ones who can really be holy are monks and hermits who go off to a mountaintop to contemplate God?

I wouldn’t blame you if you felt a bit intimidated by words like "nurture, spiritual growth, and holiness." What I hope you will not do is cast this goal aside secretly because you fear that your life is just too busy, too ordinary, or too important to experience spiritual growth and holiness. I do believe it is possible for each and every Christian to experience spiritual growth and holiness. And I don’t think it is something only for the elite or exceptional Christians. Why? Because God makes every Christian exceptional and there are no elites in the body of Christ for Christ is the only head of the body. Spiritual growth is an inherent quality of life in the church. You will grow as a Christian because you are connected to the head of the church (Christ) and to every other member of the body. You will grow just as an infant cannot help but grow as long as it is part of a family. You will grow just a garden of wildflowers grows as long as it is connected to the earth. This is Paul’s message in Eph. 4:1-16. Just to preface this reading, let me say that Paul has indicated in chapters 1 – 3 that God has accomplished his work of salvation in Jesus Christ. Not only are we saved through Jesus, but we are given purpose, identity, and belonging. All things in the created order – including us – are to be redeemed and woven together through Jesus. And so Paul utters a praise to God who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine. He is the source of our growth and holiness. So in chapter 4 Paul describes how God’s power and work enters into our experience ... (Read Ephesians 4:1-16)

Organic Growth Cycle – The view of spiritual growth that Paul describes in this Scripture is not mechanical or institutional. It is organic and natural. It is interconnected with Christ and with other disciples who are also growing and becoming holy. I have a diagram that might help us understand how this works. 1) First, notice that the process of growth and maturity flows from Christ. Every stage and experience in this process is linked to Christ. Christ is the blood and oxygen that is essential to the process of spiritual life. 2) Each of us and all of us experience four stages of growth through this process. Our calling, the unity of the church body, spiritual gift given by the Lord, and maturity in Christ. Do not be too linear with these "stages" It would be a mistake to put time frames on each one as if six months of unity prepares one for a spiritual gift. It doesn’t work that way. These are cyclical and we are always experiencing and re-experiencing each stage. [Illus. from Preaching Today] - Spiritual transformation is a long-term endeavor. It involves both God and us. I liken it to crossing an ocean. Some people try, day after day, to be good, to become spiritually mature. That's like taking a rowboat across the ocean. It's exhausting and usually unsuccessful. Others have given up trying and throw themselves entirely on "relying on God's grace." They're like drifters on a raft. They do nothing but hang on and hope God gets them there. Neither trying nor drifting is effective in bringing about spiritual transformation. A better image is the sailboat, which if it moves at all, it's a gift of the wind. We can't control the wind, but a good sailor discerns where the wind is blowing and adjusts the sails accordingly.

Calling - "Lead a life worthy of your calling" – (4:1) – Have you ever thought of your Christian identity as a calling? This alone could be a major shift in perspective that enables us to grow spiritually. Our life has meaning and purpose. We have all been called by God (4:2) and he has a vision for our lives. Like a Father who has a vision for his children, God has hopes and dreams for us and he is calling all of us to share in the same glorious future (4:4). God is doing something with creation. He has a plan that is headed somewhere definite and you and I – all of us – are called, invited to be a part of it.

Unity - "Keep yourselves unified in the Holy Spirit" – (4:3) – This plan isn’t just for a select few. That’s why spiritual growth in Christ is for everyone and not just a few worthies. This work of God, his vision and plan, involves all of us because his objective is to unite all of us in love and peace. When sin entered the world, it disturbed the peace that God enjoyed with his creation and the peace of God that ran through all creation. The restoration of this peace, or shalom, is the work of Jesus Christ. So, in the body of Christ we ought to be experiencing a foretaste of the peace that is to come.
We ought to love one another and be patient with one another, even though we are imperfect, because the same God is over us, in us, and living through us all (4:6). Paul affirms the unity we have by noting that we share in one "body," one Spirit, one future; we have the same Lord, same faith, and same birth (one baptism) (4:5)
This unity in God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit that results in love and peace facilitates our spiritual growth and transformation into holiness. But this unity also allows for a certain diversity that also facilitates spiritual growth ...

Gifts - "However, he has given each of us a special gift" – (4:7) – Even though we have some important things in common, we are not all the same. Unity is different from uniformity. Uniformity is based on conformity, in which everyone must become exactly alike. But unity is actually based on diversity in which unique parts combine to form a unified whole. We see this in marriage in which dissimilar individuals – male and female – unite to become one. In the body of Christ, in which the process of spiritual growth takes place, Christ gives each of us unique gifts. The diversity is nothing to be concerned about because Christ is the source of all the gifts (4:8-11).And the diversity of gifts maintains unity and depends on unity because the purpose of each gift is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church (4:12). All of us have a gift that contributes to the spiritual growth of the whole church. The apostles, evangelists, prophets, pastors and teachers within the church are not leaders who are meant to limit the growth of the church. They are there to enhance it. They equip us for service and inspire us and that builds up the church.

The Importance of all gifts (John Maxwell, in The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork, wrote): During World War II, when Britain was experiencing its darkest days, the country had a difficult time keeping men in the coal mines. Many wanted to give up their dirty, thankless jobs in the dangerous mines to join the military service, which garnered much public praise and support. Yet their work in the mines was critical to the war. Without coal, the military and the people at home would be in trouble. So Prime Minister Winston Churchill faced thousands of coal miners one day and told them of their importance to the war effort; how their role could make or break the goal of maintaining England's freedom. Churchill painted a picture of what it would be like when the war ended, the grand parade that would honor the people who fought the war. First would come the sailors of the navy, the people who continued the tradition of Trafalgar and the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Next would come the best and brightest of Britain, the pilots of the Royal Air Force, who fended off the German Lutwaffe. Following them would be the soldiers who fought at Dunkirk. Last of all would come the coal-dust-covered men in miners' caps. Churchill indicated that someone from the crowd might say, "Where were they during the critical days of the struggle?" And the voices of thousands of men would respond, "We were in the earth with our faces to the coal." It's said that tears appeared in the eyes of the hardened men. And they returned to their inglorious work with steely resolve, having been reminded of the role they were playing in their country's noble goal of pursuing freedom for the Western World.

Maturity - "We will be mature and full grown in the Lord " – (4:13) – As we become more like Christ, we develop holiness. The goal of being more holy is not so we can rest easy feeling that we’ve arrived. We are mature so we can help others share in the unity that comes as a result of their calling by God. United with them we help them use their gifts to build up the body so that more of them become mature. Maturity enables spiritual growth become we outgrow spiritual childishness (4:14). Maturity is a desirable condition when a group is confronted by deceitful teachings that sound right, but just are not. We are connected by Christ and do our work to help others grow (4:16).

4:16 sums it all up ... "Under Christ’s direction, the whole body is fitted together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love."
Mature Christians serve the church with their gifts and this helps the church grow and become healthy and more loving. Maturity in Christ – holiness and spiritual growth – is not something that only elders, ministers and deacons achieve. Every part of the body works to bring out maturity in every other part of the body.
Gifts of the Spirit are not something that only a few in the church have. God’s gives gifts to all the members of the church. But it is a gift that is meant to be used for the sake of the church, which is here for the sake of the world’s salvation.

Here’s the invitation – If you have been baptized, what gift do you have to use for the church? We are inviting you to live out your calling. We are inviting you to use your gifts, to grow as you use them. We are inviting you to use your gift for the glory of God and the building up of the body.

If you haven’t been baptized, don’t miss out on the blessed life that God calls you to. We welcome you to come and be like Christ. Receive a gift from Christ and be added to the church – a healthy, truthful, loving unity where you will belong.

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 21 November 2004

Making Disciples for Jesus Who Are Eager to Serve Others
Notes for the Sermon – "Nurturing Spiritual Growth to Transform All into God’s Holiness" – Part 2
November 21, 2004

  1. Read Ephesians 4:1-16
    • Growth Cycle of Church

  2. "Lead a life worthy of your c_____________" – (4:1)
    • We’ve all been called by G______ (4:2)
    • We’ve all been called to the same glorious f___________ (4:4)

  3. "Keep yourselves u___________ in the Holy Spirit" – (4:3)
    • One God over us, in us, and l__________ through us all (4:6)
    • We share in o______ "body," Spirit, destiny, Lord, faith, and birth (baptism) (4:5)

  4. "However, he has given each of us a special g________" – (4:7)
    • Christ is the s__________ of all the gifts (4:8-11)
    • The purpose of each gift is to e___________ God’s people to do his work and b_________ up the church (4:12)

  5. "We will be m__________ and full grown in the Lord " – (4:13)
    • We outgrow spiritual ch__________________ (4:14)
    • We are connected by Christ and do our work to help others g_______ (4:16)

Making Disciples for Jesus Who Are Eager to Serve Others
"Nurturing Spiritual Growth to Transform All into God’s Holiness" – Part 2
Driving It Home Discussion Guide
November 21, 2004

  1. Read Ephesians 4:1-16 and discuss the following.

  2. What does it mean to live a life worthy of your calling? In what ways do you sense that God has called you to a glorious future? How have you responded to that calling?

  3. What is the difference between unity and uniformity? How can there be diversity in unity? How do the distinctions between man and woman actually provide for a unified marriage? Can a diverse group of people really be unified as the church? Do we all have to become exactly alike? (See Galatians 3:26-29.)

  4. Why is love important to maintaining unity? (See Ephesians 4:2.) What is the basis of our unity as fellow Christians? (See Ephesians 4:4-6) How does this create unity among a diverse people?

  5. Why would Christ give gifts to the church? Why not give every single Christian all the gifts possible?

  6. What gift have you been given by Christ? Do you doubt that you’ve been given a gift? (see Ephesians 4:7) How can your brothers and sisters in Christ help you recognize your gift?

  7. Why did Christ give us gifts? (See Ephesians 4:12-13.) How does this purpose for gifts define the role of the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers? Is their role different from yours? How are they alike? How are they the same?

  8. How are spiritual growth and maturity related? How are holiness and maturity related? How is spiritual childishness not like holiness? (See Ephesians 4:14.)

  9. What is the goal of spiritual maturity? Who are we to be like? (See Ephesians 4:15.)

  10. What will you do to become more like Christ? How will you help others to become more like Christ? How does this fit into our purpose statement? (Making Disciples for Jesus who are Eager to Serve Others)

Prepare for Nov. 28 – "Recognizing Spiritual Gifts and Using Them to Glorify God - Part 1"

    Read I Corinthians 12:12-31

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 21 November 2004

 Link to next sermon

 Link to other sermons of Chris Benjamin