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Celebrating *New Year’s in September* - Our Fall Ministries Kick-Off Sunday!
Looking forward to Sunday, September 7, 2008 – Closing Day to a Week of Prayer! – Communion Sunday –
*Raising our view of church*
Ephesians 4:1-32
/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./
Ephesians 4:16 NIV
When I was *in seminary* in the mid 70s, there was much debate about the *reliability and inerrancy of Scripture*.
Many *impressively intelligent people* were making their arguments on *how we should think* about the Scriptures.
But really, the *bottom line* in all the *discussions and debate *was this: *what are we going to do* with what *the Bible says*?
Are we going to *obey God* or are we going to *ignore and disobey God*?
Probably the *most surprising observation* I have made over the years is to find *those who say they believe* in the *inerrancy* of Scripture, that is, that the *Bible* does *not contain any errors in the original manuscripts* that alter any teaching of the Bible, yet, *they manipulate Scripture* to accommodate their own *self interest*.
Though I do *not* present *Mark Twain* as having been a *godly man*, he is credited with a *very remarkable state*ment.
He said, “It’s *not the things in the Bible I don't understand* that *bothers* me, it’s *the ones I do*.”
C.J. Mahaney says, “The *purpose of Scripture* is to *provoke obedience* and *produce change* in our lives.”
(Mahaney, /Why Small Groups/, p.9)
I submit to you that in *practical terms*, our debate is *not* about the *accuracy* of the Scriptures.
*Our debate* is about the *authority* of the Scriptures.
When *the teaching of Scripture *is more than *adequately clear*, are we going to *submit our lives to obeying* what God tells us or are we going to *stand as the sole and arbitrary judge* of Scripture and *do what we want to do*, regardless?
I believe we *must face that question nearly every tim*e we find that *our behavior is not a match* for God’s command.
We have spent the *month of August* in the *4th* chapter of *Ephesians* and I submit to you that *Paul has presented to us* a much *higher view of the church* than is our practice.
And the *question* we face today is, *what are we going to do about it*?
Paul has outlined for us a *strategy* for how a *local church family* is able to *grow* and *build itself up* in love.
*His strategy* calls for a *very intentional focus* on Jesus Christ.
*Paul’s strategy* also calls for a *very intentional effort* to maintain the *unity of the team* by expressing *support and encouragement *at every turn and in every situation.
It is Christ who has *put this team together*.
As a result, all of us are *brothers and sisters* and are called to humbly serve our Lord *side by side* in worship and evangelism.
I believe the *Scriptures tell us* that it is *through the local body of Christ* that *our love for Christ* is given the *best opportunity* to develop and be *employed*.
It is in the context of a *local assembly* of believers where our *faith is best lived out*, not in isolation from the world, but in its *most effective impact* on the world.
*Faithful, obedient, loving Christians*, who are committed to the mission of a local church that is faithfully serving Christ, have the *greatest potential for impacting the unbelieving world* that surrounds them.
So, one more time I hope to *persuade you* through the *truth of Ephesians 4* and through the *work of the Holy Spirit* applying the truth to your life, that *there is not one thing* that you would want to *commit yourself to more* than to *Christ*, to *His Church* and to *His work* in the world.
And Paul is giving us *a strategy* to make that *happen right here* at New Heights Christian Church.
Let’s read together the first 6 verses of Ephesians 4.
*Ephesians 4:1-13 (NIV)*
*/1 /**/As/**/ a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received./*/
2 //Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
3 //Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
4 //There is one body and one Spirit— just as you were called to one hope when you were called— 5 //one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 //one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
/ /
/7 //But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.
8 //This is why it says: /
/“When He ascended on high, He led captives in His train and gave gifts to men.”/
/9 //(What does “He ascended” mean except that He also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 //He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)
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.
Is there any doubt that Paul is saying that we must *always bear in mind* that it was *through God’s mercy and grace* that each of us were *placed on His team*, call the church?
So, anytime we are *tempted to withhold love* and *forgiveness* from another team member, we need to *remember* on what *basis* we, ourselves, were *made members on the team*.
It *wasn’t* because of *our own righteousness*.
It was strictly on the *merits of Christ’s righteousness*.
Paul goes on to say that as owner of the team, *Jesus has appointed a team of coaches* to train, equip and prepare *the entire team* for *works of service* that will *build up the whole team* to be effective in bringing others *into a saving and sanctifying relationship* with Jesus Christ.
Again, it’s not the clarity of strategy that is our problem here.
Rather, it’s our compliance with it.
Now, let’s read together the next section, verses 17-24.
/17 //So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.
18 //They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.
19 //Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.
/ /
/20 //You, however, did not come to know Christ that way.
21 //Surely you heard of Him and were taught in Him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.
*22 */*/You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 /**/to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 /**/and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Paul states in nearly graphic terms that *our past still tries to pull us back* into its grip and beckon us to *return to the lifestyle* we left behind.
Thus, it is important that we are *committed to take full advantage of being members of a united body of believers*, making certain that we are *keeping our focus on living in Christ* and that we are *in a healthy relationship* with our *coaches* and the *fellow members* of our team.
Based on *what we have heard* from Paul in Ephesians 4 *so far*, I presented *a challenge for all of us*.
Practically speaking, *are we being equipped here *at New Heights Christian Church for *works of service* so that this church is *being built up?*
I stressed the issue of *making a deal with each other*.
If those *whom God has appointed as equippers *are willing and prepared to do equipping, are *those whom God has instructed to be equipped* willing to report in and get the training?
Many of *you responded* by saying that *you want to be equipped* for works of service and that *after being equipped* you will *do your part* to see that New Heights is *built up in love.*
Your *responses* were, and continue to be, *greatly encouraging* to me.
For any of *you who have* or *will today* declare to us that you *want to be equipped* for *works of service* and to apply yourself to seeing *New Heights built up in love*, at *noon* today for *one hour* the elders are *hosting a lun*ch where we can *gain clarity* about how to *really apply this instruction *from God’s word.
The *final section* of Ephesians 4 *amplified* some earlier teaching that was *shot like an arrow*, striking the very *core of our being*.
Let’s read that section together.
*Ephesians 4:25-32 **(NIV)*
/25 //Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.
26 //“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 //and do not give the devil a foothold//.
28 //He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.
/ /
*/29 /**/Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
/*/30 //And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
31 //Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.
32 //Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
We *rightfully conclude* from these words that *to not speak truthfully to our neighbor, to withhold truth from a fellow member of the body of Christ, we will injure the whole body in some way*, as a result.
Thus, we *must filter all our grievances through a disposition or attitude of love and patience and forbearance*.
Plotting *revenge* is *unacceptable *for us as a Christians.
*Our thoughts need to be made new through a new attitude that is being bathed in righteousness and holiness*.
I believe Paul is making clear that *some* of our *thoughts* are actually *corrupted data* because they were *filtered through deceitful desires*.
As members of Christ’s body, we must always be having our attitudes renewed in righteousness and holiness.
That’s because, as Christians, *our words have been tagged with an assignment*.
They are to be *truthful*.
Our words are to be *spoken in love*.
And, our words are to *assist Christ’s body to grow up* into Christ.
That is to say, the *words* that we speak should *result in other members* of Christ’s body to *become more tightly bonded to Christ* as our head and for our fellow members to be *more tightly bonded to each other*.
So, Paul is *not just saying*, “Look, we are *all in the same family* so *get along*.”
He is saying that we *all have a calling* to bring *honor* to our Lord in *how we live* in His family.
*Chuck Miller*, in his book, The Spiritual Formation of Leaders, writes: “*Living as a Christian *involves being *enfolded into the body* of Christ, into a *local community* of Christ-followers.
Though we *come to Christ alone*, we *grow in Christ together*.”
(Miller, /The Formation of Spiritual Leaders/, p.176)
*Dave Harvey* writes in his contribution to the book, /Why Small Groups/?, “God *does not call us out* from this ‘corrupt generation’ so we can *meander aimlessly *over the Christian landscape – a *meeting* here, a *teaching* there, some *occasional small group involvement* just for variety.
We have been */called out/ to be /added in/*!
All believers should be *committed to a local church* that *cares* for their souls, *equips* them for ministry, and *benefits* from their service.
“Church *can’t be a mere accessory*.
We must be *added*.”
(Harvey in Mahaney, /Why Small Groups/, p.9)
*Chuck Colson* has written, ‘It is *scandalous* that so many believers today have *such a low view* of the church.
They see their *Christian lives as a solitary exercise* – Jesus and me – or they treat church as *a building* or a *social center*.
They flit from *congregation to congregation* – or they *don’t associate* with any church at all.
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