Spiritual gifts (4)

Sermon: Sunday, 2nd June, 2024
Speaker: John Johnstone
Scripture: Ephesians 4

The gifts of teaching and of ministry

Today we’re continuing our mini-series on spiritual gifts. We’ve already seen that all Christians are given at least one spiritual gift by God, and that they are given for a clear purpose – to strengthen others within the church family.

There’s a wide variety of gifts. We’ve already looked at some of them, including serving, encouraging, hospitality and the gift of administration. I hope that you have been praying about this area, asking God’s help to identify your gifts and to develop and use them in our church. Later on, we shall look at the gift of ‘giving’ in terms of money and resources. Today, however, I would like us to focus on the gift of teaching, using a section of Ephesians chapter 4 as our guide.

At the beginning of Ephesians chapter 4, Paul has been speaking about the unity which exists in the Christian church. This unity flows out of the fact that we are united to Jesus through faith, and this means that we are also united to one another. Or to put it another way, God has become our heavenly Father, and this makes us brothers and sisters in Christ. We are called to preserve the unity we have been given: ‘Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.’ (Ephesians 4:3)

We do this through our humility and by seeking the good of others. Wanting our own way and focusing on our own preferences is a recipe for disunity in a church.

But Christian unity does not mean uniformity. In fact, one of the beautiful things about the Christian church is that although we’re united by Jesus, there’s a huge amount of diversity within this unity. The church family is a beautiful mixture of unity and diversity. We are so different in terms of our ages, backgrounds, cultures and temperaments, and yet, we come together in love and fellowship. Another thing which makes us different in the church is that we each have different gifts. But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: ‘When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.’ (Ephesians 4:7-8 and Paul is quoting from Psalm 68:18.)

1. The giver of the gifts

In verse 7, we’re again reminded that all Christians have at least one spiritual gift: ‘But to each one of us grace has been given…’   We often associate spiritual gifts with the Holy Spirit alone, but we should not limit our thinking to the Spirit. Here, we’re told that it is Jesus himself who gives gifts to His church. Jesus is the one who has given you whatever gifts you have. In his wisdom, he has given you a certain capacity, in order to serve others in this church. Verse 8 speaks of when Jesus ascended up into Heaven, forty days after his resurrection. What happens next? He gives out gifts to the church. We see this happening on the Day of Pentecost, when Jesus himself pours out his Spirit in order to gift every single member of the church. What a wonderful thing!

In Bible times, victorious generals would make a victory procession through the city, displaying the spoils of war (slaves taken captive, money, horses, other precious goods) Then, after the procession the riches of victory would be given out! Gifts would be given to the people. Here, Jesus is pictured as the great conquering general, and has been victorious in his rising from the dead. He has conquered sin and death. He has ascended to Heaven and now he is giving out gifts. He gives the Holy Spirit to all Christians, and in so doing he gives out gifts to all Christians.

Let’s focus now on verses 11-13: ‘So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 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.’

God is reminding us here that in his wisdom some Christians are given the gift of teaching in order for the church family to maintain unity and become mature. He speaks of apostles and prophets; I believe these were temporary gifts given to certain men during the foundation stage of the church, but no longer required, as we now have the completed canon of Scripture.

2. What is the point of pastors anyway?

At the end of verse 11, we find a gift which Jesus continues to give to his church and that is the ‘pastor-teacher’. Of course, myself and Geoff and Ali and Elijah have a particular interest in this area, as men who believe we are called as pastor-teachers. Does that mean that the rest of you can just switch off here? Absolutely not. That would be a huge mistake. Instead, we need to ask the question, why has God given pastor-teachers to the church? The answer is that they are given for your benefit. They are given to prepare you: ‘…for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature.’ (Ephesians 4:12-13)

Wow. One of the main reasons Jesus has given you the gift of your ministers is so that all the members of this congregation (every single one) will be prepared and made ready for serving God through the week. God has not called me to be a one-man-band. Pastors are not one-man-bands. Geoff is not meant to be doing the bulk of the work in Leven on his own. That would not be a healthy gospel church but a sick one.

Have you ever seen a one-man-band busking on a high street? The guitar is being strummed, the drums are going, the mouthorgan is attached and there is also singing. You need to be highly skilled. You are doing 4 or 5 jobs at once, perhaps more. Pastors of congregations are not meant to be like that. In fact, it is the very opposite. As preachers preach and teach the Word of God to you, on Sunday mornings and Sunday evenings, you as a congregation will be released to into all kinds of different ministries – in the church, at home, and in all the places God has placed you.

This word to equip (verse 12) is very important. It was used in the gospels about fishermen ‘preparing their nets’. After a day’s fishing the nets must be repaired (if torn), cleaned, and must be made ready to be used again. Then, the next day, the net must be put to use. It must be worked. As a congregation, you are a bit like these fishing nets (we all are). Your lives get all clogged up through the week. All pastors have been given a job by Jesus – to take God’s people Sunday by Sunday, with all the mess of our lives, with all our sin and brokenness, our tangles, and through the Word of God, prepare you – get you ready – train you – for working for Jesus. ‘For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.’ (Ephesians 2:10)

There’s a dangerous and false idea which many Christians have about ministers – they think that because some ministers are paid, then they should do the bulk of the work in the church, because that’s their job. They should do the bulk of not only preaching, but admin and looking after the buildings and visiting the sick and evangelism and that the rest of the church family can sit back. After all, their lives are busy enough with work and family. Leave it to the guy who gets paid to do it.

This raises the question. Biblically speaking, what are ministers paid to do. The main thing is preaching and teaching the Lord’s Word and prayer, in order to prepare the congregation for works of service. Who is meant to be doing the works of service? Of course, the minister shares in these works of service, but it is meant to be a team-effort. You are all part of the team. Again, the image of church is not a bus driven by a minister, with the passengers sitting passively. This is unhealthy. Rather, the picture is a body, each one working hard using the gift the Lord Jesus has specifically given to them. The church is meant to be a mobilised army, where pastor-teachers are called to teach and train this army to serve a lost world.

If minsters drop their God-given focus to prepare the flock for works of service, it is a lose-lose situation. The minister will lose as he’ll end up burning out, perhaps leaving the ministry. And the church family also lose, as their gifts will not develop and they will remain immature. Plus, far less work will be done. However, if we follow this Biblical pattern of Bible teaching, it will be a win-win situation. The minister will be focusing on what he has been called to do and the church family will make a far bigger impact as salt and light in the world through the collective serving of all her members. This is a healthy church!

RC Sproul helpfully describes the church as like both an army and a hospital. We are an army who together must reach a lost world with missionary outreach and evangelism. But we are also a hospital full of wounded Christians, called to care for one another, and ministering to the needs of one another. Yes, we function sometimes as an army and sometimes as a hospital, but we must always to so as a body. All of our gifts must be used.

From time to time, we go back to this sign stuck to our church wall. It says: Minister: Rev John Johnstone. A better sign might be: Pastor: Rev John Johnstone. Ministers: the entire congregation.

3. Practical implications

If God’s method of bringing a church family to maturity greatly includes the work of a pastor-teacher, what are some of the practical implications for you?

3.1 You need to place yourself under the ministry of the Word of God, ensuring you do all you can to be regular in church. You have 2 opportunities to do this every Lord’s Day, 11 am and 530 pm. Supporting the meetings of the church is so basic. But there needs to be more. You must obey what you hear from the pulpit by serving one another. Only then can you be a mature Christian. You might think, ‘I’m a mature Christian’ but if you are not engaged in serving others in this church family then you are not mature.

Let me be a little controversial – I think we put too much focus on how good a minister’s sermons are and not enough on those who are listening.

Westminster larger catechism Question 160: What is required of those who hear the Word preached? It is required of those that hear the Word preached, that they attend upon it with diligence, preparation, and prayer; examine what they hear by the Scriptures; receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the Word of God; meditate, and confer of it; hide it in their hearts, and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives.

Coming to church is not an optional extra for Christians, but the way in which God wants you to grow and mature. And through this the Lord expects to see transformation and fruit in your lives. If you don’t make much use of the morning and evening services, you are in effect saying to God, I don’t need the pastor-teachers you have given me.

3.2 You need to place yourself beside other Christians in order to serve them. Verse 12 clearly states that we must build one another up in this church. And verse 16 also expresses our responsibility to one another clearly: ‘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.’

Simon Austen: ‘There is no place in church for the Christian who listens but does not obey, or the individual who professes faith, but does not minister to his fellow believers. And just as it is impossible to be an authentic member of an orchestra without playing an instrument, so it is impossible to be an authentic Christian without serving one another in the local church.’

Now, that’s challenging!

I once had a friend who had an online relationship with someone and told me how good it was. I warned him to slow down and wait until he met the person in real life. They might get on well online, without the everyday pressures of life, but face-to-face is a different thing entirely. The same is true for church. You can attend church online, or listen to sermons by your favourite preacher, but unless you build up proper relationship in your local church, and serve the people God has placed you beside, your discipleship will be truncated at best. Remember those words in Romans 12:5: ‘… we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.’

Let’s end with the words of verse16: ‘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.’   We can only play our part and use our gifts as we spend time together on the Lord’s Day and through the week, as we get to know each other better, and serve one another.