Growing into Christ
Text: Ephesians 4:11–16 ESV
Most of you know this little fact, but if you didn’t know, we’re a pretty new church. This past Monday, on the 22nd, we hit our one year anniversary since we officially started meeting on Sundays, which is pretty neat that the Lord has allowed us to keep going and get off the ground. Throughout this past year, I’ve often had people lovingly ask me, “How’s church going?” Not everyone, but many of them, I suspect, have really been asking, “Are you guys growing?” It’s a fine question, really, but they’re often wondering if we’re growing in number. “Are more people coming than the twenty five or so you started with?” Well, praise God that the answer is “yes”, and we’re so very thankful that the Lord has brought more people to worship Him with us through this particular church.
However, today, I want to talk about a more important aspect of that question of, “Are you growing?” While we’ve prayed that God would grow us in number, we’ve prayed more often that God would grow each person that comes to Table Rock spiritually. It’s possible to have massive numbers that gather together on a Sunday morning and yet the body isn’t growing in their understanding of the Lord, their love for the Lord, or their dependence upon the Lord. We want to personally grow closer to God, and we want everyone who comes here to grow as well. One church word that we could use for this process is sanctification. Another word, which is today’s topic, is discipleship.
Discipleship is one of our stated priorities here. I was asked recently by a wise older man what I thought discipleship meant. My response was that it meant that in all things, we point people’s attention and affection to Jesus. How does faith in Christ affect your daily living? How does it affect the way we view our role of being a student in school, of our responsibility in our work, in our relationships with friends, in our passions and pursuits? How does Christ influence how we are to think and forgive people, or how we’re to lead others, or to follow others? Discipleship means we want to constantly be redirected to Jesus, and to help others be redirected to Him as well.
He then asked if there was a difference between being a Christian and a disciple of Christ. Jesus’ first disciples followed him around everywhere, trying to glean as much from him as they could. They wanted to become just like him. Are we doing that still today? Sometimes I fear that our culture has completely compartmentalized our faith in Christ, and the tendency is to come to church on Sunday, put a check in the box, and then forget about our calling in the Lord for the rest of the week. Howard’s point in asking me this was to highlight that if you call yourself a Christian in the sense that you have placed your trust in Jesus as the Lord of your life, then being his disciple is not an option. Being a Christian and being a disciple are synonymous. There can be no such thing as a casual Christian. Following Christ is an all-in endeavor.
After we talked about this for a while, he had one last nugget for me that I found very helpful. It wasn’t his quote, but that doesn’t much matter. I think it captures the attitude of what discipleship entails well. He said that discipleship is essentially this, “I’m just a beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” Discipling someone else means that I’m trying to help them grow in their faith and to move a bit further down the road toward living a life that points to Jesus. It doesn’t mean that I have arrived at some higher plateau of holiness. It just means that I know where to turn for help in a given situation, and I want to point you to that resource so you, too, can be fed. It’s a practical working out of our faith to see how, in whatever situation we find ourselves, we can turn to the Lord and be fed by Him and walk in His ways. We’re going to use our passage in Ephesians 4 to springboard into more of what discipleship looks like. So let’s dive in.
If you want to turn in your Bibles, I’m going to be referencing Ephesians 4:11-16 quite a bit.
Here’s my 30,000 foot overview of what this passage says—God gave us apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers in order to do two things:
1) Equip the saints for ministry, and
2) build up the church.
We’re to do this until two things happen—until we have:
a) the unity of the faith, and
b) the knowledge of the son of God.
Paul then goes on to show us how to accomplish this by telling us first what we don’t want and then what we do want.
What we don’t want is to remain children, tossed around by waves and wind in our doctrine and deceived by others. What we do want is to speak the truth in love to one another, and to grow in every way into the head of the church: Christ. Jesus makes the whole body (referring to us and the church) work properly and grow, so that it builds itself up in love.
That’s the 30,000 foot view. If we zoom out to 60,000 feet and I boil it down even further to one main point for today, it’s that we are to grow into Christ in every way.
Now, I’m going to try to zoom back into our passage to see if we can get some morsels of what that looks like and how to practically walk that out, as well as touch on some of our vision for how we want to accomplish this here at Table Rock Church.
In verse 11, it says that God has provided, in his wisdom and grace, people to point us toward the mission to share Jesus’s gospel and to build us up into being people who live their life for Christ. The goal of living life for those of us in Christ is to share this joy with others who don’t yet know him. Discipleship begins with learning how to do this. If we’ve found hope and truth in Christ, and we believe the Bible’s claim that the consequences of not knowing him are eternal punishment and removal from his goodness, then we need to learn to share that. “I’m just a beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” … “Friend, you’re clearly hungry, starving even. You’re struggling to find spiritual nourishment. Can I tell you what I’ve found to be more satisfying than anything else? Jesus is the very bread of life.” We want to disciple each other and encourage each other in spreading the gospel message with people in our lives who don’t yet know the life–giving bread of our savior.
We also want to disciple each other in order to build up the church. We want a vibrant community, both locally at Table Rock, and with the church globally. We want to disciple and encourage each other in why coming together corporately is a great and glorious thing and brings us what we need. In the body of Christ, we can be known by brothers and sisters in the faith and loved by our community. Just as importantly, we can be used to bring glory to the Lord as we worship and serve. Our gifts can be utilized for kingdom purposes.
While our passage says at the beginning that God gave us apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, that doesn’t mean that the rest of us are absolved from being a disciple and discipling others. This doesn’t just apply to those of us in the pastoral role or those in full time ministry. I want and need people to disciple me, and I want and need to disciple others. Both roles are a blessing in my life. I want you to hear that our desire as the church leadership is to build a culture of discipleship within our church. We want our body to be equipped and constantly maturing. It could be helpful to categorize discipleship into two arenas, with 2 points each. The first arena is in the vertical sense, connecting with the Lord through prayer and the reading and understanding of God’s word. Being discipled in your vertical relationship leads to greater dependence on God. The second arena is horizontally, in connecting with others through fellowship and evangelism. Being discipled horizontally leads to growth, community, and spreading. These two main areas collectively lead to gospel intuition, which means that our default thoughts and actions are infused with the gospel.
This is our call as a Christian. As a disciple of Christ, we’re to strive to become more like him. We’re to pursue being equipped for the work of the ministry and to seek the building up of the body of Christ until, it says in Ephesians 4, verse 13,
“until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 4:13 ESV)
Now, please don’t get hung up on the gender-specific language here. This isn’t saying women have a lesser role or that this is only for men. We’re all called to be on a path of maturity in Christ that stretches wonderfully in front of us. To be clear, we won’t achieve complete maturity until we’re in the presence of the Lord, either when we die or when Jesus returns, whichever comes first. But this verse gives us a target: to have a unifying faith in Christ, a full knowledge of the Son of God. We’re to grow into Christ, and that faith in him should be unifying.
Let’s turn our attention now to what Paul says we need to avoid. Look at Ephesians 4, verse 14:
“so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” (Ephesians 4:14 ESV)
If you don’t know this about me, I have five children, ranging in age from 10 months old to 11 years old. The baby in our family, Brooks, is ridiculously cute. I’ve never been much of a baby guy, preferring the age when children start interacting a bit more. However, I’ve loved loved, loved Brooks’ baby stage. He’s just been an incredible blessing to me and our family. Even though I’ve loved this stage, in no way whatsoever do I want him to stay a baby! I can say that about all of my kids at the various stages they’re at. Thankfully, my oldest child, Hadley, is not doing the same things she was doing two years ago, and Taylor, my second oldest, is more mature than her younger siblings, Hutch and Ellie. That’s how it ought to be! We love them in the stage of maturity that they’re currently at, but by no means to we want them to stay at that level!
Likewise, God doesn’t want us to remain at our level of spiritual maturity. We need the Holy Spirit to continue to help us mature. If you look back on the past year of your life, can you point to ways that you’ve grown in your faith, or are you stagnant? If you’re admittedly stagnant, don’t be content to stay there! Are you being challenged by your brothers and sisters in Christ to grow in your dependence upon the Lord? Are you yearning to understand God better? When was the last time you shared your faith with someone? If it’s been a long time, is that okay? Those are hard questions for me, and I’m sure they are a bit stabbing for some of you as well. I ask these questions in love, as we are all called to mature in our faith. This isn’t a guilt trip—when you’re in Christ, you’re free from guilt as the debt is paid. However, it is a call to heed the Spirit’s calling in your life to greater maturity in your faith in our Lord. Don’t be content to be lukewarm; rather, be boiling for the Lord, passionate for what He is doing in your life, how He’s growing you, and how you can make Him known.
I love Paul’s analogy of being tossed to and fro by the waves and carried by every wind of doctrine. I think I love it because I can easily relate to it. You see, I can’t get on a boat on open seas without hurling. I’ve immediately been terribly seasick every time I’ve been on a boat in the ocean. The good Lord didn’t see fit to give me even the slightest gift of sea legs. I get sick almost as soon as the boat leaves the dock.
The first time I experienced this, I was 18 years old. I went with a friend to backpack Europe after I graduated high school, and we took a large ferry from Scotland to Norway. It was an overnight journey, and within an hour of setting off, my friend and I were both seasick from the rough seas. The waves were tossing us to and fro, and the winds were pushing us around. We often call this seasick, but it’s also known as motion sickness, right? Paul in this passage is referring to Spiritual motion sickness. When you get pulled in every direction, it’s spiritual sickness, and it’s unhealthy.
On that journey of mine when I was 18, we encountered some strangers who saw our green faces and took pity on us. They gave us some great and helpful advice. They said, “the best thing to do is to go as low in the boat as possible. It’s more stable there and can help settle your stomaches.” We immediately descended the nearest stairs until we could go down no further. We curled up under those stairs and laid our heads down. It helped immensely, and we both fell asleep. The strangers didn’t stop with just good advice, though. When we awoke, we found a plate of crackers, cheese, and water that they had silently placed next to us as we rested. What care! I never saw them again, but they left a lasting impression.
If you’re tossed to and fro by every wave and wind in what you believe, you need to seek the most stable place to be found: the God of the Bible. He’s our firm foundation upon which to build.
There’s also another tool to not be blown around by every wind and wave—it’s to keep your sails trimmed correctly so you sail for a destination. If you don’t have a destination to which you’re sailing, you get blown around much more easily. You have to effectively sail the ship by aiming it toward the target, and here again is the target: to have a unifying faith in Christ, a full knowledge of the Son of God, so you can walk in His ways and make Him known to others.
We’re also not to be deceived by human cunning, craftiness, and schemes. I was thinking about this and pondering how to not be deceived. The hard thing is that in the moments when we’re deceived, we have no idea that we’re being deceived! If we did know, we wouldn’t do it! It almost seems like an unrealistic thing for Paul to say here. It’s like telling someone who just dropped a gallon of milk on the floor and spilled it everywhere not to do it again. They almost certainly didn’t want to do it the first time! We don’t want to be deceived, especially when the stakes are highest, like our eternal destiny! So how do you guard yourself against deception?
Mercifully, there is a great defense for us here. Just as the fix for not getting tossed to and fro by the waves is to seek a firm foundation in Christ, the defense against human cunning, craftiness, and deceitful schemes is to know the truth. If you know the truth, you cannot be deceived.
To help snap this concept into focus, I think I have a helpful example. If I came to you and offered to trade two quarters for a one dollar bill by trying to convince you that it was a good deal because you were getting two things and I was getting one thing, you wouldn’t do it. You know the truth that the dollar bill is worth more, right? I could deceive a child who doesn’t know the value of our currency, but for anyone who knows the truth, that the value of a dollar is greater than the value of two quarters, they won’t be deceived.
In the same way, we can guard against being deceived by false doctrine by knowing the truth that the Bible proclaims. The more we study God’s word and grow in our knowledge of his truth, the more we can defend against deceitful aims. If we know where to find the only bread that truly satisfies, we won’t look for bread elsewhere, and we won’t tell others to look for bread elsewhere. We have to saturate our lives with the truth of the Bible in order to guard against deception, and we have to grow in our reliance upon the Spirit of Truth to help us discern.
Let’s look now at the last two verses of our section, verses 15-16, where God instructs us, through Paul, what we should seek.
“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:15–16 ESV)
So what are we to do in order to not remain spiritually immature? Speak the truth in love to one another. This is speaking of Biblical truths. We should encourage each other by relying on what we see in the Bible. This passage is not just giving a carte blanche prescription to speak our mind about our own personal truths. What it’s talking about is the truths we find in the word of God. Those are the truths we need to share with each other. This is easy to say and hard to do, especially in our culture. It’s tough to hear where we’re failing, and it’s tough to tell others where we see them not walking out their faith as they ought to. Often, the truth hurts, but as Proverbs 27:6 says,
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” (Proverbs 27:6 ESV)
Saints, we have to take this seriously. Each of us needs to have in our lives at least a few faithful brothers or sisters in Christ that we trust enough to call us out when they see sin gaining a foothold. I’ve been thankful for people who have called out my lack of ability to harness my tongue when they’ve heard me swearing and dishonoring the Lord and my faith by the way I talk. I’ve had friends point out places that they’ve seen me being prideful and stealing glory from God and placing it on myself. My wife has helped hold me accountable to not grow angry and bitter at people but to seek forgiveness and reconciliation. In recent weeks, I’ve been encouraged by several people to fight an unhealthy addiction in my life that has held me as a slave. I’ve had people speaking the truth in love and reminding me of who I am in Christ.
This speaking in truth isn’t just calling out sin; it’s encouraging each other to seek opportunity to glorify God! Hebrews 10:24 says,
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works…” (Hebrews 10:24 ESV)
This is definitely part of discipleship: stirring each other up to love and good works, sharing truth coupled with love.
Discipleship is redirecting people’s gaze from what they’ve been occupied with to instead gaze upon Christ. When people in my life have essentially grabbed my chin and said, “Stop what you’re doing. Remember who you are in Christ and what he’s called you to.” It’s so helpful. While my immediate reaction has sometimes been defensiveness, the Holy Spirit has been faithful to soften my heart and help me see how I can better serve our savior.
We have to speak the truth, but this is carefully coupled with love. The call here is to speak the truth in love. Whether we’re talking to an unbeliever who we’re sharing the truth of the gospel with, or we’re talking to a believer and encouraging them in their faith journey, this coupling is paramount. Remember those famous verses in 1 Corinthians 13?
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind, love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way, it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:1–7 ESV)
Both truth and love are key ingredients in the recipe for discipleship. If it’s truth with love removed, it’s just noise and is useless.
And here’s an interesting point that I’ve only begun to realize in the last couple of years. There is nothing more loving to your brother and sister than to point them to Christ, even when it means pointing out ways that they could grow. If you see someone walking in a manner that doesn’t bring the joy of the Lord to their life and glory to God, it’s unloving to leave them in that state! The loving thing is to point them to where they can find life! This is for our joy and for God’s glory. We don’t want legalism here. That has no place in the lives of those redeemed by Jesus. What we do want is for those in Christ to see that the ways he calls us to live are the very ways that bring us the most joy in life. We need to humbly remind each other where to find bread when we’ve mercifully been fed by that bread, and we need to have a humble disposition to receive it when people illuminate those areas in our lives where we’re not relying on Christ.
Back to Ephesians now, we’re in verse 15,
“Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:15–16 ESV)
One of the practical ways that we can grow up in every way is through discipleship, and I think it’s helpful to get specific on what this can look like. There should be an inflow and an outflow. Paul references here the picture of the human body, joined together by every joint. This may be a bit of a stretch in this application from the passage, but I want to use this picture of joints working properly and apply it to discipleship. So, I want you to picture yourself as the elbow joint. Above you, closer to the head, is the upper arm, and below you, there is the forearm. When the body is functioning correctly, that upper arm is the mature Christian who is encouraging you with truth and helping you grow. In turn, you are encouraging the forearm with truth and love. The upper arm flexes and stretches and helps the elbow grow stronger, and the elbow helps the forearm strengthen as well. Each part is dependent upon the part before it and the part after it. When each muscle and joint is functioning this way, the whole body gets stronger and begins to look more and more like Jesus.
This is both an individual aim and a corporate aim. We have to individually grow in every way to be more like Christ. And as we do this collectively, we as the body of Christ, will also grow together in how we function as a church, being equipped to live out the gospel mission of loving people and sharing the gospel so that Christ may be known.
None of what I have said is meant to give you a checklist to work through or induce guilt if you aren’t doing these things well. I want to remind you who you are as a follower of Christ. You are presently forgiven and washed clean of sin, and this isn’t because of how good you’ve done or ever will do. You don’t need to mature in your faith in order to gain God’s favor, you already have it! We just celebrated the Easter season, where we remembered that Jesus took our sin, bore the penalty for it, and that we are free in Christ. So don’t think this is a call to do better. Instead, this is a call to walk humbly with our Lord. I’m just a beggar, sharing with you, a group of fellow beggars, where I know bread can be found. I don’t do this perfectly either, but I want to strive to respond to the love that the Lord has showered upon me.
I want to close by looking at the ultimate example of how to disciple. In John chapter 15, Jesus is recorded as saying to his disciples, his followers, and to us,
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15:1–2 ESV)
Do you see the truth in love here? Do you see that the pruning, the careful surgery to cut away unhelpful branches, is a good thing that results in more fruit being produced? He continues,
“Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” (John 15:3–6 ESV)
(That’s more hard truth, eh? but listen to the love…)
“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:7–11 ESV)
We need to be grafted into the vine of life, and we need to be pruned so that more fruit can be produced. But the end of this passage in John 15 is so crucial, so helpful, and provides such hope. It’s for our joy. That our joy may be full. Being pruned is hard, but it is oh so good. We’re just beggars showing other beggars where to find bread. The bread can be found by growing into Christ. This captures so many of the ingredients that we need in discipleship. It captures the humility that is necessary, and the love for a friend to share truth with them, and the practical help that the bread will bring. May we be filled with the bread of life, Jesus, and may we show many in our lives where they too can find this bread. Be encouraged, dear Saints, that while the path of maturing in Christ is hard, it is so good, and it’s for our joy. Connect to the vine, the Lord God, and he will help you bear fruit.