Last Saturday a group of men from the church arrived at Jacque’s place to load up a moving truck and take all her belongings to her new home where they would unload it. This was after numerous other men and women helped clean and paint her new place. The help she was given was an act of love and service to our dear sister in Christ. When Peter says those whose spiritual gifts are speaking gifts speak the very words of God and those whose spiritual gifts are serving gifts serve with the very power of God, this is what he means. God was at work through the church’s exercise of its various spiritual gifts as the church helped her move.
On the way home my son asked me whether the church serving Jacque with its various spiritual gifts in such a practical way were “just as important” as what I do on Sundays. (Because, apparently, I only work on Sundays… Kids.)
Over the last few years we’ve seen a great emphasis on what it means for New City to be the church. An essential component of being the church is serving the Lord and one another with our spiritual gifts. Some gifts are “out front”. For example, my spiritual gift cannot be exercised without being seen. Others are behind the scenes. When Rachael exercises her spiritual gift and organizes and prepares for the Nursery, few see it. When moms and dads drop their kids off at the Nursery on Sundays they recognize and immediately benefit from her and the Nursery workers’ service, but it is less visible. To be the church requires that each member of the body of Christ functions properly.
This doesn’t answer the question, however. We must first define “important”. Using Paul’s metaphor of the body it’s not hard to recognize the importance of one’s entire body. I don’t know what I would do without my fingers, though I could still walk and move about without them and I could still think and reason and communicate—although typing would be impossible. If I were to lose my sight I could still type but how would I correct the numerous errors? How would I edit? How would I know where on my screen to type? Some body parts have an immediacy that others do not. I could not live without my heart but I could live, though in a greatly reduced capacity, without my hands.
To answer the question whether serving one another in tangible ways like helping a sister move is just as important as preaching and teaching God’s word, we must define “important”. In this context, “important” means “necessary for full flourishing”, for no one wants a body that operates in a reduced capacity. Could the church survive without serving one another? Yes? Sort of? But we have to look at quality of life, and this is key. It could survive in the sense that it continues to operate and look like the body of Christ, but without all the spiritual gifts functioning, we must ask whether it truly is the body of Christ or a mere look-alike. Let’s consider the apostle’s words in Ephesians.
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 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 Christ, 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. 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 4:11–16 ESV
We’ll look at this text much more closely in our upcoming sermon series in Ephesians, but for now recognize the people he names here are gifted people given to the church. Their role as they serve according to their particular giftedness is to equip the saints for the work of ministry. Who does ministry? The saints. The people of God. He doesn’t mean ordained clergy here. To be sure, among those gifted persons given to the church are ordained clergy, but that’s not who Paul means here. Certain persons in the church are gifted so as to build up the body of Christ as they equip the church for the work of ministry. They help the church mature in Christ. Then Paul uses his body metaphor again.
We are to speak the truth in love, he says, and thus grow up into him who is our head. Notice closely what he says about the body growing. God gives the church gifted people who are given to build up the body of Christ, with the aim that the body is no longer childish and immature—children. Speaking truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Christ—and here’s the critical part—from whom the whole body makes the body grow. Did you catch that? Paul packs a lot of nuance into this, so let’s unpack this a bit by breaking it down into multiple statements rather than Paul’s long, convoluted sentence.
We speak truth to one another. This truth is the truth of God in Christ—the gospel. It is the good news of who he is and what he has done. The result of speaking truth in love is our maturation as followers of Christ. We leave behind childish immaturity and become adults. We grow up into Christ as our head and we his body.
His body is joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped. Jesus’ body is full and complete, lacking nothing. Each part is necessary to hold itself together. Your fingers don’t stay attached on their own. You have bones and ligaments and muscles and various tissues that keep your body together. Paul is referring to a local church and asserts that each local church has various bones and ligaments and such that hold that local church together. He means the members of the church.
Follow his thought. A local church is made up of gifted individuals who serve the body by helping the body grow up in Christ, for the whole body is held together by all the parts the Lord has given it. No body is made up of one or even several parts, but is a complicated whole in which each part is necessary for the body to grow and flourish properly. Jesus promised that he would build his church, his body. He is the one who causes growth, but Paul gives us the means he uses to cause it to grow.
We speak the truth in love and this causes each one of us to grow into spiritual adulthood as we grow into Christ. It is from Christ the whole body is held together with all its parts, and then, “…when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love”.
Paul didn’t say when the important parts are working properly. In 1 Corinthians 12 he refers to the “presentable” and “unpresentable” parts of the body. There are parts we can show in public and there are parts we would never show in public. Some spiritual gifts are public and seen by all. Others are not. Paul did not say that when the publicly exercised spiritual gifts are working properly the body of Christ grows. Some gifts perform services that benefit a handful of people while other gifts benefit many more people. He didn’t say when those parts that have the biggest impact work properly the body grows. He didn’t say when those parts that have an official office in the church are working properly, as if ministry were limited to elders and deacons.
Paul says when each part of the body is working properly, the Lord Jesus uses the church to cause his body to grow. It is only when each part is working properly that growth can truly happen. This brings us back to the question: is helping a sister in Christ move just as important as preaching and teaching God’s word? Let me answer this more strongly than a simple yes: helping a sister in Christ move is as necessary as preaching and teaching God’s word.
You may wonder how that is. If you were to ask Jacque how the help she received helped her, I promise you she would tell you of the Lord’s faithfulness and how her faith has been strengthened by the church serving her. She would tell you how sure she is the Lord will continue to provide for her and care for her through his people. She would tell you how deeply encouraged she is by a such a simple act as lifting heavy furniture and moving it for her.
Paul says, essentially, I could preach and teach all I wanted but without the body serving according to its giftedness, that is, without each part working properly, the body of Christ won’t grow. It may get bigger! There are lots of churches that get larger on the strength of its preaching and teaching, just as there are lots of churches that get larger on the quality of its music and the spectacularity of “worship experience”, with lights and fog machines and zip lines and all sorts of things. In such churches the emphasis tends to be on numerical growth over everything else. As Edward Abbey said many years ago, “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.”
The growth Paul refers to is not merely numerical growth. He means the intended outcome of discipleship: presenting to the Lord mature followers of Jesus. He told the Philippians that as he neared his own death he desired their spiritual maturity so that on the day of Christ his work as an apostle will not be shown to have been in vain. In other words, if they would not mature in Christ—grow—then his work would be in vain. The intended outcome of the work of ministry is spiritually mature followers of Jesus.
Here’s the thing, New City. I have a role in this maturation. You could even say a significant role for I have been set apart vocationally to this end. This doesn’t make me more important than any other member. It’s rather like the old saying that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. The body of Christ only grows when each part is working properly. This requires that each one of serve the Lord and one another with whatever gifts we have been given. Each one of you has a role in this maturation as well. Each one of you is essential for this church’s growth.
Whether you pray for others or you serve in the Nursery or you share financial gifts with those in need or you walk alongside one who is hurting or you urge greater faithfulness in those who struggle with faithfulness or you teach or lift heavy furniture, you speak the Lord’s words or you use the Lord’s strength to build his church. This is the way the Lord Jesus designed his church, just as he designed the human body.
There is one more point to consider. Just as each one of us must serve others, so we must allow others to serve us. We tend to find it much easier to be the one giving and the one serving and the one speaking, but do we allow those who encourage others to encourage us? Do we allow exhorters to exhort us by calling us to greater faithfulness? Do we allow ourselves to be taught and corrected? Do we allow others to serve in practical ways when necessary? Do we receive the spiritual gifts given to the whole church by receiving them as the words of God and the power of God in our lives? New City, it is only when each part is working properly, and part of working properly is receiving properly, that this church can truly grow.