Sermons

March 22, 2020

Christ, the Church & COVID-19

Steven Lee | Ephesians 4:11-16

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

Introduction

Last week Pastor Dave helped us to see that the church is not a spectator sport, but that every member is to get in the game with the diversity of gifts that are given by the Spirit. This is part of our larger 20/20 Vision where we’re eager to see every single member engaged in the life of the church, shepherded by the elders, and participating in our life together.

This week’s message should function like a one-two punch for calling the church to be engaged in the mission of God. It’s particularly timely because we are living in the midst of a global pandemic where every country, every state, every business, every household, and every individual is being affected. 

We’re living in a world that is changing rapidly, evolving constantly, and shifting quickly. Things are in flux. It seems all the more fitting to preface every statement with, “If the Lord wills …” we’ll reschedule or we’ll regroup at that time. But even in a world in flux, we have a God who is unchanging, steadfast, faithful, and ever present; Jesus still sits on his throne, Romans 8:28 didn’t disappear from your Bibles this month, and the sun will continue to shine. 

In the midst of a global pandemic, there is a temptation to think that life is on pause these next couple of months. But throughout history and in the pages of Scripture, when things got bad, the people of God got going. In evil and dark days, God’s good news shines forth with brilliance. So this morning I want to ask the question: What might God do through his people to build and strengthen the church and love unbelievers? 

My main point this morning is that Jesus leads his church by giving her leaders to equip the saints to minister to one another in order to increasingly look like Christ.

My plan is to walk through our passage from Ephesians 4:11–16 (which is one long extended sentence in the original Greek) and then to put that into application in the second half as we consider, “How do Christians respond in times such as these?”

My aim this morning is to help us to respond with faith and not fear in the midst of a global pandemic.

Understanding Ephesians 4:11–16 

For those unfamiliar with the book of Ephesians, this book was written by the Apostle Paul. He spends chapters 1–3 recounting what God has accomplished in salvation and who believers are in Christ. In chapters 4–6 he turns to instruct them on how to live as the people of God. In our section in chapter 4, Paul turns to instruct the Ephesians on the nature and design of the church. Essentially answering the question, “Why is church important?”

The basic outline of Ephesians 4:11–16 is as follows: 

  1. Christ’s Gift: Jesus gives grace to all and leaders to the church (Ephesians 4:7, 11)
  2. Christ’s Purpose: To equip the saints for ministry (Ephesians 4:12)
  3. Christ’s Aim: So that …
    a) Believers will have a greater knowledge of Christ (v. 13)
    b) Believers will have a greater discernment of error (v. 14)
    c) Believers will increasingly resemble Christ (vv. 15–16) 

The Gift

We read in Ephesians 4:7, “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” This is right in step with where Pastor Dave left off last week in that every member has received gifts to be used for the common good.

This should remind us that not only is Christ the head of the church, not only does Christ give gifts to his people to serve, but Christ is ruling and reigning from on high to use, to equip, and to empower his church for meaningful service. We see in verse 7 that grace was given “according to the measure of Christ’s gift,” suggesting that grace is given not haphazardly but sovereignly, wisely, and according to Christ’s design for the good of the church. 

Then, in Ephesians 4:11–12, he highlights how particular gifts are given to equip the body: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry. These leadership roles played a critical role in the establishment of local churches and these roles are involved in the work of the proclamation and application of God’s word.

The Purpose

But what is key is not the distinction between leaders and laity, from elders and congregants, but rather what did God give leaders for? He gave them for the purpose of equipping individuals for service. 

What is “the work of ministry,” then, that Paul has in view? He immediately follows that up with saying, “for the building up the body of Christ.” The flow of argumentation goes a little like this: Jesus leaves but gives his Spirit and gifts to every single member of the church to use. Some receive gifts to equip the saints—every single member—so that they can carry out the work of ministry. The church should never be 20% that does 80% of the work, but instead some equip the many for 100% of the work. That work is the mutual up-building of the body of Christ. This is why your pastors are so eager to preach and minister God’s word to you in these days. We so want to equip you in these unique and unprecedented times to minister well. 

This leads us to the question of what type of up-building Paul has in view here. That is essentially what the rest of the passage answers for us. Remember, verses 11–16 function as one long, extended sentence in the Greek, and there are three main goals of Christian ministry which we find in verses 13–16. The mutual up-building of the body has three aims in view:

  1. Believers to have a greater knowledge of Christ (v. 13)
  2. Believers to have a greater discernment of error (v. 14)
  3. Believers to increasingly resemble Christ (vv. 15–16) 

Three Aims

#1: Believers to Have a Greater Knowledge of Christ (v. 13) 

Notice that in verse 13 there are three prepositional phrases that are all interrelated to growing in maturity and knowledge. It says 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

This isn’t three separate ideas, but rather three different aspects of a singular aim that Paul has in view for the Ephesians. The first aspect is a complete and full knowledge of their faith, namely that of the Son of God. The second is that of mature manhood or a mature corporate body. Paul wants the church to be as mature as it can possibly be, contrasting that with being infants in the following verse. We are to be mature and not immature in our approach to knowing Christ. Third, to attain to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. This is full maturity and to become more like Jesus Christ himself.

This ought to call to mind 2 Corinthians 3:18, where God’s people are not like Moses with a veil over their faces, but “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” A transformation takes place when God’s people labor and strive together with our diversity of gifts to build one another up in Christ. A beholding effect takes place.

This is a holistic maturity that Paul has in view. He wants the believer’s head and heart transformed so that the whole person looks more like Jesus.

Don’t waste your self-isolation! Use this time to encourage others, to read the Bible, turn off the constant stream of news, social media, and noise to pray, pray, and pray some more, and behold the glory of the Lord. Fear will feast on your isolation, unless you feed your faith in God’s word. Social media will exacerbate your self-isolation, but through prayer you commune with the God who holds all things.

The goal of the church—in wartime and in peacetime, in crisis and global unrest, in crashing stock markets, in hoarding and fear—remains the same: look more like Jesus. And we will even do this better when the world around us is fearful, anxious, and looking out only for themselves and their own stockpile of toilet paper.

Aim #2: Believers to Have a Greater Discernment of Error (v. 14) 

A second aim of believers building up the body of Christ is to be able to discern error. Paul is concerned for the Ephesians to not be immature and naïve like children. How does he describe them? As those who are “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine.” The image here is that of a child in the waves of an ocean—they are just tossed about in every direction, without weight, without anchoring, and without ability to withstand the push and pull of the waves.

In college, when I lived in San Diego, we had to be aware of the presence of rip currents that would drag you out to sea. You couldn’t swim against the currents because they would be too strong. You would tire yourself out and likely drown. You had to swim perpendicular to the currents before swimming back to shore. Paul wants the Ephesians not to be deceived by false teachings that are perhaps threats below the surface that are not easily seen or discerned unless a believer is discerning and mature.

He has in mind don’t believe everything you hear from influential people. Don’t be gullible. Don’t forget to utilize biblical discernment by measuring everything you hear up against what the Scriptures teach on a particular topic or issue.

To combat false teaching is a community project. False ideologies, false philosophies, and teachings that seek to undermine the Bible’s teaching. But we also need this awareness right now in our current situation with the coronavirus and correct falsehoods:

  • Much of our self-quarantining and suspension of activities is an act of love—so that we don’t contribute to the spread to vulnerable populations and overwhelm the healthcare system. It’s not mainly out of fear.
  • Christians in crisis don’t horde, but give sacrificially. Consider the early church in Acts 4:32–33. It says, “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.” If we were to translate Luke 3:11 today we might say, “Whoever has two [rolls of toilet paper] is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”
  • The truth of Psalm 46:1 has not changed: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”

Aim #3: Believers to Increasingly Resemble Christ (vv. 15–16)

Third, believers are to increasingly resemble Christ. That’s how I understand the call to “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” Childishness is being blown and tossed by the wind, but when we’re growing into Christ, the body of Christ works together, joined and held together by every joint. Every member is actively at work together in building up the body in love. This is in contradiction to our individualistic self-sufficient culture. We don’t work individually for self-improvement, but we strive corporately toward Christlikeness. Paul calls the body to work together toward doctrinal faithfulness coupled with a Christlike culture.

The church is God’s main vehicle for bringing about worldwide transformation. Consider that for a moment. The body—Christ’s church—is joined to Christ the head, and is to work together with its diverse gifts to build up the body in love. This is our calling in life. It’s bigger than our individual pursuits and ambitions. Do you pray for God to grow his church, to advance his kingdom, and for his people to increasingly resemble Christ? That ought to be one of our primary prayers.

This is all built upon the work of love. Loved by God having been predestined before the foundations of the world in love (Ephesians 1:4–5), and so we can “walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Ephesians 5:2). Our ability to love is rooted and grounded in the reality that we are recipients of an otherworldly love. We have been loved when unlovely. We received life when dead. We were granted friendship while enemies. We were given forgiveness while sinning. We were rescued while cursing the rescuer. We received life even while we drove the nails through. We were given entrance into his kingdom, even though we did not love him first. This is the glorious nature of the gospel.

As we understand the nature and design of the church and the calling of the church, what are we to do with that information? What I want to do is not necessarily apply this passage by encouraging small groups, church membership, discipleship, giving, and involvement in the local body, but rather equip you to do the work of ministry while we’re not gathered together in person for the next seven weeks.

Application: Being the Church in a Pandemic 

My burden is for the church to do the work of ministry in these unique and unprecedented days. I know that this is the desire of so many of you out there right now. Here’s a small sampling I’m aware of.

  • I received an email from a 71-year-old woman wanting to know how she can provide practical help to others.
  • We sent out an email asking people to sign up if they’d like to help and I’ve been overwhelmed by the response of dozens and dozens of people saying they are ready to help provide spiritual and practical help however they can.
  • I have heard from medical personnel who are working increased hours to meet the need. They are praying that can give medical help and spiritual hope as they serve.
  • I know of so many who are not worried, not at risk, but doing their part to stay home so they don’t spread it to others. 

I’m eager to see us all equipped to minister to one another and those without Christ in the days ahead. Might God be pleased to move in us and in the hearts of our neighbors like never before? Might God be pleased to save the lost, awaken a revival in both our hearts and our communities, to save marriages, to reconcile estranged relationships, and to wean us from the idols of control, prosperity, and instant gratification so that we would trust in God alone? So I have a few groups of people in mind this morning listening to this message.

A Word for Those Exploring Christianity

I know there are some this morning who are looking for answers. You don’t call yourself a Christian, you don’t know the full meaning of the gospel, but with all that is going on right now, you’re looking for answers. Is there any hope on the horizon? Is there any vaccine for the fear and uncertainty I feel? There is, and his name is Jesus. 

The gospel tells us that we live in a world full of brokenness. If not a pandemic, then wars and rumors of war, financial collapse, and natural and unnatural disasters. This brokenness we feel at our very core because we all fall short of God’s perfect standard. We sin, we fail, and we seek satisfaction in all the wrong places. Jesus came to rescue sinners from the shackles of sin and suffering so that we might have forgiveness of sins, everlasting hope, and peace in the midst of a storm. Jesus, when he lived here on earth, literally calmed a raging storm by calling out “Peace, be still!” And he can do the same in your heart this morning if you would surrender to Jesus by recognizing your sin, confessing of it, and entrusting your life to Jesus. 

A Word for Those Fearful & Anxious

So I have a few groups of people in view. For those who are fearful and anxious, Isaiah 41:10 reminds us, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Truths like Isaiah 41:10 are given for days and times such as this. Put Almighty God to the test and he will be faithful and true. Go to Jesus! Put down your phone, stop scrolling, stop reading updates and fall to your knees and go to the Source of hope and peace in times of trouble.

I anticipate that some of the most effective evangelists in the church will be born in a time such as this. Fearful and anxious people who have found hope and peace in Christ are going to be some of the best counselors of the soul for others who are fearful and anxious. O, that fresh opportunities would arise to speak of the hope that we have in Jesus Christ that will never fade, never disappoint, and never let us down. There is an oversupply of anxiety, and a shortage of hope, but our supply chain is intact: the Lord Jesus Christ! He gives hope in abundance so that we might overflow to those in need.

A Word for Those Needing Help

There are some of you watching alone, and who feel more isolated than ever. The body of Christ needs you right now and we need you to reach out for help. 1 Corinthians 12:18 says, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.” Perhaps your contribution to the body is to reach out and ask for help. If you fail to reach out, you rob the body of the joy and privilege of serving one another with the multitude of gifts he has given us. Whether you are prone to depression, in isolation, battling fear, limited by your physical limitations, part of a vulnerable population, or on the brink of an anxiety attack, please reach out to others within the church—your small group, your elders, your neighbors—and ask for help.

A Word for Those Eager to Serve

The Apostle Paul writes in Galatians 6:10, As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” There are fresh opportunities in these days to minister with the gifts and blessings that God has given you.

If you have the gift of faith, use your gifts to build up other’s faith lovingly reminding them of God’s promises to be near, to do us good, and to be our refuge in the storm. 

If you have the gift of service, use your gifts to serve those who can’t run out and stand in line right now because they are healthcare workers, just lost their jobs, or part of a vulnerable population that cannot go out.

O that we would all use our extra time not to binge watch shows, but to tend the garden of our prayer lives. Growing a garden requires the work of planting, pruning, and watering. And to reach new heights of intimacy with God in prayer, we need to put in the extended time to meet with him.

  • Pray for revival in your heart, in our church, in the Twin Cities, in our nation, and around the world.
  • Pray for open doors for the gospel in the days, months, and years ahead.
  • Pray for fresh humility and patience for parents and children and spouses as they engage one another.
  • Pray for our doctors, nurses, caretakers, cleaning staff, and those who are ensuring our grocery stores are stocked full of food.
  • Pray for business owners and their employees that are being affected. Pray for the many here in our congregation who have lost jobs and the others who will be laid off. 

Conclusion 

There’s an interchange between Frodo and Gandalf in Tolkein’s Fellowship of the Ring where Frodo remarks to Gandalf, “I wish it need not have happened in my time.” Gandalf replies, “So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” This seems especially fitting. We’d prefer not COVID-19 be part of our collective memory and experience, but it’s a unique opportunity for God’s people to display the hope we have in Christ.

I’m sure many of us who have read the book of Acts once or twice before have thought, “I wonder what it would be like to live through that time.” We won’t ever know, but we will have opportunity—in the face of global crisis—to devote ourselves to teaching, fellowship, prayer, and sharing in common with those in need.

As more and more people were asked to stay home and self-quarantine, a video of number of celebrities and movie star singing John Lennon’s song “Imagine” started to circulate. The lyrics read …

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today ... Aha-ah...

It’s a sad and depressing thought. But as the people of God—like all those who have gone before—the Christian faith is a singing faith. Nearly every night our family has jammed to me on the guitar with the four chords that I know and one of my kids on the Cajun box drum. Christians—in the face of a global pandemic and all sorts of danger—are a singing people. We can proclaim with hearts full of faith:

Hallelujah, praise the One who set me free
Hallelujah, death has lost its grip on me
You have broken every chain
There’s salvation in Your Name
Jesus Christ, my living hope

That’s a better song to sing. Pray with me that God would usher in many more to join us in that great refrain and in worship of Almighty God who is working in all things for his glory and for his purposes.

Sermon Discussion Questions

Outline

  1. Christ’s Gift: Jesus gives grace to all and leaders to the church (Ephesians 4:7, 11)
  2. Christ’s Purpose: To equip the saints for ministry (Ephesians 4:12)
  3. Christ’s Aim: So that ...
    1. Believers will have a greater knowledge of Christ (v. 13)
    2. Believers will have a greater discernment of error (v. 14)
    3. Believers will increasingly resemble Christ (vv. 15–16)
  4. Application

Main Point: Jesus leads his church by giving her leaders to equip the saints to minister to one another in order to increasingly look like Christ. 

Discussion Questions

  • Why is it important to remember both “grace was given to each one of us” and how Christ “gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers to equip the saints”?
  • When Paul teaches that believers are to build up the body of Christ, where else in Ephesians do we see some ways believers can mutually build up the church body?
  • According to Ephesians 4:13–16, what are some of the results Paul hopes to see when the saints are engaged in the work of ministry?
  • In Matthew 18:3, Jesus tells his followers to “become like children,” but Paul teaches us to “no longer be children.” How do we reconcile Jesus’ and Paul’s teachings?
  • How should we understand “speaking the truth in love” within the wider context of mutually building up the body?

Application Questions

  • In light of the pandemic causing isolation and fear, what are some practical ways you can set your mind on Christ?
  • What are some ways you can “be the church” to one another, to fellow church members, and to those without the hope of Christ?
  • If you’re feeling overwhelmed or anxious, to whom will you share and to whom will you ask for help?
  • If you’re not battling fear or anxiety, how can you help point others to Christ and provide practical help in the days and weeks ahead?
  • Write down a few names of fellow church members you’ll pray for and check in on, and jot the name of a few folks who don’t know Christ to whom you can minister. 

Prayer Focus

Praise God for being an unchangeable, trustworthy, all-sufficient, sovereign, and merciful God who is in control of all things. Confess your sins, anxieties, fears, flippancy, distractedness, or failure to seek him in these trying times. Thank him for salvation in Christ, the gift of the church body for mutual upbuilding and support, and for sustaining grace revealed in his word. Ask God for more of his sustaining grace, faith in moments of doubt, widespread repentance and revival in our communities, and open doors to share the love of Christ with those who don’t believe in him.

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