The following is a sermon by Rev. David Inks of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, North America (from Kerux), that was read this past Lord’s Day.
Christ’s Method for Maturity
David W. Inks
Most of us drove a car to church this morning. The invention of the automobile has proven to be one of life’s great delights. It has also proven to be one of life’s great annoyances and headaches. To increase the delight of car ownership and to decrease the mental anguish there are an abundance of manuals to repair them and to maintain them. Paul Harvey, the radio personality who brings us “the rest of the story”, advertises “Mr. Goodwrench”, the talented and trained specialist who will repair and maintain your car with precision and dependability. But Mr. Goodwrench doesn’t just toss a manual at you when you pull into his shop. He’s a trained specialist who both understands the manual and how to capably use it so as to return to you a smooth running vehicle.
Today I will be contradicting some current, conventional wisdom regarding ministry. For some I will be asking you to take a renewed look at an old proof-text. If I say something contrary to a view you hold, please hear me out completely. My concern is to be faithful to the passage before us. This section in Ephesians falls quite easily into three parts regarding the flow of ministry and growth in the life of the church. It starts with Christ’s heavenly headship in verses 7-10. It flows through his earthly ministers in verses 11-12. And it pours into the building up of his body in verses 13-16. This is Christ’s method of maturity for his church, his body. Like Mr. Goodwrench, Christ’s gifts are specialists, ministers of the Word for the repair and maintenance of his church.
Christ’s Heavenly Headship
Paul had just urged the Ephesians in the beginning of chapter 4 to “be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Like an elementary school classroom that is first disciplined and peaceful, it is now ready and positioned for learning and growing to maturity. Growth in the body flows from its head, the heavenly Christ. Christ our Benefactor gives grace to each member and he also gives “gifts to men”. Paul wants us to understand that in the New Covenant the community of God’s people are nurtured and structured for growth from their heavenly Lord, patterned after the Old Covenant. So Paul employs Psalm 68. This Psalm had enjoyed a distinctive use in the life of Israel. It had been read for years on the day of Pentecost, a day which became a focal point for the recollection and thanksgiving for the giving of the law on Mount Sinai. Moses had ascended in the cloud of glory on Mount Sinai. Forty days later he descended with the glory of the Old Covenant revelation contained in the law. He was also given on the Mount a set of blueprints blueprints for the construction of the temple. Christ fulfills this pattern in the New Covenant. Having made purification for sin on his cross and then rising from the dead on the third day, he entered heaven by ascending in a cloud to Mount Zion as recorded in Acts 1:11. Then on the day of Pentecost he descended in the Holy Spirit with the prophetic word of the New Covenant community. Hebrews 12 contrasts these two Mounts where God spoke his Old and New Covenant words. The Spirit was given on Pentecost because Jesus was glorified in the heavenlies.
Christ’s Earthly Ministers
“And he gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints, for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.” Paul lists four ministers of the Word or officers as the gifts of Christ to the Church. Regarding these ministers of the Word, I have two questions to ask which are currently receiving competing answers.
The first question is: “Are there apostles and prophets receiving direct, unmediated revelation from God today?” The answer to this question depends on whether or not these offices can be historically differentiated. In other words, do the apostles and prophets belong solely to the apostolic era of the first century or, as some charismatics insist, do their offices and activities remain with us to this very day? Listen to Paul in chapter 2:19-20: “you . . . are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord.” Paul differentiates between two historic phases in the construction of the church, the temple of Christ. Those phases are the foundation and the superstructure. The foundation consists in the apostles and the prophets, with Christ as the cornerstone. The redemptive work of Christ, his death for sinners and his resurrection from the dead, is the once for all historic cornerstone of the foundation. It is the redemptive deed the Old Testament anticipated. This is the “once for all” never to be repeated work of Christ.
Coupled to this foundation deed is the unique role of the New Testament apostles and prophets. Their role is brought forward particularly in 3:3-5: “by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit.” Note this phrase: “has now been revealed”. The ages of redemptive history strained forward in longing for completion. Christ has fulfilled that longing. And to the apostles and prophets of the New Covenant it has “now been revealed”. They are the recipients of the revelatory Word. They were part of the “once for all” foundation of the temple as organs of revelation. What they received from Christ they delivered to the church. This is “the faith” as Jude 3 speaks, “which was once for all delivered to the saints.” The work of Christ, along with the revelatory offices of the apostles and prophets constitute the “once and for all” foundation.
Christ gave these ministers to do the following three items: to equip, to minister, and to build. In this case each phrase refers back to what Christ gave these ministers to do. They are three separate, supporting purpose phrases each developing the work of the gifted ones. This is the plain sense of the grammar. It is an awkward construction to insist that two of the phrases are nestled under and explanatory of the first phrase, as the modern view sees it. In agreement with Calvin and the others are the translators of the KJV. There are no textual variants clouding this issue. So listen to how the KJV reads verse 12. Paraphrasing verse 11, “He gave these offices” and then verse 12, “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” The verse simply states the threefold work of the “gifted ones”. They perfect, minister and build the body. This is what the Word does. Thus, this is what a minister of the Word does also.
Notice that with this understanding of the verse the grounds used to pack the definition of a pastor with managerial freight is removed. Does this mean that the saints have nothing to do for the growth of the body of Christ? Of course not! The saints have much to do in building the body. But this verse does not describe their role at all. Neither does it redefine the role of the pastor in the garb of a coach or CEO after the order of a manager of modern group dynamics.
Paul wraps up this flow of ministry with the effects of Christ’s gifts to the church in verse 13. They perform their work “until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” The faithful ministry of the Word in a church will cause it to grow and be edified unto “unity” and a “mature man” in Christ. Of course this level of unity and maturity is the eschatological goal of the church. Not until the consummation will we realize what Paul calls the “fullness of Christ”. But between now and then as we battle day by day in the “already” of Christ’s fullness, we press on through the ministry of the Word of God to win the day of ultimate conformity to Jesus Christ. We continue on that redemptive historical highway which ends at last in the celestial city.
This is Christ’s method for maturity. It is a flow of ministry like a waterfall that proceeds from a high cliff, runs over a series of boulders then plunges into a pool of refreshing water which swirls around and around before continuing to its destination. It is Christ’s pattern. It is his method for the growth of his body, both in quantity and quality, by Evangelist and Pastor. Our great heavenly Benefactor’s methods are being set aside in many segments of the church these days for what appears to be more exciting benefits. However, the long-term yields are proving to be of very low interest. If we are to be truly the beneficiaries of his great wisdom and gifts, then it behooves us to listen again to this text of Ephesians. Christ, our Benefactor, just didn’t toss a manual at his church for its own repair and maintenance. He has given his church the benefit of his gifts, specialists in the Word of God. Through them he visits, and redeems, and feeds his church with the means of grace. These godly and gifted men need to be recognized by his church, trained in her courts, and embraced to her bosom for the ongoing repair, maintenance, and maturation of her daughters and sons in Christ.