HOW WE GROW TO SPIRITUAL MATURITY
These are my notes for teaching at the Cornerstone on Sunday, September 27, 2020.
Part 4 of Better Together.
INTRODUCTION: THE BIG LIE
On Sunday, October 30, 1938, CBS Radio broadcast an episode of The Mercury Theater on the Air show. It was an adaptation of HG Well's' novel The War of the Worlds. The production was designed to sound like breaking news and it was so realistic that it caused a panic among the listeners as they bought into the big lie that aliens were invading New York city.
This story illustrates that what we believe always impacts how we live. It's no different in the spiritual realm. If we believe a big lie about some aspect of the Christian faith, we will go off track. It's the GIGO principle: Garbage in, garbage out.
One of the biggest lies is about the church. The lie goes like this: church is an event we attend. A coworker might ask you, "What church do you attend?" Some people even say they "attend" more than one church, hopping around from one event to another.
If you believe church is an event, you are believing a big lie and I am certain it is having a negative impact on your spiritual growth.
The church is not an event. The church is a community. It is connections with other Christians who gather for God's intended purpose. That purpose is spiritual growth that results in spiritual maturity that results in spiritual stability.
It takes a community to raise a Christian to spiritual maturity. You cannot achieve it on your own.
Spiritual growth and maturity are not optional. They are God's intended purpose for every follower of Jesus. No one can opt out and stay spiritually healthy. Therefore, today, I want to explore with you the mechanics of maturity. Our passage is Ephesians 4:11-13.
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 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.
THE MECHANICS OF SPIRITUAL MATURITY
Use your imagination for a moment and picture the church as a big stamping machine that produces spiritually mature people. Now, as with all analogies, this isn't perfect. We all know the church is not a machine and spiritual growth is a somewhat mysterious process. But bear with me.
The machine starts out with the raw material, then there is a stamping process that shapes that material, then there is the finished product. The whole process is what I call the mechanics of maturity.
1. THE RAW MATERIAL: HIS PEOPLE - verse 12
12 ... his people
The raw material is every Christian. The whole congregation is in focus. Spiritual growth and maturity is for everyone, not just the spiritual elite. The goal is not just a few individuals who grow spiritually, but that the whole church will reach maturity, becoming like Christ.
After we turn to Jesus as our God and Savior, we become "his people" - literally holy ones or saints. But we are far from being the finished product. This is only stage one because we start out as spiritual babies or immature disciples. We know very little and understand even less. Our lifestyle is still ungodly, our attitudes are worldly. We are vulnerable to many kinds of temptations and susceptible to the devil's schemes. We are aren't yet contributing to the mission of the church. Finally, we are not at all like Christ. Paul describes a new believer's situation later in chapter 4, making it clear that we need to change:
(Ephesians 4:22-24) You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
To reach spiritual maturity, we must decide to change and grow. We must enter a process - the stamping machine - that helps us to renew our thinking, to set aside the old life, and to start a new, godly way of life.
It is not good to remain a spiritually immature. Babies are helpless and vulnerable and they wear diapers. The apostle Paul wasn't giving a compliment when he called the Corinthian believers "mere infants:"
(1 Corinthians 3:1-3) Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly.
Don't be a helpless, know-nothing, do-nothing, spiritual baby.
2. THE STAMPING PROCESS: HIS LEADERS - verses 11-12
The raw material has to go through a stamping process that produces spiritual maturity. The stamping process is described in verses 11-12:
11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up
The risen, ascended, ruling, Lord Jesus Christ pours out gifts on his church. These gifts are church leaders and Paul lists five kinds of church leaders here: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. There is lots to say about what these titles mean, but we'll save it for another day.
The number one job of a church leader is to organize the congregation so that everyone gets equipped for the work of ministry so that they build up the church until the church reaches full maturity. The two terms - equip and ministry - are essential parts in the process.
"Equip" means to fully prepare us for ministry. Church leaders equip us for ministry primarily by teaching the Bible. They explain what it means and help us apply it to our lives and ministries so that we are totally prepared to serve.
Equipping by itself is not enough. Lots of Bible information without personal application makes us spiritual babies with fat heads. I've met many Bible experts who are nothing like Christ. This is why there is a second part of the stamping process: ministry.
"Ministry" is service or work that we do to make the church stronger and to bring it closer to maturity - "building up the body."
The Lord Jesus Christ was a great leader because he was a great servant. He identified himself as one who serves (Luke 22:27). He told his disciples that he did not come into the world to be served but to serve and to give himself as a ransom (Mark 10:45).
If you want to reach spiritual maturity, attaining to the full measure of Jesus Christ, then you must invest your life in ministry that builds up the body - the congregation.
The stamping process is teaching plus equipping plus serving plus building. That is the mechanics of spiritual maturity.
This is why church cannot be an event. It has to be a community. A community in which we all receive teaching AND in which we all serve each other.
THE FINISHED PRODUCT: HIS LIKENESS - verse 13.
The finished product of the church stamping machine is described in verse 13:
13 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.
When we all work together to build up the body, we will be visibly united. We'll be serving each other, helping each other, praying for each other, forgiving each other, encouraging each other. And everyone will see our unity.
When that happens, we'll all have the same faith and the same knowledge of Jesus Christ - a deep, experiential knowledge of Jesus where we love him and follow him. And that is when I will have done my job and the Cornerstone will reach full spiritual maturity, which the passage defines as "attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ;" we will fully manifest Jesus in our lives, as fully as any group of people can in this age. We will think like Christ, love like him, live like him, and serve like him.
All of this is why I don't buy into the big lie that church is an event that I attend so it's OK to skip around from congregation to congregation and expect to grow spiritually. Or I can skip church altogether and just get alone with my Bible in the woods and still grow mature. No, it's all a lie that will prevent the Cornerstone - each of us - from reaching maturity.
CONCLUSION: STOP DATING THE CHURCH
Several years ago, I found a book with an intriguing title: Stop Dating the Church. That's my urgent message to you today: Stop dating the church. If you think of church as an event to attend rather than a community to commit yourself to, then you're just dating the church.
Dating the church is harmful to your spiritual health and it's hurting the the rest of us. You're not building the body. Being here on Sundays is a good start, but it is only a start. The next step is ministry. You won't grow like Jesus until you start serving.
Our road to spiritual maturity is clear: we commit to the Cornerstone community and invest our time and energy into making it strong and healthy. Are you already doing that, or are you ready to begin?
One of the very best ways to commit and invest is to join a small group. Be active in the group. Make it a priority even when you're busy or tired. Serve the group members. Minister to them according to their needs and your skills and spiritual gifts.
Sign up for a small group today.
Pastor, author, Tony Evans sums up today's teaching:
"Some people attend church only for their own benefit. But that's not what being a church member looks like; that's called being a leech. God saved and equipped you for the work of ministry, the work of service. Why? To build up the body ... And the church will only grow and mature when all the parts operate in harmony, in unity. If you have a Lone Ranger personality you will be a feeble saint - and the body will suffer for it. Our relationship to the corporate body is crucial to our own spiritual development and the development of the church" (The Tony Evans Bible Commentary, 2019, pp. 1126-7).