It is interesting to think about how our appetite affects our growth. If we have no appetite whatsoever then we shrivel up and die. If we have an appetite that is out of control then we eat everything in sight and blow up like blimps and might eventually die from gross health issues. But if we watch our diet and feed ourselves on healthy things our appetite changes and we begin to hunger for more healthy food and we grow physically healthier.
I’ve used the acronym GIGO with my kids since they were very young. GIGO simply means garbage in garbage out. What you put into yourself is what comes out. What you fill your brain, your soul and your heart with, will eventually come out in the way you live your life. If you put garbage into yourself then your life will be full of garbage. But if you put nutritious, healthy things into yourself then you can expect to have a relatively healthy life.
This principle holds true as it pertains to our spiritual growth. The dog you feed gets bigger and eats the dog you starve. So if you feed sinfulness, laziness or selfishness then holiness, spiritual alertness and selflessness will become the dog you starve. So we need to starve the things of the flesh and feed the things of God to become spiritually vibrant, lively and growing. Keep that in mind as we look at Ephesians 4:7 – 16.
In Ephesians 4:7 – 16 Paul says…
7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” 9 (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10 He who descended is also the one who ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and the teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 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 Christ, 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. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 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.
The question this passage answers is “How do we grow spiritually?” How does a body of believers grow spiritually? The grand vision that Paul has here for the spiritual growth of the church, the picture he sees in his head is a family of Christians exercising their spiritual gifts as they help each other to lead and live faithfully and grow in godliness. Every Christian is a spiritual leader and every spiritual leader is called to help the church grow spiritually.
In Acts 20:28 – 31 Paul is speaking with the leaders of the Ephesian church and he says: Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.
In this passage we see Paul encouraging and warning the Ephesian leaders to keep a close watch on their own lives and the lives of the people in the Ephesian church. The Holy Spirit is the one who appoints gifts of leadership to the church and leaders are called to care for the church body because the blood of Christ has purchased it. There is a high cost for every individual that makes up the body of Christ.
But there is also a big threat to the body of Christ. Wherever there is a high cost there will always be a high threat. The threat that Paul warns these leaders of is the threat of fierce wolves arising from among them to devour the flock instead of build up the flock. These wolves will speak twisted things and they will seek to draw away disciples for their own pleasure and their own self-fulfillment.
So be alert and watch out for these wolves. The threat to the body of Christ does not come from without it comes from within. I often wonder which of the men in that circle that Paul spoke to would be the men he warned these leaders about. How would they know who it was? What would they do when it happened?
I’m not sure what the answers are to those questions but I do know that Paul gives them a visual to remember when it happened. He knows the difference between a sheep with a sheep’s appetite and a wolf with a wolf’s appetite. He says don’t forget my example. Don’t forget that I’ve been with you for three years preaching the gospel to you with tears day and night. He’s drawing a sharp contrast between sheep and wolves. He’s contrasting the life or appetite of false leaders who lead pridefully and selfishly with the life or appetite of a true spiritual leader who leads humbly and selflessly.
So Paul gives these leaders encouragement, warning and an example. He knows that his job as a Christian leader is to help the church grow spiritually and he knows that he isn’t God’s gift of everything. He knows that he is just one part of a combination platter of leaders that God gives to his bride. He knows that the church belongs to God and he knows that the role of leaders is to help the church grow spiritually.
Every Christian Is One Part Of An Appetizer Combo (7; 11)
There are five basic divisions of spiritual gifts in our Ephesians 4 passage: apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers. (11) Think of these gifts like a great appetizer combo that helps to whet your appetite for the main course. And don’t forget, Jesus is the main course for Christians: For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. (Jn. 6:33)
Paul says that when Jesus ascended back to Heaven after the resurrection as our victorious king with Satan, sin and death in captivity, he gave gifts to men… and he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers (7; 11) to the church. This variety pack of leaders has been given to the church body for the purpose of increasing the spiritual appetite of the church family so the church can grow spiritually.
The purpose of this variety pack of leaders is to nurture or increase the spiritual appetite of God’s people for the presence of Jesus. Jesus is the main course for spiritual growth. So, what did you come in hungry for this morning? What kind of appetite do you have this morning? Are you hungry for garbage or hungry for the presence of God?
Jesus removed our enemies so that we would no longer live in bondage while feasting on garbage. (8) He gave us the gift of freedom to use our talents and our abilities to serve one another and glorify our Risen Savior. The only things that stop us from serving Jesus by serving people are the captives (Satan, sin and death) that Jesus crushed at the cross.
Satan will tempt you to serve others selfishly or sit on the sidelines in mockery. Sin will call out to you like a new lover on a street corner. If you are feeding on a banquet of sin in a grave then your ability and desire to serve Jesus will smell like death, diminish at best or disappear at worst as your appetite for garbage increases and your appetite for God decreases.
So Jesus not only gave gifts to every person but he also gave gifted people to every church. Every Christian is called to be a part of a spiritually vibrant variety pack of leaders who seek to honor God with their lives as they serve Jesus by serving other people. And the purpose of this variety pack is to help the body grow up spiritually as our appetite for Jesus increases and our appetite for garbage decreases.
Look around you right now. The faces of other believers in our church family or your gospel community have been given to you and you have been given to them. And the one purpose that each of us has is to be a gift to one another as we seek to honor Jesus with our lives together. Our job as gifts to one another is to lay up gospel kindling around the hearts of our brothers and sisters in Christ and then beg the Spirit of God to fan that kindling into gospel flames.
But what does this look like? How do we build up that pile of gospel kindling around each other’s hearts? How do we help one another increase our appetites for more of Jesus? I think the answer can be found by inspecting the combo platter.
We Need To Inspect The Appetizer Combo To Increase Our Appetite For Jesus…
People often make fun of me when I eat. I really enjoy eating food and people often catch me examining each piece of food as I devour it. As I examine each piece of food my appetite increases for the main course. I start to get more and more excited with every bite of the appetizer. The same is true with this leadership combo plate we see in Ephesians 4. Every piece of this combo plate is like an appetizer that is meant to increase our appetite for the main course.
Appetizer Number 1: The Apostles…
Apostles establish bodies of believers. During the time of the writing of the New Testament there were 12 apostles. One of the original apostles named Judas actually betrayed Jesus. Judas was in charge of the bank accounts for Jesus’ ministry. But Judas’ appetite for the presence of Jesus had grown cold because he listened to the voice of Satan. He listened to the voice of sin that called to him like a new lover. He hungered for more money instead of hungering for more of Jesus so he sold Jesus out for a handful of coins and then went to his death because of his guilt and shame. (Lk. 22:3-6; 47-48)
But the remaining apostles were faithful to the end and they were responsible for heading the call of the Great Commission to go and make disciples of all nations and baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and to teach these new believers all that Jesus had commanded them. From the day of Pentecost forward these apostles helped to establish new bodies of believers all over the known world and many of them wrote the New Testament Scriptures we have in front of us. (i.e. Acts, Philippians, Ephesians, Galatians, 1 & 2 Peter, etc.)
Today it could be argued that the gift of apostle is still being given to the church in the form of church planters. The Greek word for apostle literally means sent-one and it carries the sense of someone being sent to establish brand new groups of believers. Missionaries tend to be very apostolic or very entrepreneurial in this sense. They are usually very gifted at gathering people into groups of all shapes and sizes for the purpose of helping people to know and to follow and to grow up in Christ together. So apostles are given to the church to help establish new bodies of believers who are growing more and more spiritually hungry for the presence of Jesus.
Appetizer Number 2: The Prophets…
Prophets boldly foretell the truth in a futuristic sense and they also proclaim the truth in an immediate circumstantial sense. As you study the Bible you see people like Moses who boldly called the people of Israel to obey God in their immediate circumstances. And then you see people like Hosea and Daniel and Jeremiah and Isaiah who boldly called the nation of Israel to repentance as they made futuristic promises of judgment and redemption. And let’s not forget the prophet Nathan who prophetically confronted David for his sin with Bathsheba which resulted in the death of their son as well as David’s repentance in Psalm 51.
Many of the New Testament apostles were gifted as prophets too. Peter was given the gift of prophecy to discern the lies of Ananias and Saphira regarding their financial giving and he was given the power to pronounce judgment and death on both of them. Paul was an apostle and yet he also exercised the gift of prophecy in his preaching and teaching of the gospel during his mission’s trips. (Acts 5:1 – 11; 13:6 – 12)
There is no doubt in my mind that this gift is still being given to the church today. On more than one occasion, I have experienced the blessing of someone coming to me and speaking the truth boldly into an area of my life that I was struggling with. And sometimes I have experienced someone humbly warning me of something that was coming around the corner either because of my own sin or because of the sin of others or because of the enemy, who seeks to steal, kill and destroy.
In every one of these experiences the theme has been the same. Seek Christ more passionately and develop a deeper appetite for the presence of God. So prophets are given to the church for the purpose of foretelling the truth and proclaiming the truth so the church will grow more and more spiritually hungry for Jesus.
Appetizer Number 3: The Evangelists…
The main job of an evangelist is to proclaim the good news to the lost. When people call on Jesus to save them from their sin, he is faithful and just to grant their request and forgive them of their sins and cleanse them from all unrighteousness. But they will not call on Jesus if they don’t believe in Jesus and they won’t believe in Jesus if they don’t hear about Jesus. They won’t hear about Jesus if someone doesn’t tell them about Jesus. Someone won’t tell them about Jesus if that someone isn’t sent to tell them. (Rom. 10:13 – 15)
The ministry of Billy Graham is probably one of the most notable and publically visible evangelistic ministries of our time. Billy Graham had a knack for communicating the truth of the gospel to people in a simple way that along with the Spirit’s power created a spiritual thirst for more of Jesus in unbelievers.
It can be argued that every one of us is called to share the gospel with every person we can. (Matt. 28:19 – 20) But you don’t have to be Billy Graham to exercise this gift. You can share the gospel with your lost friends at the gym or your job or the gas station or the restaurant. The key to exercising this gift is to be someone who knows the gospel and is spiritually hungry for more of Jesus. And then you need to be passionate about sharing the gospel with lost people so that they can whet their appetite too. So evangelists are given to the church to share the good news of the gospel with unbelievers so the church would become filled with people who are growing more and more spiritually hungry for Jesus.
Appetizer Number 4: The Shepherds…
Shepherds are pastors or elders who tenderly provide ongoing care for the sheep by getting to know the sheep, feeding the sheep, leading the sheep and protecting the sheep. The Biblical words for shepherd, elder and pastor are all rooted in the same word. They are the same gifting and God gives the gift of shepherd-elder-pastor to the church for the purpose of shepherding the flock to grow in its hunger for Jesus.
A shepherd-elder-pastor must meet the biblical qualifications found in the Pastoral Epistles and he must possess the ability to know the flock’s unique makeup. He must be able to teach others from the Bible. He must be able to lead the flock to Jesus and he must be able to protect the flock from wolves in sheep’s clothing. Shepherd-elder-pastors are under shepherds to the Chief Shepherd (Jesus) and their main goal is to help other sheep feed on and follow Christ as their senior shepherd. (1 Tim. 3:1 – 7; Titus 1:5 – 16; 1 Pet. 5:1 – 4)
Typically there are only a few shepherds in a church body. But I also think there are shepherding assistants who help shepherds to do the work of shepherding. I think this can be seen in the Scriptures as well as in the trade of actual shepherds with their sheep.
Moses had Joshua and Aaron as shepherding assistants. Paul had Timothy and Silas as shepherding assistants. Shepherding assistants in the church could look like gospel community leaders or worship leaders or counselors or kids ministry teachers or Sunday gathering Emcees.
So you may have the gift of shepherding but not be qualified for the office of elder-pastor and yet you are still very valuable to the spiritual growth or the development of the spiritual appetite of the flock of God. So shepherd-elder-pastors are given to the church for the purpose of helping the flock to grow more and more spiritually hungry for Jesus.
Appetizer Number 5: The Teachers…
Teachers help others not only to learn about but to also know Jesus personally. Now it does seem that the gifts of shepherding and teaching are interrelated. Some scholars argue that the Greek wording here in Ephesians 4 actually identifies the last two gifts of shepherd and teacher as one gift of shepherd/teacher.
That’s probably true and I’m not really smart enough to argue it differently. But let’s think about the gift of teaching separately from the gift of shepherding for a few minutes. Teachers have a unique ability to learn and then to cause others to know. They can consume information and then regurgitate it in a way that is relevant to the context they are teaching in.
For instance a kids ministry teacher can study the curriculum and then teach the kids using a variety of illustrations, activities and objet lessons to help their kids to not only know facts about Jesus but to know Jesus personally. The same is true of someone who leads an adult Sunday school class or a weekly Bible study or a mentoring group or teaches the Scriptures from a pulpit during Sunday gatherings.
The bottom line is that shepherd-elder-pastors must be able to teach or they are not qualified to be elders. But teachers do not have to be elders. Teachers must be able to teach effectively in the context they are serving in. (2 Tim. 4:1 – 5) So teachers are given to the church to explain Biblical truths in a way that cultivates a growing hunger for more and more of Jesus.
As we’ve thought about this grand vision that Paul explains in Ephesians 4 we’ve learned that God gives spiritually gifted leaders to the church for the purpose of growing the church up spiritually. Spiritually gifted leaders are Christians who help one another cultivate a deep hungry appetite for Jesus. And spiritual leaders come in a variety pack like an appetizer combo that helps to cultivate a deeper hunger for the main course, which is Christ.
Think about the concept of a gift for a minute. Gifts are given freely and they must be received and then utilized for the purpose they were intended for. Now, I will be candid for a minute and state that I have received some interesting gifts over the holidays over the years that I’ve never put to use. But can you imagine this happening in the church?
Imagine God giving a church family the gift of apostles and prophets and evangelists and shepherds and teachers but then the church rejects those gifts. Imagine someone rejecting an apostle because they don’t believe more churches should be planted. Imagine someone rejecting a prophet because they were too harsh or too tenacious in their confrontation of sin. Imagine someone rejecting an evangelist because they are too excited about sharing the gospel. Imagine someone rejecting the shepherd because they are always asking about your spiritual health. Imagine someone rejecting the teacher because the time it takes to sit in on their class is too much of a sacrifice.
If we do this then we effectively stunt our own growth not to mention other’s spiritual growth. The opposite of this is also true. When a person has one or more of these gifts and they don’t utilize them because they are too busy listening to the voice of temptation or chasing sin on the street corner then the church family suffers and stalls out in its growth.
This is not what the Lord wants. The Lord wants every one of his children to be a vibrant and life-giving part of the body. Therefore he removed our enemies and gave each one of us gifts and then gave each of us as gifted individuals to the church for the spiritual growth of the bride.
This is why Paul says that God gave gifts to men… And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and the teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. Pray with me that the Lord would continue to make us into this kind of church family.