Ephesians 4: The Gift
Do you like to get a gift? Sure you do, everyone loves to get gifts. Well most people, remember this from our series last Christmas. (Clip from Big Bang Theory)
Often when we think of gifts in a church setting we think of the gift of grace, or the gift of salvation or maybe spiritual gifts but in the scripture that read this morning there was a different set of gifts that was spoken about. Ephesians 4:11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers.
Seriously have you ever thought of me as a gift? So who are these people the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers? Well apostles were the apostles. An apostles position and qualifications are outlined in the book of Acts when the remaining 11 were seeking a replacement for Judas. Acts 1:21-22 “So now we must choose a replacement for Judas from among the men who were with us the entire time we were traveling with the Lord Jesus— from the time he was baptized by John until the day he was taken from us. Whoever is chosen will join us as a witness of Jesus’ resurrection.” And when Paul was claiming his right to Apostleship he said 1 Corinthians 9:1 Am I not as free as anyone else? Am I not an apostle? Haven’t I seen Jesus our Lord with my own eyes? Isn’t it because of my work that you belong to the Lord? So the topic of Apostles is moot now.
Often when we think of prophets we think of those who foretell the future. The whole Tarot cards or crystal ball thing, but that isn’t how the bible uses the term prophet. Biblical prophets weren’t into foretelling they were into forthtelling. And they is a difference, fore-telling is where you say “this will happen at a particular time in the future.” Forth-telling is more of a warning, “If you continue on this path this will be your destination.” So in the popular sense a prophet would say “on December 3rd you will be in Toronto” where a biblical prophet would say “If you continue west on the trans-Canada you will wind up in Toronto.” Or more accurately a prophet would state: “This type of behaviour will result in these consequences.” I have said different times that that the message of the Old Testament prophets was “Turn or Burn”, other words if you continue in the destination you are travelling, this will be your final destination. And these guys were not local church pastors in any stretch of the imagination, they were itinerant preacher, and that continued into the New Testament, prophets travelled to different areas with their message.
To a certain extent that is still part of my job as today, when I warn you of the consequences of your behaviour or choices, when I caution you about the end result of not following Jesus, I am simply forth telling the future.
The evangelists that are mentioned here would be those that we think of as church planters or missionaries. They took the good news somewhere else. I have met guys who have started a half a dozen churches in their careers; and others who have travelled overseas doing the same thing those are the type of people that are spoken of here. When I was preparing to start Cornerstone I had a coach by the name of Jim Griffith and he had planted several churches in the States, he would fit into that category.
And then there were the Pastors and Teachers and many of the commentators felt that this was a twin role for those who oversaw the local church in the New Testament. The word pastor sounds a lot like pasture and there is probably a good reason for that. Pastor comes from the Latin word that meant shepherd. And the shepherd’s main responsibility was to take care of and protect the sheep. You might recall that Jesus referred to himself as the good shepherd and when he confirmed Peter’s calling on the beach of the Sea of Galilee he told him John 21:17 A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.
So the pastor was to take care of the people of God, protecting them and guiding them, but it went further than that. Remember this was long before the printing press was invented so there were very few books to be had and those there were available were incredibly expensive, a book the size of our New Testament would cost a year’s wage for the average person, and so most of what was taught to the masses was taught orally. The story of Jesus was told long before it was written, and sometimes I still refer to myself as a story teller.
And often it was the pastor who could take what the prophet had said and bring it to a practical level that the local congregation could use, because he knew them and they knew him, Georg C. Lichtenberg (1742-1799, German physicist, satirist) Said “With prophecies the commentator is often a more important man than the prophet.” And it was the pastors and teachers who were the commentators.
One of the big differences 2000 years ago between Evangelists and Prophets as opposed to Pastors and Teachers, were that pastors and teachers stayed in a church as opposed to the other group who were constantly on the move.
And so Paul is telling the early believers that those who “pastored” them and those who “taught” them were a gift given to the church by Christ himself.
So maybe you are thinking: well if they are gifts how come they cost us money? If it’s a gift why isn’t it free?
When I was 11 my parents were given a horse which became mine. And even though “Extra Time” was free all the other stuff wasn’t. We needed a barn to put our free horse in, hay and oats to feed our free horse, a saddle and halter so we could ride our free horse. Get the picture? Dad often commented on how much the free horse was costing. Some of you might remember our Great Dane “Diesel”, he was like a horse and he was free as well, but we still had to feed him and pay his vet bills and buy lots and lots of fabreze. If someone gave you a car, you would still have to put gas in it and maintain it and insure it. Maybe you aren’t identifying with those examples; how about this; did you ever receive a Christmas gift that required batteries?
And that was the introduction. You see along with being gifts to the church these positions had something else in common and that was what they were supposed to do, so back to the scripture.
Ephesians 4:11Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers.
So why does the church get these gifts? Ephesians 4: 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.
The NIV translate vs 12 this way To prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up While the KJV translates it this wayFor the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: because of the comma that is used here we see two thoughts: “the perfecting of the saints” and “The work of the ministry” other translations see it as one thought. “The perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry” in other words to prepare God’s people for works of service or to equip God’s people to do his work.
Now we could get into a lot of different thoughts on what it means for God’s people to do God’s work. But we aren’t, at least not today. Today we are going to focus on the word that is translated “Perfect” or “Equip” or “Prepare”. Why just one word? Because it is a really, really important word. A word that applies to each one of you.
Have you ever come across one of those scriptures that you’ve looked at dozens of times and heard preached on dozens of times and all of a sudden you see it in a brand new light? It was that way with me and this particular scripture. The word that is used in the original account in this instance is a Greek word, that isn’t a coincidence because the entire passage was written in Greek because that was the common language when this was written. That makes sense right? I mean if we were writing a book in Nova Scotia today we wouldn’t write it in Greek we’d write it in English. And sometimes when we see a word out of context it doesn’t tell all the story.
I’ve already told some of you this story, but it’s a great story. I have been driving my little red car for a couple of years now without a speedometer. I’ve been using my GPS to tell my speed. But finally figured I’d break down and replace it. Now understand there were only 7500 of those cars sold worldwide so I finally tracked down an instrument cluster in the UK and ordered it on eBay. I had just gotten back from vacation and a friend of mine was monitoring my PayPal account for me while I was gone and he was still getting notification emails about any activity, and so shortly after I placed my order on eBay and paid for it with PayPal I received an email from Greg saying “I don’t even want to know why you just spent $82.00 on a speedo.” You see it pays to know the language and the context.
All that was said to say that word that was used for “Perfect”, “Equip” and “Prepare” in the Greek was καταρτισμός katartismos.
Now for thirty years I have heard preachers say this Greek word was also used to describe how a bone healed after being broken, how it was knit back together. And that is certainly one of the ways that word was used. And that is a neat concept, but I am not a medical doctor and I have never had a broken bone, ever. So it really didn’t mean a lot to me.
But, in April of this year I was in Indianapolis at a training session for coaching. Don’t look at me funny it wasn’t for coaching athletes; it was for coaching pastors although come to think of it it would probably be beneficial to athletes as well. Sidetrack. In the first session our instructor referenced this work and this word and he told us that it was used to describe how a bone healed after being broken, how it was knit back together. Well duh, I knew that and it still didn’t do anything for me.
Then Tim continued and said katartismos was the same word that was used to describe “Fixing a torn fishing net” Light bulb. When I first graduated from High School I fished with my dad on the herring seiner the “Rali II” and part of our responsibilities was to fix the net where it was torn. We called it “Mending Twine”. And I spent many an hour on a hot wharf after a night of fishing mending twine, and the surprising thing is I was pretty good at it. Surprising because it seemed a lot like Cat’s Cradle, the game not the song and I was never any good at playing cat’s cradle. My father and sister would play and I would sit and watch because whenever I tried it just frustrated everybody.
But when I went fishing I discovered that I was pretty good at finding holes in nets and fixing them. I also discovered that when you are pretty good at finding holes in nets and fixing them that the skipper can always find you lots to do.
But when Tim mentioned the connection you can imagine where my adhd mind went, it was like I had seen a squirrel. I’m not sure what he said after that because I was thinking about how my net mending skills were the same as pastoring God’s people.
Nets Get Broken Nets don’t come from the manufacturer broken but it isn’t long after they start being used on a regular basis that they start to take a beating and the little holes that make up a net become bigger holes. Life isn’t easy for a fishing net, they are tossed overboard, dragged though salt water, hauled back on board by equipment and then they are left to dry in the sun. In the case of a herring seiner, when everything was working properly and the planets were lined up and you held your mouth just right you could catch hundreds of tons of fish in those nets.
A lot of times life just wears on the nets and the twine breaks. And we would spread it out on the wharf and mend a hole here and a hole there, replace some worn twine and sew it back together again.
And it’s the same with people. We come from the manufacturer whole but life wears on us, disappointments, failures and betrayals take their toll but so does life in general. The day to day and the minutia that makes up the every day. And before we know it the twine has frayed and in some spots has actually broken.
But sometimes it wasn’t just a little hole here and a little hole there; sometimes it was a really big section was torn away. You would catch the net on something, or it would twist the wrong way and all of a sudden one broken spot had become many broken spots.
Pastor Mike told me a story the other day about a friend of his from Grand Manan who was fishing recently and they caught a whale in their seine. Perhaps you don’t know the concept of seining. You drop you net over the side with a tow boat and then the larger seiner steams in a circle bringing the net around the fish, then you close the bottom and pump the fish aboard the fishing boat.
When they had finished making the big circle they had a whale in the middle of their seine and before they knew it the whale decided it didn’t want to be in their seine and he left, leaving a huge mess in his wake. Lots mending was needed there.
And sometimes something catastrophic happens in our lives, a major illness, the death of a loved one, a marriage goes south, a career gets derailed and suddenly an entire section of our life has been torn away and lots of mending and healing is needed.
But whether the damage is little or large Broken Nets Need to Be Fixed You can’t just let it go, because the strength of a net, which is really a bunch of holes tied together, is dependent on the strength of the pieces that make it up. So when we look at the mesh in a net the strength is that they are inter-connected but when one small piece of twine breaks it puts more strain on the ones around it, until they break as well. Kind of like when you hurt your left leg and start putting more pressure on your right leg and pretty soon your right leg is hurting as well.
And so on the fishing boat mending twine was an ongoing process. You would spread out the net and poke looking for those broken spots and when you found the break you would sew it back together with a needle that looks like this.
I can’t mend your life. I wish I could but I can’t. And I know some people want their pastor to fix them, or often they want the pastor to fix someone else. And I can’t do that. It is God who is in the life fixing business. But first you need to find those broken spots, and acknowledge them and let him poke around in your life, as painful as that can be and put things back together.
And as a pastor and teacher my job is to help you identify those areas of brokenness in your life and to encourage you in those areas.
And it takes time, mending nets often involved hours on the wharf, mending your life won’t happen overnight. And we didn’t fix all the holes in the net at the same time instead we would fix a hole and then move on and find another one. You ever find God doing that in your life? He finds a broken spot and He doesn’t just knit it together, instead he shows you what needs to be done and then helps you do it. And then he moves on to the next broken spot in your life.
Maybe it’s forgiving someone, a broken relationship or maybe it’s asking for forgiveness. Maybe it’s forgiving yourself. In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul describes perfect love and in Vs. 5 he writes “Love keeps no record of being wronged.” Remember what your mother said “you keep picking at that and it will never heal.”
Maybe it’s a habit in your life, or behaviour that you need to take care of. David makes an interesting observation in Psalm 38:3 . . . my health is broken because of my sins.
Sometimes our brokenness is a result of our behaviour, plain and simple we break ourselves and we need to stop.
And sometimes in our brokenness we simply need to rest and recuperate, just slow down and let God do his work. Jesus makes a great promise in Matthew 11:28 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
Mended Nets are Like New The net may not be brand new but it is like new, it has been redeemed, it is able to be used again. And many times it is actually stronger in those spots than it had been previously. Stronger twine is used, more care is taken and the mend is newer than the old.
Sometimes people think that God could never use them that they are beyond redemption, because of their brokenness. But they don’t need to be replaced they need to be mended and God is the master mender. Remember God created you so he knows all about you, but you have to let him do his work and you have to be willing to do your work.
Time and time again you hear me go back to 2 Corinthians 5:17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! That’s what God does, makes us like new again. But only if we want him too. And it is a process that continues, because as long as we live we will experience brokenness, but God’s promise is that we don’t have to stay broken.
When we were mending twine on the wharf we had to spread it out in order to find the holes, and often we would find them hidden beneath a layer here or a layer there. Are you willing to spread your life out before God and let him examine it?
Can you pray like David the words of Psalm 139:23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;