God sends ministers to make us mature
- Order of Service: Word and Sacrament, p26
- Lessons: Exodus 24:3-11, Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-16, John 6:1-15
- Hymns: 537, 546, 314, 538
In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.
Six years ago these words from Ephesians were among the first I read to you as your pastor. How fitting that some of the first words a new pastor speaks are words in which God tells us how we get pastors. It was he – Christ – who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers (Eph. 4:11, NIV84). Fitting for the pastor, to remember how it is that he comes to a particular place: by the will, design, and plan of God. Fitting for the people, to remember that it is God that gives pastors, not men. Hence, we say that pastors have divine calls. Even though the instruments of the call are voters’ assemblies, governing boards, or assignment committees, we remain convinced that the Holy Spirit guides the process, and that the call seeks the man, not vice versa.
We say this not to invest some mystical power in preachers. Pagan religions grant ecstatic and visionary powers to their priests, not to mention the ability to communicate directly to whatever divinity they worship. The pope invests his priests with the magical power to change bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood. But we understand Scripture to grant something different to our pastors through a divine call: the power and authority to proclaim God’s Word to you. By virtue of God’s call, I can preach to you the Word of God, from which comes the faith we need because of sin.
Sin makes God a mystery to us. So God has to make known His will once more. And He does. In Christ God makes known to us the mystery of His will. That’s God’s will, as Paul says, His intent was that now, through the Church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known (Eph. 3:10, NIV84). Notice that little phrase, through the Church. God might have used angels. God might have thundered from heaven. God might have implanted time-release capsules of grace in us. He didn’t do any of those things. He uses the Church to make Himself known. He uses the seeming foolishness of preaching Christ. The Christian Church is, and must be, the Church of the Word, because only through the Word of Christ do we obtain the faith in Christ that we need to escape the power and punishment of sin.
And thus God gifted His church with apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. And He gives to those pastors and teachers the good news of Christ in the Word we preach, in the Baptism we apply to all nations, in the Sacrament we distribute to those who hunger and thirst for forgiveness. He gives us these things so that we might obtain faith because faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word of Christ (Romans 10:17, NIV84). And again, as Paul says, how can you have faith without hearing, how can you hear without someone preaching, how can someone preach unless they have been sent? Thus we discover the necessity of a pastoral ministry. Praise God that in His grace and mercy He has seen fit for centuries and millennia to send out pastors to preach the Words we need to hear.
We need to hear them, because apart from them we have no life, as Paul said to the Ephesians today. We will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is Christ. From him the whole body…grows and builds itself up in love (Eph. 4:15-16, NIV84). Something’s missing without the growth that comes from the Word and Sacrament ministry. Without the preaching ministry in your life, you’re a branch disconnected from the vine, as Jesus says, and apart from the vine you have no life, only death. You wither and die. Because God works in you to will and to act, the apostle says. God begins the good work in you and God carries it on to completion at the last day. Any life you have comes from your connection to the Head, the Source, to Christ the life of all the living. You are, then, like a child in the womb, dependent on the umbilical cord that connects him to his mother. Without that cord, without the vital nutrients it transports from the mother, the child dies. So you, apart from Christ.
But today Paul moves beyond the moment of spiritual birth. In Ephesians 1 and 2 he talks about how God called and adopted believers from all eternity and how in time the Spirit changed you from being an object of wrath, dead in sins, to a living, breathing son of God, no longer divided from Him, but united to Him forever through faith in Christ. It is by grace you have been saved, through faith, Paul trumpets, because Christ brought you near to God through His blood, because Christ abolished in His flesh the law, and reconciled not just Jew to Gentile, but sinful humans to perfect God through the cross!
Now in chapter 4, as he talks about the ministry, he moves beyond that first moment of faith, when you went from being dead to alive, from enemy to friend, from sinner to saint. Now God says that through Christ He sends ministers to make you mature in both your faith and your life.
And it’s the maturity of faith that Paul treats first. He gave some to be…pastors and teachers…so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God….then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, blown here and there by every wind of teaching (Eph. 4:11, 12, 13, 14, NIV84). Pastors serve as spiritual fathers. God sends them to usher people from spiritual infancy to adulthood, from newly baptized to buried saint triumphant. In other words, God doesn’t expect pastors to work themselves out of a job. Pastors serve at one moment as a nursing mother, at another as father holding the handlebars, at still another as a proud parent watching their child graduate. And there’s a corollary here. Though Christ praised the faith of a child, that does not give you the excuse to stop growing and developing spiritually. Just as we nurture our bodies and expect them to develop and grow, so also we must nurture our souls. Consider the words of Hebrews 5 and 6, where the Spirit says, Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness…. Let us leave the elementary things (Hebrews 5:13, 6:1, NIV84). Likewise, St. Peter ends his last epistle by exhorting his readers to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. “Jesus loves me this I know” is a great place to start, but it dare not be all you ever know. For as Christ warned the Ephesians in Revelation, You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove the lampstand from its place (2:4-5, NIV84). In Revelation the lampstands symbolized the individual churches. The warning then is that just because God sends out called workers doesn’t mean he’ll always send them to a particular place. Despise God and the rain of His Word and one day He’ll say, “Fine, no more rain for you.”
So Paul says that pastors build up unity in faith and the knowledge of the Son of God through preaching and teaching the Word. That flies in the face of modern sentiments which makes of doctrine, dogma, and teaching dirty words. We know the scorn thrown in our face for practicing fellowship, that is distinguishing between churches and their teachings. But maturity in faith means practicing discernment as we seek out unity. We study the truth so that we can warn against and avoid error.
From this unity and knowledge comes confidence. Paul wants us to move beyond the infancy stage, which is a time of fear. Equipped by the Word of God you’ve got ballast in your boat, the weight that keeps the boat from tipping over. With God’s Word you are solid, not blown about by the first or last thing you heard, not overly distressed by that program on the History Channel or that “scholar” you read about in the papers, by the teachings and ravings of thousands of denominations. Rather, through your pastors and teachers, God builds you on the rock of Christ, so that when the wind blows, you are not nearly as affected.
Yet that confidence dare not breed arrogance. Rather, it breeds service. The ministry, Paul says, prepares God’s people for works of service. Notice Paul’s next famous words. Built up by the Word through pastors and teachers we grow up beyond infancy, so that instead of being blown about we speak the truth in love. Yes, we will stick to our doctrinal guns. We will dance with the one that brung us, the Holy Spirit of God who gives us His Word and not let the many false teachers and ravenous wolves lead us astray. But even though we know that it is Satan at work in the various –isms around us, ecumenism, historical-criticism, atheism, evolutionism, Mormonism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Roman Catholicism, bad Lutheranism, Islamism, we will treat them not as children calling names and making fun and mocking, but rather as the adults God makes us, calling out in love for their souls by preaching Christ and Him crucified.
We’ll preach it in words, but also in actions. Just as a plane needs two wings to fly, so our lives need both the wings of doctrinal faithfulness and faithful living. Paul says pastors and teachers prepare God’s people for works of service to become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:12-13, NIV84). Christians don’t merely believe rightly. From right belief will flow natural faithful living. That’s how Paul began chapter 4, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (v1-3, NIV84).
Again, the life of the Christian, not just doctrinally, but also in actions, in works, in deeds, is a life of growth and development. Paul says pastors and teachers build up the body of Christ until we become mature. Mature means putting behind you the childish things. It means no longer doing those things you know displease God. It means conforming your life to the Ten Commandments. Because Paul defines that maturity in a very daunting way: attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. The movement of the Christian then is from infancy to adulthood, from dead sinner to imitator of Christ, what He would do we do. That’s puts some flesh on the bones of things you read in the New Testament. Consider Paul saying, Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus (Phil. 2:5, NIV84) as you interact with others. Or, Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God (Romans 12:1, NIV84). Or Christ who says, “Be more righteous than the Pharisees!”
And you say, “I’m not that mature!” And finally you’ve gotten it right. Cast aside that “Everything I need to know I learned in confirmation” attitude. It’s just not true. Paul confesses that he hasn’t yet attained this and been made perfect. This side of heaven none of us have. In other words, the work is never done for the preacher or the preached to. Because today you’re an adult, tomorrow you’re an infant. Yet today you’re an infant, and tomorrow you can be an adult, by the grace and power of God. Because He has given you apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. And they prepare you by proclaiming to you Christ. Through the Word your pastors preach, the Sacraments they give you, you grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ.
Yes, there’s pain in growing up, there’s struggle, and it takes time. But Jesus gives you the right food, the right nutrients, the right exercises. God sends you Soul Doctors, Soul Nutritionists, Soul Dieticians, your pastors and teachers, who feed you on a steady diet of Jesus, Jesus, only Jesus. Jesus who says, I am the vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit (John 15:5, NIV84). Because you have God’s gift of pastors, you have Christ all around you and in you, growing you into maturity, so that in heaven you will finally attain that full measure, and Paul’s promise will be kept, that Jesus will be merely the firstborn among many brothers, because you, through faith, have been conformed to the image and likeness of Christ. Amen.