I had the privilege of leading a Bible study for a couple of families the other night after we had a wonderful dinner. We took a look at Ephesians 4. I would like to share what we discovered. In order to better understand the context of Saint Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, we need a little background information. In Acts 19, we learn about how Paul made disciples in Ephesus and the church was formed. Paul stayed in Ephesus for two years, making disciples. In Acts 20, Paul gives his final instructions to the Ephesians. This is his final teaching that he gave them face to face. He is going to instruct them more through his letter that is to come later. This church is very important because these believers made disciples in Asia Minor. These disciples formed the other 6 churches that the Apostle John writes letters to in the Book of Revelation. Now, let’s take a look at some of what Paul teaches the Ephesian disciples through his letter to them.
I. Those who are immature spiritually
When we become disciples of Jesus Christ, we are born again spiritually. We become new creations in Christ. We are infants and in need of growth. Paul teaches us in Ephesians 4 how we can spot an infant in Christ. The first thing that we learn about infants is that they do not walk in a manner worthy of the calling that they have received. They need someone to lead them to maturity in their spiritual walk with God. The Lord has provided all that they need for spiritual growth and we will cover that in the last section of this article.
- They are prideful. This is our natural disposition because of our sin nature. When we are born again, our sin nature remains, although it has been rendered powerless. As infants, we are not yet able to overcome our pride. Pride manifests itself in pushing others down in order to make yourself look better. Our of pride, we want to be served by others instead of seeking to serve others. If I have a chance to make myself look better by tearing someone else down, I will do it.
- They lack self-control. Before we are born again, self-control in not a way of life for us in the spiritual realm. Our nature is dominated by sin and ends up dominating us as well. Infants have the ability to practice self-control but have not been taught how to do it. The idea is that their power is not under control. It is like having a powerful car with no breaks. It is like a wild horse that is very powerful but useless and dangerous because of a lack of control. Pride and a lack of self-control are dangerous and can produce disastrous results.
- They explode when their buttons are pushed. We all have buttons. If you do not know what your buttons are, ask someone you live with and they will tell you quickly. It could be your spouse, a sibling, parents, a roommate etc. Our sin nature just loves to have our buttons pushed so that it can explode in pride and a lack of self-control. This is the mark of a spiritual infant, when the buttons are pushed, the fireworks begin.
Are any of these characteristics present in your daily life? For the infant and the mature, the temptation is always there. The infant will give in to that temptation as a way of life. How did you react the last time your spouse pushed your buttons? What about your children, how did you react the last time they pushed your buttons? Or maybe a coworker pushed your buttons recently, how did you respond? What about someone in the church you attend, how did you respond the last time they pushed your buttons? What happens at committee meetings at your church?
II. Those who are growing toward maturity
After being born again through faith in Jesus Christ, like new born babies, we long for the milk of the Word of God. If we receive nourishment at the right time, we will grow. This is natural and is part of God’s plan. He wants to mold us into the image of the Lord Jesus Christ. What does that look like, you may ask. Let’s see how Paul answers the question for us. We are to live in a manner worthy of the Gospel. This sounds vague but, if you read verses 2-3 of Ephesians 4, you quickly discover how practical it really is.
- They are humble. Humility has the idea of lifting up others and by doing so, you lower yourself to servant status. Our sin nature does not like this. It wants us to be prideful and put others down to make ourselves look better. A person who is growing toward maturity sees himself as a servant to all and labors to raise them up. As a disciple maker, I am to work myself our of a job in the ministry. I am always seeking to train others to be able to do what I do. My sin nature sees this as competition. My new nature sees this as the calling that the Lord has given to me. The battle is on. I reveal my maturity level in Christ by how I seek to serve and raise others up, even if it costs me a ministry position.
- They are gentle. Gentleness and meekness are often the same word in the Greek language. They are interchangeable. Gentleness is a term from animal husbandry. It means power under control. The idea is of a wild horse that has been tamed. When wild, it is very powerful but useless. When tamed, it maintains its same power but, now that power is controlled and useful. As a follower of Christ pressing on toward maturity, I now have the power to build others up or tear them down. My flesh wants that power to go out of control that I do tear others down and make myself look better. People will push my buttons and give me the change to tear them apart. I will instead choose to serve them and build them up because my power is now harnessed.
- They are patient. In this context, patience means slow to boil over. This is a characteristic of God, not of who I am naturally. My sin nature is quick to explode. As I am growing to maturity in Christ, when others push my buttons, I am learning to keep my response controlled. I want to blow up because of my sin nature. Praise God that I now have His nature and that power can be subdued and used for good instead of for evil.
So, based on these two very different descriptions, are you an infant in Christ or, are you growing to maturity? How do you respond when your buttons are pushed? Are you seeking to raise others up, or do you see them as competition? How do we grow to maturity because I want to but, I do not know how.
III. How to mature spiritually
In order to grow spiritually, we need to have spiritual leaders who guide us along the way, people who have been where we are and have grown to maturity. Please do not be one of those super spiritual people who claim that “Jesus is their spiritual guide” and that they do not need people. Jesus, the one whom you claim is your spiritual guide is the One who ordained the importance of having former infants who have grown to maturity lead you in this process. Jesus has given very specific Spiritual Gifts for some very specific offices in the body of Christ to help the infants grow to maturity.
- Apostles (one sent forth on behalf of another with specific orders and a specific message) God has given the gift of apostleship to certain members of the body of Christ so that they can deliver the message of the King, the Word of God, to the people in need. The foundation of their ministry is the Word of God. Their calling is to take the Word of God to the people and teach it to them. When the people hear the message and accept it, he then trains them, building them up in their faith, equipping them to serve others, to minister to others like they were ministered to. The apostle is known today as a missionary or church planter. Usually men and women who answer the call for foreign missions and church planting are the ones who have been equipped with the gift of apostle and trained to reach others for Christ, not just evangelizing but also raising up leaders to lead the church in the future.
- Evangelists (a herald of good news, one who brings a message to others) God has equipped certain members of the body of Christ with the gift of evangelism. (This does not mean that they are the only ones who share the Gospel with others because all believers are called to do this). They have a special desire to be around lost people in order to share the message of salvation with them. They usually work hand in hand with the pastor-teachers of the church. They catch the “fish” and then the pastor-teachers teach them (train them) the Word of God, building them up in their faith, leading them to maturity so that they themselves will begin to serve others. The “message” of the evangelist is nothing other than the Word of God. So again, we see that God has given us the Word of God and then has placed members in the body of Christ to go out into the lost world and get us, bringing us into the body, where He has also placed members who will train us in the Word so that we can be equipped to serve others.
- Prophets (again, we see that God sends people to speak on His behalf, prophet means one who speaks on behalf of another) God has equipped certain members of the church to deliver His message. Usually those who have a special ability to preach the Scriptures in a clear and easily understandable way have this gift. Again, the foundation of their message is the Word of God. This Word is preached and explained by the prophets so that the members can understand It, be equipped by It, and challenged to serve others.
- Pastor–teachers (a pastor is a leader, one who cares for and feeds others, in a spiritual sense) The pastor-teacher leads the people of the church. He does this by feeding them spiritual food from the Word of God. His job is to equip the believers and teach them how to serve one another and others. His manual is the Word of God and his text book for the “flock” is also the Word of God.
Do you have a spiritual mentor who is leading your from infancy to maturity in your walk with God through faith in Jesus Christ? May the Lord help us all grow to maturity in Christ!