Serving and Growing Up Together (Ephesians 4:7-16)

God gives Christians gifts so that we can use them. He wants us to learn what our spiritual gifts are. He wants us to learn how to use these gifts in serving the rest of the body of Christ and being a witness about Christ to the outside world. Some Christians are given the job of preaching and teaching the Word. Pastors and other leaders are given to the church to build up the faith of other believers and help them grow into Christian maturity. But the preachers and teachers are also supposed to equip their congregations to find, develop, and use their own spiritual gifts. Many of these gifts are described in other passages of Scripture. Romans 12:6-8 mentions prophecy, serving, exhortation (encouragement), giving, leadership, and mercy. 1 Corinthians adds faith, healing, miracles, discernment (understanding spiritual matters, especially regarding motives and decisions), and the interpretation of speaking in tongues. While some Christians believe that some gifts like healing and miracles are no longer used in most churches today, all Christians agree that many of these gifts are still found among God’s people. Also, many Christians think that there are other gifts and talents (like music) that are not specifically mentioned in the New Testament but are still abilities that can be used for serving the body and bringing God glory. The main point of verses 7-12 of today’s passage is that there are no bystanders in biblical Christianity – all the members of Christ’s body have talents and gifts that God expects them to joyfully use in His service.

In verses 13-16, Paul explains one of the major purposes of our gifts – helping each other grow in our relationships with Christ. God does not want His disciples to wander like sheep and to be tossed about like tiny ships on a vast ocean by all of the false teachings of this world. God wants all Christians to be active members of local churches. He wants us with God’s people at least once week, hearing the truths of the Bible taught, explained, and applied to our lives. He wants us in strong relationships with other Christians where we can serve each other with our different gifts and thus become mature believers. As a Christian school, we provide a loving community for students to hear the gospel and live out their Christian faith. But NRCA is not a local church. We are not covenanted together as a body of believers who hold each other accountable the way that a local church does. We provide opportunities for students to grow in their relationships with Christ, including hearing biblical teaching and finding and using their spiritual gifts. But parents do not attend school here and participate in those spiritual activities – only their children do. Today’s passages is talking about families, parents and children, serving and growing together in local church settings. For this reason, we strongly encourage all of our students to learn to serve and grow up as Christians in their local churches with their families, with our school providing an environment that supports parents and churches but does not replace them.

The Text (Ephesians 4:7-16)

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says:

“When he ascended on high,

    he took many captives
    and gave gifts to his people.”

(What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions[c]? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)

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 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.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Questions to Think About

  1. Have you discovered your spiritual gifts? If not, this is something your pastors and other mature Christian leaders in your church can help you with. God wants us to know our gifts, which include things that we enjoy and are good at. You might also ask one of your church leaders or your Bible teacher about a spiritual gift inventory (quiz) like this: Spiritual Gifts Test
  2. Are you using your spiritual gifts in your church right now? Why or why not?
  3. Do you want to become a mature Christian? What needs to happen in your life right now for you to keep growing in your relationship with Christ?

Notes

  • Ephesians 4:7-9 is a paraphrase of Psalm 68:17-18, which describes the carrying of the Ark of the Covenant to the top of a mountain in celebration of God’s victory over His enemies. In today’s passage, Paul applies the imagery to Christ’s triumph over sin and death and Satan when He died on the cross and then rose from the dead. He rescued Christians from being “captives” or slaves to sin, death, and Satan and then gave us spiritual gifts to use for His glory.
  • Notice in verses 13-16 that as Christians mature together spiritually, they become more unified as the body of Christ. Healthy churches and Christian schools will be full of believers who are both strong in personal faith and godliness and close together in the loving fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Spiritual maturity and unity are our goals for NRCA and our community’s churches.

In Christ,

Mr. Reel

Stay Humble, Stick Together (Ephesians 4:1-6)

The key to unity is humility. When we are proud and self-centered, we have conflict in our homes, churches, and schools. But when we put God and others before ourselves, we find peace. When God saves people, His Holy Spirit convicts them of sin and gives them repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. They turn from living for themselves to living for God by the power of the Holy Spirit inside them. This holy “calling” from God brings Christians from death to life, from darkness to light. The Spirit gives us the power “walk worthy” of our new identity in Christ, and the first sign of our new walk is humility before God and each other. As we learn to fix our minds and hearts on Jesus each day through Bible reading, prayer, and obedient faith, we find that we really love other Christians. We learn to bear with other believers’ shortcomings and sins because our walk with Christ keeps us aware of our own faults and how often we need God’s forgiveness and grace in our own lives.

Of course we fail and mess up. Every day, we have moments and maybe long stretches of time where our old sin natures can rise up and we take our eyes off Jesus. Remember that Ephesians is written to Christians, so the fact that Paul is encouraging believers to stay humble and unified is proof that true Christians can lose their way and slide back into pride and selfish fighting. But whenever we realize that has happened, the Holy Spirit inside us will bring conviction. We will feel that gnawing sense of guilt that our sin has hurt our relationships with God and others. What do we do? We repent and trust in the Lord! We confess our sin to the Lord, who is “faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9), and we apologize to those whom we’ve hurt. It might be painful, but repentance (turning away from sin) and faith (turning to God) is the only way to bring true healing and peace to broken relationships, including restoring our fellowship with God. When we are right with God again, we return to joyfully loving our brothers and sisters in Christ. We remember that we are all part of the same body of Christ, that we all serve the same Father by the power of the same Holy Spirit, and that we were all baptized in the name of the same Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior forever. May the Lord keep us humble and together through our shared faith in Him.

The Text (Ephesians 4:1-6)

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, 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. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Questions to Think About

  1. What evidences of humility can you see in your life because of your faith in Christ?
  2. How can your family, friends, and teachers help you in your struggles with pride and selfishness?
  3. Why do think that unity is so important for Christian communities like our churches and NRCA?

Notes

  • The word “calling” in verses 1 and 4 is used a lot in Paul’s letters to the churches. In almost all of these uses, the apostle is talking about the action where God first brought the gospel home to our hearts so that we could feel guilt over our sin, repent, and turn to Him for salvation. He “called” our hearts and we answered by surrendering our lives to Jesus. Before our salvation, we may have “heard” the general call of the gospel being preached in church, Bible class, or chapel. But the gospel did not have an effect on our souls until that day when the light bulb went off and we first realized – “I am a lost and sinful person who desperately needs Jesus!” Once that effectual calling took place (i.e. the gospel finally had an “effect” on us), we woke up and believed in the Lord Jesus Christ with our hearts and not just our heads. We came to life spiritually and our walks with Christ began.
  • With chapter 4, we now begin the exhortation or application half of the book of Ephesians. As with Paul’s other New Testament letters, the first part of the book has told us what to believe and now the second part tells us how to live based on those biblical truths about God and our relationship with Him. Everything we will read in Ephesians 4, 5, and 6 will be based on the foundation of who we are in Christ that has been laid in chapters 1, 2, and 3. If during the rest of our study you find yourself getting discouraged by all the commands and challenges, stop and go back to the earlier chapters of Ephesians to remember who you are and what God has already done for you in Christ. Let who you are help you with how you live.

In Christ,

Mr. Reel

Do We Believe? (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Do we believe in the power of God? Do we believe that the God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead can raise us out of our spiritual death into a new, resurrected, and holy way of life? Do we believe that the God who freed His people from slavery in Egypt is able to break the chains of slavery to sin that daily choke out our joy and crush our souls? Do we believe that God is able to work great things in our lives as His Word promises? Is God able, or isn’t He? What do we believe?

In today’s brief passage (just two verses), Paul closes out the first half of his letter to the first century church (and us!) with a strong doxology, or short hymn of praise to God. In chapters 1-3, the apostle has passionately told his believing audience all about who they really are in Christ (blessed, chosen, loved, adopted, redeemed, forgiven, sealed, and spiritually alive!), praying that they would understand and take hold of these promises by faith. In chapters 4-6, Paul will describe how Christians’ new lives in Christ should look based on their new identities as God’s workmanship. To make this logical transition, Paul pauses to direct our attention to the power of God “to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20). Paul believed with all his being that God could transform our lives into the image of God’s Son. He believed that God could answer our prayers for the salvation of lost loved ones and our own growth in Christ. Do we share that faith? Do we believe this day that God is able to empower us to live like Jesus, not just once in awhile but every day? Can the Lord change our school into a place where the love of Christ can be seen in all of our hallways and classrooms every day? Do we believe that God is able? May we stay on our knees before God until we do!

The Text (Ephesians 3:20-21)

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Questions to Think About

  1. Do you pray? Do you believe that God hears and answers your prayers? Why or why not?
  2. Do you think that our faith is something that can grow? If our faith can grow, how does that happen?

In Christ,

Mr. Reel

Filled with His Fullness (Ephesians 3:14-19)

Like all good pastors and missionaries, the apostle Paul loved Christ’s church. He labored and loved and prayed with all that he had to see Christ formed in God’s people. All Paul wanted was to see every Christian experience the same kind of passionate, personal walk with Jesus that he had been blessed to enjoy. As we see again in today’s passage, Paul was constantly talking about God’s great love for His adopted sons and daughters, praying on his knees that they would truly understand that love with their minds and hearts and feel the strength of it in their souls every day. It surely distressed and burdened Paul whenever he heard of Christians not living in the joy of the Lord, not walking by faith in the Spirit, returning to their old lives of worry and doubt, of sin and selfishness. Paul’s heart was burdened by the very same thing that burdened His Heavenly Father’s heart – the spiritual condition of Christ’s church. Inside Paul there ever burned a fire to see Christ’s people be all that they could be in Him, that they would really be “filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19).

Your pastors, Bible study leaders, teachers, and many of your parents feel this same spiritual burden for you. As a Christian school, we desire to help your families and churches to train you up in the fear and knowledge of the Lord. We do not want you to wander through your years at NRCA and beyond being tossed about by the lies of this world and Satan, but to truly become “rooted and grounded in love” and to really “be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man” (Ephesians 3:17,16). Developing a strong, joy-filled, consistent walk with Jesus as a teenager today is definitely difficult, but with God’s help it IS POSSIBLE! We are believing God that all of you can be filled with God’s fullness if you really want it. If you are willing to obey the Lord in faith, to put in the time to chase hard after God and let Him work in your life, you can enjoy the spiritual power and joy of the abundant life that Jesus wants for you. May God give you His love, strength, and fullness today!

The Text (Ephesians 3:14-19)

14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Questions to Think About

  1. What might be holding you back right now from enjoying an abundant and joy-filled Christian life?
  2. Think about your friends and classmates. Which ones seem to be “rooted and grounded” in the love of Jesus, and which ones seem to be always drowning in the muck of sin and worldliness? What do you think causes students in the same Christian school, exposed to the same daily spiritual opportunities and challenges, to be so different in their words, actions, thoughts, and desires? How can you truly be part of the group that follows hard after God?

Notes

  • We should take Paul’s words in verse 14 about bowing his knees before God literally. If an aging, imprisoned, beat down man like Paul could get down on his knees before God, certainly most of us as students and teachers can find times to get down on our knees and even our faces before the Lord in prayer. The kneeling or prostrate posture communicates humility and submission before God and total dependence on Christ in a very powerful way, not just to others but to our own hearts. Try getting physically low before God in prayer this week and see what happens!
  • The reference in verse 15 to “the whole family in heaven and earth” would include believers alive on earth, believers alive in heaven with the Lord, and possibly also the whole angelic host. Christians and angels alike bow their knees before the Lord Jesus Christ, whose name is right now honored by all in heaven and by some on earth. One day, though, ALL of the earth and hell will bow their knees before that name which is above every name, some people and spirits in joyous victory, and others in reluctant defeat (Philippians 2:9-11).

In Christ,

Mr. Reel

This Grace That We’ve Been Given (Ephesians 3:1-13)

The apostle Paul never got over the grace that God had shown to Him. He had been Saul, an enemy of the church, a persecutor of Christians, and a legalistic man blind to his own self-righteous pride. But in His amazing grace, the Lord had confronted Paul on the road to Damascus, broken his angry heart and stubborn will, and given him a new life and second chance through a personal faith in Jesus Christ. He went from being Saul, a destroyer of God’s people, to Paul, a missionary and church planter. Overnight he went from being super passionate about his Jewish heritage to being Christ’s first great ambassador to the nations, suffering all manner of hardships, prison sentences, and even death for the sake of the Gentiles he once condemned. Paul considered His divine calling to preach the gospel to all the known world to be the greatest possible privilege. That he could help swing open the door of salvation for peoples to whom the One True God had been a stranger for many centuries constantly brought Paul to his knees in thanksgiving and praise.

In today’s passage, Paul is about to tell the Ephesians once again about his unceasing prayers for their spiritual growth and well-being. That’s what’s happening in verse 1 of chapter 3, a thought which he starts and then will continue in verse 14. But he interrupts himself in verses 2-13 to reflect on his call and ministry. He wants the Ephesians to understand the great mystery that was predicted in the Old Testament but was then being fulfilled in his lifetime, namely that Gentiles who had been without God could now join God’s family of believing Israelites through their shared faith in the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Most of Paul’s audience, like most of us today, were Gentiles, people from nations and tribes who had been outside of the covenants of promise that God had made with Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and David. They had been lost, alone, and without God. But through Jesus, they now had a hope of salvation, too. And Paul was blessed to be able to bring that message of Good News all over the eastern Mediterranean world, just as we, too, are blessed to be able to carry the gospel of peace to everyone we meet.

The Text (Ephesians 3:1-13)

For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—

Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people,this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ,and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purposethat he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. 13 I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.

Questions to Think About

1. How can you avoid taking your access to the gospel and the Word of God for granted? How can you help yourself to stay grateful for the many opportunities you have had over the years to hear about Jesus and respond to the gospel in repentance and faith?

2. Do you consider it a great privilege to be able to share Jesus with the unbelievers in your life? Do you consider witnessing about Christ to the lost to be one of the great responsibilities of being a Christian? Why or why not?

3. In what ways have you seen God’s works of grace in your life?

Notes

• The word translated as “mystery” in this passage does not mean a deep riddle or puzzle that no one can ever figure out. Instead, Paul uses the term “mystery” to describe something that was a hidden secret in the past that has now been fully revealed. The expansion of salvation to the Gentiles (non-Jews) was hinted at throughout the Old Testament, but it was not fully understood, demonstrated, and explained until the beginning of the church era as we see in the book of Acts and Paul’s letters to the churches.

• Notice in verses 11 and 12 that understanding our new position in Christ should give us confidence and assurance as we approach the Lord in prayer and live out our new Christian lives in humility before Him who saved us from our sins. The epistles constantly use doctrinal teachings about who we are in Christ to urge us on to living in ways that honor Him.

In Christ,

Mr. Reel