Alfred Place Baptist Church

4:14-16 Growing Up Into Christ

Ephesians 4:14-16 “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 men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 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.”

There is no more perfect picture of the times in which we live than these opening words. The age of giants in leadership in the Western World has long past away; we live in a generation of infants, and so our society (and the professing church which mirrors it with fearful accuracy) is being “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming” (v.14). It is not that media people and soccer players are into all kinds of irrational alternative lifestyles – you’d expect that – but members of the royal family and senior politicians reflect the gullibility of the age. They lie on beds being healed by the invisible “tai chi” of a Reiki master or they sit under glass pyramids. You might discover that a grey haired librarian working in the National Library of Wales turns out to be an advocate of yogic flying. University professors believe in the reincarnation of the soul. In 10 Downing Street one reads that there’s a macabre fascination for the power of crystals, and feng shui, and Mexican rebirthing ceremonies, and having one’s personal psychic healer. And these are the politicians and political journalists who criticise the White House for its Bible study groups and faith in Jesus Christ!

There is no class in society untouched by superstition. Steven Carter works for SASRA taking the gospel to armed forces personnel. He visited a Royal Air Force base last month and met a Sergeant just back from bomb disposal in Iraq. Though an atheist the man was unable to do that work without taking his crystals with him. Get to know an apparently cynical scientist and sooner or later it emerges that he spends his spare time floating in a tank. We are living in a generation which, having cursorily dismissed the claims of the Scriptures, has not become more rational by abandoning the Bible but has regressed into a nation of children with a burgeoning palette for new spiritualities, everything from various therapies to astrology and the exotic hybrids of eastern religion. I sat with a family after a funeral service this week and talked to a 30 year-old welder who told me across the table that he was getting drawn into Buddhism and had become a vegetarian. What is referred to as “spiritual spending” now accounts for 670 million pounds every year. Serving these infants who are lining up for their spiritual fix has become one of the biggest growth industries of our age.

Detoxifying products and services have come to resemble religious purification rituals. Spa waters are the sacraments of the New Age. The bath, invented for the simple purpose of cleaning ourselves, is fast being adapted by candle light and taped music and various incense and fragrances for a ceremony of communing with a higher being – ourselves. The marketers have even invented a clumsy new marketing category – the “re-enchanters”. This describes people who are prepared to shell out for something worth believing in. This is privatised religion; this is emotional incontinence; this is a creed which believes in nothing more than the perfection of the psyche; this is the jargon of self-help – much of which seems to be coming to us from America, and its bottom line is money. The next time you hear someone encouraging people to chill out, realign their chakras or detox their lives, take a deep breath, cry to God in your heart for divine aid, and tell these infants the message of the kingdom of heaven. Speak the truth in love to them because without the gospel their future will be a very stormy passage. They have no compass; no map; no experience of passing through these waters before; no experienced guides; no knowledge of the harbour; no light in the darkness above the seas, and death beneath them. They are “infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming” (v.14). How are Christians to live in the light of this all-pervasive confusion?

1. CHRISTIANS SPEAK THE TRUTH IN LOVE.

Christians make this great claim that the God who designed and made the universe and ourselves has spoken to men and women through his servants the prophets and especially by his Son, Jesus Christ and his chosen apostles. He has not abandoned us to be looking for an assurance that everything is OK by such infantile means as I’ve mentioned. We are not left to our own devices like a world populated by street children. We can do more than run from guru to self-help teacher to fortune-teller to a medium. The Creator has given mankind the gift of truth; it is found in his holy word, the Bible. The Bible alone is inspired by God; it alone is infallibly true in its entirety, and it alone is authoritative. It tells us what is God’s will for us, what truths we are to believe and how we may be saved. You just shrug your shoulders and dismiss that claim, but you haven’t read the Bible, have you? So how do you know?.

An old Christian, whose name is now forgotten, affirms these facts about the Bible: “This book contains the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners, the happiness of believers. Its doctrines are holy, its precepts are binding, its histories are true, and its decisions are immutable. Read it to be wise, believe it to be safe, and practice it to be holy. It contains light to direct you, food to support you, and comfort to cheer you. It is the traveler’s map, the pilgrim’s staff, the pilot’s compass, the soldier’s sword, and the Christian’s character. Christ is its grand subject, our good its design, and the glory of God its end. It should fill the memory, rule the heart, and guide the feet.”

Those words are wise words, and we believe them too. We do so because of the infallible Son of God; he has given us an infallible Scripture. We get more knowledge in one sermon hearing the Bible expounded than in a decade of listening to men. Jesus called it his meat and drink; to resist Satan and the forces of hell themselves he said these words, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone but be every word that proceeds forth from the mouth of God.'” He said that Scripture cannot be broken. He taught that in the beginning God created the man and the woman. He declared that God’s word is truth. He pointed out that people make horrible mistakes because they don’t know the Scriptures.

In the Hollywood version of “The King and I,” the King of Siam often repeated the statement, “So let it be written; so let it be done.” Once upon a time in Siam the King was considered to be divine and everyone, except Anna, took the King’s word as law. Every Christian in every country in the world takes the Scriptures as coming from the mouth of God. There is a phrase you sometimes hear, perhaps more in the USA than in the UK, and it is this: “God says it. I believe it. That settles it.” It is a bit snub-nosed because of that middle phrase, “I believe it.” Men and women, it doesn’t matter whether you believe it or not, God has said it, and that settles it. If you never open one page of the Scriptures they are still the Word of God. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” and that settles it. There is no possibility of running some controlled experiment to discover whether that is true. The heavens declare the glory of its truth every second. The Psalmist says, “Forever, O Lord, Thy Word is settled in heaven” (Psalm 119:89).

Christian scholars believe that when they are studying science they are studying the invisible hand of Providence. The scientists in our congregation, members of the university staff, the Ph.D. students, and those who work in the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research think like that. Isaac Newton, England’s greatest scientist, believed that he was thinking God’s thoughts after him. The laws of creation are believed to be the evidences of God’s handiwork. These scientists are sometimes moved by the wonderful intricacy and beauty of what they look at, but they don’t worship the creation. They worship God the Creator of the heavens and the earth! The earth is the Lord’s and its fulness.

This Bible is a light to us as we go through life. In other words, we are not searching for the truth, we are living day by day in the light of God’s truth. We take it with us as we engage in every activity. It is like a torch and when we are in lectures, or watching TV, or simply shopping we casts its clear light on all we do. Don’t you wish you had this light? It is a fearful thing to live your life without the light. Behind our house in Merthyr was the old tramroad; it was lined with pretty cottages, two rooms upstairs, two downstairs and an outside toilet. Then alongside the tramroad a hundred yards from our front door there was a graveyard attached to a chapel, and we often played hide and seek there under a high tree which had a rookery. It was fine being there in the day. We tried to frighten one another, hiding behind the graves but couldn’t squeeze out an atom of true fear; playing there on a sunny afternoon was too much fun. However, when the twilight came, and all through the winter evenings we’d never go anywhere near that cemetery. Nothing had changed in it from the daytime, except that the light had gone. No skeletons or ghosts walked there, but it was shrouded in darkness and even the old tree looked threatening. No child ever went into the graveyard in the night. That is how the whole world is to an unbeliever; it is the kingdom of darkness, of unknown origin and unknown destiny. Having laid aside the Bible men and women are searching for alternative sources of illumination on their fearful journey to non-existence – as they think. It is but a brief day’s journey into night.

One of the reasons for which men crucified Jesus Christ was that he claimed, “I am the light of the world. I am the truth.” Those are the words of a megalomaniac, or they are the words of God. When our Lord was on trial he returned to this theme again, saying, “I came to bear witness to the truth.” We are living in an age which denies the possibility of coming to the truth. A love for the truth is not even considered a virtue; it’s a vice because truth divides people. Understand that we aren’t saying, “Here’s the truth, and it’s so easy when you’ve got it. It’s a great crutch to support you.” No. Truth causes controversy. Truth shows up error. Truth separates a boy from his parents, and a wife from her husband. Truth upsets friendships. Girl friends and boy friends go different ways. Truth gets people crucified, but we have no alternative but to bear witness to it. Jesus said, “Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.”

One of the most underestimated features of Christian truth is this, that you can speak it. You don’t lie in a bath with the lights out or with shades over your eyes and feel it. You don’t gaze into crystals and see it. You don’t snort it like a drug. You don’t smell it in special aromas. You speak the truth, Paul says it is possible to state what it is; it is possible to examine it, and defend it. Of course, as you go deeper and deeper you come to certain mysteries, but as you study any science you come to mysteries – horticulture, astronomy, nuclear physics are all full of enormous mysteries. So it is with the Bible, but the great historic truths of the gospel; the birth, life, teaching, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, and the redemption that comes to man in Christ, are not things hidden away that cannot be defined, described, or stated. We can speak these truths.

We are being called to a balanced, reasoned and intelligent faith. That is what we are to bring to our giddy confused age. Scripture calls us to know what we believe and why we believe it, and then it calls us to fashion our lives accordingly. We must be sure that what we believe is true, and be able to reason the rightfulness of it for our own personal satisfaction, and then give that reason to others. The basic things, that give a man a hope in life, death and eternity, are capable of being shared, declared and defended. Creation: fall: redemption: these are mankind’s landmarks, the divine creation of the world the reason for its existence; the fall of man the reason for the darkness; the redemption that is in Christ the means of deliverance. Landmarks! The ten commandments tell us how we should live: no other gods but the one true and living God; don’t bow before an idol; don’t take God’s name in vain; keep the Sabbath day special; honour your parents; don’t kill; don’t commit adultery, don’t steal; don’t tell lies; don’t covet. Landmarks! Without them you are blown about here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.

These truths are also fences. G.K. Chesterton once said, “Don’t move a fence before you know why it was there in the first place.” What was that fence restraining? What was it defining? What was it keeping out? What was it keeping in? Someone had a reason for the fence. Discover the reason for the fence and whether or not it is still needed before you tear it down, move it, or replace it. Are the new fences of political correctness going to be as effective? Good fences make good neighbours. It is tough living on a little island without fences or landmarks. “Speak the truth,” Paul says, and that is my calling, but the apostle adds this, “Speak it in love” (v.15).

It means obviously this, that when you present the gospel it is without abusing those with whom we disagree. Paul always carefully explained the Christian position, and if an opposing view had to be overthrown it was done, but not by contempt and ridicule but by Scripture and understanding. Don’t we read in Acts 17 that in Thessalonica Paul reasoned with them out of the Scriptures? Look at Paul in his encounters with his bitterest opponents, the Jews. You never read of Paul going into a synagogue and uttering oaths and calling down condemnation on the Jews, or even interrupting their services with shouts. He didn’t launch a crusade against them, or call for a jihad. They were denying the cardinal doctrines of the deity of Christ and his substitutionary atonement, but Paul always kept sweet and true and righteous. He reasoned with them out of the Scriptures. He spoke the truth in love. In the famous market place in Athens he stood on the very ground that even the great philosophers Plato and Socrates had stood centuries before arguing their philosophies and Paul reasoned daily with those that came to him concerning Jesus and his resurrection.

Speaking the truth in love also means that we know who we are in relation to the one to whom we’re speaking. If I’m speaking to an older man, I am to speak to him as a father. If I’m speaking to a younger man I speak to him as a brother. If an older woman, as a mother; if to a younger woman, as a sister (I Tim. 5:1&2). In other words in order to speak the truth in love I must correctly perceive who I am, who they are, who I am in relation to them, what the occasion is, and what is needed. The very tone of my words and the posture I adopt as I speak to them is meant to serve the truth, meeting the ‘need of the moment’, which means that they are to be suited to the situation, giving ‘grace to the hearer’ (v.29). It is not enough to be able to memorise and quote Scripture; I can still be loveless. I must work at getting to know the nature of things, the circumstances, the people involved, and that requires some work. It is the labour of love. Without love I can preach correct orthodox sermons but simply misapply the truth. How often have I regretted speaking at certain places because I hadn’t thought sufficiently about them, judged them wrongly and so was unhelpful in how I spoke to them.

2. CHRISTIANS MATURE INTO CHRIST THEIR HEAD.

The Christian has to leave behind his infancy. He is not to be gullible bouncing like a pinball from one cunning man to another. No, the Christian puts away childish things and matures. In every possible way he is to grow up (v.15). He is to take on the responsibilities of maturity and cease being dependent on his parents. We want to see our children handling a job, and marriage, and parenthood, and running their own homes. We would be sad if they remained infants after twenty-five years. We look at some sons and we say, “He’s a chip off the old block.” His manner and graciousness remind us of his father. There is one contrast between how the children of Christian parents relate to their fathers and how the children of God relate to their heavenly Father. The sons of great Christians are rarely as mature as their fathers. Spurgeon’s twin boys were preachers, but not of the maturity of their father. A.A.Hodge was not as great as Charles Hodge. Jonathan Edwards’ son – also called Jonathan – was not the preacher his father was. But in the church it is very different; every single son of God will become just like Father, without exception. God has made up his mind. When we see God, we shall be like him. Paul affirms here, “we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is Christ” (v.15). How do we grow up into him?

i] We grow up into him by trusting him.

We believe in Christ; we believe in everything about Christ; we believe he is God as if he were not man and that he is man as if he were not God. We believe that he has these two natures in one indivisible person. We believe that he was the eternal Son of God who humbled himself to becoming man for us and for our salvation, and that he died on the cross to redeem us from our sin. George Bethune was minister of the Reformed Dutch Church in New York and the day before he died in 1862 in Florence, Italy, he wrote his hymn, “When time seems short and death is near.” I like these lines in particular:

“This is my best theology,
I know the Saviour died for me.”

We believe that he rose again and ascended to heaven where he reigns in splendid power and majesty. We believe that he is coming again at the end of the world and is going to take us to himself. He is now preparing a place for us, and preparing us for that place by applying his redemption to us day by day. We trust him to work everything together for our good. We trust him to supply all our needs. We trust him to make all grace always abound to us. We trust that nothing shall separate us from his love, especially our many, many sins.

I suppose this question is asked by every Christian at some time, “Are all my present and future sins forgiven?” In other words, is the Christian justified even in respect of sins not yet committed? To my mind that isn’t a question worthy of much discussion. It would be a slur on the completeness of the grace of God to give the answer to such a question, “No, they are not.” Scripture makes it clear that when the Christian is justified he is not only justified for all his past sins, for everything he did before he trusted in Christ, and for all the sin of his sinful nature, but for all his present and all his future sins too. His justification is utterly complete and final. He is in this state, ‘just as if I will never ever sin again.’ We trust Christ for that, and if you ask, “won’t that encourage a Christian to continue in sin” then I tell you that your trust in the Lamb of God won’t let you! Rather you will be asking him to take from you the love of sin.

That childlike trust is the basis of our relationship with the Lord day by day. Such a faith, Wesley says, can laugh at impossibilities and cry, “It shall be done.” We really believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is the only one who can come before God and say, “Father, I will,” and when he says that then our prayers are answered. We have faith in his authority. Didn’t our Lord say, “If you ask anything in my name, I will do it”? So when a Christian pleads with God and says, Do it in the name of Jesus, he means, hear me as you hear your own Son. Do it for me as you’ve done it for Jesus, for Jesus has given me authority to use his name when I speak to you. There has to be trust in his mighty name, and if there isn’t we can’t expect to be heard. It isn’t any kind of prayer that prevails with God it is that prayer that trusts the Lord Jesus. When our hearts are breaking, we trust him. When it’s the worst news, we keep trusting him. When we have no feelings at all except those of utter failure, we trust in him. We grow up into him by trusting him.

ii] We grow up into him by loving him.

Paul specifically says it here, that we grow and build ourselves up in love. God is love, and Christ is love, and everything in Christianity is shot through with love, and Christians are to abound in love to Christ. When a Christian has no love for Christ he is in the condition of a child without love for its parent. That is inconceivable! What a wretch! It would be a devil and not a Christian who had no love for Christ. Who would such a child be loving? Himself! Isn’t our chief complaint that we love ourselves too much and love Jesus too little? Don’t we identify with Elizabeth Prentiss’s yearning when she writes in her hymn:

“More love to thee, O Christ,
More love to Thee!
Hear Thou the prayer I make
On bended knee;
This is my earnest plea,
More love, O Christ, to Thee,
More love to Thee,
More love to Thee.” (Elizabeth Payson Prentiss, 1869)

It is a fearful request to make because the divine answer can take our breath away. How God can exercise and test our love that it will grow. You remember how John Newton said he asked the Lord that he might grow in love and that what God then did almost drove Newton to despair.

“Lord, ‘Why is this?’ I trembling cried, ‘Wilt Thou pursue Thy worm to death?’
‘Tis in this way,’ the Lord replied, ‘I answer prayer for grace and faith.
These inward trials I employ from pride and self to set you free,
And break your schemes of earthly joy that you might find your all in me.”

Think of the human analogy; we have begun to take someone we love for granted. We pass them on the way to something else. We have become inconsiderate and less affectionate, and then Providence takes a hand in this sorry state of affairs. They are set aside on a bed of sickness, and we fear we are going to lose them. We realise just how precious they are to us and how inconceivable life would be without them. What a change takes place in us; we show them every care, cherishing and nourishing them as we should have been loving them, lest we lose them. It can be like that in the dynamics of our love for the Son of God. He seems to be leaving us; he hides his face from us; he lets us cope without him; he takes gospel influences from us; he doesn’t favour us with his presence in the means of grace. How tedious and tasteless the hours when Jesus no longer we see. We cry, “Return, Lord Jesus! A single smile, Lord Jesus! Show me your love again.” To the lover unrequited love is the heaviest burden to bear. We long for love. In such a way as a taste of barrenness the Saviour answers our prayer for more love to him.

iii] We grow up into him by walking with him.

Cleopas and his friend were utterly discouraged as they walked the road to Emmaus until Someone joined them and began to question them and teach them from the Scriptures. It was the risen Christ. At the end of that time their hearts were burning within them. How close are you to Christ? Are you abiding in him? Are you well acquainted with him as a person? How familiar with him are you? Or are you a comparative stranger in his presence until you want something from him? You will remember what the psalmist says in Psalm 37 verse 4, “Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” Do you delight yourself in the Lord for the Lord’s own sake? If you have no delight in him because of what he is, is he going to give you what you desire?

Enoch walked with God; all through his life they walked together. They talked each day about Enoch’s family, and about heaven, and about the state of the world, and the sadness of the fall of Enoch’s first parents, and the wonderful grace of God in covering them with skins. They talked about the beauty of the stars at night and the sun rising at dawn. The heavens declare your glory, said Enoch. Every night God would take Enoch back home again when their walking hours were over, and tuck him in, and Enoch could pray,

“Glory to Thee, my God, this night,
For all the blessings of the light;
Keep me O keep me, King of kings,
Under Thine own almighty wings.

Teach me to live, so that I dread
The grave as little as my bed;
Teach me to die, that so I may
Triumphing rise at the last day.” (Thomas Ken, 1637-1711)

And then one day God said to Enoch, “We won’t go home to yo
ur place tonight. You come with me and end the day in my place. I have prepared a room for you,” and God took Enoch and he was not on the earth any longer. Their walking days were over. Enoch had grown up in all things into him who is the Head. It is in such ways we grow up into Christ in all things.

You say, “Ah, they are beyond my reach.” To trust him? No they are not. To love him? No they are not. To walk with him day by day? No they are not. It’s the devil who makes you feel like that. There is no need for you to think that you can’t grow up into Christ in such ways. He can give you the spirit and the energy to do them and many more. He commands us to trust him with all our hearts and love him with all our hearts and walk with him every hour. It’s his prerogative to command us to live like that, and it is his love that enables us to respond as we should.

He says to you now, “Come!” It is his invitation. He wants your burden; he wants you and all your problems, and all your sorrows. He gives you the terms of growing up into him who is the Head, that is Christ, the Son of the living God, and he will fulfil in you all he requires from you. Remember you are being dealt with not by a dictator or a tyrant but by a loving God. He knows what is best for you, as well as what he wants for himself, and whatever he requires from you he will give to you. Ask him for enabling grace to grow up from infancy and maturity. He is delighted with such a request so that whatsoever you ask about such things you may receive of him because he teaches us to pray exactly as he wants us to pray.

3. CHRISTIANS ARE BUILT UP AS EACH BODY PART DOES ITS WORK.

“From [Christ the head] the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (vv.15&16). Again the apostle Paul returns to this theme of Christ being the head. He is reminding us of Christ’s authority; he is the Owner of the church – God has given it to him; he is the one who adds to and builds his church; that he is at ‘Mission Control’ for all the enterprise of the church; he is the Sovereign Protector of all his people; he is the one who infuses life and spiritual energy into the church; he is responsible for its maturing and growth; he is the one who supplies all necessary gifts; Christ is to the body of these people what our physical heads are to our bodies. So Christ can look at the whole church and say to it, “Without me you can do nothing.”

i] It is from Christ that the entire body grows.

All graces for the Christian life come to us from the Head of the church. The grace of forgiveness comes to us from Christ. He has dealt with every transgression of his people. He has blotted them all out. It is as if they never were. All our guilt and shame and condemnation has been dealt with completely.

“This is my best theology,
I know the Saviour died for me.”

He has also given us new hearts and new spirits; he has made us new creations; he sent his Spirit to indwell us; he has justified us; he has declared us righteous in Christ; he has adopted us into his family and made us his sons and heirs; he has put us in Christ and ensured that the life of Christ flows into us. The strength we need comes from him; the patience and endurance and kindness and forgiveness all comes from him; nothing has been worked up by us. He is working in us to will and to do of his good pleasure. We have worked that out. There was no inner source of nourishment that could be tapped that would succeed in transforming us into the image of Christ. None whatsoever. We had to look to our head so that he would give us these graces.

All comes from Christ’s great divine fulness. There is unfathomable, unsearchable riches in Christ. Years ago men thought that the stars were quite small, points of light somewhere in the sky, and not too far from the earth. During the last few centuries men have begun to appreciate the enormous vastness of the universe. Astronauts have reached the moon and scientists have measured the distances between the earth and the stars, and the distance to some remote galaxies is measured in billions of light years. But the universe is not unsearchable. We can give distances to its boundaries as far as we can see them. What makes the universe so daunting to our minds is our own incapacity and the limitations of radio telescopes or the telescopes that are on space stations. We give some rough estimate as to its mind-blowing vastness, but the grace of God is measureless because it is simply infinite. The whole universe is merely God’s footstool. He rests his feet on the cosmos! There are no dimensions and no restrictions to the inestimable grace which is in Christ our head. From that fulness the whole church receives its every grace.

It is inexhaustible in its fulness. It is not like the flood at the time of Noah. Then it rained for forty days and nights and the waters roared and covered the tops of the mountains, but the deluge subsided and the ground became dry again. The floods of grace that pour down on the millions of Christians in the world today never cease and never will, for ever and ever, yet the grace of Christ our head is in no way exhausted, because it is the measureless fulness of the Godhead. The storehouses in Egypt were vast and could feed the whole Middle East for seven years, but even they had some limitation to them, but there is no limitation at all to the graces that come upon the body of Christ from its head. There was a limit to the riches of Boaz as contrasted with the poverty of Ruth, but there are no limits to the riches of Jesus Christ. From him the whole body . . . grows and builds itself up in love.

ii] Every connection in the body of Christ is strengthened by him.

Every supporting ligament is designed and put in place and supported by Christ. You are just a little ligament in the body of Christ, but even you are sometimes anxious. Will you get by? Will you survive? Will you be able to cope? What might happen to you? What if you let other people down should you snap? Paul says that it is all right because Christ joins us together and holds us together. He has put us in the body and he will sustain us in the body. Each part is going to do its divinely designed work. No pressure can ever come upon you so powerfully that there are no resources available to sustain you under it. We let our imaginations roam; what if? . . . what if? Unbelief gets the better of us, and the devil tells us that this happens to Christians everywhere. They are growing ill physically or mentally. True, but that has nothing at all to do with the full provision of the grace of God. No Christian anywhere is suffering because of any lack of provision in Christ. We are weak because we are fallen sinners in a groaning creation, and it would be odd if our mind and our feelings were not affected by sin just like the rest of the body is.

No sparrow nervously holds it breath afraid that its breathing will exhaust all the oxygen in the atmosphere. No sprat holds its gills to its sides afraid it will use up all the oxygen in the Atlantic. No mouse stops breathing to stop using up all the oxygen in Wales. Breathe on little bird, little fish, little mouse, there is inexhaustible oxygen for you! So too for the body of Christ in whatever testings and trials it is going through there is grace for each member. Our great Head Christ has provided, and he does provide and he will continues to provide for ever and ever, to every joint and ligament in his body. He ensures that we shall grow and we shall be built up in his love. That is the reason why we meet new Christians throughout our entire lives and they are full of love and joy and peace, because it comes from him! It’s all coming from the same one who poured out his grace on us too. Trust him! Never fail in your trust. Trust him, and although you don’t receive him as much as you’d like to you will always receive as much as you need, and in a day to come you will receive far more than you need. The streams on earth you’ve tasted, more deep you’ll drink above. There to an ocean fulness his mercy doth expand, and glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land. One day we will grow up into the fulness of him hat fills all in all, for ever immersed in the fulness that is in Christ Jesus.

iii] Each part of the body must do its work.

Those who have gifts to give ministry must minister to others. Those who have gifts to receive ministry must receive it. Don’t switch off; don’t come as little as you can to the means of grace because the preaching is too near the knuckles of your soul. Remember how Paul is very concerned when he writes to the Romans to ensure that each part does its work. He says, “If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.” (Roms. 12:6-8). Paul is concerned for what he repeats here, that each part does its work.

There are those famous ‘one another’ exhortations in the New Testament, in other words, that part of the means God uses for us to grow as Christians is by the mysterious influence of one believer on another. We pray for one another, and love one another, and bear one another’s burdens, and confess our sins to one another, and encourage one another, and counsel one another, and so on. The buzz phrase for this is corporate sanctification. Christ has determined that one of the means by which we grow up in him in all things is by each part of the body of Christ doing its work and exercising that powerful influence over other Christians. It shows again the impossibility of being a growing Christian while not take seriously one’s membership in a local church. Such a Christian weakens others by his estrangement from them, but he himself is also weaker as a consequence.

So this is the glorious picture of our text, that every member of Christ is receiving grace from Christ the head. The chief grace is God’s truth and Christ sends forth love to us to enable us to speak it. Then he also secures every connection in the body. “So do your work!” he urges, as he pours down upon each believer day by day his blessings.

“Who can faint while such a river
Ever flows their thirst to assuage?
Grace, which like the Lord, the Giver,
Ever flows from age to age.” (John Newton, 1725-1807).

12th December 2004 GEOFF THOMAS