Exercising Diversity

Ephesians 4:11-16

Rev. Bryn MacPhail


Previously in this chapter, Paul charged us with the responsibility of preserving the unity of the church. Preserving unity, Paul tells us, requires humility, meekness, patience, and forbearance towards others. Preserving unity requires that we love one another. Preserving unity means holding to the same faith--that is, holding to the same beliefs about God and about salvation.

Preserving unity, however, does not exclude the need to exercise diversity. In fact, the unity of the church depends on the exercising of diversity. As John Calvin has said, "out of this variety arises unity in the church, (just) as the various tones in music produce sweet melody".

Another way to illustrate unity within diversity is to examine how a football team is run. The offensive side of a football team is united by their goal to score a touchdown, yet their individual responsibilities are quite different.

Some players are exceptionally large, but not very quick, and so they are charged with the responsibility of blocking. Some players are not very big, but are extremely fast runners and are skilled in catching the ball, and so they are made receivers or running backs. The quarterback might be fast or slow, tall or short, but will most certainly be able to throw the football a great distance, and with tremendous accuracy. The offense of the football team is united in their goal to score a touchdown, but each player has a different and unique role to play in accomplishing this goal.

This is precisely what Paul has in mind for the church. We are to be united in our purpose to glorify God, but we accomplish this purpose by exercising our diversity for the sake of our common goal.

Now to those who think they have nothing to offer the church, let me direct your attention to verse 7, "But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift". Looking also, to Romans 12, "God has allotted to each a measure of faith . . . And since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let each exercise them accordingly"(Rom. 12:3, 6). There are no exceptions here. Every Christian is to be a player on the field. There is no such thing as a Christian spectator.

I fear that many people misunderstand what the Christian life is all about. I fear that many people believe that Christianity is a spectator sport. We sit in a pew on Sunday and we liken it to sitting in a theatre or sitting in the stands of a ball game. As a result, we come wanting to be entertained. We come expecting to sing certain hymns; we come wanting to hear particular things said from the pulpit; we come wanting to see things done a certain way. The average person in the pew, I fear, thinks they are a spectator when, really, there is only One spectator in church: God.

You can see that the list of gifts here in Ephesians 4 is a very short list. Paul gives us a lengthier list of spiritual gifts in both Romans, chapter 12, and in 1Corinthians, chapter 12. But, beginning in Ephesians 4, verse 11, we read, "11The gifts (Christ) gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers".

The Greek word for apostles, apostolos, is used in three different ways in the New Testament. It could mean simply a messenger. It is sometimes used for the 12 disciples of Christ. But we also read about others as apostles: Paul, Barnabas, James the Lord's brother, and Silas, for example. So we conclude then, that in speaking about apostles, Paul is referring to those who bear definitive witness to the facts of the ministry of Jesus and to His resurrection (Foulkes, Ephesians, 126).

Understanding the ministry of the apostles in this way, we recognize that this office ceased with the death of those first century witnesses. In the same way, the ministry of the prophets ceased also. The work of the prophet was to receive and declare the Word of God under the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And this ministry was vital only until there was a canon of New Testament Scripture (Foulkes, Ephesians, 127).

Next on the list are the evangelists. The references to evangelists are few, but it is safe to conclude that the office denotes a minister of the gospel who was not located in any particular place, but was one who traveled as a missionary to preach the gospel, and to found churches.

The last two church offices, linked together, are the pastors and teachers. Some commentators take this to be a single church office, but I agree with John Calvin who argues that these are two distinct offices. For while it is true that all pastors are called to be teachers (1Tim. 3:2), not all teachers of Scripture are called to be pastors.

What the pastors and teachers have in common is that they both work in the local church while the other 3 offices are regarded as belonging to the universal church. Pastors and teachers are gifted to be responsible for the day-to-day building up of the church (Foulkes, Ephesians, 127).

Now by this point you may be wondering what this text has to do with you. You may be wondering what relevance this passage has for your day-to-day life. The office of apostle and prophet has ceased, and very few of you suspect that you are called to be an evangelist, a pastor, or a teacher of Scripture.

We must look to verse 12 to begin to see role of the Christian in the church. God has called some to be evangelists, some to be pastors, and some to be teachers. Why has He done this? Verse 12, "12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ".

This is where I get my job description. I have been called as a pastor and teacher to "equip the saints (that's you) for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ". This brings me back to my football analogy. Christ is the Head of this team--He is the owner. And if the pastors' role is to equip the saints for the work of ministry, then it follows that the pastor can be likened to the coach of the team.

If you were to ask me why I think so many churches are struggling, I would say that it is often because many churches expect their pastor to not only be the coach, but to also occupy every position on the field as well. The truth is, unfortunately, that many churches function in this manner. The members sit in the stands as spectators while the pastor runs around occupying every position on the field.

This, however, is not God's design for the church. God's design for the church is that every member would take a position. The pastor equips every member to take a position on the field in order to help the team to win; the pastor is to equip every member "for the building up of the body of Christ, 13until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ".

The pastors' task is to utilize the diversity of the church members in such a way as to accomplish "the unity of the faith". We do not exercise diversity for diversity's sake. Paul sets before the church 2 very explicit goals for exercising diversity. The first goal is unity, and the second goal is maturity.

The Greek phrase Paul uses literally reads that we are to become "a mature man". Paul uses this particular phrase to set up a striking contrast with verse 14, "14We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people's trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming".

Paul is saying that we begin the Christian life as children with respect to our knowledge of the Christian faith. But we are not meant to remain as children, we are meant to become mature in our faith.

The problem with being like a child with regard to our Christian faith, Paul says, is that we will be too easily influenced by others. Like a tiny sea vessel, tossed by the waves and wind of a storm, we will be easily led astray by false doctrines.

This, unfortunately, is the state of many Christians in regard to religious doctrines. They have no fixed views. They hold no doctrines that are settled in their minds by careful and prayerful examination, and the consequence is that they yield to every new opinion, and submit to the guidance of every new teacher.

This is why the Christian cannot live in isolation. This is one of the reasons why every Christian needs the church. We all need people who will "speak the truth in love" to us. We need others to ensure that "each part (of Christ's body) is working properly".

Paul tells us in Romans 12, that some of us are called to service--that is, some are gifted to look after the practical needs of the church and the practical needs of others.

Paul says that some are gifted to teach--that is, some are gifted to offer biblical instruction to the church and to individual members.

Paul explains that some have the gift of exhortation--that is, some are gifted in motivating others to do the will of Christ.

Some have the gift of giving--that is, some are especially gifted in providing their time, talents, and resources to the church.

Some have the gift of leadership--that is, some are gifted at helping others with their responsibilities.

And some have the gift of mercy--that is, some are gifted in showing compassion--in word or deed--to those in need.

Let me ask you this morning, which part of the body of Christ are you? And, assuming that you know what part you are, is your part "working properly" to promote growth in the body of Christ?

Contrary to what many people think, we should not come to church seeking to meet our own needs (repeat). We come to church seeking to meet the needs of the body of Christ. To paraphrase a famous quote, 'Ask not what your church can do for you; ask what you can do for your church'.

Our particular church has come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. We need everybody on the field. We need everybody playing their position. We need everybody working towards the same goal: "to (God) be the glory in the church". To God be the glory in our church. Amen.