God’s Blueprint for the Church

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:11-16)

I’ve titled this sermon, “God’s Blueprint for the Church.” Clearly this is not the full blueprint; there’s lots of other Scripture that talks about what the church is, how the Church is supposed to function. Even though it’s not the full blueprint, we are going to look at some very important things this morning.

As we look at this blueprint for the Church, it’s important to keep in mind that there are all kinds of local churches in the world. You can look out from here and there’s a church down the street, there are lots of churches in McKinney, and all over the place. Lots of them look very different. There are some that we would disagree with on key doctrinal issues. But I want to take those out of the picture for now. Let’s focus on those churches that we believe, based on our doctrinal statement and our understanding of Scripture, that they are Bible-based, doctrinally sound, and Gospel-saturated. Even then, there is lots of variety! Big churches, small churches, more contemporary music, more traditional music, organ only, guitars and drum sets, a cappella. You can have different styles of preaching even – some guys are the “fire and brimstone” type preachers. There are lots of differences, and yet these differences do not make any church less Bible-based. We all probably have preferences about what sort of church we’d like to be a part of. They’re just preferences though. The Bible doesn’t say, “You have to do this, this way,” about those things. But there are key biblical foundations that each church needs to hold to. No matter how different churches may be in these preference areas, there are certain truths we have to hold to. This morning we’re going to look at some of those. We’re going to look at two verses, verses 15 and 16, and we’re going to see the blueprint for the Church that God has laid out for us here.

15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:15-16)

There are two main truths about the Church presented in these verses that I want to focus on this morning. First, we’ll look briefly at Christ’s headship; His position as the Church’s head. Second, with the majority of our time, we’ll look at the spiritual growth that the Church is called to have

First, two truths about Christ’s headship. We see in verse 15 that Christ is head of the Church. What does that mean? What does it mean for us that Christ is our head?

1. He holds all authority

Christ holds all authority over the Church, and over all things. If you’re taking notes, underline or circle the word “all.” This can’t be stressed enough. Christ holds authority over all things, with no exceptions.

For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. (Colossians 2:9-10)

Christ having all authority means that He decides who the Church is, how the Church should operate, what the Church should be like. Even the leadership of this church – and we do have leadership, because Christ mandated that we should – their leadership and authority is nothing compared to Christ’s. It’s subject to Him. Their authority is worthless if they’re not submitting themselves to Christ, because He is our ultimate authority over all things.

And I’m guessing that’s not news to you, I hope it’s not news to you. But there are lots of things we know, yet we can forget them in the practical living out of our lives. So even though it’s not a new concept you have to wrap your head around this morning, I want you to think about how practically we often live as if we’re head of the Church. What I mean by that is we make judgments about what the Church should be. We make judgments about whether something is a good thing or a bad thing, when it really seems to be a preference thing according to what Scripture says. We often act like we are the ones who have authority, and as if we are the ones who can ultimately decide who the Church is, what the Church should be.

For example, sometimes we may think thoughts like, “I really don’t like this music, it doesn’t seem very worshipful,” or “You know, I wish the sermons could have a bit more humor in them every now and then; just get me to laugh a little bit and I’ll be good,” or maybe, “We’re getting too big as a church, and I like small churches. That’s my preference.” Any of those thoughts ever enter your mind? I’m not saying they’re wrong thoughts to have, but I think we need to consider that Christ is sovereign over all things, and He alone has authority to say what is essential to a church and what is not essential to a church.

We need to consider His authority rather than making our own personal judgments that disregard what Scripture says. What does Christ think of those things? He’s the real Head. He gets to decide if it’s okay or not okay. What does He think of the music? The preaching? What size church does He think is best? His opinion is the only one that matters. Do we really believe that? And this doesn’t just apply to Sunday mornings. What does Christ want us to do as the Church for the rest of the week? How does He want us to live out our lives as His body in this world? That’s up to Him, it’s not up to us. Does He want us to be involved with one another? Does He want us to love one another, walk alongside one another, or does He want us to isolate ourselves throughout the week? What does Christ say?

All of these questions are just reminders of the fact that we’re not in charge of the Church. Even the elders and deacons are not ultimately in charge of the Church, Christ is. They can’t say anything that goes against Christ. We use the phrases “my church,” or “our church,” and those aren’t bad phrases to use – I use them – but as we say them we can sometimes subtly forget whose church it really is. It’s not ours, it’s Christ’s. He decides what’s it’s going to be, He decides what’s okay or not okay. And if He says something’s okay, or He doesn’t say it’s not okay, what should our opinion be of it? Should we hold on to things so tightly when they’re really just preferences? Not if Christ has all authority.

2. He holds all power

Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God (Psalm 62:11)

In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. (1 Chronicles 29:12)

Him having all power means that without Him, without abiding in Him, without staying connected to Him, we cannot function properly. We don’t have the strength or power to do that. If you think about Him being head of the Church…I see a lot of people here with heads. We have heads, and inside our heads we have brains. What would happen if we didn’t have those heads? We would die. We can’t survive, we can’t function without our head. So how can the Church function when it’s trying to do things apart from Christ, its head? When it’s not submitted to Him, connected to Him, daily going before Him and seeking Him in all things?

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. (John 15:5-6)

The only way the body will function and grow properly is if we are plugged in to Christ, rooted in Christ, abiding in Christ, both individually throughout the week and corporately as a church.

While preaching through this text, Martyn Lloyd-Jones gave an analogy concerning a body acting independent of its head: “What my body is to me, the Church is to Christ. The business of my body is simply to be at my disposal. I decide to do something, I initiate a movement, and I act through the body, through its members. It is not for the members of my body to do things apart from me or instead of me. As a matter of fact, if the members of a man’s body begin to act independently of him, it is because he is in a diseased condition, he is suffering from convulsions. In that condition a man’s arms move wildly, and perhaps his legs; but he does not want them to do so. His body’s actions are of no value. It is disease, it is utterly useless.”

Let that sink in for a moment. When we act independent of our head, the source of all our strength, when we act as if we have the authority and power, when we do all that, our actions are of no value, they’re useless. We will only grow properly and function properly when we’re holding fast to Christ, abiding in Him. Because He holds all power.

And God clearly wants us to grow. Paul says in v. 15 that “we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” God’s blueprint for the Church involves us growing in every way in Christ-likeness.

If you look at the beginning of v. 15, in the ESV the word is translated, “Rather.” Your translation may say, “Instead,” or “But.” It’s looking back to verse 14, where Paul is talking about how we should no longer remain children. So instead of that, instead of remaining children spiritually, we’re supposed to grow in every way into Christ-likeness. Growing up in every way into Christ contrasts “being infants.” One thing that this command for growth tells us is that the status quo is not okay. It’s not okay to say, “I’m pretty decent as a Christian, other people think I’m pretty decent as a Christian. So I’m just going to live comfortably in this Christian life, not focusing too much on growing in Christ-likeness. Just doing what I’m going to do, because I’m okay.” That’s not what Scripture tells us. We should seek to become like Christ in every possible way.

What’s the best way to grow then? If we’re supposed to grow in every way, then what is the best, most effective way to do so? Isolating ourselves from sinners? Spending all our time reading Scripture and praying, doing nothing else? No, of course not! We can’t have a strong relationship with Christ without also having strong relationships with other believers, our brothers and sisters in the body. Why? Because when we’re closely connected to each other, intimately involved with one another, we help each other grow in Christ-likeness. We can’t do it on our own. This is where we see just how much we need each other. The Church is not here so we can come, sing, hear God’s Word, and go away, that’s not church. That’s part of what the Church does, but there’s more to it than that. How can we be closely involved with one another if that’s all we’re doing? 

Scripture says we need to grow in every way in Christ-likeness. If we only needed to grow in a couple little ways, then we might be okay, we probably wouldn’t need each other so much. I could probably handle growing in a couple little ways without being closely connected to the body, just as you could I’m sure, by the grace of God. But God has not asked us to grow just a little bit. He hasn’t asked us to just be a little less evil than we are today. What does He ask for? Perfection. 

You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)

Now, we all know that none of us will be perfect in this life, but I know that for me personally, I will grow a lot closer to perfection when I’m walking with fellow believers, sharing my struggles, opening myself up to loving rebukes, putting others before myself, living for the good of others rather than myself.

The only way to grow as verse 15 says, “in every way,” is by living with a mindset of humility. It has to start with humility, because the Gospel requires humility. Think about the gospel message. We’re not just saying that Christ came, the Son of God, and died for us because He’s great. We’re saying that Christ came because we’re weak, lowly, and wicked, and since we’re weak, lowly, and wicked, we needed the Lord of all to come, sacrifice Himself, be beaten and killed by us, in order to save us. That’s a humbling thing. We’re the reason He hung on the cross; I am, you are. When we communicate the Gospel, that’s what we’re saying. If there wasn’t anything wrong with us, Jesus would never have had to die. Since He did die, when we declare the Gospel we’re not only declaring His greatness, we’re also declaring how radically depraved we all are, apart from His abundant grace in our lives. There should be no pretending that we have no issues, no struggles, that we’re all perfect now; that’s simply not true.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8)

To act before God and others like we have no issues, like everything’s perfect for us all the time, that is to act like we don’t need Jesus. Only the sick need a doctor, right? That’s what Christ said. If we’re not sick we don’t need Him, but we are desperately sick apart from Him. You know what happens when we think we don’t need Jesus? We’re blinded. We close ourselves off from Him, and we close ourselves off from one another. We think we don’t need Christ, so we must not need His Church. It’s isolation from others. Even though we can be in this building, week after week, we come together with fellow believers and sing, hear the Word, and give money in the offering, but what are we doing apart from that? Because if that’s it we’re not gaining the things from the body that we’re supposed to, and we’re not giving the things to the body that we’re supposed to. So how can we improve on that? How can we give other people the opportunity to invest in our lives, and take the opportunity we have to invest in others’ lives? What’s the best way to do that? I want to highlight two ways Paul mentions in our text this morning.

1. Speak the truth in love – Verse 15: “speaking the truth in love”

If you’ve been through NANC Track 1 training we’ve done at this church for several years, you’ve probably heard this phrase broken up into three parts: 1) Speak, 2) Speak the truth, and 3) Speak the truth in love. Sadly, for many churches in the world today, speaking the truth in love is not a common thing, not one of their defining characteristics, not something that’s practiced. What about us? It is so crucial to the health of the Church.

Think about it: if we aren’t speaking, then what are we doing? Imagine a church service where nobody but the leadership speaks. You come in here and get a hymnal, but all the elders and deacons are the only ones singing. You can give your money, and Lyndon can come up and preach. We get all that, then once it’s all over we’re right back out those doors and in our cars, away from the Church, isolating ourselves from the very blessing that God has given us of each other. We’re not sharing what God’s been doing in our lives, not encouraging one another, not bearing one another’s burdens. Can we really call that church? Is that what church is supposed to be?

What if we did speak, but we didn’t speak the truth? Imagine a good friend of yours at church asks, “How are you doing? How was your week?” And your response every single time you have the same response: “good.” It’s okay to say that, because lots of times we’re good, right? But what if you’ve had an extremely rough week, you’re loaded down with burdens, and you don’t know how you can possibly get through another week. “Good”? It’s isolating yourself, closing off who you truly are, your true circumstances, your true mindset, cutting those things out of the picture, cutting out your true self. Why do we do it? It happens a lot. Lots of times, not always, but lots of times it’s because we want people to think good of us. We don’t want to admit we’re weak, lowly, wicked sinners, and we have struggles, yet we are. If we’re Christians, Christ-followers, we’re living by the Gospel, we have to be humble in that. There’s no place for pride in Christianity. It’s so damaging to the Church to do that. If you’re in that place this morning, loaded down with burdens, not sure how much longer you can go on, I would encourage you to share your heart with someone. God has given you all the people around you to be a blessing to you. He hasn’t given them so we’ll just sound better when we sing, or so there will be bigger offerings. We have each other to be a blessing to one another, to bear one another’s burdens, to encourage one another, to remind each other of truth, because we so often forget.

Now think about what church would be like if we all spoke the truth, but we didn’t do it in love. So let’s say I’m struggling with a sin issue, and you notice, and you want to make sure you speak some truth to me. That’s good, right? You want to remind me of the truth, which Scripture says to do. But so often we do that the wrong way. We go to someone in our pride and we say, “Hey! You’re sinning, and you’ve got to stop sinning or else! God’s going to judge you. I’m judging you, and God’s going to judge you.” We can just slam the other person, act like we’re better than them. Are we better than other people? Scripture says we’re all depraved. We need to show gentleness, compassion, and humility as we speak the truth with others. That’s speaking the truth in love. Imagine a church full of people who are not doing that. Speaking the truth non-stop, but no love whatsoever. Is that what we see in Scripture?

So often I think we fail to realize how important it is to speak the truth in love. Regular conversations with one another that include these elements are so crucial to the health of the body. It’s one of our responsibilities to each other as members of Christ’s Church. It’s not an option, it’s a command.

John Piper speaks regarding the subject of communication: “I wonder if the incredible felt need [in the world] for psychologists is in large measure due to an organic flaw in the way we experience corporate church life. Think about this for a moment. How do psychological counselors help people? It seems to boil down to three things: 1) personal one on one conversations, called counseling or psychotherapy; 2) personal group meetings with others facing similar struggles; and 3) medications.” 

Isn’t it astounding that when confronted with people’s problems, professionally trained psychologists go first to one-on-one conversation? And second to group conversation. Yet there is so much demand for that in the world. Why? Is it because the Church isn’t doing that as we should? The multi-billion dollar ministry of psychotherapy is built almost entirely on the power of conversation, the ministry of conversation. Are people going there because they aren’t getting it here? Maybe in some cases. Are we doing everything we’re supposed to do in showing the love of Christ by speaking the truth in love. This is our responsibility.

One more thing to look at from this passage. Another way we can grow in every way into Christ-likeness. First we speak the truth in love, and second we…

2. Find unity in Christ – Verse 16: “joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped”

So, on the subject of unity, I have a question for us to consider this morning: Why are we all friends? You and I, or you with those people sitting around you, why are we friends? Why do we care for one another? Is it because we have common interests? Is that the only reason? Is it because we all like baseball, or we homeschool, or because our kids are friends, so we’re friends? Is that why we’re friends, is that what brings us together, is that what ties us? Or is it Christ? The reason I ask is that I think it’s very dangerous to us to form these bonds, form these ties with things that are temporary, only temporary. You and I might be friends because we both like baseball, but then I stop liking baseball. Do we still have a reason to keep up with each other, to love one another? If that was the only reason, then no. Those things can all go away, our interest in them can go away, then what do we have? But Christ…we’ll always have Him. He’ll never leave us. We’ll always have Him in common as Christians. The strongest friendships are the ones based on Christ, where He is at the center, where He is the focus.

When we’re interacting in heaven, what’s going to bring us together then? What’s going to unify us? The love and worship of Christ. That’s what we’ll be all about, that’s what our relationships will be about. So why isn’t it always like that now?

What does that really look like? What does it look like to have a relationship based on Christ? It’s two people, walking through life together because of a shared love for Christ, a shared desire to bring Him glory in everything, in their friendship even. Such a focus profoundly changes the way we relate to one another.

Think about it, if our friendships are based on Christ, then we’ll speak the truth in love. We’ll treat others the way Christ has treated us. We’ll love one another sacrificially. We’ll forgive each other, no matter what. This is how Christ has treated us. We’ll fight for unity, even when the other party seems to have given up on it. It’s demonstrating humility in all circumstances, seeking the other person’s good before our own. Having these kind of friendships is not an easy thing, because it requires great humility and sacrifice. But that’s what our relationship with Christ has shown us; we have to be humble and sacrifice. Christ did that for us, and He does that all the time. God sacrifices in putting up with sinful people like us. It’s essential for our unity that Christ is the one tying us together, not temporary things.

In conclusion, what have we seen from these two verses? What is the blueprint God lays out for us here? First, Christ is head of the Church, and He holds all authority and power. Second, we are to grow up in every way into Christ, by speaking the truth in love, and finding unity in Christ. Again, it’s not the full blueprint, since the rest of Scripture has more to say about the Church. But can we just focus on these things? Can we do these things well?

Some questions for us to consider from what we’ve seen this morning. They’re questions I’ve thought on and prayed about, and they’re questions for you to think on personally, to consider where you are in your view of the Church. I say “you” because I don’t want you to be thinking of someone else and their view of the Church here. It’s not about picking on other people, it’s about you, about me. What is our view of the Church? Ask yourself this morning…

  • Does God’s blueprint for the Church line up with my own?
  • Does it line up with what I think the Church should be?
  • Does it line up with the way I do church? With the way I live day in and day out, Sunday mornings and the rest of the week?

If not, we need to evaluate our hearts, and confess where we’re wrong. We need to take all the sinful ideas we have about what we think of the Church, what we want it to be, and we need to humbly lay them all at our Savior’s feet. Submit them all to our head, the Lord Jesus Christ, who has all authority and all power. We need to let the truth of God transform the way we live with one another.

We are the Church now, and we will be the Church for eternity. Does the way we live now line up with the way we’ll live in heaven when it comes to relating to one another? I know we’ll show great love to each other in heaven, be humble with one another, and express all these characteristics of the Church that God has for us in Scripture. Are we doing that now? There’s certainly no reason to wait. Are we doing it now, and will we do it for as long as He gives us breath?

15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:15-16)