Growing In Christ

by Tom Wacaster

The late Gus Nichols once shared the following humorous illustration with his readers:  “If a man were given a mule, a goat, a bee, and a skunk and assigned the task of making a working combination of them in order to accomplish a given work he would throw up his hands in disgust and say, 'That is impossible.' Yet, in almost every church there is a kicker, a butter, a stinger, and a stinker, and the elders have the task of trying to make all of these a united working group with the faithful of God's children" (Words of Truth, 12-10-1976).  Making the members of a local congregation work together sometimes presents a formidable task to even the wisest of godly elders.   I preached on this passage a number of years ago under the heading of "Let's Learn to Knit,” from Ephesians 4:16 where Paul mentions that the “the whole body [is] framed and knit together."  The connotation in this word “knit” suggests the idea of closeness, beauty, and harmony.  Such should be the goal of every member of a local congregation.  Think with me about the growth and work of the local church and at least some of the elements mentioned in Ephesians chapter four that lead to the accomplishment of spiritual maturity.  What are some of the essentials of growing in Christ?

First, we must have Christ as our head (Eph. 4:15b).  There are other passages in this epistle that express the same thought.   God “gave him to be head over all the church” (Eph. 1:22).  “For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, being himself the saviour of the body” (Eph. 5:23).  There should be no difficulty in understanding the implications of someone being the head of any organization.   In our work place we have our “boss”; in sports teams have a “head coach”; and in the military there are generals and captains from whom the orders are passed along to the enlisted personal.   A congregation will only function and grow to the extent that its members recognize that Christ is the head of the church.

Second, we must have growth as our goal.  A goal is defined thus: "to increase in size, amount, or degree."  Growth is more than “swelling the ranks.” A congregation can grow in number and never mature or increase in the grace and knowledge of Christ.  Nor is growth an increase in “frenzied activities.”  Many a congregation is involved in work, but little of that work accomplishes the purpose for which Christ set us in the church in the first place.   Some years ago I read of a congregation of the Lord’s church that hosted a two day “seminar” offering classes on everything from financial guidance to home cooking.  No, growth is not an increase in frenzied activities.  Finally, growth is not simply chalking up an impressive attendance record, or impressive figures regarding the contribution.   In his second letter to the church at Thessalonica the apostle Paul had these words:  “We are bound to give thanks to God always to you, brethren, even as it is meet, for that your faith growth exceedingly, and the love of each one of you all toward one another aboundeth; so that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions which ye endure;  which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God; to the end that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer (2 Thess. 1:3-5).  There are some words worth examination in these three verses.  The first of these is the Greek word ‘huper-auxano’ and is translated “your faith growth exceedingly.”  It is not just an increase, but an increase beyond or in great measure.  The second word is ‘pleo-nadzo’ and is translated “abounded.” It simply means an unusual amount, or that which abounds.  The difference between these two words (huper-auxano’ and ‘pleo-nadzo’) is this:  while ‘huper-auxano' is internal, as the organic growth of a tree, 'pleo-nadzo' is expansive, as a flood would irrigate the farmland.   The third word is ‘oiki-do-meo’ and is most commonly translated “edify” or “build up.”  It is used twenty times in the New Testament and is one of the most often used words to refer to growth, both of individuals and congregations. Here is the point:  there are some things that simply do not edify: strife about foods and dietary habits, endless questionings about fables, and so forth.   On the other hand, those things that do edify would include preaching the whole counsel of God, following the authority of the apostles, Christian duty motivated by love, etc. 

Third, to attain unto growth we must have truth as our basis.  Two major threats to the growth of the church are false teachers who hesitate not to use unscrupulous means in order to corrupt the truth, and unstable disciples who can be tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine.  This is why our Lord warned of false teachers and described them as “ravenous wolves” (Matt. 7:15).  This is why Paul warned of false teachers (Romans 16:17-18), as well as Peter (2 Peter 2:1 ff). 

Fourth, we are have love as our motive.  Actually truth and love are co-joined in the chapter in that we are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).  Neither is complete without the other.   But when we speak the truth, it is to be in love of what?   At least three things come to mind:  love of the Lord (John 14:15), love of the recipients of our message (Gal. 4:16), and love for the word of God itself.  Our relativistic age with its political correctness and post- modern mentality has somehow concluded that disagreement is unloving and intolerable.  The late R.L.Whiteside wrote:

Much is said about preaching the truth in love, and so it should be preached…The preacher should so love the truth that he will not sacrifice any of it nor pervert it, and he should so love people that he will not withhold from them even one unpleasant truth. He that does either of these things loves neither the truth nor the people. We frequently fool ourselves; we think we do thus, and so to spare the feelings of others, when it is our own feelings that prompt us.

Beloved, if we are going to grow a congregation, it will take Christ as our head, growth as our goal, truth as our basis, and love as our motive.  Any of these elements lacking will wreck havoc in the congregation, weakness in the child of God, and an utter failure in our attempt to grow in Christ.

Ephesians: Heaven's Gallery Of Spiritual Wealth

by Tom Wacaster

When the prophets of old had penned the very words of God, they no doubt laid down the pen of inspiration, and in some instances may have even asked themselves, “What have I just written?”  Peter informs us that those inspired men “sought and searched diligently…of the grace that should come unto you: searching what time or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did point unto, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glories that should follow them” (1 Peter 1:10).  So profound were the words of men like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Amos and Daniel (just to mention a few), that even the “angels desired to look into” the message from heaven (1 Peter 1:12).  

This student began a journey through Ephesians that has spanned more than four decades, and I hope to complete my commentary on this wonderful epistle in this New Year.  No wonder men have marveled at masterpiece from the Holy Spirit!  It is Heaven’s Gallery of Spiritual Wealth, deposited in Christ, located in heavenly places, and it rests upon He Who is the foundation of the greatest institution ever to exist upon the face of this earth, being Himself the chief corner stone.  The picture of the church that emerges from a careful study of this epistle is one of holiness and harmony (1:4; 4:4).  If men would put aside their prejudice and preconceived notions concerning the church, and drink deeply from the pen of this inspired apostle, they would walk away with a concept of the church unlike the modern day concept of a divided, denominated, and materialistic church.  In the six chapters of this epistle God unfolds for us the eternal majesty of the church, the beautiful bride of Christ.  We are permitted to look backward into the recesses of eternity and get a small glimpse – just a glimpse – of the majesty and wisdom of our God as He foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ (1:5).  The door is opened into the vault of heaven’s wealth, and we are invited to partake of the “riches” of God’s grace for men.  We are granted entrance into the library of wisdom and knowledge that surpasses that of the sages of this world, “having the eyes of your heart enlightened” by the “revelation in the knowledge of him” (1:17-18).  We are given a panoramic view of God’s grace as He lifted us out of spiritual death, and “raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places” (2:6).  We have been granted citizenship in that heavenly kingdom (2:19), adoption into God’s family (3:15), admittance into the “temple in the Lord” (2:21-22), and experienced the wonderful “love of Christ which passeth knowledge (3:19).  But we have also been reminded that with these wonderful privileges comes great obligation and responsibility.  We are to be “holy and without blemish” (1:4), “worthy of the calling wherewith you were called” (4;1), looking “carefully how ye walk, not as unwise, but as wise” (5:15).  Clad with heaven’s armor (6:13-20), we are encouraged to march forward “to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel” (6:19). 

If men would study this letter they would learn that the church is not some after-thought in the mind of God; they would learn that you cannot have Christ without the church; they would learn that how we live has a direct bearing upon our salvation; that the forces of evil are real and dangerous, but that God gives us strength in the hour of adversity.  Paul’s description of the church as it appears in this letter is a masterpiece of inspired literature.  From the depths of sin, men can be lifted out of their spiritual poverty to participate in the wealth and riches of God’s grace.  The power to live holy lives as members of that church is promised to those who would but embrace the truths contained herein. 

Ours is an age of apathy and indifference.  Unfortunately, members of the Lord’s church have been lulled to sleep by the steady noise of worldliness and the satanic lies of post-modern relativism.  Perhaps it is time to wipe the dust off our Bibles, and drink deeply from God’s inspired description of the church as contained specifically in Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus.   The infidel and skeptic might scoff at God’s word; modern day theologians might ridicule the simplicity of heaven’s pattern; the weak Christian may not appreciate what he holds in his hands.  But the faithful child of God knows that he has been privileged to walk through heaven’s gallery of spiritual wealth.