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John 21:17

The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."

Jesus said, "Feed my sheep."

August 13, 2006

Take the Call

In my opinion, caller ID is the greatest invention of the 20th century.

We're not big phone users in our house. And we're pretty shy—antisocial, really—so we don't have many friends. That means 95 percent of the incoming calls we receive are unsolicited sales or charity calls. Now, because of the miracle of caller ID, we also don't answer 95 percent of the calls in our house. They are picked up instead by our answering machine, and—surprise!—no message is left.

Caller ID lets you know who's calling. And when Caller ID tells you the caller is "unknown" or "private" or "out of area," you don't pick up.

Then there are the caller IDs where you KNOW who's calling and you don't want to pick up. For me it's two categories: charities I don't want to talk to, and the alumni associations of my former universities. I know why they're calling. And I don't even want to speak to them.

I got to thinking the other day, we can act the same way towards God.

As believers, we have an internal caller ID in our lives. He's called the Holy Spirit. A part of God himself who comes to live with us. And one of his functions is to guide us.

We can tell when it's the Holy Spirit at work inside. We feel nudges, inclinations, feelings that God wants something of us. We know that God's calling us—the Holy Spirit does the caller ID.

But either out of ignorance or disobedience, we can choose not to take the call. Maybe we think we know what he's going to ask of us, and we don't want to do it. Maybe we are afraid, or imagine it will be unpleasant or time- or money-consuming, or it will get us in too deep.

So we don't take the call. We let the phone ring and ring, even when God is persistent with us. Until the opportunity has passed, or we think he's given up on us. And he leaves us in peace.

Well, temporary peace, anyway.

What is it that God wants from ordinary Christians, anyway?

Now, you may be the way I was. For the first 35 years of my life, despite having grown up in the church, I did not know that God called ordinary folks like me to minister within the church. I honestly thought that God put followers of Christ into two categories, clergy and lay people, and that he had different rules for each group.

He spoke directly to clergy, gave them specific church tasks to do, gave them the power to do it, and had a contract with them where he promised to take care of their needs and hang out with them if they were faithful. For the rest of us lay people the contract was different. We didn't hear from God, and he didn't expect anything from us other than we were supposed to believe in Christ, come to church every week and support the institution financially. In return we got to watch the clergy do the cool stuff and go to heaven when we died. That's honestly what I thought. But Scripture tells us that's not how it's supposed to be.

So if you are where I was, read carefully. I want to clue you in and take away your excuse of ignorance. If you've known this all along, I want to encourage you to take God's call and see where it leads you.

Ephesians 4:11–16

One of the passages in Scripture that explains all of this is Ephesians 4:11-16. Now, this is going to take some unpacking. Paul wrote in very dense, run-on sentences. But we'll take it slowly.

Verse 11 tells us that Christ calls some people to be gifts to the church. Christ has supernaturally gifted the church to enable each of his people to mature and engage in significant ministry that builds the church (and the Kingdom).

Pastors, teachers and the people in the church who have the gift of evangelism are actually Christ's gifts to the rest of the church. The call from the Holy Spirit that these people feel is what places them in a church. When a pastor moves, it is because he or she feels a call to a new church. It is the same for all people who have these particular gifts.

Christ has given them the ability to understand and use God's Word to help others believe and mature. Each of these servants wields God's word in a different context, according to their gifts, but they all function to equip the others in the church. Whether they preach, prophesy, exhort, comfort or admonish, they use their gifts to prepare others for their own ministry and service, to help them mature and find their own gifts and places to minister.

Now here's where a lot of us miss the boat. The thing that pastors, teachers and evangelists are not supposed to do is the bulk of ministering and serving. And yet that's the main thing we expect them to do! They are to equip and prepare the rest of us Christians for these tasks.

Now, this may be news to you. And if it is the first time you have realized this is the way things are supposed to be, don't be discouraged. Because for a long time, the church has operated with the expectation that the priest or pastor or paid staff will do the ministry while the members' role is to be ministered to. In fact, some kinds of churches actively promoted this model. Churches where ordinary folks were not encouraged to read Scripture, for example, tend to be like this, as well as churches where the pastors or priests have many specialized duties that "ordinary" people cannot perform. If you grew up in the church, this may be your experience. The members really have no expectations of being involved in significant ways, or of needing to do anything with church other than show up on Sundays and contribute financially.

This has really hurt the church over the years. It is not biblical. And it has led to a situation we have even today, where people do not realize what Christ intends them to be and do within his church.

Getting people to see past what they know to what church and the faith is all about and what Jesus requires of them is a huge challenge. But it is also vitally necessary for the church to become what God intends it to be, and for God's plan of redemption to continue to move forward.

There are not pastors and spectators in the church.

Everyone is supposed to do ministry! As it turns out, those usually thought of as the ministers are there primarily to equip. It is those who may think they are spectators who are actually the hands and feet of the church. It is only when this is happening that the church actually plays the role in redemption that God has for it. Otherwise... it is like a body that has an illness.

So now let's look at verse 12. Some translations say "to equip the saints." Others here read, "God's people" or "his people." In the original Greek language, the word Paul wrote here means "holy ones." Who are these people? They are us—all believers. The saints are all those who believe in, are faithful to and are called by Christ. Being a saint implies that you are led by the Holy Spirit; that you respond to his promptings. So even though Christ has gifted the church with pastors, apostles, teachers and evangelists, they are not a more "special" class than other Christians. True, their gifts depend on Jesus and they look to Jesus to lead and provide for them. But we all should be living in this very same way. We hope that these people are modeling this kind of maturity for us, but models is all they are; they do not belong to some special category that God favors more, or has different rules for. We are all saints, and Paul here is saying we should all be in ministry, and we should all look to Jesus in the same way for our provision and leadership in our lives.

Everyone within the church is mutually dependent on each other. This is the way it should be and it is necessary for the growth of the church, which is the body of Christ. If some are far ahead in maturity while others are not growing, the body is unwell. If some have friendships and people who care, while others are not being cared for, there is something wrong in the body, and the church will not grow [and mature] as it should. The church grows and matures as each member is rightly related to the other members, with each person making their own contribution. When this is the case, the whole church is built up in love.

Why do we meet together as a church? Paul believed it is to strengthen and encourage each other, helping each other grow to maturity, and enabling us to do works of ministry. Church is the place where we recharge ourselves for the lives Christ wants us to lead when we are apart from each other.

Why maturity is so important

Verse 14 tells us the immature are anchorless. Not knowing where they are going. Subject to prevailing opinion. Can't discern good teaching from stuff that is "off." Easy prey for people who are deliberately trying to deceive them. It's no wonder God needs for us to mature. Paul modeled speaking the truth in love. He tells people what they have to hear, but he balances it by saying how much he loves them, how concerned he is for them, and how he envisions their future —his aspirations for them. When mature Christians speak the truth in love to the rest of us, what happens? Paul says that's when the church grows and matures.

The emphasis is on becoming mature in the way that God intends us to be : wise, understanding what Jesus is all about and fit for ministry. God wants us to become as much like Christ as possible. We are to keep becoming more and more like him. Christ is our ultimate model of maturity.

What is more, Paul saw the church as Christ's body here on earth. He saw the church as a living organism. So when Paul talks about maturity, he means both the maturity of the individual person, AND the maturity of the church to which they belong. God wants BOTH the individuals and their church (or both his church and the individuals in it) to grow in this kind of maturity.

You may never have thought about your church like this before—as a living body that can grow and mature just like a person. But that is how God sees his church.

Verse 16 tells us that as we mature into Christ, we discover how God wants us to serve in ministry and the gifts he has given us that make this possible. The gifts for ministry come from and are empowered by the Holy Spirit. He lives inside and gives gifts for ministry to each believer. God himself gives each of us the supernatural ability to minister in various ways. We are to use these gifts to serve the church and the world. As each of us serve, the body of Christ grows and matures as it should and moves forward in its mission in the world. It is a supernatural thing—powered by God.

God's big plan

God's Kingdom plan is big. For some weird reason this seems to be a secret among Christians. God's plan is for those who believe in Christ work with him in his plan for redemption. Yes, that's right. God wants us to partner with him in the thing that matters above all else.

What a great plan! As we get to know God better (which is what he wants) we participate more fully in his plan (which is what he wants), which draws more people in (which is what he wants) and does things in the world (which is what he wants), and so on and so on. This gives our lives meaning and purpose. I mean, just think about it. God is making it possible for and asking us humans to play a significant role in his plan of salvation. This also gives each believer a charge of awesome responsibility. As believers in Christ, we come to realize that our fulfillment is found in cooperating with him, finding our place in his plan, and living out our calling. God really does know what is best for us. God does not want no effort or half-effort. He wants us to really give this a try.

This all happens through the church.

The church is the way God has set things up for this to happen. Christ gifts certain people with the ability to equip others; he then gives them as gifts to the church. As others mature, they perform the functions God has for them , and the church grows and functions according to God's plan.

This is really the way things are supposed to work. It's why I believe taking God's call—paying attention to those Holy Spirit nudges and actually doing something about them—is so important.

Each member of Christ's church has an significant part to play for the good of the church and the advancement of the Kingdom. Christ calls each of us to mature in the faith (not remain where we were when we came in) so that this may happen. It is an essential part of being a Christian. This claim on our lives holds the key to a lot of what people are longing for in life—meaning, purpose and fulfillment. The desire to be part of something greater than oneself. The desire to contribute to the good. The feeling there must be more to life than what one has experienced.

There's a ministry for every believer.

We can either go along with what God wants for the church, how he has set things up to be, and participate in just this way—or we can go our own way, and by doing so, go against God, even while we claim to be his church. The challenge for us is how we will react when we look at our caller ID and realize that God is calling. Will we take the call when God is trying to get our attention? Or are we going to ignore it?

What will you choose?


The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until 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.

We 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.

But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love.
—Ephesians 4:11–16