The Sermon: How Do We Know if We Have Grown Up?; Ephesians 4:1-16

A sermon preached August 1, 2021 by the Rev. Dr. Patrick H. Wrisley.

Ephesians 4:1-16

4.1 I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said (in Psalm 68.18),

“When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;
    he gave gifts to his people.”

(When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) 11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 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. 14 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. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 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. [1]

            Let’s begin today with a simple, straightforward question: Are you a grown up? A twist on that might be, have you grown up yet? Young people hear their parents tell them, “When you start acting like a grown-up, then you will be able to go and do such-in-such!” Parents attach certain characteristics to what it looks like to act like an adult in the world and try to teach those to their children.  

            What are signs you look for in a person that determine their level of maturity? Is it how someone dresses?  Is it how they act in various circumstances? Do we measure maturity by age or by how knowledgeable someone is? Then again, maybe we measure someone’s maturity by how well they handle increased responsibility.

            The Apostle Paul is writing the church and is imploring them to grow up and act like mature followers of Christ. Apparently, Paul had some rubrics or metrics that determine both a person’s and a church’s maturity, and we will unpack those from our text today. He lifts up at least three indicators of what a mature disciple looks like in our scripture this morning. First, our lives are to look like a disciple’s life. Second, we each have been given gifts to use for the greater good. Finally, disciples of Christ are committed to life-long learning of the faith.

            Indicator of Christian maturity number one: His or her life looks like a disciple’s life. Now, looks can be deceiving and what we see on the outside may not always reflect what’s going on inside. We have all met those Christians who say and act piously and do things like carry a Bible, go to church, and bring a casserole to the pot-luck picnic but they will also gossip, put down and withhold the love of Jesus if they disagree with you. When I say our life needs to look like a disciple’s life, I mean that our life consistently reflects internalized core values which are expressed from the inside out.

            Paul says for us to lead a life worthy of our calling, literally our vocation, as a disciple of Jesus, then our life will bloom with the buds of virtues and values that smell like Christ. He says our lives will be steeped in humility and gentleness. Our lives will display patience and longsuffering. A disciple’s life is reflected in its ability to bear up with others in the Christian community. Another way to say that is to put up with one another for the benefit of the greater good of the church. Humility, gentleness, patience, and putting up with those you disagree with are values and virtues that are only developed over time and practice. Its only when these virtues and values are expressed that all the pieces fall in perfect alignment and the grandeur of the One Spirit, the One Lord, the One God and Father of us all is displayed.

            The second indicator of a mature Christian is whether he or she is using the gifts Spirit has endowed each of us with. The list of gifts in our lesson today is not meant to be an exhaustive list because Paul is echoing other verses from Romans and Corinthians that also have lists of spiritual gifts. As a result of Christ’s death and resurrection, you and I were gifted to foster an environment where the ministry of Christ is practiced in Christian community in order that through the Christian community, that is the Church, Christ is taken out into the world. The Church is where we learn and practice the art of being an apostle, a prophet, an evangelist, a pastor, and a teacher. The Christian community, the Church, should be the safe environment to explore our gifts and graces in order to leverage them in the larger community. The Christian community, the Church, should be teeming with people who are eager jump in and use their gifts. The Christian community, the Church, should be the place disciples can come together, work on tough issues together and show the world how to lovingly agree to disagree and carry forth together with the mutual ministry God has called us into.

            Christian maturity is measured by the display of basic virtues and values.  It is displayed in our using our spiritual gifts both individually and corporately. The third indicator of Christian maturity is a disciple’s commitment to life-long learning about God and their faith. Paul is imploring us to grow maturely in our knowledge of the faith so we will not be blown about in the wind by the many spiritual snake oil salesman out there in the world today.

            Beloved, how are you growing in your knowledge of the faith? Are you?

            Think with me a moment. Think about a person’s emotional development. As a person grows older and at various phases of her life, her personality changes, the way she processes information changes, and the way she relates and communicates with others changes. In a person’s psycho-social development, it is really obvious when an adult behaves like an adolescent isn’t it?  If a person is not growing in their psycho-social development, we get worried and call-in specialists and counselors to help them get unstuck. Well, did you know growth in our spiritual maturity is the same? One’s spiritual maturity and knowledge is supposed to grow and develop, too!

            Unfortunately, over the three decades of ordained ministry I have seen too many Christian adults act like they are stuck in spiritual adolescence. Their faith has remained stuck in what they remember from children’s Sunday school and youth group when they were younger but now their lives are getting besieged by mature adult problems in a swirly world. They have matured intellectually, physically, and socially but spiritually they are stuck in the past and have not grown in their maturity of the faith.  Sophomorically, they point and say, “Well it says in the Bible such-in-such,” but have failed to grow up in their understanding of God, of who Jesus was, is and the message he is desperately trying to get out. Let’s not forget the Devil knows how to quote scripture with the best of them. The Pharisees and Sadducees knew their Torah and the Law inside and out; that wasn’t the problem.  Jesus kept reminding them it’s how you apply what you know in the Bible with others that shows whether you are a God-honoring disciple or not. Jesus is not so concerned how well you and I can quote scripture as he is if we can apply the ethical, moral, and theological teachings in our everyday life.

            What virtues does your life reflect?

            What spiritual gifts have you been graced with and are you using them?

            Has your faith matured biblically, theologically, and missionally or are you riding the coattails of what you learned years ago as a child?

            Beloved, these are just three indicators that point to our spiritual maturity as disciples and a church. The time is upon us where you will be asked to say Yes! in using your gifts and graces. The time is soon coming when you’ll be given the chance to have the best two hours of the week! Let’s all grow up together! Amen.

© 2021 August 1, Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, 401 SE 15th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33301 and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission.   All rights reserved.

[1] New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

About patrick h wrisley

A Mainline Presbyterian Orthodox Evangelical Socially Minded Prophetic Contemplative Preacher sharing the Winsome Story of Christ as I try to muddle through as a father, friend, head of staff, colleague, and disciple.
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