On To Maturity
In the fourth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians you will find our text for this message—Ephesians chapter four, verses eleven through thirteen.
“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
“For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ;
“Till we all come into the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.”
I am sure that everybody today would agree that evangelism must be at the very heart of the life of a living church. If a church does not evangelize, she will perish. If she looks within herself and not out to a world in need, she will soon wither up. With that I am sure all of us are in full agreement, but from that point on, some people begin to part company. In our approach to the task of evangelism there are two different tracks altogether along which men travel.
The one is a picture of a church in which the preacher is paid to preach the Gospel. Of course, the church will pray for him, but beyond that, there is very little responsibility for souls and very little burden for those who are without Christ, very little concern for the kind and quality of church into which the unsuspecting convert is introduced.
In such a pattern of evangelism most people will be perfectly happy, if the preacher preaches the Gospel very simply every Sunday, gives an invitation, asks for the raising of hands, and if he puts plenty of pressure he is sure to get somebody to raise his hand for something, but there is very little regard paid as to what happens to people who have done that when it is all over.
Of course, he will bring some devotional messages, but in such a pattern, generally speaking, the sheep are fed but never sheared. The branches of the vine are watered, but never pruned. The saints are comforted, but never challenged, and everybody will be perfectly happy.
Against that method of approach from the very opening of my ministry, not only here, but from the very day that it began, I have set myself deliberately, and have refused to go one inch because deep down in my heart I do not find that pattern of evangelism to be in the New Testament at all.
There is another pattern of evangelism in which, of course, evangelistic enterprise is at the very heart of the life of the church, but in this pattern, evangelism is seen as the byproduct of something else, the inevitable outcome that issues from within the life of the church itself. It is this pattern that we have portrayed for us in Ephesians 4.
Here Paul speaks about certain gifts that are given to the church. I am sure that you know that this epistle to the Ephesians is not so much written to a local church as rather a circular letter written to a number of churches. It is therefore an outline for all local churches of the whole pattern of evangelism, worship and testimony. Paul says that our risen and ascended Lord has given “Some, apostles; some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry,” or correctly translated as the Revised Version has it, “for the adjustment of the saints unto their work of ministry.”
Now that word “adjustment,” my dear friend, is a very interesting word. It is the same word that you would find used in the Gospel of John where the writer speaks of the disciples on the sea shore after a fruitless night of fishing. They were there mending their nets, repairing the damage caused by wear and tear. He, the ascended Lord, has given to His church, certain gifts, certain leadership, certain people, and their first function is the adjustment of the saints, or rather, being used of God to mend the nets.
In other words, this principle of evangelism recognizes that it is absolutely impossible to fish with a broken net. One would think that would be obvious, but to many people, alas, it is not. To win a soul with a broken net is a sheer impossibility.
This method of evangelism is very unpopular, very costly. It means that the sword of the spirit is driven right into the heart of the congregation; it means that the preacher is concerned not only for his flock but for himself, that both they and he might be “vessels unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the Master’s use.”
The thing that matters in winning a soul for Christ is that that soul might be introduced to a fellowship that is aflame for God, in which Christian people are living, at least in some measure, according to the pattern of the New Testament, in which holy living and revival in the church are essential preparations for a ministry to an unsaved soul.
Now as I say, this approach is not very popular. It drives a sword into the hearts of God’s people, it challenges as well as comforts. It makes us see ourselves as God sees us, and, of course, when a preacher faces this approach to evangelism, he will discover that many people will say, “He isn’t preaching the Gospel. He isn’t delivering the goods, he is not getting converts, no hands are being raised.” Some people even go to the point of saying, “Well, of course, the only thing for us to do is to find other pastures in which we may be fed.”
The preacher will discover that some people will leave, others will be challenged and brought closer to the Lord, but none will be left neutral or indifferent. The church will begin to throb with life, in some cases with a movement toward God, in other cases with a spirit of resentment against the ministry.
I want to say to you if I may from the bottom of my heart as your pastor, it is this approach to which I have committed myself for all time, no matter what it costs me in terms of personal crucifixion or unpopularity in some circles. It is to this approach that I am deliberately committed before God and nothing can ever shake me from it because I believe this is the pattern laid down in the Word of God.
How many times as I have come to this pulpit in previous Sundays during the past years something has whispered to me while driving down the north shore drive, “You had better change your tune this morning. This is not going to be liked. People are going to get ruffled about this. You’d better give something a little more gentle, you’d better not go quite so deep today. You had better not hurt,” and there is something in me, because of the type of person I am, that has made me want to listen to that voice. Many times even while mounting these steps to the pulpit my mind has been in a turmoil as to what I should speak to this congregation. I stand before God today to answer to my risen Lord for my ministry, not to man, but to Him, and I come here to say to you that by His grace I have not surrendered to that voice that has spoken to me because I do not believe that it came from heaven.
In the course of the history of every local church, every church everywhere, there comes a moment in its experience when the thing that is urgently needed is the repairing of the damaged nets. That happens not because of the fault or blame of any individual necessarily. It simply happens because of the experiences of spiritual warfare. The Bible teaches us that “the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds of the enemy.”
It also tells us in the sixth chapter of Ephesians that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers,” and therefore all of us within any Christian fellowship are fighting a spiritual battle, and wherever there is blessing there is a counter attack from the enemy.
The result is that inevitably in the process of life a fellowship suffers damage through wear and tear. Before there can be any effective evangelism to the outsider, there must first be the repairing of the nets inside—an adjustment of the saints.
And for three and a half years now this has been the major emphasis of the ministry of this pulpit for which I make no apologies. This has been the emphasis in order that the time may come when a church in which a number of people have been blessed, revived, and adjusted, is therefore poised for united action.
But in case you imagine that this is something that concerns only you and not me, I want to say to you that this emphasis has been quite unusual for my ministry, something that has been forced upon me by the Lord Himself. I have always majored on out-and-out evangelistic preaching, but I found in coming to this church little liberty along that line, and the Holy Spirit changed the emphasis for a particular reason.
I find in the Word of God when we speak about adjustment of the saints, or the perfecting of the saints for their work of ministry, there are four relationships in which the Christian has to be adjusted if he is to function in a New Testament pattern.
In the first place, the Christian has to be adjusted…
In his relationship to the world.
One of the great problems that you and I have to face in Christian living today is how far we can go along certain lines, where we must stop, to which things we must say no, and to what we must say yes. Adjustment to the world is necessary.
The Lord Jesus said that we are to live in the world, but we are not of the world. He gave us the perfect pattern and a tremendous example, because He was always rubbing shoulders, if I may use the term, with people who were unsaved, right along side them and yet He was separate from them. He was chief among them in the sense of seeking to save them and bless them. He was called the friend of sinners, even a gluttonous man, a winebibber, but everybody said that He was absolutely different from them all.
Here is the pattern for all of us. Somehow we must be able to mingle day by day with unconverted people and yet never lower the standard, never compromise, never let down our Lord.
Is not the trouble, dear folk, that so many of us live in an insulated suit as far as evangelism is concerned? We live in our own little circle and we very seldom cross into the circle of the unsaved people. We are almost afraid to do so in case perhaps we get contaminated, and yet somehow the Christian has to move among unconverted people constantly. He has got to live among them, rub shoulders with them, and yet so live his life that there will be something about him that attracts, that is radiant, that is transparently real, that brings heaven so near other people. The Christian has to be adjusted in his relationship to the world, and not only in that sense, but in another one, too.
Ten days ago this church approved a new constitution, and in the constitution of The Moody Church as now stated, there is a very clear presentation of this church’s stand on what we call “worldliness.” We fully recognize the danger of legality, and yet we outline in our church constitution certain practices which must of necessity be harmful for a Christian and take the fine edge off his testimony. Included in that list is the indiscriminate use of television and the indiscriminate use of radio. Many other things are listed there as harmful for the Christian, which though he might be able to do himself, yet may prove to be a stumbling block to other people. We have been careful to insert that, but there is this statement contained in the constitution of this church at this point, and it says this—that no negative abstention from worldly practices can ever be a substitute for the positive devotion of a life to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Here is where a Christian’s relationship to the world needs to be adjusted. It is not simply a matter of outward practices. It is this—“If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” It is a matter of heart affection, heart love, and as Paul says, “If ye then be risen with Christ…set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.”
Before a Christian can be effective in his witness for the Lord Jesus, his personal relationship to the world has to be repaired.
The second relationship that needs to be adjusted in the life of the child of God is…
His relationship to the Church.
I don’t mean simply to the local church, but to the Church as a whole, the Church of Jesus Christ.
You will notice in this chapter a very interesting sequence of teaching. I can only introduce it to you so you can follow it up in your own thinking. Paul speaks in the opening verses of Ephesians, chapter four, of the unity of the spirit, a unity in which the Lord Jesus Christ is central. He says, “There is one body, one spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all,” the perfection of unity, sevenfold unity in which the Lord is at the very center. Here is the central point of our union, a living risen Lord Jesus, and Paul admonishes us, therefore, in that verse, that we are to endeavor to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.
Notice in the thirteenth verse of that chapter, he then says “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God.”
Now, my dear listener, do let us notice the order and sequence of the teaching of the Holy Spirit. We are to keep something that already exists—the unity of the Spirit until one day we all come into the unity of the faith.
In certain fundamental circles today every attempt seems to be made to reverse that order and to insist on a unity of the faith before there can be a recognition of a unity of the Spirit. In other words, everybody else must agree with what I say. I am right; other people are wrong. They must dot their “i’s” and as I do and cross their “t’s” as I do, or else I can have no fellowship with them.
How many people seek to reverse the order and to insist that we must have absolute unity about our doctrine before we can ever recognize the fellowship of the Spirit.
I believe it will be a tremendous thing if we as a church fellowship catch the vision of this—that wherever there is Holy Spirit life, wherever there is a man redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven, wherever there is a man who has been saved and washed in the blood of Jesus, there is a member of the Body regardless of what label he may put upon himself, and there we may find sweet fellowship.
The Christian has to be adjusted in his relationship to the Church for this simple reason. Within the Church of Jesus Christ there is an amazing variety, many different people with a great diversity of temperament, yet at the same time with a deep, deep unity of the Holy Spirit. And how tender and kind and forbearing the Christian has to be with his brother and sister in Christ. If you stand on some Christian’s corns, you find them very sensitive. If you touch some Christians anywhere, they’ll explode. There is a delayed time bomb just waiting to go off at the touch in many Christian lives today. Brethren, these things ought not so to be.
The Christian church is not a group of people who are simply “yes” men who agree with everything everybody else says, but they are a group of people who are united by the bond of love, forged through the blood of Jesus Christ, who have established a fellowship in the Holy Ghost which no diversity of view should ever be able to separate.
The Christian has to have his relationship with the church adjusted. Where there is a spirit of uncharitableness and judgment and unkindness, where there is sensitivity and touchiness, that spirit needs to be taken to the Lord Jesus Christ to ask Him to cleanse it from all our hearts that our relationship may always be that of Holy Spirit love.
And, of course, that means that the Christian has to be adjusted in…
His relationship to himself.
Yes, that is where he must begin. He cannot possibly have a right relationship with the world unless he has been adjusted to himself. And I think it’s lack of adjustment here that puts other relationships wrong. Strange sort of people we all are. Within each one of us there is a spirit, (the deepest part of us) and the thing that our Lord wants to see through each one of us is a spirit that is Christ-like, a spirit of love, gentleness, meekness, patience, self-control.
My brother in Christ, my sister, what is your spirit like today as you worship? Is it like that, or is it hard, is it unkind, uncharitable, unspiritual?
There can be no right relationship with others if within my spirit there is a wrong relationship, if there’s that which is unkind, resentful. Don’t we all know what thoughts invade the mind of a child of God. Have you discovered, as I have, that over and over again the moments of each day that we would seek to make our holiest moments, our most sacred, precious moments alone with God, are the moments in which our minds are invaded by unholy traffic from the enemy of our soul?
Have you discovered that very often Satan comes into your quiet time and invades your mind with thoughts? That is the only way he can reach you. These things themselves are not sinful. Their approach is from Satan, not from you. You did not think them up; he brought them to you. It is your yielding to them, your treasuring them, cherishing them, that makes them sinful. The child of God has to be adjusted in his mind, that the mind that is in Christ might prevail in him.
We are not to be conformed, says Paul, to this world, but renewed in the spirit of our mind. It is in that battlefield where the child of God needs the cleansing of the precious blood, and he is to be renewed and adjusted to his body, this thing in which he lives, this tent in which he moves and has his being, this temple of the Holy Spirit. It is this that has to be kept in subjection.
It was Paul who said, “I buffet my body, I keep it in subjection, lest having proclaimed the rules to somebody else, I myself might be disqualified.” It was Paul who knew that his body was a constant source of temptation to him, who knew there was no other answer for the flesh than Calvary, than death and crucifixion in order that the Holy Spirit may triumph in him. Yes, the Christian has to be adjusted to himself.
Ah, but most of all, and finally, this place of adjustment goes even deeper than that. Before there can be an impact upon a soul for the glory of God, before a church can really rise up in revival, in life-giving power and demonstration of the Spirit, before there can be an effective witness in a church which is burdened for souls and which cries out to God for conversions, there has to be a group of Christians who have been adjusted, whose nets have been repaired of damage caused by friction and wear and tear, and the child of God has to be right in his relationship to the world, in his relationship to his church, to himself, but most of all in…
His relationship to his Lord.
Many of you have heard me speak of that dear saint of God, Bishop Taylor Smith. He used to speak at Keswick often, and he would tell how he had every morning at four o’clock what he called his morning adjustment. His bed was his altar and he awakened every day before dawn and said, “Now, Lord, what are your instructions for today? I want to adjust my life completely and perfectly to your will.”
My dear friends, for three and a half years we have been seeking to bring one another into this place of adjustment, fitting in one with another in the love of the Lord Jesus, and the great burden of my heart is that we may launch out as a Spirit-filled church, with a group of people, young and old, who have caught a vision of this principle of evangelism, who have seen the absolute futility of any other plan of evangelism, and who see that what matters to a convert is that he is introduced into a family where people love each other, into a family where people will be an example to him by the consecration and abandonment of their lives.
My concern is that The Moody Church in 1957 shall be a church poised for action, ready for concerted attack because within this church there has been the mending of nets, the repairing of damage, the adjustment to the world, to the church, to oneself, and most of all, adjustment to our Lord.
Friend, would you make this Lord’s day a day of adjustment? How can you do that? I would suggest that first of all you might get alone with God and ask Him by His Spirit to point out the things in your life that need adjusting, relationships that are wrong, friendships that are out of His will, situations that are chaotic, attitudes in your heart that are bitter and resentful. Would you just make a clean breast of it to the Lord, remembering that the sin we bring to the Lord He forgives, and “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive…and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Then in the second place, would you get hold of your calendar, your 1957 calendar, and examine it all over again and ask yourself how much time you are giving to the morning adjustment for the daily walk. How much concerned really have you been to walk with God, that your life might glorify Him and reveal His presence? Would you just begin to score out from your calendar some things that perhaps are interesting, nice and fascinating, but have simply sapped your spirituality—the time you are giving to dating, friendships, books, magazines, and novels? How horrified we would be if we sat down and took stock of it and compared it to the time we are giving to the Word of God, to prayer. Would you let this day be a day of adjustment, sincere, honest adjustment, that you might do less in order that in the goodness of God you might accomplish more? It is only insofar as the fellowship of this church, you and I together, is completely adjusted to the Lord, that God will visit us in the power of His Spirit.