The Gift of Nurture
God’s Purpose For the Church
Imagine we are missionaries entering a new culture. How should we evaluate the ways a different culture organizes and conducts their church ministry? How do we determine the difference between what is different and what is not biblical?
How ought decisions be made regarding singing, seat arrangement, meeting times, children’s ministry, group sizes, and so forth? What are the criteria for making changes or keeping things the same? The answer is more simple than we might think.
Three categories define God’s purpose for the church: worship, nurture, and witness. These categories are the criteria for guiding church ministry decision making.
Here are three great questions to ask:
- How can we help people worship God?
- How can we best nurture and grow people to maturity?
- How may we equip the church body to be an effective witness for the gospel?
Every church ministry decision needs to keep these three questions in mind.
God’s Purpose For the Church – Nurture
Jesus tells Nicodemus that God’s children are born again. Every new Christian is an infant in Christ. God is a good Father. He will not allow His children to starve. He will nurture them and help them to mature into healthy adults who bear fruit. The Great Commission echoes God’s command in Genesis to be fruitful and multiply.
Jesus relentlessly expresses to Peter the importance of nurturing and caring for God’s children. (John 21:15-17)
“Simon, do you love Me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”
“Tend My lambs.”
“Simon, do you love Me?”
“Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”
“Shepherd My sheep.”
“Simon, do you love Me?”
“Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.”
“Tend My sheep.”
Jesus gives the leader of the Apostles the call to nurture sheep.
The main idea of this message is a challenge to each person who calls themselves a Christian. If you are a saint in Christ, be equipped for the service of building up the body of Christ.
Ephesians 4:11-16 is the best passage for understanding how nurturing is part of God’s purpose for the church. This passage best explains God’s intent of nurturing the body.
As we go through the passage, ask yourself, what is God telling me. Then, ask yourself, am I willing to do what God asks of me?
The Gift of God’s Nurture (v. 11-12)
Verses 11-13 are one long sentence.
In the first part of the sentence, verses 11-12, we learn that God gives a gift to the saints. The gift is a gift of people.
God gives apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. What these all have in common is that they minister the word of God. God gives ministers as a gift to His saints.
God’s gift has a purpose, and that is to equip the saints for the work of service. The service is the building up of the body of Christ. God wants the body of Christ to do two things, mature and grow.
The job of the ministers is to equip the saints to serve.
The job of the saints is to serve in building up and growing the body.
How do we know when the body is mature? How do we know if the body is built up? To answer the question, we need to finish the sentence. Listen, saints. How do we know we are on the right road to God’s purpose and plan?
We need to know what God is aiming for for us to know we are on target!
The Aim of God’s Nurture (v. 13)
There are three aims of God’s (equipping) nurture.
Unity of the faith
Just four sentences earlier, the Apostle said, “There is one body, one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father.”
We are to have one faith. The body is not mature when some are not trusting or believing God fully. We must have the same faith.
The ministry of the word brings unity of the faith.
Knowledge of the Son of God
The second aim of God’s equipping the saints is that we attain knowledge of the Son of God. The ministers equip the saints to know the Son of God more fully.
We are to know Who He is and what He did. We are to know of His character, wisdom, love, compassion, and truth. God wants us to know the unfathomable riches of Christ. We are to know how to apply Jesus in every area of life.
We need to be like Paul, who counts all things as rubbish compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:8).
Unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son of God are measurable. We measure our faith and knowledge of Christ by how much Jesus is Lord of our life.
In order to understand what the Apostle Paul means regarding the phrase, “to a measure which belongs to the fullness of Christ,” we need to go back to the first chapter to see how Paul uses the phrase, fullness of Christ.
The fullness of Christ
God’s purpose in all that He does is to put all things under the feet of Jesus. God raises Jesus from the dead and seats Jesus at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named.
Jesus is the King and Lord over all things. He is Lord of this age, the age before the new heavens and the new earth, and He is Lord in the age to come. The Apostle Paul says it like this:
And He (God) put all things in subjection under His (Jesus) feet, and gave Him (Jesus) as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Eph. 1:19-23)
The fullness of Christ directly relates to His supremacy. Christ has the fullness when He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. God’s aim is that all things are under the feet of Jesus. Christian maturity is measured by how much Jesus is Lord of our life.
Our knowledge of Jesus informs us that Jesus is good. His ways are right. He loves us and wants the best for us. The knowledge of Jesus leads to our faith in Jesus. We trust Him. We willingly submit to Him in faith. We are to know Jesus so well that we trust Him in all things so that we gladly submit to His supreme rule in our life.
God’s aim in nurturing us is that we reach a level of maturity that it is clear that Jesus is our Lord. We love Jesus as our Lord. We enjoy receiving commands to obey. We trust Him with our lives.
We are mature when Jesus is Lord over our job performance. Jesus is to be Lord over our marriage and relationships. We are mature when Jesus is Lord over our emotions, leisure time, entertainment, and lifestyle. A mature Christian submits to Jesus in every part of life.
Choosing to be angry and not kind is immature. Being bitter and unforgiving is immature. Gossip over encouragement, immorality over purity, are examples of immaturity.
If Jesus is not Lord of all, He is not Lord at all!
God’s aim of His nurture is that the body of Jesus belongs to the fullness of Jesus.
The Result of God’s Nurture (v. 14-16)
God is aiming at a target, and that target is a spiritually mature body of Christ who has faith in Jesus, knows Jesus, and Jesus is Lord.
Give a child a house and a car and free reign, and the result will not be good. But, give a mature young adult the same, and the results will be much better.
Maturity brings about positive results.
No longer children easily tossed
When we become mature, we are not like children. Children are capricious. They are gullible. They lack discernment, which makes them easily brainwashed.
An immature Christian is unable to know what is true about Jesus and what is not true. They lack discernment.
A childish, immature Christian walks into a Christian book store and thinks every book is good. They believe every Christian movie is great. They listen to Christian radio and think, it’s on Christian radio, it must be good.
There are many, many warnings about false teachers. The Bible doesn’t warn about false teachers in the world; it warns about false teachers in the church. The books of false teachers occupy Christian book stores. The songs of false teachers are sung on Christian radio.
Look at the words used to describe those things that lead immature Christians astray: trickery, craftiness, and deceitful scheming.
God gives the saints pastors and teachers to help the saints be equipped. Do you have a book or movie that you are unsure of? Ask your pastor to take a look at it. Ask your pastor to show you how it is wrong from the Bible.
Children don’t like to work; they like to play. Mature adults work. They study. There is no Christian exempt from knowing and understanding sound doctrine.
How long have you been a Christian? Are you still a child being tossed about? Do you still need someone to teach you the basics of God’s word? Do you still drink milk, like an infant, and not eat solid food? Solid food is for the mature. A mature Christian has their senses trained to discern good and evil. (Hebrews 5:12-14)
A mature Christian grows up.
Speaking the truth in love, we grow up in all aspects in Christ
A loving Christian is growing up in Christ.
When we are in Christ, we have two priorities. Truth is a priority. Love is a priority. For the body to grow, we need to lovingly help one another by speaking the truth of God’s word. It’s one thing to speak the truth; it’s another to speak the truth in love.
Love is patient, kind and is not jealous. Love is not provoked nor does love keep track of a wrong suffered. Love looks out for the interests of others. Love rejoices with the truth. When we are loving, our objective is that we help others mature in Christ. The proof we care for others is demonstrated by our love.
Each saint fits and holds together one another
A mature Christian understands how to fit into the church body. They cannot imagine life without the church. They hold people together and try to be like glue. They put aside their preferences for the sake of unity. Unity is the objective of a mature saint. Whenever possible, they seek peace with one another.
Each saint causes growth
As we go through the book of Acts, we see how everyone participates in growing the body numerically. There are two aspects of body growth; one is maturity of the believer (building up), the other aspect is adding to the church with sharing the gospel to others.
God places each of us in the church with specific gifts. We need to use our gifts and not be shy. The growth in this verse speaks of helping the body to grow numerically. The early church worked to increase in numbers. The responsibility of church growth numerically is on every saint. Mature saints who are like Jesus, seek and save the lost.
Each saint builds up the body in love
When all of the members of the body are contributing, we are helping to mature the body. We need to have our priority be that we all grow together. We build one another up in Christ by demonstrating genuine love and care for every person in the church.
The purpose of church nurture is to mature saints
Maturity is the goal of nurture. We nurture plants, animals, and children so they will become mature and bear fruit.
The emphasis of this passage is a call for the saints to mature. The nurturing is not complete until the stature of every saint in the body is found to the measure of the fullness of Christ.
We can lead a saint to church, but we can’t make them mature.
How mature are you in the eyes of God? Rank yourself on the maturity scale with these statements:
- I see “ministers” as a gift from God for my maturity
- I know my serving is to build the body of Christ
- I subject all things to Christ
- I am not tossed by every wind of doctrine
- I fit in the body and am held by others
- I am a working part of the body
- I lovingly strive to mature and grow others in the body
The Church of God’s nurture
Let’s look at a couple of pictures to help us understand what it means to equip the saints for service.
This passage helps us see that the responsibility is not on the ministers of the word to mature and grow the church. The ministers are a gift to equip the saints.
Saint centered ministry
The measure of knowing if a church is pleasing in the eyes of God is not in the number of programs, the size of the building, the greatness of the singing, but it is in the maturity of the saints.
We might even grow numerically, adding 100 people a week to our numbers, but if people don’t grow to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, it doesn’t matter.
The church of God’s nurturing is a church that sees each saint in the church contributing to the growth and maturity of the body of Christ.
God equips us to make disciples
Let’s remind ourselves of the Great Commission. A commission is a command. It is a directive.
Jesus spoke to His disciples, all who put their faith in Him, and said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18) In other words, God made Jesus King of kings and Lord of lords. He has the authority to speak, and we are to obey.
Based on Jesus being our Lord, He tells us, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).
The passage in Ephesians helps us to understand how to put the Great Commission into practice. An excellent book describing practical church ministry is The Trellis and the Vine. The book describes effective church ministry like this: “The goal of church ministry is quite simple, and measurable: make and nurture genuine disciples of Christ.”
Making disciples: Moving people to the right
The book goes on to describe the process of making disciples. The book describes nurture as “moving people to the right.”
Everyone starts in the domain of darkness, being far from Christ. The goal is to make contact with people, lovingly talking and engaging with them with the gospel. Some will reject the gospel. Others will hear the gospel and get saved.
Every new Christian will struggle and need to grow in their faith. We need to help them grow. We work together to equip the new believer so they will mature in Christ. When they mature, they work to help mature others in the body as well as make contact with others who need to know about Jesus.
Worship – nurture - witness
In the process of moving people to the right, we see God’s purpose of the church. Those who hear the gospel, and put their faith in Jesus, become worshippers. They worship Jesus in spirit and truth. God nurtures the worshippers to maturity. The mature worshipper will witness and help to grow and mature the body of Christ.
As a church, the discipleship opportunities we offer at Christ Community Church are for maturing the saints. It’s important for everyone to participate and to grow. The church offers opportunities to be equipped in a variety of ways. It is the responsibility of every saint to see the opportunities as a gift, not a burden. They are offered because we desire for everyone to mature so they may fully enjoy the unfathomable riches of Christ.
The calling upon the church is to mature the saints.
The calling for every saint is to be equipped for the service of building up the body of Christ. Do it for your joy, the joy of others, and for the glory of Jesus.