Equipping the Saints



After graduating from high school, my parents rewarded me with a backpacking trip to British Columbia Canada. We arrived early one morning via Ferry to the small town of Egmont, where we took a vehicle to base camp. Upon arrival at the basecamp, we met our two guides, Mark and Brian. They sat us down and proceeded to equip us with all the materials needed for the trip. We had to make sure we were equipped with the proper clothing for the cold weather. We had to have the right amount of food. We had to be equipped with the right tools in order to climb the mountain that stood before us. One of the tools we received was an ice axe. Although I grew up in the frigid cold of the Windy City, I had never seen or touched an ice axe before that moment. As a teenage boy, there was nothing more thrilling to be equipped with an ice axe to conquer the rough, mountainous terrain. Young men were made for adventure. Although I was equipped with the right tool and excited for the journey, I still needed to be equipped with the knowledge of how to use the new tool. Mark and Brian were tasked with teaching us how to use this ice axe, because if we were going to be successful on our mission of conquering the mountain, we were going to have to use our new tools properly.

The key to the ice axe was not having it in our possession, but being able to use it on our journey. The tool would have been meaningless if we had stayed at basecamp. We had a mission to climb a mountain and needed to be equipped with the right tools. Likewise, Christians have been given a mission from the mountain top (the Great Commission) and need to be equipped with the right tools. The purpose of equipping young men with tools to conquer a mountain was never meant for them to remain at basecamp. We had to go to complete our mission. Likewise, the saints of God must be equipped for our mission, not to merely possess tools of knowledge, but to use the tools to complete our mission. We have been called to make disciples of Jesus by baptizing and teaching, by edifying and evangelizing. Today we are going to look more at making disciples specifically by edifying the saints. My prayer is that you would be encouraged and challenged this morning to be equipped for the adventure of following Jesus Christ in making disciples of the nations. I pray that we understand that our mission is never to come and sit next to each other on Sunday morning, but to come to be equipped in making disciples of Jesus Christ to the glory of God the Father. We are not called to sit at our basecamp, but to conquer the kingdom of darkness with the light of the glorious gospel of our Risen Lord. First, our mission is to help equip the saints to build the Body.

I. Equipping the Saints to Build the Body

The local church is very precious to God. This letter is written to the saints at Ephesus. It was written to a local body of believers. During the first three chapters, Paul unpacks the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul writes in 1:7, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight.” We have forgiveness of our sins and redemption through the blood of Jesus. He spends the first three chapters unpacking the “riches of his grace” that he has “lavished upon us.” The beginning of chapter 4, he starts to unpack the practical implications of this abundant grace. Verse 4:1, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” So the rest of this letter shows us how to walk in the manner worthy of our calling. One aspect of that calling is to be faithful to the mission that God has given us.

Look at verse 11, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the stains for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” See the heart of God for the building up of his people in that He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers. God has a plan to build up his people. He has decided in his wisdom to give gifts to the church so they can be equipped for the work of the ministry. The professionalization of Christian ministry has hurt both pastors and Christians in the local church. The professionalization of the ministry has allowed Christians to forsake their calling to do the work of the ministry. Many Christians feel that they are excused from laboring in the cause of Christ because they help to support the “professional Christian” to do the work of the ministry. While professionalism often gives vocational pastors a sense that they are more important than the “average Christian” in the pew. Both are lies from the very depths of Hell. Pastors are given as gifts for God’s beloved. Pastors labor not to exalt themselves as intelligent or wise, but as slaves for Jesus Christ for the people’s sake. Pastors live to be poured out as a sacrifice in order that others may be equipped to join in the joy of ministry. Don’t miss this. God is behind the church. God wants his people built up. He has set up the church. God tells us to make disciples of all nations and then gives gifts (teachers and shepherds) to the church in order for them to accomplish their mission. God wants you to do the work of the ministry.

If you only come to church to sit and listen, then you do not understand the purpose of the church. If you only come to the church for your own walk with God, then you do not understand the purpose of the church. Just think about it. God gives you teachers so you can be equipped so you can do ministry. God gives you teachers to equip you to serve and complete His mission. So if your end goal in coming to church is not to learn how you can do God’s work and encourage others, then you misunderstand why God created the church. God wants you not only to do his work, but to feel the joy and the majesty that comes along with serving Jesus.

I remember climbing that mountain in Canada and walking through the clouds. Standing at what felt like the top of the world, gazing out over a sea of clouds only to see a small peak in the distance of another mountain. I remember standing at the edge of the cliff and gazing down into a beautiful, lush, green valley. I remember sleeping outside bundled up in a sleeping bag gazing at the majesty of the stars so close that you felt you were in space. Now what if I stayed at the basecamp? Would I have experienced the exhilarating joy that came with gazing at God’s world from the top of that mountain? God is calling you to do the work of the ministry, because he wants you to experience the profound and glorious joy that accompanies that service.

I served as a missionary with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in Washington, D.C. One of our ministries was to take kids to camp every summer where they could improve in their sport and learn about Jesus. My last year serving in that ministry, we received a donation of $20,000 to take 50 kids to camp. The kids we took to camp that year were from the inner city, and it was the first camp trip for many of these children. It was also the first time many of these children heard about Jesus. Camp was fun, but camp was hard. We started our days at 6 am with prayer, and then moved to a full day of activities, before ending the day crashing in bed around midnight. It was exhausting. The last night of the camp, the speaker shared the gospel and invited students to come forward and make a public commitment to Jesus Christ. I looked and I saw tons of the kids that I brought from inner city Washington, D.C. go forward to follow Jesus. I remember my heart was so filled with joy that I just started weeping. How good was God in allowing me to participate in those kids salvation? As I was crying a young man came back after going forward and hugged me thanking me for bringing him to a camp to meet Jesus. Beloved, that camp was exhausting, but it was also glorious.

God has given you shepherds and teachers in this church to equip you for the work of the ministry for the building up of the body of Christ. God wants you to build up the members of Park Baptist Church. Each of you has been given grace according to the measure of Christ to build up the body (4:7). So in what ways are you building up the body? How are you using your gifts to push others towards Jesus? I could list a variety of ways in which you can build up the body here at Park, but one of the main reasons people neglect building is a lack of love. If you love someone, then it is natural for you to work for their good. When we love others, we are also loving God by trusting his purpose disclosed in his Word for the church; being equipped for the work of the ministry in building up the body. So love the people of God by wanting to build them up for their good and for God’s glory. So ask yourself, how can you better love God by loving his people? How can you intentionally work to build up others?

Many of you do not need to be encouraged to build, but to encouraged to continue to build. Those of you who labor so faithfully to build others up, please do not grow weary. Hear this exhortation from Galatians 6:9-10, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Your labors will reap a harvest. Take heart and do not give up.

II. Equipping the Saints to Conform to Christ

There is an ultimate purpose in our labors in the body of Christ. We are laboring for the glory of God by helping people be conformed into the image of Christ. Listen to Romans 8:29, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” The destination of all Christians is to be conformed into the image of the Son and this brings glory to Jesus Christ. The purpose statement in Romans 8:29 says that we are conformed to Christ, “in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” When we are conformed to Christ, we display the glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus came to live and die and be raised in order that he would be the firstborn. Jesus’s position as the firstborn implies that there would be others to come after him. This is our confidence, that as Christ was the firstborn from among the dead so we will also be born again from the dead (Col 1:18). And as we are conformed into the likeness of Christ as ones who have the firstfruits of the resurrection evidenced by the Spirit, then others will have confidence that they too can experience the resurrection from the dead. As we are conformed to Christ, we display the truth of the gospel. We, then, work to build up others into the image of Christ, then they display the truth of the gospel. This is a truth that is repeated throughout Scripture and seen in our text this morning.

Ephesians 4:12 says, “to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (author’s emphasis). And again in verse 15, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” The end goal of our labors in building others up is to help people grow into the image of Christ. As people are conformed to Christ, then the glory of Jesus Christ is manifested to the entire world.

Idolatry was a very common theme in the Old Testament. Followers of false gods worked to extend the influence of their false gods threw the creation of images made of stone or wood. They believed that the more images that were created symbolized the power and influence of the image-bearer. God strictly forbid the creation of images carved in his image for we read in Exodus 20:3-5a, “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God.” By creating images, man was rejecting the supremacy of the one, true and living God for God had already made images for the world. Genesis 1:27, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” The creation of man in the image of God displays the greatness of God for his image fills the whole world.

After God created man in his own image, he beheld all that he had made and saw that it was very good (Gen 1:31). Although man was created in God’s image to reflect his glory, man fell into sin, corrupting his image and reflection of God. Therefore, God sent his son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin to condemn sin in the flesh. Jesus came to crucify sin in the flesh. He was dead and buried, but God raised him from the dead as the firstborn from the dead. So now everyone who turns from their sin and trusts in Jesus Christ as Lord, will be saved and bear the image of Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:47-49, “The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.”

Beloved, if you do not care if others who bear the image of Christ are being conformed into his likeness, then you do not care if the glory of Jesus Christ is manifested to our world. When we do not work to build others up into our head, into Christ, then we are limiting the manifestation of the glory of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world. The job of building is not given to “professional” Christians, but to the whole body. We have to enlarge our vision of the church. We have to enlarge our desire to see the glory of Jesus Christ manifested in the church. Listen to verse 15-16, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” The Holy Spirit says through Paul that when each part is working properly or when each member works to build others up, the whole body grows and is built up in love. Do not sit on the sidelines, but participate in manifesting the glory of Jesus Christ by helping others bear the image of Christ so that in building others up you will also bear the image of Christ who was the firstborn among many brothers.

III. Equipping the Saints to Tell the Truth

Now that you know the importance of building up others to be conformed to Christ to manifest his glory, we have to ask: how do I do that? The answer is simple: tell the truth. We speak the truth of God’s Word to one
another. I am going to read this passage again and I want to point out how often Paul refers to thinking on God’s truth and then speaking God’s truth. Ephesians 4:11-25:

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. 17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!—21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires,23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. 25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. (italicized author’s emphasis).

So in order to make disciples, we must tell the truth and in order to tell the truth you must possess two things: knowledge of the truth and relationships with people. First, you must grow in the knowledge of the truth. You must commit yourself to studying the Word and to be equipped with the Word. We provide 4 organized opportunities every week for you to hear the Word: Wednesday Night, Sunday School, Sunday Morning and Sunday Evening Worship. Take advantage of those opportunities to be taught the word. Pastor Bill and I are here to help you grow in the knowledge of the Lord. If you do not understand something and want to grow in particular knowledge, please seek us out. Call us or email us. Use our training and knowledge in the Word to equip yourself in truth. Allow me a moment to expose a lie that some of you may believe: “I can’t talk to my pastor because he is really busy and I don’t want to burden him with my problems.” God has raised up shepherds and teachers for your sake. We are here for you. If you are struggling, do not struggle alone. Please know how much of an honor it is to serve you, do not feel you a burden, for you are our joy. For we echo Paul’s words, “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy (1 Thess. 2:19-20).”

Secondly, you must have relationships with people. If you are going to fulfill God’s mission in making disciples through the edification of the saints, you must know the saints. Life is short and time is valuable. We only have so much time and energy at the end of the day, so we have to be careful about where we invest our time. That being said, God believes that building up the body of believers in the local church should be a top priority for his people, so it is vital that we use our precious time to invest in the lives of others. Invest your time into others and then be patient and allow God to grow you closer together. Remember the ultimate purpose in investing in others is to them conform to Christ and manifest the glory of Christ to the world. This is no small matter.

During my hike in the mountains, the team approached a section of the mountains that was extremely steep. At the bottom of this section was a huge crevice. The only way we could effectively cross was to tie a rope between three different team members. We were all equipped with our ice axes and our desire to complete the mission. I was tied to my two best friends whom I loved more than life itself. As we walked along this steep embankment, one of the friends lost his footing and he started to slip. The two of us who were tied to him threw our ice axes into the wall of snow next to us and held him up. The only way we survived our mission to climb that mountain and avoid the dangers that were in our path was by being equipped with the right tools, the right knowledge and each other. Beloved, the only way we can fulfill our mission in making disciples of one another is to be equipped with the right tools, the right knowledge and each other. Beloved, I urge you to build the body of Christ to help others be conformed to the image Christ by telling one another the truth about Christ to spread the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Steven Brazzell

Charlotte, NC