As a review of the previous article, the following passage implies some responsibilities for those who have been given the gifts of training others in the body of Christ.
Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.
Ephesians 4:11-13 NLT
However, even with a good set of tools (like Biblical instruction, training on healthy spiritual practices, and accountability), that doesn’t guarantee that any given Christian will get to the goal outlined in these verses. Those who sit in the pews (or chairs, couches, cushions, or rugs) to learn about God’s teachings are expected to achieve four things, as I read the passage above:
- Unity in faith. While I am a firm believer that all followers of Jesus should seek out Him and the truth that He brings (and not squabble over minor elements of style and steeples), there is also a single faith that Jesus taught. The basic elements of His teachings are not complicated (although some of His prophecies may take some study), and the more that the world can learn about the basic premises of sin, salvation, and service, the better off we all will be.
- Knowledge of Jesus. Unlike many other faiths in this world, what Jesus taught was not just principles and practices. He told us about who God is, but He also made it clear that He was God. He explained the need for salvation, while also being the only means by which salvation could be obtained. We must understand not only the message of Jesus, but also who He is and what He is like.
- Becoming mature. I could go to the gym every day and still be exactly the same if I didn’t actually do something at the gym (other than looking at my smartphone for an hour). The purpose of learning isn’t just to fill up our heads with facts; it is to help us develop into the people that God called us to be. We aren’t called to just become “old” in our faith, having accepted Jesus a long time ago and going to church regularly. Instead, we are called to “grow up” and become mature.
- Living up to Jesus’ standard. In the law of Moses, the Hebrew people were given a long list of rules, defining what it meant to live as God’s people. Jesus didn’t contradict the law of Moses, but He pointed out that “checking a box” wasn’t the goal. Instead, our attitudes needed to be correct, also. If we thought that following the law was difficult, there is no way we can do that and also have our hearts right all of the time, going above and beyond the letter of the law to the spirit of the law (at least, not without some help). Still, this exceptionally high standard is what we can aspire to, when good leaders are combined with eager students.
And, even those who tell others about Jesus also find themselves in the role of students from time to time, so we all have these goals to which we can aspire. So, I would like to challenge all of us (including myself): Are these the targets that we are working towards, not just when we are formally being taught, but also when we are spending time with God on our own? Is our target to achieve these four things in the body of Christ, as much as it depends on us, or are we just learning for the sake of learning?
It is my hope that each of us can be both learners and teachers, but not just so that we can become intellectually “smart” about Jesus. Instead, I would love to see this education as a means to a greater outcome: achieving the inspiring goals that Paul described in the passage above, for the entire body of Christ.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
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