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Equipping the Saints

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
May 12, 2024 12:01 am

Equipping the Saints

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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May 12, 2024 12:01 am

How are you using the gifts God has given you for the building up of His church? Today, R.C. Sproul expounds on the role of pastors, teachers, and every Christian in the mission and ministry of the church.

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R.C. Sproul (1939-2017) was known for his ability to winsomely and clearly communicate deep, practical truths from God's Word. He was founder of Ligonier Ministries, first minister of preaching and teaching at Saint Andrew's Chapel, first president of Reformation Bible College, and executive editor of Tabletalk magazine.

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Nathan W. Bingham is vice president of ministry engagement for Ligonier Ministries, executive producer and host of Renewing Your Mind, host of the Ask Ligonier podcast, and a graduate of Presbyterian Theological College in Melbourne, Australia. Nathan joined Ligonier in 2012 and lives in Central Florida with his wife and four children.

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Childlike faith is great. Childish faith is not so great.

In fact, it's a sin. We're called to grow up. We're called no longer to be infants in the faith, no longer children, but to grow up to the fullness of Christ. The Christian life is to be one of growth, no longer being children. It's also a life of service, doing the work of ministry, as we heard last Sunday. It's good to have you with us for today's edition of Renewing Your Mind as we finish several weeks in Ephesians and conclude this section in chapter four. As this is our last week with R.C. Sproul teaching from Ephesians, I encourage you to request his new hardcover commentary with your donation of any amount at

Today is the final day for this offer and it won't be repeated next Sunday, so give your gift while there's still time. In Ephesians 4, the Apostle Paul speaks of apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. What are these roles and why, as R.C. Sproul said earlier, are we called to not be infants in the faith? Here's Dr. Sproul for the last time in Ephesians.

Now Paul mentions here the dissension, but he does it in a somewhat problematic way. What does ascend mean? But that he also first descended into the lower parts of the earth. Now many interpreters historically say that the one who has ascended into heaven did that only after he first descended into hell, the dissensus ad infernos. That's part of the Apostle Creed, though that phrase, descended into hell, apparently was not in the original.

The earliest reference we have to it is around the middle of the third century. But for centuries, the church has believed that sometime between death and resurrection, Christ literally went to hell, to the realm of the dead, some say to receive the full measure of punishment necessary for atonement. That creates all kinds of theological problems. Others say that He went there in a victorious mission to release those who were being held from Old Testament days in some kind of limbo situation.

I agree with Calvin that that's not at all a good interpretation of this text. Christ's dissension was not into hell. He descended into hell on the cross, and after He died, He committed His soul to the Father in heaven.

His body was in the grave. His spirit was in heaven. He told the thief on the cross that that day He would be with him in paradise. Not enough parts of Jesus left to have Him going to hell in that interim.

But in any case, when the rest of the New Testament speaks about Christ's dissension, it's not a dissension into hell, but a dissension to earth, to this low place, this lowly abode where He leaves His heavenly position with all of the glory that He shares with the Father in heaven in the incarnation. Remember Paul when he writes to the Philippians that have this mind among you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God took as equality with God, not as something to be jealously guarded or tenaciously held onto, but He emptied Himself and became a servant and obedient even unto death, the death on the cross. Wherefore hath God highly exalted Him? He didn't empty Himself of His deity.

He didn't empty Himself of any of His attributes. He emptied Himself as prerogatives of His glory that He enjoyed eternally with the Father when He agreed to take upon Himself a human nature and come from heaven down to earth to be born as a human being. And so here I think Paul is speaking about that dissension, the coming of Christ from heaven to the earth.

He who is descended is also the one who ascended far above all the heavens that He might fill all things. Throughout this letter, Paul has had numerous references that are completely majestic of the glory of the risen Christ and of His divine prerogatives and nature. When Jesus returned to heaven, not only was the fullness of glory that He left restored, but now touching His divine nature as it was before is completely infinite and ubiquitous.

He now in His divine nature is everywhere. It's human nature isn't. The human nature is at the right hand of God. The human nature doesn't become deified. The human nature is still human.

It's still limited by creaturely limitations. But that human nature is perfectly joined and united with the divine nature, which nature is not bound by any creaturely limits, that divine nature is ubiquitous. That is, it is filling all things. And so our Lord touching His divine nature fills everything, fills the whole universe. There's not a molecule in this moment that is not only not owned by Jesus or governed by Jesus Christ, but also not filled by Him.

He fills all things even above the heavens. Now, Paul goes on now with his theme of the special enabling gifts that Christ gives to the church. And he himself, namely Jesus, gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, comma.

The first two we can assume refer to the foundational gifts that Christ gave to the church. He established the office of apostle. And to the apostles, he transferred his own authority. In fact, the first apostle ever was Jesus Himself, who was authorized and sent by the Father to the earth, and the Father gave authority to Christ. Then Christ gave the gift of apostleship to those individuals that He called, and He said, Those who receive you receive Me.

Those who reject you reject Me. Now, there's always a lot of controversy about whether there are any apostles today. And it has been the strong view of Reformed theology that the office of apostle and Old Testament-type prophet ended at the end of the apostolic age. There was no apostolic succession beyond the first generation of apostles, because by definition that couldn't have happened because the criteria established in the book of Acts for the office of apostle was that an apostle in the first instance had to be first a disciple of Jesus during His earthly ministry, secondly, an eyewitness of the resurrection, and third, to be called directly and immediately by Christ to that office. Perhaps one of the most significant theological issues of the first century was the authority of Paul, because Paul had not been a disciple, nor had he been an eyewitness of the resurrection prior to Christ's ascension. He had a vision of Christ on the road to Damascus, but he failed the first two qualifications for an apostle. But the third one he had big time, namely that he was called directly and immediately by Christ to be an apostle.

That's one of the reasons I'm convinced that Luke rehearsed the call of Paul on three different occasions in his book of Acts, because it's probable that one of the main concerns that Luke had in writing the book of Acts was to give the credentials for Paul's apostleship. He didn't receive his authority from the other apostles, but he was confirmed in that office by the other apostles. Now if somebody comes to me today and say, they're an apostle, I say, how do you know you're an apostle?

And they say, well, Jesus came to me and called me to direct that. And I said, yeah, but you don't have any existing other apostles alive today to confirm your claim. So I'm persuaded that the office of apostle was a foundation office. And even the sub-apostolic fathers like Clement of Rome recognized the clear distinction between the authority that they enjoyed and the authority of the apostles who then ordained them to what we would call the ordinary offices of the church.

I think the same is true of the category here mentioned as prophets. And then he goes on, and some pastors and teachers. Now this is another enabling grace for the church that God has given to the church, not only those to be the foundation of the church, the apostles and the prophets, but He's also given to the church the ordinary offices of pastor and teacher. And the two things that are said here are conjoined in the sense that the pastor has to teach and the teacher has to have pastoral inclinations as well. And so for two thousand years the church has benefited from the office of teachers and of pastors. We also know that for two thousand years the church has been enormously harmed at times by pastors and teachers.

Godless pastors and false teachers have done as much damage to Christianity as the false prophets did to Israel in the Old Testament. But in the main, these offices are given not for our destruction, but the purpose by which Christ enables the church to have pastors and teachers is for our edification. But he was particularly specific here when he says the reason why Christ gave pastors and teachers.

Listen to this. The reason is for equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. How different this is from the modern understanding of how the church is built. We have this kind of pyramid where at the top there are the pastors and the elders, and then down through the pyramid you have the peons who are the rank and file of the church.

No, that's not the New Testament view. The function of the pastors and the teachers is to equip the saints to do the ministry so that the ministry of the church is entrusted not to the pastors but to the people, to the members. And the astonishing thing that Paul is mentioning here is that every member of the body of Christ has been gifted by Christ for ministry so that every person in the body of Christ is to be involved in ministry, evangelism, administration, singing in the choir, mercy ministries, ministries to those women at the abortion clinic. All of those ministries are the task of the people of God. It's the task of the pastors and the teachers to make sure that the church is equipped for its duty. You have the gift, but you may need training.

You may need information. You may need more understanding of the truth of God, but it's not like we hire the pastor or the minister to do the work of ministry. No, we're the drill instructors, and we're there to help the troops become strengthened and equipped for the battle. Now I didn't mean to pass over the role of the evangelists. I shouldn't do that because Paul mentioned that right after the prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers. And when we look at the structure of the New Testament church, we saw that the principal work of evangelism was done not inside the church but outside the church. And the task of the evangelist was to proclaim the evangel, which is the New Testament word, euangelion, for gospel. If we look carefully at the book of Acts and we see the activity of the deacons and the apostles in the first-century church, they went out, Paul to the agora, to the marketplace, to the synagogues, and he proclaimed the gospel of Christ. And the sermons that we find in the book of Acts of the apostles contain what we call technically the kerygma. The kerygma comes from the Greek word karouks, which is the word that means proclamation or the preaching.

And the kerygma had a clearly defined content. Now you've probably heard this lamentation from me before that there are very few Christians in our country today who have any idea what the gospel is. I taught the Doctor of Ministry program in the seminary. Frequently I would have pastors in the class, and I would say to them, tell me what the gospel is. And I would go to the blackboard, and I would write down their definition of the gospel. And I would hear things like, well, the gospel is God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life, or Jesus Christ forgives your sins, or you can be reconciled with Almighty God, or you can have a fulfilled life, a happy life, a meaningful life. All of those things may at least in part be true, but none of them adds up to the gospel. The gospel has to do with the announcement of the person and work of Christ.

That's an objective content. Now there's great value for me or for you to tell your neighbor what Christ has done for you and to give your personal testimony, but don't ever think that your personal testimony is the gospel. It's preliminary to the gospel. It may open up the door for you to have the opportunity to give them the gospel, but the gospel is a message about Jesus, who He is, what He did, and how the benefits of His work are appropriated to us by faith and by faith alone. So that was the task of the evangelists in the first century was to proclaim the gospel, the kerygma. And then after people responded to the gospel and came into the church, then they were given what was called the didache, or the teaching.

That's what the teachers were supposed to do. A person responds to the gospel. They don't have any idea about what justification is or sanctification or any of that stuff. All they know is that they're sinners under the wrath of God, and Jesus Christ came to save them from their sins and the cross and resurrection. They know that. Now when they come to the church, then they're catechized.

They're given the instruction. What you're experiencing right now this very minute is didache. And remember in the book of Acts, we're told that the church came together on the Lord's Day to devote themselves to the teaching of the apostles.

That's didache. That's being instructed to the end that they may be equipped and edified until we all come to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God to a perfect man that is a complete man to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. And then He goes on to this end for this purpose, that we may no longer be children. You've heard it said.

Maybe you've said it. I want a childlike faith. Childlike faith. There's nothing wrong with a childlike faith. A childlike faith is a faith that puts implicit trust in God.

Just like a little child has to trust their mother or their father because they don't know enough to make decisions on their own. Childlike faith is great. Childish faith is not so great.

In fact, it's a sin. We are not permitted by God to remain babes. Oh, be babes an evil, but in understanding be men. We're called to grow up. We are called no longer to be infants in the faith, no longer children, but to grow up to the fullness of Christ. Now why should we not be children? Here's what happens to infants and infantile Christians. Should no longer be children tossed to and fro, carried about with every wind of doctrine by the trickery of men and the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting. That's the mark of the child who has no discernment. He is carried away, the newest and latest doctrine, the newest fad introduced on Christian television.

Their ears are tickled, and they get carried away, like by the wind or by the waves, by every breeze that comes in their direction. This morning again, referring to my doctor, he was talking to me about what's wrong with our country. And I said to him, I said, well, there's a lot of problems. And I said, I wish that the church would understand that we're living in as much of a pagan country as the first century Christians were within pagan Rome. I said, but our people think that all they need to do to restore this country to godliness is to have a Republican president. The needs are much bigger than that, much deeper than that.

You can have a whole Senate, a whole Congress, a whole White House, and a Supreme Court with nothing but Republicans. That's not going to fix the problem. The godlessness of this nation is far deeper than that. And the doctor said to me, he said, well, that's what I say to people, but they say I'm being judgmental when I say that our country's not Christian and that that's wrong for me to be judgmental. And I said to him, you know, the Bible says we're not to be judging people in the sense of condemning them. There is the judgment of condemnation. But in distinction to that, there's the judgment of discernment. We are called to be as sharp as we possibly can in discerning the times and discerning what is right and what is wrong. And I said the next time somebody tells you that it's judgmental to be discerning, when they come to see you with a stomachache, say, well, I don't want to determine whether this is indigestion or stomach cancer, because then I would be being judgmental.

They want you to be judgmental in the sense of discernment when you carry out your task as a physician. Well, in any case, we're called to grow up to speak the truth in love, to grow up into all things into Him who is our head, even Christ, for whom the whole body is joined and knit together by what every joint supplies. It's not just that we're knit together, but we're knit together for a reason, because everything in that process of knitting, as Paul explains in other passages and other books, is for the mutual benefit of the whole body.

There's a reason why the knee bone is connected to the ankle bone or the shin bone is connected to the ankle bone and the knee bone to the thigh bone and all of that, because these joints work together so that we can function in a healthy manner. And so, joined and knit together by whatever joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share and causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. He started this section by saying that Christ has given grace and enabling grace to every one of us, but not just to tickle our fancy, but rather for a reason, that the individual gifts, the individual grace that you have received is not simply for your benefit or even for the world, but it's for the church, that this whole ministry strengthens the church. And I don't know what your gift is, but I know you have one, because it's been distributed to you by the measure of Christ. What I'd like to ask you to think about this week, if you would, is to ask yourself the question, what is my gift? That's the first question. Do you know what your gift is? And then the second question is, how am I using it for the benefit of the body of Christ and for the mission that He has given to the whole church?

Because the whole church, to be the whole church, needs the whole church. Two important questions for each of us to reflect on and answer this week. This is the Sunday edition of Renewing Your Mind. I'm your host, Nathan W. Bingham.

What you heard today was the final message in a brief series from R.C. Sproul in Ephesians, and it was this very teaching that formed the basis for his expositional commentary on this letter. You can go back and read Dr. Sproul verse by verse from Ephesians chapter 1 through chapter 6 when you give a donation of any amount at, and know that your generosity is helping the next generation grow up in the faith as faithful Bible teaching is made available to them in more ways, including through Renewing Your Mind and our other podcasts. So please show your support with a donation at, and we'll send you this hardcover commentary from Dr. Sproul. This offer will not be repeated next Sunday, so respond today before midnight. We're leaving Ephesians today, but next time will be in another letter written by the Apostle Paul. To find out which one, you'll have to join us next Sunday here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-05-12 02:46:17 / 2024-05-12 02:54:50 / 9

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