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Bible Studies for Life

Sunday, September 21

with Ann Maniscalco

Connected in Growth

Ephesians 4:11-16

Are you familiar with the “Pareto Principle”? You may know it by the more-familiar terminology: the “80-20 Rule”. Originally, it applied to an observation made in 1906 by Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto; he discovered that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. The catch-phrase has become a rule-of-thumb in business; that 80% of a company’s sales come from 20% of its clients. In many other scenarios, the 80/20 rule seems to hold true.

Sadly, Pareto’s Principle is evident in numerous churches. Approximately 80% of the work is done by – you guessed it – 20% of the members. Part of the problem may be found by pondering this week’s lesson. All Christians have spiritual gifts, but many are not employing them. Listings of various spiritual enablements are found in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and 1 Peter 4, but the ones in our focal passage are mostly leadership gifts.

Ephesians 4:11-12 lists the Giver and the gifts. Christ “personally gave” (verse 11, HCSB) Spirit-empowered leadership to His church. Although the office of apostle no longer exists, we see evidence of the others being active in the church today. Some Bible teachers see church-age prophets as “forth-tellers”, declaring God’s word with clarity.

Do we think of our leaders as gifts of love from our Lord’s hand? We should. They have a weighty task: to train us “in the work of the ministry, to build up the body of Christ” (verse 12). The goal: that we become united and mature in our faith and knowledge of God. This should be not only each leader’s aspiration, but that of individual members as well.

Most of us would probably admit we haven’t totally “arrived” spiritually. Even Paul felt this way (see Philippians 3:10-12). Our ultimate desire should be a spiritual stature “measured by Christ’s fullness” (Ephesians 4:13). We can gauge our spiritual maturity by comparing our actions and attitudes to those of Christ. The mature church operates in the full sufficiency of Christ, expressing His character and His example (see also Colossians 1:15-18; 2:10 and Philippians 2:1-11).

With confident expectation, Paul looks past signs of immaturity and vacillation in the church body at Ephesus (verses 14-16). As they followed the leaders’ teachings, he envisioned a strong congregation, one whose members would know and adhere to sound doctrine. They would realize and reject “the techniques of deceit” (verse 14) brought in by false teachers.

Truth will be a hallmark of a mature church. By “speaking the truth in love” (verse 15 NIV), congregation members can steadily progress toward maturity. So how is this done? An Old Testament verse shows a delightful word picture: “Lovingkindness and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Psalm 85:10 NASB). Truth is essential, but it’s to be blended with mercy.

Sometimes speaking the truth in love requires sharing what’s needful, even when it’s painful. We must be willing to stand against things that are contrary to biblical teaching, but we can share humbly without compromising the essentials of our faith. Our words should be guided by the same grace we’ve received from the Lord.

Christ is the head of the spiritual body known as the church. And just as the physical head is the command center for the actions of the entire body, so is Christ in relation to His body. He is to hold sway. “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it”, says 1 Corinthians 12:27 (NIV). And, as we mature spiritually, “we are fitted together perfectly, and each part in its own special way helps the other parts, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love” (Ephesians 4:16, LB). The word “fitted” translates a compound word based in part on the root for “harmony”. Together, the phrase reflects a properly-working and smoothly-functioning whole.

Reflecting on the gifting of believers, Bible teacher Ray Steadman says, “The reason the church has faltered and failed and lost its direction is that…the gifts [Christ] has given us have gone undiscovered and unused.”

A body deficient or weak in some way isn’t going to perform optimally. In like manner, we must each do our part to support our fellow believers. Louisiana pastor Waylon Bailey puts it thus: “The real question for us must be: ‘Am I using my gifts for God’s work and the church’s good?’ Please find a place of service in God’s kingdom.”

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Maniscalco is a member of Lemoyne Boulevard Church in Biloxi.