How Can the Bible Relate to Us Today?

Marks of a Healthy Church

Ephesians 4: 14-16

Some years ago, I was serving as the Associate Pastor in a small church in Washington State in the United States. A man moved into the area and began to visit the church each Sunday. He appeared to be well-versed in the Bible, and he was the brother of a woman who was a respected leader in a non-denominational church women’s movement in the local community. These two factors lent him credibility in our church as he attended adult Sunday morning Bible studies.

Eventually, unknown by the church’s leadership, this fellow started a Bible study in the home of a family in the church, and soon there were other members of our church attending this Bible study. Later I heard about what he was teaching. He was using a passage in 2 Timothy 2: 15 as presented in the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible for the foundation of his studies.

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”

His interpretation of what it meant to be “rightly dividing the word of truth” was astonishing when I heard about it. He believed that, of the Gospels, Matthew was written to Jews so it is only for the Jews and not the modern church. The book of Luke was more of a history and the book of John was too spiritual to apply to us today. That left just the book of Mark for our understanding of Jesus and his message. Also, of the non-Gospel writings, only Paul’s writings matter as they were directly written for the church. It didn’t seem to matter that the word of truth that Paul was instructing the new leader Timothy about were the scriptures that existed in that day – what Christians now call the Old Testament. Paul didn’t have the New Testament to which to refer Timothy! And “dividing”? In the original Greek language, the word is literally “cutting straight” and the Revised Standard Version of the Bible correctly translates the phrase as “rightly handling.” What was the outcome of those Bible studies in someone’s home not supported by the church body? Several families left our church to continue his Bible studies.

Oh, my. I’m sure I have spent too much time on this compared to the Bible study, but I wanted to illustrate graphically what Paul is saying to the believers at and around Ephesus. In summary thus far, Paul talks about leaders in the church – specifically, apostles/missionaries, prophets, evangelists and pastor-teachers – being gifts from God to the workings and health of the church. Their purpose is to prepare the believers for performing works of service or different ministries, if you will, to build up the body of Christ – that is, the church – until we all reach unity and maturity in our taking on the qualities of Jesus Christ. Then Paul follows all this by writing:

“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.”  [Ephesians 4: 14.  NIV]

The contrast is clear. Paul expounded on leaders in the church guiding and preparing the church in service. The result is the portrayal of a working church with references to the church being built up like a building on a solid foundation with the result being unity and greater knowledge of Jesus Christ among the believers. In addition, the believers become mature (in Greek, a sense of “completeness”) in what it is to understand and exhibit all aspects of who Christ is in their daily lives.

If this Godly package is not sought after and attained (“reached”), the result will be like the group of people in that church I described at the beginning. In the area around the Mediterranean Sea, there were marshy areas at the edge of many bodies of water in which reeds, or long grasses, grew. The reeds were subject to being tossed about and swayed by the waves of the water and the winds that blew across the surface of the water and land. Paul has a better outcome for us who accept the encouragement and instruction he gave earlier:

“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”  [Ephesians 4: 15-16.  NIV]

Instead of being wishy-washy (as we say in the United States) by going back and forth about what is truth, believers will know what truth is because they will have reached unity among each other in their faith and in their knowledge of the Son of God and become spiritually mature. Plus they will kindly teach and proclaim that truth in love to one another and in their attitudes toward other people, whether they be believers or not. Paul says much the same in the following passage from his second letter to a young man who was an up-and-coming leader (I apologize for such a lengthy quote, but it does summarize this passage in Ephesians. Also, I strongly believe there are readers who will find encouragement in these words):

“In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and imposters will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is God-breathed (“inspired”) and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
[2 Timothy 3: 12-17.  NIV]

I will finish with comments regarding the last verse in the passage in Ephesians that I’ve been dealing with:  “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”  In a typical church, it is said (I don’t know how accurate the numbers actually are) that 90% of the work in a church is done by 10% of the people. If this is the case, the church in which this takes place is not a healthy church and is less than what God intended the church to be, especially given the passages I included in the study today and the previous two studies in Ephesians 4. The intent by God, as expounded by Paul, is that the church will grow in number and in maturity as each believer in the church carries out the work to which God has appointed them through the giving of his gifts or spiritual abilities – AND the believer’s making use of those gifts in service to others within the church, those on the edge of the church (the periphery) and people in the community.

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