How has the church grown over the last 2000 years? What started with 120 disciples gathered in the upper room in Jerusalem now has, as the Pew Research Center estimates in 2015, 2.27 billion disciples. We know the Holy Spirit provides the growth for the church. But how does the Holy Spirit of God grow the number of disciples?
Jesus’ people have been growing in numbers because faith in Christ is attractive, good, and beneficial to this life. To know that God desires to be with his creation means we will want to be with God through faith in Christ. We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, yet because we are forgiven through the blood of Jesus, we are remade into God’s image. As we believe in Jesus, we have the benefit of the Holy Spirit helping us to live, despite the suffering and problems of this world.
As we are in this church, we have also found how attractive, good, and beneficial faith in Christ is. We also know that despite the growing number of disciples of Christ in this world, our church is not seeing the same growth. I cannot explain the ways in which we have been declining. We know that we are not the same congregation we were 15 years ago. I can point us to the Holy Spirit and how He has helped the number of disciples to grow in the world.
In his book, The Forgotten Ways, Alan Hirsch, reflects on questions raised at a missional church conference. On page 4, the speaker asked three questions. First, how many Christians were in the world in 100 A.D.? Second, he asked how many Christians were in the world in 310 A.D.? Hirsch records the answer to the first question as being no fewer than 25,000. Hirsch then answers the second question by saying 20,000,000 Christians. Then comes the third question, how did the number of Christian disciples grow in a 210-year time span, within the Roman Empire?
I believe the answer to that third question can help us grow disciples here at First United Methodist Church. For the same way of being a disciple then is the same way we can be a disciple of Jesus today. The Spirit of Christ fills us so that we can be disciples and so we can grow disciples. We grow disciples by living with the gifts the Holy Spirit has given us.
A. Live a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called (4:1-6)
a. We live with humility & gentleness
i. Patience, bearing with one another in love
ii. Do all to have the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace
b. One Spirit = One Lord = One God
c. Paul is reminding the church in Ephesus to be like Christ. When we read Ephesians, we are being reminded to be like Christ. We bear with one another in love because sometimes, we are unbearable. We strive to be united, because sometimes we are untied. We work for peace, because sometimes we leave each other in pieces. We are disciples of Jesus Christ. Let us live like disciples of Jesus Christ.
B. Christ has given us gifts (4:7-10)
a. Christ has given us grace – unmerited reward
b. Christ has given gifts to his people
c. We are Jesus’ people. We have what Christ has given us. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12 that the Holy Spirit gives spiritual gifts to the believers. This Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. What the Spirit has given to one set of believers is the same gifts He gives to us.
C. What are the gifts? Are you APEST? (4:11-16)
a. Apostle – literally, the sent one who makes sure God’s work is being done in an area
b. Prophet – tells the truth of how life will be when we live in Christ together
c. Evangelist – reminds the world of the love of Christ and asks people to come to Jesus
d. Shepherds/Pastor – works so that young Christians grow up to be like Jesus
e. Teacher – ensures Christians know how to live in a world that does not like or want Jesus
f. Are you APEST? Are you working to build up the body of Christ? Or have we fallen prey to the winds of doctrinal change sweeping through this American land? If we are disciples of Jesus Christ, then we work together, properly, so the body of Christ is built up in love. If we are not loving one another, then we are tearing down what Christ has built here at First UMC.
D. The Apostle
a. Sent one – by God (confirmed by their life and the witness of others)
b. The Twelve
d. Some say we have not had any since Paul
e. Yet, God gives gifts to his church. When God gives gifts to the church, the church grows. The only way to stop the church from growing is to deny that God sent the gifts. The Holy Spirit fills a person, the apostle, so the apostle knows they are sent to make sure the Christian faith is deposited in an area. This apostle ensures the Christian faith is just like the Christian faith in every part of the world.
Are you APEST? Are you an apostle? If we do not have an apostle among us, then we ask God to make that gift available to this congregation. For us to continue to live as disciples of Jesus Christ, then we need all five gifts to be evident in our midst. We need an apostle to take us where God is sending us. We need a prophet to constantly remind us to be faithful to Jesus. We need an evangelist to carry people to a relationship with Jesus Christ. We need a shepherd/pastor to assist us in being disciples of Jesus. We need a teacher to help us understand God.
We remember that God gave growth to the church between 100 and 310 AD. We want that same growth in our days. Therefore, we decide to live as Christ’s disciples.
God, send us the gift of an apostle. Help us to have the unity of the Spirit. Build up this part of the body of Christ so we can be built up in love. In the Name of Jesus, I pray. Amen,