The dwindling numbers of churchgoers and of believers in the inerrant Word of God has much to do with people being tired of attending lifeless churches. People want something living and real, not a plastic cross or an ever-revolving offering plate. Instead, they want a relationship with the living God that goes beyond simple pew sitting. They desire a connection that can change their natural man into something supernatural! What these falling numbers need is power. Power, not to develop them into a better son of Adam, but power that converts them into a son of God! Without such change, mankind suffers, and the fruit of such suffering negatively affects the individual believer, their Church family, and the world to which they are called. Paul describes this affliction in the following manner:
1 Corinthians 3:3
(3) For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?
Frustrations and problems within the Church, Paul said, are ultimately traced to one’s unwillingness to grow beyond spiritual immaturity. Look how the Amplified Bible translates this same verse:
1 Corinthians 3:3 AMP
(3) For you are still [unspiritual, having the nature] of the flesh [under the control of ordinary impulses]. For as long as [there are] envying and jealousy and wrangling and factions among you, are you not unspiritual and of the flesh, behaving yourselves after a human standard and like mere (unchanged) men?
The root of our problem in America is not ungodly politicians or liberal judges, it’s not TV, MTV, or Hollywood, it’s not the privileged wealthy or the underprivileged poor, it’s not America’s enemies or her allies, no, the root problem of America is the absence of Jesus Christ in the lives of her citizens; both in the lives of those who are lost, and in the lives of those who are saved.
A CALL TO PERFECTION
This may come as a shock to some, but Jesus didn’t come to simply make converts. Instead, He came to transform the sinners of this world into ambassadors of His kingdom. To live as His ambassador requires Christlike perfection. Such perfection is found in the next command. (Concerning this study, please note that Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from the King James Version of the Holy Bible. Also, some passages have bolds, underlines, UPPERCASES, and [bracketed comments] added by me for emphasis.) Now to what Jesus said:
(48) Be ye therefore PERFECT, even AS YOUR FATHER WHICH IS IN HEAVEN IS PERFECT.
The word “perfect” biblically means to be finished, complete, of full age, or matured (See Thayer’s G5046). Just as a baby that is born a male must mature to become a man, so also a Born Again believer must grow beyond their “babe in Christ” beginnings to become a spiritually matured man or woman of God. The command to be “perfect like your Father” is located in an area of Scripture known as the “Beatitudes.” Jesus’ teaching there challenges His Church to react and interact to life in a way quite opposite of man’s natural tendencies. Fundamentally, the Beatitudes call the Church to not only walk in a way that pleases Jesus, but, more importantly, to walk in a way that embodies Jesus to the world. This is easily seen when Matthew 5:48 is read in context with a few of its preceding verses.
43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. [This is what the natural and carnal man would say.]
44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; [This is what the spiritual man would believe and do.]
45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. [A believer faithfully doing what they should makes them appear as the Body of Christ.]
46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? [This is what the natural and carnal man would say.]
47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? [This is what the natural and carnal man would say.]
48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. [A believer faithfully doing what they should makes them appear as the Body of Christ.]
Living Jesus’ Beatitudes necessitate a growing process that moves a believer from spiritual immaturity into spiritual perfection. This process is the same way in which the Church grows into their calling to be the ambassadors for Jesus Christ’s kingdom.
Saint’s maturing to perfection is also a key element found in Jesus’ Great Commission:
(19) Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
(20) Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
This command says to teach all peoples the gospel, to baptize in Jesus’ name those who accept the gospel, and then to ground those new believers in the Word of God. Sadly, many churches do the teaching and converting but neglect to do the discipling. This great omission stunts the spiritual growth of the believers in that local body. The Great Commission teaches the Church’s responsibility to not only teach Jesus’ gospel and to convert people through Jesus’ name, but also it calls the Church to spiritually mature believers so they can be active members of Jesus’ Body. These spiritually matured believers can then participate in fulfilling Jesus’ Great Commission. Sadly, many churches have no active plan to spiritually mature their members.
Peter also dealt with a saint’s need to grow into perfection when he wrote:
2 Peter 1:4-11
(4) Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. [This is salvation]
(5) And BESIDE THIS, giving all diligence, ADD TO your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;
(6) And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;
(7) And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. [This is going on to perfection through sanctification]
(8) For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. [Maturity of a believer]
(9) But he that lacketh these things is blind [Spiritual Darkness], and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. [Immaturity of a believer]
(10) Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall:
(11) For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Peter’s statement about receiving “exceeding great and precious promises” that leads to being “partakers in the divine nature” refers to his readers believing in and obeying the Lord Jesus Christ (verse 4). Peter speaks of giving “diligence to make your calling and election sure.” This, he says, is done by “doing” the things he named (verse 10). He isn’t saying that doing these things saves a person, but rather, a person who is saved will do these things. Such obedience speaks of the process of growing in spiritual maturity will lead to a live that reflects biblical perfection.
God pronounced curses on Eve for her sin in Eden. These entailed more pain during childbirth and a desire to rule over her husband would be replaced with her being placed under her husband’s headship (see Genesis 3:16). The above verses from Peter references this situation as well. First, he promises that a believer who grows in spiritual maturity would not be “barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (verse 10). This speaks of a birthing as well, only this one involves a Born Again believer seeing Jesus birthed in them. This then helps them fulfill the Great Commission to lead others to being Born Again in Jesus Christ. Remember, a mom has to have life in her before she can birth life from her. The same is true with a Church member; they must have the life of Jesus in them before they can share that life to see it birthed in the lives of others.
This new life comes through the “knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ” (see 2 Peter 1:8). The Greek word for “knowledge” in is “epignōsis” (G1922). Strong’s interprets this word to mean “recognition, full discernment, acknowledgement.” The Septuagint also uses epignōsis for the “knowledge” found in the following verse:
6 For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.
Jesus quoted Hosea’s verse and asked His listeners to go and learn what it means (see Matthew 9:13, Matthew 12:7). At that time it may have been hard for His Jewish listeners to understand this passage, but now, on the other side of Jesus’ Gospel work, we should see it very clearly. Jesus wasn’t saying that sacrifices were not important. Rather, He was saying a person being obsessed with the desire to know God means more to Him than any mere act of animal sacrifice. Thus, not only is “recognition, full discernment, and acknowledgement” of the Lord available to the faithful, but moreover, Jesus desires that they do come to such knowledge.
The Bible describes Jesus as a bridegroom and His Church as His bride. Thus, the Church is under the headship of the one to whom they are called to become familiar – Jesus Christ. This positioning refers back to the curses placed on Adam and Eve. However, now, through the Lord Jesus, this positioning becomes a blessing for it restores believers to a spiritually perfect relationship with God that lead to fruitfulness. When Eve fell, the curse was she would get her identity through child bearing and through her husband (see Genesis 3:16). Eve is the Hebrew “Chavvah,” which literally means “lifegiver” (see H2332). Jesus is called the “last Adam” (see 1 Corinthians 15:45). Jesus’ Eve is the Bride of Christ, which is the Church. The Church is called the “mother of all living,” because she births newborn babes in Christ from the intimacy she has with her husband, the Lord Jesus Christ (see Galatians 4:26).
The Great Commission’s “teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” speaks of the need for every Born Again Child of God to mature beyond the foundation of their salvation, so they can truly function as the bride of Christ. Once this is facilitated, a believer will learn how to biblically serve the Lord Jesus Christ as well as the men and women to whom they are called to serve. Such ministry will greatly impact a believer’s family and local Church. Notice the following Baptist Press statistic on the impact believing fathers have on the spiritual condition of their home:
Did you know that if a child is the first person in a household to become a Christian, there is a 3.5 percent probability everyone else in the household will follow? If the mother is the first to become a Christian, there is a 17 percent probability everyone else in the household will follow. But if the father is first, there is a 93 percent probability everyone else in the household will follow.
“The statistics,” Sid Woodruff, men’s ministry specialist, said, “shout the importance of churches becoming more intentional in their development of ministries for men. If you reach the men, you reach the families, but to reach the men, you have to enter into their world. Of about 94 million men in the United States,” Woodruff said, “68 million don’t attend any church, but 85 percent of those say they did grow up with some sort of church background. These men aren’t necessarily opposed to going to church; they just don’t see churches as being ‘male-friendly.’” (Polly House. “Want Your Church to Grow? Then Bring in the Men.” The Baptist Press. 3 April 2003. Web. www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?ID=15630 )
Churches not focused on personally maturing and developing the men in their congregations will find the spiritual growth of their church stunted. This problem is often found where pulpits are more focused on the numbers of men in the pews, than they are on maturing and using the men in the pews. Such disregard has caused many saints to become disillusioned with their church and with their relationship with God. Such disappointment then bleeds over into the collective body of believers, thus affecting both its character and its effectiveness to fulfill its God-called purpose. If you remember from earlier, this is what Paul said was happening in 1 Corinthians 3:3. There he basically said: “The reason why your church is experiencing ‘envying, and strife, and divisions’ is because you are not maturing your members beyond being mere ‘carnal’ men.” The answer to reversing any such issues is to fulfill the entirety of Jesus’ Great Commission.
The five-fold ministry’s involvement in the Church is what the Bible says perfects—matures—the saints for the work of their own ministry.
(11) And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
(12) FOR THE PERFECTING OF THE SAINTS, for the WORK OF THE MINISTRY, for THE EDIFYING OF THE BODY OF CHRIST:
The task of each of these five ministries, according to the Apostle Paul, is to perfect saints to work in the ministry to which they are called. Some think a Pastor’s job is simply to preach a sermon at the various church services, but Paul says this is not so, for he shows that the greater calling of the Church’s Elders (Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, and Teachers) is to train and facilitate the spiritual callings of the body of believers. First, please understand, that “ministry” isn’t just about preaching and teaching from a pulpit. Rather, biblical ministry is done whenever a saint of God serves someone else’s needs in Jesus’s name. Paul said a saint being perfected to work in such ministry will “edify” the remainder of the body of believers. Such involvement does much to squelch the envying, strife, and divisions mentioned in 1 Corinthians 3:3.
From his book, The Company of the Committed, Elton Trueblood writes:
“It is strange to see how slow we are to understand what the acceptance of the idea of a Christian company entails. Thus, when we organize a commitment service, we tend, unless we make a conscious effort at improvement, to have the familiar pattern of the single performer. If, by contrast, many share in the observance—whether in reading Scripture or in public prayer or in admonition—there are two enormous gains. One is that even those who do not participate vocally begin to have a sense that they are more than audience; the other is that the commitment of those who do participate vocally is normally made deeper and more genuine. Preaching may not, but it is almost always helpful to those who speak. This is partially because expression deepens impression and partly because the speaker immediately achieves a public identification with the cause, from which he is consequently less likely to turn back. Since commitment is strengthened by public involvement, the more involvement the better. Therefore the Christian ideal must always be the complete elimination of the concept of the laity in favor of the exciting concept of the universal ministry.” (Elton Trueblood, The Company of the Committed, pages 39 & 40)
I believe Trueblood was on to something here. The teaching that the ministers and the laity are somehow separated causes both a division between the pulpit and the pew, and also a split between who can and who cannot perform “ministry.” Jesus’ ambassadors are not just those who stand in pulpits and preach. He made it clear that every man, woman, and child that has been Born Again in Jesus’ name are to be ambassadors of His kingdom. When saints see they are in fact called to such a status and are to act accordingly, they find more identification and purpose with this call.
To better understand what is meant by biblical “maturity,” we will look to the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary. There it defines maturity as:
the state of being mature; ripeness: The fruit will reach maturity in a few days.
full development; perfected condition: maturity of judgment; to bring a plan to maturity.
By applying Webster’s definition we see that the degree of spiritual fruit a person exhibits is equal to the degree of spiritual maturity they are living. Man’s maturity and immaturity are found in the following verses on the “works of the flesh” and the “fruit of the Spirit”:
(18) But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.
(19) Now THE WORKS OF THE FLESH [Immaturity] are manifest, which are these; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,
(20) Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,
(21) Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
(22) But THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT [Maturity] is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
(23) Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
(24) And THEY THAT ARE CHRIST’S HAVE CRUCIFIED THE FLESH WITH THE AFFECTIONS AND LUSTS.
The Apostle Paul’s “works of the flesh” speaks of a believer’s spiritual immaturity. The “fruit of the Spirit” speaks of a believer’s spiritual maturity. Please, notice that though the fruit of the Spirit is first experienced within a believer, its overall purpose is to positively affect someone else. This is the nature of fruit; it does not bless the plant on which it grows, but instead it blesses those who harvest and consume it. Paul indicates that spiritual fruit is to be found in every saint that receives the Holy Ghost. Further he indicated that its purpose is for them to share that fruit whenever they minister to the needs of others. Peter amen’d this thought when he wrote:
1 Peter 4:10
As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.
The “gift” to which Peter is referring is the gift of the Holy Ghost, which is God’s indwelling presence. God’s Spirit empowers believers to grow and operate in the fruit of the Spirit. It also empowers a saint of God to operate in their particular gift of the Spirit. These Gifts of the Spirit are listed in Paul’s epistle to the Church of Corinth.
1 Corinthians 12:7-10
(7) But THE MANIFESTATION OF THE SPIRIT IS GIVEN TO EVERY MAN TO PROFIT WITHAL.
(8) For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;
(9) To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;
(10) To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:
Like the Fruit of the Spirit, the Gifts of the Spirit is not given to edify the individual through whom they’re manifested. Rather, they are given to serve someone else. The Bible says “the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.” Did you notice that it does not say it is limited to a select special few? Instead it says it is given to “every man”? Look at what this “every man” actually means:
1 Corinthians 12:11-14
(11) But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.
(12) For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.
(13) For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.
(14) For the body is not one member, but many.
Within the context of 1 Corinthians 12, Paul has everyone that received the Holy Ghost being the ones that has the Holy Ghost’s accompanying gifts, and, remember, these gifts are given to minister to the needs of others.
THE CHURCH WILL DO GREATER THINGS THAN JESUS
As stated earlier, Jesus came to transform sinners into ambassadors. He didn’t desire a Church of immature individuals. Rather, He wants a Church of matured saints who are unified into one body and who respond obediently to His will. The statement found in this section’s heading may seem hard to believe, but it is exactly what Jesus said would happen when believers spiritually matured and became active members in His Church. In the next passages we see where Jesus made this boast:
(11) Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works’ sake.
(12) Verily, verily, I say unto you, HE THAT BELIEVETH ON ME, THE WORKS THAT I DO SHALL HE DO ALSO; and GREATER WORKS THAN THESE SHALL HE DO; because I go unto my Father.
(13) And WHATSOEVER YE SHALL ASK IN MY NAME, THAT WILL I DO, THAT THE FATHER MAY BE GLORIFIED IN THE SON.
(14) If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.
(15) IF YE LOVE ME, KEEP MY COMMANDMENTS.
(16) And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that HE MAY ABIDE WITH YOU FOR EVER;
(17) Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for HE DWELLETH WITH YOU, AND SHALL BE IN YOU.
(18) I will not leave you comfortless: I WILL COME TO YOU.
(19) Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also.
(20) At that day ye shall know that I AM IN MY FATHER, AND YE IN ME, AND I IN YOU.
This area of scripture is loaded with meaning. Notice that Jesus said for them to believe Him for “the works” He was doing. This is the same thing Jesus told the disciples of John the Baptist to tell him when they returned.
(22) Then Jesus answering said unto them, Go your way, and TELL JOHN WHAT THINGS YE HAVE SEEN AND HEARD; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached.
These “works” are all ministry related! Luke 6:40 says, “The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master.” So, Jesus was NOT SAYING that believers would be GREATER WORKS than He, but that they would do MAGNIFIED MORE than He did in the areas of ministry that ear marked Him as being their Messiah. Such action does not magnify men, but rather magnifies the reality that God is serving the diverse needs of the world through the matured ministry of His Church members. Such participation becomes a testimony, which gives hope, both to the one ministering in the power of God’s Spirit, and to one receiving that ministry. The Message Bible translates John 14:19-20 this way:
John 14:19-20 MSG
(19) In just a little while the world will no longer see me, but YOU’RE GOING TO SEE ME BECAUSE I AM ALIVE AND YOU’RE ABOUT TO COME ALIVE.
(20) AT THAT MOMENT YOU WILL KNOW ABSOLUTELY THAT I’M IN MY FATHER, AND YOU’RE IN ME, AND I’M IN YOU.
This is it! This life happens the moment the Spirit of Jesus enters into a believer, and it is manifested every time they allow that power to minister through them! God does not see the warmth of such a touch as being just human touching human. Rather, Jesus describes such ministry as Him touching the believer in whom He dwells, so He can touch the person to whom that believer is ministering. From this next parable, Jesus refers to this service to others:
(37) Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee hungry, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
(38) When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
(39) Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
(40) And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, INASMUCH AS YE HAVE DONE IT UNTO ONE OF THE LEAST OF THESE MY BRETHREN, YE HAVE DONE IT UNTO ME.
How can a believer do greater things than Jesus? To understand this, simply answer the following question: How can one man or one woman accomplish more than they are physically or spiritually able to complete by themselves? Answer: they assign other men and women to be agents in whom they entrust the authority and the means necessary to complete whatever tasks need done. By declaring that His body would do greater things than He, Jesus was stating that He would delegate His power to His Church, so they could minister like He did on an even greater scale. He first makes those in His Church ambassadors for the Kingdom of God. He then empowers them to operate in the Gifts and the Fruit of His Spirit. They then use these spiritual Gifts and Fruit to fulfill their mission to minister to the needs of others in Jesus’ name.
We do not need another revival or a new outreach program. The machinery needed to build the true Church of Jesus Christ is already in place. New souls are naturally birthed into the Kingdom of God when Jesus (the husband) and His matured Church (the bride) come together. This is the biblical way of Church growth. It is also why the Book of Acts says that the “Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (see Acts 2:47). The Church grew in numbers as they matured in the Lord and were thus able to operate as Christ’s body (see Acts 2:46).
To make this biblical growth program a reality, members of the five-fold ministry must teach the Word to help those in the Church to spiritually mature into their God-called ministries. Once this is achieved, the Church can help facilitate, where possible, the various ministries to which God has called these matured saints. They in turn then use their calling to minister to their community in Jesus’ name.
If Church Elders ignore the call to build the true Church, the body of believers, they will be turning a blind eye their purpose. How well a preacher speaks from a pulpit is not nearly as important as how well he serves the people in the pews. The Church cannot continue having convenient programs that take no notice of the very people they are called to serve. If they do, they will be guilty of creating an atmosphere where rotting corpses are readily found in the houses of worship. Elders must not choose programs simply because they make their ministries work better for themselves. They must decide on a course of action that best feeds the starving souls calling out for a meaningful relationship with Jesus.
One of the wealthiest men alive is Microsoft’s, Bill Gates. A few years ago he said, “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.” Gates might have borrowed this idea from Jesus because empowering others is the said purpose of His five-fold ministry. Regardless whether you’re called to be an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor or teacher, you should be: driven to share Jesus’ gospel with as many as will listen; passionate to lead the sincere to be baptized in Jesus’ name in the water and in the Spirit; able to teach the word of God to mature new believers into Sons of God; working to facilitate opportunities so spiritually matured saints of God can work the ministry to which God called them. These things should be an obsession of the men who serve in these five areas of ministry. Spiritually matured men and women will seek opportunities to minister in Jesus’ name to the needs of others. This is their way to be perfect like their “Father in Heaven is perfect.” Such action is the way the head of the Church (Jesus Christ) uses His Body (the Church) to manifest His remarkable presence to the world.
Copyright © 2006 Thomas K. Burk. All Rights Reserved.