I met a remarkable man many years ago. He told me of his Bible study routine which included at least three hours of intensive study in the Word each day, this being a man who knew the Bible very well and could quote it from memory better than anyone I know. But what struck me about this man was not his Biblical knowledge, it was his seeming complete lack of grace. Showing my own sinfulness I must admit to hoping that he would not die during my time as pastor of that church lest I may be called to officiate at his funeral, something I did not want to do! My impressions of him and relationship with him would have made a eulogy difficult. Here was a man who knew his Bible, yet something was amiss.
I have a book that lists 4,400 guitar chords, of which I suppose I know about 20, enough to play a few songs at least. It is entirely possible, given enough time and boredom, that we could learn all 4,400 chords, knowing exactly where on the fretboard to place our fingers. Yet if we have never practised playing, our fingers may not want to go where our vast knowledge knows they should go. Knowing the chords does not a solid guitar player make. Knowing the Bible does not a solid Christian make!
Ephesians 6 leads us to three words that are important for becoming a solid Christian.
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-13 NIV
As a pastor I don’t exist to simply convey information, any more than any parent exists to simply convey information to their child. Part of the work, and a fulfilling one I must admit, is to help people mature in Christ. Maturity in this passage is defined as “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Looking at it that way, we all have some distance to go!
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:22-24 NIV
We often hear things like “I was born this way.” How quickly we run from change, sometimes even denying the possibility. And how often we hear of churches resisting change, even in minor details like carpet colours. Yet change is what a Christian is to do! We are a people who are all about change!
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 4:32 – 5:2
What a challenge, to imitate God! This is challenging to some because they would actually prefer to be God, and so like Adam and Eve try be something they are not. Others find the challenge rather in trying to do things they don’t think they can, like forgive or learn patience. But we must be imitators of God and all the wonderful character traits that we see in Him, we reach for and by His grace, and through His Spirit, we begin seeing in ourselves.
So why bother with church? Because maturity, change, and imitation of God works so much better with others. We are not likely to do well in these things without others, and amazingly, God wants to use us to help others do well in these things also. Sure, we can memorize the entire Bible on our own, but memorizing the Bible does not ensure our growth as Christians. Jesus did not call just one disciple, but twelve. Discipleship always works best in bunches!