matU = Understanding
What do we mean by making the “u” of mature stand for understanding? It means we need to understand the nature of preaching as it relates to building up believers.
A good deal has been written on the preaching event, and we profit from much of it. Truly the event of preaching is a holy thing. In those moments God Himself fills, empowers, anoints and speaks through His spokesman as He exposes the text of Scripture to needy people for whom His heart longs. Preaching is an event. We do well to reflect upon this aspect of preaching. Yet when it comes to building believers we must not only view preaching as an event, but also as a process.
Many of us are impatient with process; we value event. Preaching as an event happens now, preaching as a process unfolds over time. Preaching as an event can happen in a blaze of glory, preaching as a process requires the steady flow of God’s power. Preaching as an event at times is transcendent, preaching as a process is often tedious and exacting. Preaching as an event may be epochal and memorable, preaching as a process may be deemed too slow and methodical.
All this being said, building up the body of Christ is more of a process than event. We need to lift up the process of preaching without disparaging preaching as an event. Lets examine the preaching process together. Who builds the believer? The spiritualist says, “God does!” The egotist says, “I do!” The congregationalist says “We do!” Who is right? The fact is that they all are a part of the process of establishing disciples in Christ.
Scripture describes the building up of the body of Christ as the work of God Himself. Yet God accomplishes this process not only through His direct heaven-to-heart contact, but through the agency of others. Hear Paul: “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it. But let each man be careful how he builds upon it” (I Cor. 3:9-10). Again he says, “And we proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ. And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me” (Col. 1:28-29).
God uses preachers to build His people, and it requires nothing less than the flow of God’s omnipotent power through them. Yet neither is the building process simply a pulpit-to-pew process. God uses the whole body of Christ to build up its individual members. The Apostles declares, “He gave some . . . as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-12). Our ministry, according to this passage, is not merely the direct upbuilding of the body, but also indirectly the building up the body by equipping its members to perform the ministry that will build it up.
As each member is a part of a divinely coordinated process (in which preachers are afforded a major role), the entire body begins to be “fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Eph. 4:15-16). This is whole-body ministry, but it is prepared, provoked and propelled forward through the ministry of the pastor/teacher.
Building the body of Christ up is God’s work, for this reason we must let Him determine how it should be done. He declares that one primary means He uses is the preaching of the Word of God by pastor/teachers. Yet this is not only a direct means to upbuilding, but it is often also an indirect means, as individual believers are equipped for ministry and then moved by the Spirit to build up the body of Christ through the expression of Christ’s life through the unique blend of their gifts and person. Not even this, however, is the end of the process. There is still one key participant missing—the individual believer’s response to God’s work, the preached word and the ministry of the body.
Peter demanded that we each must “. . . like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation . . . you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (I Pet. 2:2-5). Jesus likened the hearing and responding to His words to that of building a house. To the one who hears and obeys He announced, “Everyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts upon them, may be compared to a wise man, who built his house upon the rock. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded upon the rock” (Matt. 7:24-25). Yet to those who hear only He said, “And everyone who hears these words of Mine, and does not act upon them, will be like a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and it fell, and great was its fall” (Matt. 7:26-27). Indeed “Solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil” (Heb. 5:14).
We need, then, to understand the process of building up the body of Christ and work within this divine process. Building the believer is ultimately God’s work. Yes, He condescends to allow preachers a significant role in this process. We must walk humbly and ever seek to understand what His will is with regard to the preaching of His Word. When we do, He makes certain that the members of the body of Christ are equipped and enabled to build up the other members. He deals with those who do not hear and obey and thus not only endanger themselves, but also the others they are in relationship with. We must understand the process and work within it for His glory.
Not all of us appreciate process, lets be honest. We prefer event. We want every sermon we preach to be the one that will create the great breakthrough for God in our arena of ministry, and rightly so. God graciously grants us to hit a home run every once in a while. Yet, in the plan of God, the steady, consistent exposition of God’s Word by a loving shepherd builds the people of God strong in Christ.
It is said that The British Weekly once printed this controversial letter: “It seems ministers feel their sermon are very important and spend a great deal of time preparing them. I have been attending church quite regularly for 30 years and I have probably heard 3,000 of them. To my consternation, I discovered I cannot remember a single sermon. I wonder if a minister’s time might be more profitable spent on something else?”
A flood of letters poured in, some in hearty agreement with the suspicion of the original letter writer, others vehemently opposed. The entire matter was ended when this letter was received and printed: “I have been married for 30 years. During that time I have eaten 32,850 meals—mostly my wife’s cooking. Suddenly I have discovered I cannot remember the menu of a single meal. And yet . . . I have the distinct impression that without them, I would have starved to death long ago.”
Understanding and appreciating the divine process of building believers is not always easy. As we seek to faithfully fulfill this ministry we soon discover the need for our next component in the acrostic.