|By: Dr. Wayne Barber; ©2000|
|How can you identify a Christians who is maturing, who has gone beyond the "elementary things"? Dr. Barber explores this question.|
Turn to Ephesians 4:14. There are certain characteristics about people who are mature in Jesus, who are surrendered to the Word. People who die daily to self, are obedient to what God says, and are walking by faith, experience the living presence of the fullness of Christ.
They have marks, certain characteristics which identify them. I want to look at one of them in verse 14. They are doctrinally stable. That is one of the first things you notice about somebody who is growing up in Christ. He is maturing. He has thrown away the pacifier.
He is becoming an adult. He is growing into the fullness of Jesus. He is growing up. He is becoming mature. He is doctrinally stable.
Verse 14 is a powerful verse. Let me read it for you: “As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming.”
Paul wants us to realize what the mature are, so he takes us on a journey to see what the immature are like. We are not like this. Let’s look at the immature so we can learn the characteristics of doctrinal stability in those who are mature in Christ Jesus.
Again in verse 14 he calls them children. We are to be no longer children. That’s not teknon. It is not the word huios, for son. It is the word nepios. It is a word that means a little infant that can’t even speak. He is absolutely totally helpless. They are cute, but they are helpless. As a matter of fact, they are carried about by the will and the whim of somebody else. They can’t even tell you what they want. They are not intelligible enough to even carry on a conversation. Paul says we are no longer to be that way. When you are birthed into the family of God, you come in as an infant. You don’t even know what to say. All you know is that you have received Jesus into your heart. Now, you are to grow out of that stage.
You are to grow to a child, grow to an adult, and become full grown in the Lord Jesus Christ. We are to no longer be children.
He gives two characteristics of children, immature people. They are people who have not allowed themselves to be equipped. They are people who say, “I would rather do church than be equipped under the Word of God.” They don’t understand how all this process fits together. These people are children. He gives two characteristics that mark a child. Both of them have to do with total helplessness and instability.
Paul says in verse 14 that “we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves.” The story is told of a little boy whose mama put him to bed one night. Johnny got in bed and she went downstairs to read for a while. About 30 minutes later she heard a big thump on the floor. She knew exactly what happened—he had fallen out of bed again. She went upstairs and Johnny was sitting in the middle of the floor really bewildered. He had been asleep and had fallen out of the bed. She asked, “Johnny, what happened?” He said, “Mama, I don’t know. I guess I just stayed too close to where I got in.”
You see, spiritual children are those who have stayed too close to where they got in. For that reason, they are helpless and not stable when it comes to the whims of false doctrine that are around them. That first phrase, “tossed here and there by waves,” has an idea attached to it. Ephesus was a seaport city, so these people would understand what Paul was talking about. He is using terms that anybody would understand if they had ever been around the water.
Once I was on the coast in Cape Town, South Africa. I stood in my room and looked out at two people who were trying to walk into the water. Now that was odd because the water was cold. I couldn’t understand why they would want to get into the water. They walked down into the water. The waves were as big as I had ever seen them. I kept thinking, “I wonder if they are going to be able to stand up when those waves come crashing in.” They couldn’t. It knocked one of them down and the other one was knocked off balance. He reached to grab the other person. The sand underneath them was shifting and there was nothing stable to stand on. The waves were coming in and crashing all around them, and they were tossed this way and that way.
A person who is not being equipped has misunderstood the whole process. They don’t understand the gifted men, and they don’t understand the gifts in the body. They don’t understand how the Word is to lead them to Jesus, building their faith and their knowledge of Him. These people are very unstable. They have nothing to stand on when the waves of false doctrine come crashing into their lives.
When you find believers who either through the fact that a pastor has not done what God has assigned him to do or he has been unwilling to be equipped in the Word, that individual becomes very unstable and is standing on shifting sand. He is a target for every wave of false doctrine that comes his way.
One of the first characteristics of a person growing up in Christ is that he is mature doctrinally. He is stable doctrinally. He knows what the Word of God says and he is not moved by every whim and fancy that comes his way.
Then Paul uses another term that really shows again the instability of an individual who is not mature in Christ. He says, “and carried about by every wind of doctrine.” Now here the picture changes. Whereas in one instance the wave is tossing him here and tossing him there, now it is the wind and the wind is carrying him wherever it wants him to go. The picture I get in my mind is of a ship, like in James when it talks about the winds of doctrine carrying a ship the way it wants to take it. The only way a ship can be blown off course is when it has a broken rudder or no rudder at all. It is the rudder that steers the ship. But when something is wrong with that rudder, it has no path, no course, and whatever direction the winds blow, it will go that way. The winds will pick it up and carry it as if it has no will of its own.
That is a tragic picture of an infant in Christ. It is a tragic picture of some people who will not be equipped. They will not die to self. They continually let the Word stay out of their lives and they are unstable. They are on shifting sand. The apostle Paul had already warned the Ephesians of false doctrine. This is something that has just sort of caught my attention. Remember before he ever went to Jerusalem? This was five or six years before the writing of the book of Ephesians. Before he ever went to Jerusalem, where all the trouble started, he called to himself ,on the island of Miletus, the elders of the church of Ephesus. Remember the problem? He was trying to tell them, “Guys, I am warning you. False teachers are coming your way.” The only way to combat false doctrine is when you are growing in your faith and growing in your knowledge of the Son of God. As you are obeying and surrendering to Him in the Word, in the Word, in the Word, under the Word and the Word is getting into you, then you are stable. You know what you believe. You know what the scriptures have to say.
Look over at Acts 20 and let’s look at when Paul warned the Ephesian elders about what was about to happen in their midst. In Acts 20:28-31 Paul was really burdened. He loved these people. He knew if he stopped at Ephesus, he would stay too long because he was hurrying to get to Jerusalem, so he called them down to where he was on the island of Miletus. In verse 28 of Acts 20 notice what he says: “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” How do you shepherd? You guide. You graze. You guard the sheep. How do you do that? With the Word all three ways. You guide them with the Word. You guard them with the Word. You graze them with the Word. The Word, the Word, the Word. That is the task of gifted men. To equip the saints so they can grow into maturity.
Look at verse 29: “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.” The word “savage” there is the word barus, which means burdensome in the context. In other words, there are going to be people who come along and add law to grace. Paul is saying, “Oh, man, you guard yourself, guard yourself. False teachers are going to come in.” By the way, he mentions not one wolf but wolves. That is important. Did you know wolves do not travel by themselves? They travel in packs. Paul is saying in verse 29, “They will come n among you.”
But verse 30 says, “and from among your own selves men will arise.” He shows you the wolves are men, and the men are false teachers. Then he shows you that they are already around you. Wolves will lie in wait for a prey sometimes for three days and never move, never eat, never do anything until they can find the precise moment to move. They always pick the weak. They always pick the easy, the young and the tender. They love to prey upon them. Paul says, “Listen, guard the doctrine. Guard the doctrine. Make sure you equip the saints. Make sure they grow up and become mature. Make sure they are going to become doctrinally stable because false wolves are going to make their move on the little flock God has given to you.”
I was studying this and the thought really hit me. Do you realize right here in your congregation there are possibly some wolves you don’t know about? Paul says they are already among you. He said they are going to come in on you, but he also said they are going to come out from among you. This is exactly what Simon Peter says over in his epistle. They are already here. They are the people who are not growing in the Word, who are not up under the teaching of the Word, and are not willing to obey. Their faith, their knowledge of God is non-existent. They live as if they can do it themselves. They cry out to God when they have a problem in their family. They cry out to God when there is a financial crunch. But they don’t live daily, moment by moment, confessing flesh, realizing what they can’t but what God can do in and through their lives. They are in every congregation in the world. They are planted there. They are where you are. Be careful if you are not growing in Christ and mature. You cannot spot them and you become easy prey for savage wolves to carry you off and to throw you here and to throw you there by every wind of doctrine.
In verse 14 of Ephesians 4, Paul not only tells you the two characteristics of children, which show how unstable they are and what a target they are for false doctrine, but he shows you the tactics the false teachers are going to use on them. I want you to see them because they are so camouflaged. If you are not growing in Christ, you can’t spot them. Let me show you. First of all he says, “by the trickery of men.” The word “trickery” there is the word for cube. Actually it refers to dice. He has in mind the deception that a gambler uses to cheat you out of what is rightfully yours. That is exactly what a false teacher does. They are good, folks. They know what they are doing. They know what pleases flesh. They know what you want to hear and they will say it and say it and say it and say until they lure you into the trap of cheating you out of your victory in your walk with the Lord Jesus Christ.
As a matter of fact, Peter talks about that. Look over in II Peter 2. I want you to see what Peter says in verses 1-3 about the trickery of men, how they deceive you. Look at verse 1 of chapter 2: “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies.” They are not going to do it in the open. They are smarter than that. They know how to do it. If you are reading this, we already know your tactic. You are going to introduce it secretly. You are going to say 80% of what everybody else is saying. You are going to take the 20% that is error, lay it side by side, and win the people with your personality. When they are not looking, you are going to pick up the error and because they like you, they are going to think it is truth. They secretly introduce destructive heresy. Oh, they are out front. They know very well the spiritually mature can spot them. They come in secretly.
It scares me all the time. I think if I have any fear it is the fear of false doctrine getting into our church body. I think nothing else really bothers me as much as that one thing right there. It goes on to say, “even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.” Now these are deceptive teachers, not deceived Christian teachers. They are deceptive people. They don’t know Christ.
It goes on in verse 2, “And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed, they will exploit with false words.” The word for “false words” there is the word we get the word “plastic” from.
The second thing he says about their tactic in Ephesians 4:14 is, “by craftiness in deceitful scheming.” That word “craftiness” is a word that could be translated “subtlety.” These people are subtle, folks. You don’t spot them right off. They can come in among you and you will not even know it for months. They are subtle. They know what they are doing. II Corinthians 11:3 uses the same word to describe the devil when he approached Eve as a serpent in the garden in Genesis 2 and 3. Remember what he did to Eve? He got her focus off on what he was saying rather than what God had said. He got her confused and as a result of that, the fall of all men came. It is the same exact word. It is the word used in Luke 20 when the enemies of Jesus tried to trap Him in a plot by asking Him a leading question. They said, “Listen, is it right to pay tribute to Caesar?” They were hoping He would say no and they could burn Him. But Jesus said those famous words, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.” It says in Luke 20:23, “He perceived their craftiness.” In other words, He realized it was a scheme. He realized it was a method to try to get Him to fall.
“Deceitful scheming” has the meaning of those who lie in wait to deceive with that which is false. The word “scheming” there in verse 14 is the word methodeia, which is where we get the word “methods” from. It is the same word used in Ephesians 6:11 when it says “Beware of the schemes, the wiles, the methods of the devil.” This is the word we need to become acquainted with. He has his schemes. He has his ways. He has his methods. Many people ask, “How in the world can the church be so divided today?” Have you ever asked that question. You can go to six churches and hear six different things. I think it all goes back to properly equipping people in the Word of God, with a relationship to Christ, dying daily to sin and understanding that faith and knowledge must work together to bring a person into maturity in Christ. As a result, since they haven’t been taught, false doctrine easily finds its way to prey on the immature.
Folks, what I am trying to tell you is, if you are not growing and being equipped in the Word of God, if your walk with God is not one of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, if you are not growing into maturity, you are dead.
I want to tell you something. There are people who are enemies of the cross of Jesus. There are people sitting among us. There are people who will not get up under the Lordship of Jesus and for that reason, they have become targets for all the deception you can think of. Talk about confused minds when it comes to the Word of God! The mature in Christ are doctrinally stable.
I want to tell you something, friend, if you are not growing and being equipped in the Word of God and your gifts are useable in the function of the building up of the body of Christ, you’ve probably already been suckered by false doctrine. I Corinthians 2 says the spiritual man examines all things by the Word of God. If you don’t know it, you can’t examine it. You have to become doctrinally stable when you become mature in the Lord Jesus Christ.