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05.27.12 Spiritual Growth is Physical Growth Ezekiel 37:1-10, Ephesians 4:1-16

by on May 29, 2012

Is your pastor necessary? The answer depends on you, and whether or not you are fully dependent on the Holy Spirit.

Summary Points

  • What Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones teaches us
  • How Ephesians completes the vision
  • How our individual spiritual growth is related to the growth of our churches
  • Questions for discussion and reflection

I’m currently reading a book entitled The Unnecessary Pastor. The premise, based on what I’ve read so far, is that pastors often feel unnecessary for the wrong reasons—because congregations and cultures have expectations on them that are neither biblical nor reasonable—and so pastors can’t and don’t measure up. What makes pastors necessary? This Pentecost, as we celebrate the gifts of the Holy Spirit to the church, let’s get some ideas.

Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones is among the most popular stories in all the Bible. The hand of the LORD seizes Ezekiel, transporting him by the Spirit to the valley of dry bones which take on flesh and life once Ezekiel speaks God’s Word to them. What is quite obvious from this vision is that life, and new life, directly depends on the Spirit of God. These bones cannot live without God’s Spirit. Period.

This truth of our dependence on the Holy Spirit gets a bit of a working over in the letter to the Ephesians. Ephesians speaks of various “gifts” God gives to the church through Christ and the Spirit. Of course, the first gift is salvation itself (see Ephesians 2:8). But in this passage the emphasis is on “spiritual gifts,” including the gifts of pastors and teachers.

Ephesians teaches that with gifts comes responsibility. The concept is perhaps no better depicted than in the closing scenes of the movie Saving Private Ryan. After searching high and low for Pfc. James Ryan in order to send him home to the United States—and losing all but three of his contingent doing so—Capt. John Miller says to Ryan, “Earn this.” In other words, “You have received a gift, a very expensive gift, your life. Justify the gift by the way you live.” At the end of the movie, the aged Ryan returns to Miller’s gravesite with his family, sobbing to know whether he has been a good man, whether he justified the gift.

How can we begin to justify the gifts of salvation and the Spirit according to Ephesians? It begins—and continues—by finding opportunities to serve and then doing it. The Spirit has gifted us for this purpose, it our responsibility to use the gifts of the Spirit.

The result is obvious according to Ephesians: Spiritual growth among the church’s members leads to physical growth of the church. In Ezekiel, the Spirit provided physical growth for each individual skeleton of dry bones in the valley. The Spirit brought life to the dead.

But that life isn’t just for the benefit of the individual. Ephesians teaches us that we must grow from the individual given life by the Spirit to the community that grows in the Spirit by serving one another. Our growth depends on one another. My spiritual growth depends on you; your spiritual growth depends on me.

This passage from Ephesians closes with another image, that of an infant. We all know that infants grow spiritually and physically. Jesus was observed to grow in wisdom and stature (Luke 2:52). With the coming of Christ’s Spirit at Pentecost, we are not just to come to life from death (Ezekiel’s vision and the gift of salvation), we are to grow together as the church from infancy to maturity, by serving one another with our spiritual gifts.

And this is finally what makes the pastor “necessary.” Pastors aren’t necessary because they are moral exemplars (we’re not) or irreplaceable leaders (we’re not that either), but because we “equip the saints for service and growth” according to Ephesians. That’s the pastor’s gift and calling, but we can’t do it unless each of “the saints” discerns and exercises his or her own spiritual gifts.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  • Do you know your Spiritual gift? A list of Spiritual gifts occurs in Ephesians 4, Romans 12, and 1 Corinthians 12. These lists are not exhaustive, and you may have a variety of gifts and a variety of giftedness. But what does God’s Spirit inspire, equip, and provide for you to do, to serve the church, so that the church may grow? If you don’t know, study these passages, pray about it, ask close friends, listen to your life, or try some service opportunities out and see what fits.
  • Why, from your perspective, is your pastor necessary (or not)? Are you looking to your pastor for the right reasons? What can you do to ensure the necessity of your pastor?
  • Have you been taught that salvation can’t be earned? What do you think about the image from Saving Private Ryan? Are you justifying the gift God has given you in Christ? Are you “earning your salvation” in this way?
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