All of us work; we all have a job or jobs that we fill our time and task lists with. And while our titles or job descriptions may differ, all our work includes some form of people-building. From parents who encourage kids to nurses who build up patients to CEOs who build up employees, we all edify others.
Paul paints a beautiful picture of what it means to work in Ephesians 4. Drawing from the language used in architecture, Paul notes how the main action found in all work is edification or building others up. Edification isn’t merely a word tossed around for construction, and Paul notes that it is a word that aligns with an expansive and deeply meaningful building process, aligning what we do in our work lives and how we build others up with important architectural projects.
Paul takes this word with this rich building background and says God’s ultimate desire is that this be what happens to his people. So this week, we’ll talk about the tools we need to be master crafters in this process of edifying or building up others.
I will assess whether or not i’m experiencing maximum growth (Flow) by considering the challenge-factor and capacity-factor in my life and work.
I will assess those who work for me to help them experience maximum growth (Flow).
I will follow Jesus’ example by wisely distributing problems, and then increasing capacity to the develop those I lead.
I will use my words to build up those around me.
I will speak the truth in love for the purpose of edifying those I work with.
I will keep hope alive in my workplace.
I will live with the understanding that Jesus is right here right now in this moment, and anything is possible.
When you think about the idea of passing on a legacy to someone, what comes to your mind? * If you live your life really well, what do you hope to be remembered for? * What are the things you’d like to have accomplished that really matter to you? * What are the things you want to be remembered for that have lasting value attached to them? And then what are the things that just kind of fade away, that don’t mean all that much? You see, what gets real clear, real fast, is that whenever people start talking about legacy, they don’t talk about job titles. * They don’t talk about promotions. * They don’t talk about financial achievements. * They don’t talk about material possessions. * They don’t talk about building designs or any of the things that, by default, can end up preoccupying us from one day to the next. Mostly they just talk about how one human being can breathe life into another one, and how, through some process that none of us fully understands, it’s possible for us to make each other stronger, braver and more joyful, and more like the One we follow. It gets real clear, real fast, that the one business that matters is the people-building business. That’s about all that matters. And I want us to look at the classic text from Scripture in this regard. It’s Ephesians 4, starting with verse 11. This is one of the great chapters in all of the New Testament. It’s a great picture that Paul paints of what life in a united body can look like. He writes this starting with verse 11: So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his 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. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. Ephesians 4:11-16 Now, Paul’s particular concern — almost obsession — is summed up in one of his favorite words. He uses it way more than anyone else in the New Testament. It doesn’t get used much in our day, but he uses it in verse 12 and again in verse 16 and a very similar concept in verse 15. The old word for it is “to edify” — that the body of Christ might be edified, that the whole body joined and held together grows and edifies itself in love. Nowadays it’s usually translated “build up” or “strengthen.” Paul’s word is “oikodome.” It’s from the field of architecture. It was used to describe the construction of a building. It’s a term that implies an enormous constructive expenditure of great effort and creativity and energy and labor and zeal. We’re watching this around the new church building these days in spades. It’s in the process of oikodome. It was a old office building that was completely torn down to the exterior walls, but now it’s being built up. It’s being edified. It’s turning into a wonderful edifice. And every day there are master craftsmen at work. And they use every tool at their disposal — giant machines, skip loaders to tear down walls, scissor lifts, fork lifts, enormous jackhammers and power welders and drills. And it’s fascinating to watch them build. Paul takes this word with this rich background and says that God’s ultimate desire is that this be what happens to his people. And not just that, but God’s ultimate desire is that you do this for his people — that the body builds itself up. * When you edify someone, you make them stronger. * You feed their spirit. * You appeal to what is noblest and best in them. * You do something that is not done in our culture in the entertainment world or the financial world all that often. * You work for the redemption of their character. * You pay them the honor of consistently challenging them to pursue their full Christ-given potential. * When you edify someone — this great old word — you partner with God at the restoration of his image — the divine image in a human being for whom Jesus died. And it’s God’s plan for his church, you and me, to be in the people-building business — to be a kind of people-building factory. And when you think about whatever kind of latest thing you’re interested in, when you get to whatever the end of the road for you looks like and you look back on what mattered and what didn’t, I’ll tell you what will have mattered — it’s the people into whom you’ve built through the power of God. That’s what matters. So in the time that remains in this message, I want to talk about the tools you’ll need if you go into the people-building business. Because every building business requires tools, I want to talk to you about tools needing for people-building. And I’m talking to parents and teachers and people who lead small groups and people who supervise others at work and people who care about the people in their neighborhood and anyone really who wants to go into the people-building business. * What are the tools of the trade? * What are the essential instruments required for the edification of a high-quality, God-honoring human being? * What does a master craftsman at people-building look like? The first tool you’ll need — and this might surprise you — is Problems Problems are tools. And a people builder needs lots of them. Problems are to people builders what hammers are to carpenters. Now that you know this, do you think you have more tools than maybe you thought you did? Are you with one of your tools right now? This is fundamental in the development of a human being. And it’s a strange thing. We don’t recognize it too often. Very rarely does someone come up to me and say, “May I have a problem, please?” But one hour of problems will catalyze more growth in someone than a year of comfort. In fact, one of the main ways you can diagnose spiritual gifts in a person is this — when a person is functioning in the area of their spiritual giftedness, they will tend to be energized by problems. * Put someone with the gift of giving in touch with an area of financial need, and they’ll stay up at night dreaming of ways to contribute. * Put an evangelist in a room with a devout atheist, and they’ll go into apologetics overdrive. * Put someone with a mercy gift next to a hospital sickbed, and a sense of comfort and empathy will start to flow. On the other hand, when you’re functioning outside of your areas of spiritual gifts, you tend to be frustrated by problems. * Put someone with a leadership gift next to a hospital sickbed, and that person will probably end up feeling sicker. Make a type-A leader do hospital visitation, and people will start to die. What this means is — a key task for human development is the wise distribution of problems. A key task in the edification, the development, the growth of human beings, is the wise distribution of problems. Now, this is an art — if you want someone to grow, to be edified, you shouldn’t try to protect them from problems. On the other hand, you don’t just dump all the problems you don’t want to deal with on them. It’s an art. And I want to give you a framework for doing it well. This will take a little explaining to set up, so bear with me for a moment. There was a man named Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who spent several decades studying human development. He discovered that when people are in the sweet spot of their fruitfulness — where they experience maximum growth — they experience a dynamic he called “flow.” He wrote a number of books about this. He started studying this phenomenon with artists and athletes, but eventually found it was an experience shared by all people. We all know these kinds of moments — * When you’re so fully absorbed by a task, when your concentration is so focused that you don’t have the space to worry about anything, so you’re not anxious. * You’re intensely aware of what is going on in the moment, but you’re not self-conscious. * Time gets altered. It often seems to be passing in slow motion. * You feel fully alive. * You’re intensely active, but you have this sense that there is some force, some strength at work that’s greater than you. That’s what this researcher called flow. And he’s not a Christian, but I think it’s a description of what we were intended to experience when God said, initially, that we’re to exercise dominion as creatures made in his image. < Theologically, it’s about dominion. It’s a little like in Psalm 19:5 the way the creation is set up to work, where the psalmist says, the sun is “like a champion who rejoices to run the course.” That’s flow. Csikszentmihalyi writes this: Contrary to what we usually believe, the best moments of our lives are not the passive-receptive, relaxing times. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. — Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Now, I want to explain what people have to experience in order to achieve this state called flow. He said people experience this sense of flow when two things happen: [ ] When there’s a right relationship between problems on the one hand; and then, [ ] capacity — that would be skills, talents, spiritual giftedness — on the other hand. When these are in the right proportion, [ ] that’s when people experience this sense of flow. Now, when these get out of whack, then there’s trouble. If someone is experiencing problems that are too big for their capacity — they’ll get overwhelmed, and then they tend to experience [ ] anxiety. They get fearful. That’s if they’re experiencing problems that are too big for them, given their capacity. On the other hand, if the problem factor is too low and their capacity is too great, [ ] they’ll experience boredom, a sense of stagnation, a lack of growth and so on. So if the problem is too big — if the challenge factor is too high — there’s anxiety. If the problem is too small — the challenge factor is too low — there’s boredom. Now, when there’s a right relationship — where problems have been artfully distributed to match up with someone’s spiritual giftedness and capacity; then people experience the flow of the Holy Spirit in their lives. I want to ask you to do something — I want you to consider where you work, either in the marketplace, parenting, volunteering at Blue Oaks, leading a small group. And I’d like you to do a little assessment. Would you say, right now, you’re in a situation where you’re over-challenged? Or are things a little stagnant, a little easy? I also want you to consider this just in general with your life. Right now does your life tend to feel somewhat over-challenged? Or predominantly would you say you’re experiencing a sense of life being a little too easy these days? I want to encourage you if you’re in a position where you manage people — one of the best exercises you can do is to do this assessment with your employees or volunteers. Because I’ll tell you a little secret: If you have people who work for you, or volunteers who serve with you, this experience of flow is what people were made for. This is what people live for. To have this sense that I’m being stretched and challenged, and God is using me and I’m growing and I’m contributing to the work of God in his world; that’s what you and I were made for. But if I’m not experiencing this, you can’t pay me enough money. And if a volunteer is not experiencing this, you can’t have enough volunteer appreciation events or write enough thank-you notes to keep them in that kind of position. And this is a moving target. What will happen in someone’s life is sometimes the stress level in their life goes up. * A young couple might have a child and their challenge factor goes up. * Or sometimes, someone’s capacity increases. * For parents, as their kids grow, their capacity keeps increasing and the challenge level needs to keep up with that. Now, among other things, Jesus was the master of the art of problem distribution. And if you go through the gospels, you’ll notice one of the things he does is he’s always giving his disciples — the people he’s building into — he’s always giving them problems. * “Here are a few loaves and a few fish. Go feed 5,000 people.” * “Here’s a person with a very tenacious demon. You cast it out.” * “Now, we’re going to go on a boat ride, and an enormous storm is going to come up. You all keep real calm.” Jesus would constantly give them problems, and then he would do things to develop, to enhance, to enlarge their capacity. He’d say: * “Now, come away with me for awhile, and I’m going to teach you about the kingdom.” * “Come away with me for awhile, and I’ll explain to you about the parables.” * “Just stop for a moment along the road, and let’s examine together how humility works and what makes someone great.” * “Now, come away for awhile, and I’ll teach you how to pray.” Constantly with Jesus, there is this rhythm where he would assign wise problems. And when you do this, people’s desire to grow goes way up. They’re ready to be built into. So then he would enlarge their capacity. And this combination would just keep going on and on. Then he would give them bigger problems, and greater capacity; until one day, he would say to them, “I’m leaving. You turn the world upside down. Here’s the Holy Spirit.” Ultimate challenge — ultimate capacity. This is a fundamental tool for the development of human beings. This is just how edification works — it all happens through the wise distribution of problems. Again, if you want to build into someone — like if you’re parents or any kind of position where you can influence people — you want to follow Jesus in this. The art of wise problem distribution, and then increasing capacity is fundamental to the development of human beings. And when it doesn’t happen, people stagnate. That’s the first tool. We’ll talk about the second tool in just a moment. Announcements Alright, the second tool in the people-building business is talked about in Ephesians 4:29. This is what Paul says. And again, he’s going to use this same word. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29 The second tool that master craftsmen handle very carefully is — and this is kind of sobering — Words — everything that comes out of your mouth. Because every word you speak, in every interaction, even if it’s in a tiny way, you are building someone up a little bit or you’re tearing them down a little bit. In the letter to the Galatian church, Paul uses two classically contrasted words: “oikodome”—to build up, and “katelysa”—to tear down. And in every interaction, to some extent or another, we all sense this. We all feel this. In our words, a little bit, we’re building life into someone, or we’re tearing them down. Now, I want you to consider if any unwholesome talk has ever come out of your mouth. And I’m going to suggest a few categories to jog your memory. * Have you ever used emotionally or spiritual loaded language to try to make someone else feel guilty or put them on the defensive or off balance so that I’m more likely to get them to give in and do what I want them to do? * Or have you ever told stories or described events so that you get more credit than you really deserved, while at the same time you look like you’re trying to give credit to other people, so you also get credit for being a smart, and humble? * Or have you ever used words to power up on a child or a subordinate at work just to remind them who’s in control, because you can get away with it because you’re higher up and it will make you feel strong? * Or have you ever given advice to show how smart you are when someone else just needed you to listen? * Or have you ever infected another group or person with cynicism or destructive kind of complaining because it just fed your sense of moral superiority and righteousness? * Or have you ever blamed someone unfairly and inappropriately? * Would you have to confess that unwholesome talk, which did not build others up, has come out of your mouth? I’m a pastor and my main job is to study and teach about spiritual growth. Do you know how long it took me to put that list together? About 30 seconds. Because my wife has done every one of those things. No, I’ve done every one of those things. Now, if you want a great spiritual discipline for people-building this week — practice what might be called an “edification test.” Just do it for a week. This week, as you think of it, as you allow God to call it to your mind, any time you’re about to say something, just ask yourself, “Will what I’m about to say edify the person I’m talking to? Will it make them stronger, truer, better, nobler, braver? Will it edify them?” And if it won’t, don’t say it. It might be the quietest week you’ve had in a long, long time. Now, I want to say one other thing about this. This doesn’t mean you only speak in a string of chirpy compliments and positive acclamations. It doesn’t mean you only say things to other people that would be pleasant, that they want to hear. I say this because a lot of times churches suffer from what’s sometimes called “terminal niceness.” Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:15 that if we’re going to grow up, if that’s really what we’re committed to, one thing must happen — we’ve got to speak the truth. We’ve got to speak it in love, he says, but we’ve got to speak the truth or people will not grow up. There’s a classic scene — if you’ve seen the movie “A Few Good Men” — there’s a classic scene toward the end of it where Tom Cruise is talking to Jack Nicholson on the witness stand, and Tom Cruise says, “I just want the truth. Just tell me the truth.” And Jack Nicholson says, “The truth — you can’t handle the truth!” Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” So you have to decide — do you believe Jack or do you believe Jesus? And a lot of people in a lot of churches act like they believe Jack Nicholson more than they believe Jesus of Nazareth. They act as though people cannot handle the truth. And sometimes we’ll rationalize or justify not speaking the truth by pretending that it’s because we want to be caring and compassionate. But as a general rule, it’s just out of fear and it’s really out of a lack of love. Because if you love someone more than anything else, you’ll want them to grow. You’ll want them to be edified. And edification happens when people have the guts to speak the truth in love. And you can do that. So problems — wise problem distribution — that’s one of your tools. And words — everything that comes out of your mouth — that’s another one of your tools. One more. Another essential tool in the people-building business is what Gordon McDonald calls the spirit of vital optimism, and what the writers of Scripture call Hope — just hope. There’s something about hope. There’s something about a human being who lives in hope that builds people up. Paul is writing to a community of people he loves in Rome. He’s in prison there and facing persecution and tempted to get discouraged. And he writes these unbelievable words. When you think about edifying someone, listen to this. This is Romans 5: And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Romans 5:2-5 And that means that nothing can ever happen to it. We can never lose it. It can never be taken away. Paul says all kinds of amazing things: Even suffering can edify people, can make them grow, can build them up. Even suffering can. As long as they don’t lose hope. And I’m sure you know about this. In every kind of human community — in families, in churches, in work places, in classes, in small groups, people feed off the vitality and the hope and the authentic aliveness of a leader, of a person of influence, of someone who is at the core of that community. When someone at the core of a community has a spirit of vital optimism, it’s like a rock in shaky times. < When other people around say, “Well, I guess we can go forward. I guess it will be OK.” And when the person at the core doesn’t have it, the whole community starts to go sour. Now, people who carry this hope can be recognized because they have a fundamental conviction about life, and it bleeds through what they do. And I want to get to that conviction in a moment, but I want to get to it through a question. It’s a real simple question — What’s the greatest moment of your life? Don’t get real deep. Don’t get too spiritual. It might be ONE of the greatest moments of your life. But what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? What’s the greatest moment of your life? I don’t know what your life has been like, but I know enough to know that there have been some extraordinary moments in your life; some of them, you don’t even remember. * There was the moment when you were born and the clock of your life started ticking. You sucked in your first lung-full of breath, and the whole adventure of your life started. And that’s like a miracle. Maybe you were in a room when something like that happened. That’s like a miracle. * There was the moment you took your first step, and from that moment on, you were a walker and your world was never the same, and your mother’s world was never the same from that moment on. * There was the moment you spoke your first word, and from that moment on, you were a talker. And maybe you started and you have not come up for air ever since. * There was the moment when you learned how to read a book, and a whole world of ideas opened up to you. * There was the moment when you got your first job. * There was the moment you went on your first date. * There was the moment, maybe, that you fell in love. * There was the moment, maybe, that your child was born. * There was the moment when God touched you in a profound way. * There was the moment when you gave your life to him. I want to tell you what I think, and I believe this to the core of my being. I believe the greatest moment of your life is this moment right now. Because this moment is where God is. Because you miss this moment and you miss your life — because you miss this moment and you miss the God who is always saying, “Now, now, now is the time of salvation. Now is the acceptable time of the Lord. This moment.” The God who made it possible for the psalmist to say, “This is the day, this is the moment that God has made. I will rejoice and be glad.” In this day, in this moment — not the one that’s gone, not the one that’s coming. And if there is any human being anywhere that you want to edify, you’ve got to breathe this conviction into them — * Don’t be worried about some moment in the future. People lose their whole lives being scared about that. * Don’t be nostalgic about some moment that’s gone in the past. People waste years doing that. * Don’t spend your moment wishing that you could occupy someone else’s moment because it doesn’t belong to you, and it never will. I believe you ought to expect this moment to be the greatest moment of your life. * Not because it’s easy. * Not because it’s pain free. * Not because it’s going to be a Kodak moment. * Not because you’re so strong or so clever. But because somewhere, about 10,000 miles away from here, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, there is an empty tomb. And if Jesus is not laying in that tomb — if that body is not laying in that tomb right now, then where is he? He’s right here, right now, because this moment is where Jesus is. And we, who are so preoccupied with time and divide it up into seconds and hours and years and decades and all kinds of little units that we can measure, we are mind-boggled by these two infinite concepts of “eternity” and “now”. And right now is a little slice of eternity when it’s fueled with God. Because Jesus isn’t in a tomb 10,000 miles away, he’s right here, right now, whatever is going on in your life. And if that’s true, and if Jesus really is right here, right now, then what human being cannot be changed? If Jesus really is right here, right now, then what sin is so powerful it cannot be overcome by the Holy Spirit? What gift is so dormant that it cannot be fanned into flames in the church of God? Because see, it turns out that the edification business — the people-building business is really the resurrection business. And as it happens, that’s a specialty of Jesus’. And if you really believe that I can be changed… And if you really believe that I have something to contribute to this sorry, fallen, dark world… And if you really believe that even I, as messed up as I know myself to be, am not beyond the redemptive, anointing, edifying, resurrecting, power of God — If you really believe it, and if you start expecting it, and if you start praying for it, and if you start calling for it, then maybe I will start to believe it. And if I start to believe it, then maybe someone else will start to believe that it could be true for them. And then maybe a whole community might start to believe that this moment really is their moment of destiny with the resurrected Jesus. And pretty soon, the whole Body joined and held together by every supporting ligament might start growing and building itself up in love, and attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. And when that happens, then the gates of hell are in serious trouble. Because then the church will be fully edified. And then the church will be working right. And there is nothing like the church when the church is working right. Alright, let me pray for you. Blue Oaks Church Pleasanton, CA