Connected in Growth

The Point:  Church members need one another in order to grow in Christ.

Build up the Body of Christ:  Ephesians 4:11-16.

[11]  And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,  [12]  to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,  [13]  until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,  [14]  so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.  [15]  Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,  [16]  from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.  [ESV]

[11-12]  “The character of spiritual gifts is extremely varied. Paul specifically says so in 1 Corinthians 12:4. It is important to recall this because many today have a very restricted view of spiritual gifts. In fact, however, the five lists given in the New Testament mention between them at least twenty distinct gifts. Moreover, each list diverges widely from the others, and gives its selection of gifts in an apparently haphazard fashion. This suggests not only that no one list is complete, but that even all five together do not represent an exhaustive catalogue. In our text Paul selects only five for mention: apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers. Paul is using the term apostles here in its more restrictive sense to refer to a very small and distinctive group consisting of the Twelve, Paul, James the Lord’s brother, and possibly one or two others. They were personally chosen and authorized by Jesus, and had to be eyewitnesses of the risen Lord. Thus, there can be no apostles today. In the primary sense in which the Bible uses the word, a prophet was a mouthpiece or spokesman of God, a vehicle of His direct revelation. In this sense we must again insist that there are no prophets today. Nobody can presume to claim an inspiration comparable to that of the canonical prophets, or use their introductory formula ‘Thus says the Lord’. If this were possible, we would have to add their words to Scripture, and the whole church would need to listen and obey. Yet this is the sense in which Paul appears to be using the word here. He puts the prophets next after the apostles (as in 1 Cor. 12:28), and he brackets apostles and prophets as the church’s foundation and the recipients of fresh revelation from God [2:20; 3:5]. As the foundation on which the church is being built the prophets have no successors, any more than the apostles have, for the foundation was laid and finished centuries ago and we cannot tamper with it in any way today. After apostles and prophets Paul mentions evangelists. Since all Christians are under obligation, when they have an appropriate opportunity, to bear witness to Christ and His good news, the gift of an evangelist (bestowed only upon some) must be something different. It may refer to the gift of evangelistic preaching, or of making the gospel particularly plain and relevant to unbelievers, or of helping timorous people to take the plunge of commitment to Christ, or of effective personal witnessing. Probably the gift of an evangelist may take all these different forms and more. Since the definite article is not repeated in the expression the shepherds and teachers, it may be that these are two names for the same ministry. Calvin did not think so, for he suggested that the administration of discipline, the sacraments, warning and exhortation belonged particularly to shepherds or pastors. Yet it is clear that pastors who are called to tend God’s flock, do so in particular by feeding it, i.e. by teaching. Perhaps one should say that, although every pastor must be a teacher, gifted in the ministry of God’s Word to people, yet not every Christian teacher is also a pastor. Looking back, we observe that all five gifts relate in some way to the ministry of teaching. Nothing is more necessary for the building up of God’s church in every age than an ample supply of God-gifted teachers. In verse 12 Paul states clearly why Christ gave these gifts to His church: to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. There are two purposes – one immediate and the other ultimate – for which Christ gave gifts to His church. His immediate purpose was to equip the saints for the work of ministry or service, and His ultimate purpose for building up the body of Christ. The former expression for equipping God’s people is of far-reaching significance for any true understanding of Christian ministry. For the word ministry is here used not to describe the work of pastors, but rather the work of all God’s people without exception. Here is incontrovertible evidence that the New Testament envisages ministry not as the prerogative of a clerical elite but as the privileged calling of all the people of God. The church is the body of Christ, every member of which has a distinctive function. So Christ’s immediate purpose in the giving of pastors and teachers to His church is through their ministry of the word to equip all His people for their varied ministries. And the ultimate purpose of this is to build up His body, the church. For clearly the way the whole body grows is for all its members to use their God-given gifts. These gifts are so beneficial both to those who exercise their ministry faithfully and to those who receive it that the church becomes steadily more healthy and mature. All spiritual gifts, then, are service-gifts [1 Cor. 12:7]. This is their true purpose.” [Stott, pp. 159-168].

[13-16]  “Here we encounter three goals that Paul specifies we all ought to reach or attain. Paul includes himself in this collective goal for all Christians, not just the gifted leaders. This also confirms that the work of ministry [12] refers to the congregation, not the leaders. The conjunction until specifies both the time frame and the purpose of the leaders’ work: they labor until. Though the church already is the fullness of Christ [1:23], its members strive until they achieve the whole measure of the fullness of God [3:19]. Unity in the faith points to a common trust in and assent to the one faith [4:5]. Since there is only one (body of) faith and one Jesus, faith in whom secures salvation, church members need to embrace it in common. Whatever differences of opinion we possess on various matters, on the central core issues of the faith we must strive for unity. Unity in knowledge has an intriguing object: the knowledge of the Son of God. Probably this second phrase unpacks the meaning of the unity of the faith. There are both relational and informational dimensions to our knowledge of Christ. Unity centers in Jesus, and the goal for Christian learning is to know Christ better, personally and intimately, as the one who loves us and gave Himself for us. Knowing God and His Son Jesus is the very essence of eternal life [John 17:3; Eph. 4:20]. Jesus’ parting instructions stressed the need to teach followers of Jesus to obey everything He commanded [Matt. 28:20]. Having listed the unshakable realities in 4:4-6, now Paul stresses the need for a unified knowledge or understanding of the central Christian truths. We see their opposite in 4:14 – immature people confused by various teachings and wily deceivers. Leaders must equip the saints to secure unity in their beliefs and knowledge. Christians ought to espouse unequivocally a common worldview instructed by the one faith centered in the knowledge of Christ and true beliefs about Him. A second objective is to attain mature manhood which takes the church as a corporate whole. Manhood translates the Greek word for adult male, here modified by mature, denoting a full-grown, mature person. Paul’s point here is not that the individual men of the church become mature (requiring the plural ‘men’), but that the corporate body of Christ does. Paul’s goal is a perfect church, as the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ implies. So leaders have the task of promoting maturity, and all members have the responsibility to ensure that the body of Christ grows up spiritually. The failure to work at this leaves people as spiritual infants [14]. In 4:16 Paul spells out what maturity entails; in 4:17 he starts delineating its results in the life of the body. This passion for the church’s maturity underlies Paul’s third goal for the body: at attain the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ [13]. In referring to stature, Paul introduces the metaphor of a physical body – one that he will develop in 4:15-16. Recall that at 3:19 Paul prayed that the readers would be filled with all the fullness of God. What might the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ imply here? Stature refers to either a person’s age or physical size. It implies maturity, full growth in size or age. We find a general depiction of the metaphor in 4:15-16 and the specific traits in the remainder of the letter. Christ is the standard for maturity. Christ seeks to give the church His fullness. Measuring up to Christ is the church’s ideal and target – the goal of knowing Him. Maturity as a church derives only through its integral relationship to Christ as it comes to know Him more and more. Leaders in their equipping and the church in its growing must strive for nothing less than full Christlikeness. In verse 14 Paul specifies the purpose (so that) and importance of this task. Growth to maturity is important so that the church will not remain immature. The need from ministers of the Word to serve so that the body of Christ may be built up [12] is critical. First, Paul employs the image of infants with a negative cast, contrasting them with the mature man of 4:13. Infants cannot be unified; they are individualistic to a fault. It would be sad indeed if the church never grew beyond infancy. A spiritually infantile church will be prone to instability and will fall prey to heresy and false teachers who scheme to waylay the immature. Then, switching to a maritime metaphor, Paul warns that the church does not navigate on a smooth sea with gentle breezes. The church faces huge menacing waves and is buffeted about by every wind of doctrine marshaled against it. Opponents from outside, but especially false teachers within the church, propound counterfeit claims about beliefs and behaviors that can easily shatter the church’s unity in the one faith. The emphasis on unity in the faith and knowledge of Christ may suggest that heretical Christological views posed some of the threats; they clearly elicited the writing of Colossians. The detailed instructions that follow in 4:17-5:14 show Paul’s concern to correct his readers’ behavior, most of which challenges unity. Paul cites deception as the fundamental tactic of the church’s enemies. To capture the false teachers’ tactics, Paul uses three close synonyms: human cunning, craftiness, deceitful schemes. The total effect of these three nouns is to stress the unscrupulous nature of certain undefined people who may be leading believers astray. They aim to thwart the church’s mission. The threat is general; Paul does not name any specific errors to avoid. Yet, Paul believes the threat poses grave perils to the church’s health and survival. An immature church is in a dangerous situation, one ripe for hucksters to exploit. Leaders must address the problem of immaturity very intentionally. Only a mature body has the resources to survive the onslaught. By way of contrast, Paul designates the positive component of the purpose for building up the church in verse 15. No longer ought we to be infants, but we should grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. As its Head, Christ occupies the prominent place in the body. Paul champions growth in every conceivable way to or toward Christ to avoid the potential shipwrecks instigated by deceivers. Again, Paul stresses the corporate growth of the body. The goal of the church is to become like Christ, its Head, in every possible way. The idea of growth into Christ parallels the metaphor of the church as a building in 2:20-22. One means to achieve such growth is to continue speaking the truth in love, an appeal well suited to the present theme of unity. Speaking the truth counters the false teaching with its deceitful schemes of verse 14. Note that Paul’s concern here is not with individual believers’ personal speech and truthfulness or honesty. In this context concerning unity, faith, knowledge, and maturity, speaking the truth in love denotes teaching orthodoxy against those who would pervert the truth of the message – yet all under the constraints of love. A few contend that Paul’s instruction here does not refer to speaking the truth but to living the truth, that Paul does not limit ‘truthing’ to speaking. A better case can be made, linguistically and contextually, however, for speaking the truth, as most versions and commentators agree. In love occurs six times in the letter [1:4; 3:17; 4:2,15,16; 5:2]. Only teaching orthodoxy in a loving way will maintain the twin requirements of unity in the faith. Of any proposed action or word we ask not only ‘Is it true and right?’ but also “Is it kind and loving?’ Unity at the cost of truth, or truth that sacrifices unity – both come with prices that are too high. To grow up into Christ requires the speaking of truth, for only there reside true salvation [1:13; 4:21] and orthodox Christianity. But any speaking that destroys unity is not truth-speaking, for there is only one body. A teaching that divides the body is not truth. Love, not deception or trickery, must govern how Christians speak the truth. Concluding the sentence he started in verse 11, Paul describes in verse 16 the role Christ has when the body, the church, functions in the proper way. The wording closely follows that of Colossians 2:19. This verse functions as a summary of what Paul has been arguing since verse 7. Having just designated Christ as the Head, Paul depicts a church as functioning on the analogy of a physical body –  bones and ligaments, joints and mutually working parts, enabling the body to grow and function in harmony. Christ energizes the body; He provides its leadership and nourishment. Here Paul displays the goal that all members of the church function and work together, not merely the leaders who equip. No part can operate, much less survive, without a vital organic connection to the rest of the body. When the connectors (every joint) are properly functioning among the members of the body, the body finds support. The gifted leaders of verse 11 work to build unity. They help connect believers (joined and held together) to one another, and as all the parts work together, the body continues to build itself up in love and achieves growth. Love again inhabits all relationships. That Paul puts all the verbs in this verse in the present tense emphasizes ongoing action. The church is not a static body; it has never arrived. All members have ongoing roles to play – whether leaders or lay members – but none amount to anything apart from their connection to the organism under Christ’s headship and with His power. Again Paul emphasizes unity, harmony, and love for one another under Christ the Head, who loves the church [5:23,25].”  [Klein, pp. 119-122]. 

Questions for Discussion:

1.         List the gifts Christ gives to His church [11]. Each of these gifts relate in some way to the ministry of teaching. Why is God-gifted teachers so important for the building up of God’s church? Pray that God will supply an abundance of God-gifted teachers to His church today.

2.         In verse 12, what are the two purposes for which Christ gave gifts to His church? What does verse 12 teach us concerning the nature of Christian ministry?

3.         What are the three goals that Paul specifies that all believers should attain [13]? What happens to the church if these three goals are not realized [14]?

4.         In verses 15 and 16, Paul spells out what this Christian maturity entails. How is the church to reach the fullness of Christ which is the standard of Christian maturity? What does Paul mean by speaking the truth in love; by each part is working properly?

5.         What do these verses teach us concerning how the church is to function and grow? Pray for and work in your local church so that it can be described as a body growing towards the fullness of Christ.


Ephesians, William Klein, EBC, Zondervan.

The Letter to the Ephesians, Peter O’Brien, Eerdmans.

The Message of Ephesians, John Stott, Inter Varsity.

Ephesians, Frank Thielman, BENT, Baker.

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