2. Growing Together In Maturity (Eph. 4:7-16)Related Media
When your children stop asking you where they came from and stop telling you where they’re going you know they’re growing up! 1 As Christians in the body of Christ, we are growing up. As we grow up, we mature. We grow up because we feed on healthy spiritual food and we mature because we gain deeper knowledge of God and Christ.
As we mature, we change. We’re not all alike; we each have various gifts and talents. Even though we all enjoy the same position in Christ and have all responded to the same calling of God, we aren’t clones. We aren’t produced with a cookie cutter; we aren’t a cult in which all members dress the same, speak the same, and act the same.
The church is not a military organization that finds its unity in a uniform or language, but it is just as well organized, trained, and equipped.
Our maturity in the body of Christ is a process. It is a maturing process that is nourished by the spiritual gifts given to the body in which we are becoming more and more like Christ.
In this article, we continue our study of Ephesians 4 to 6, “Living Together in Community”. Our communal practice as believers in Christ finds its expression in “Walking together in unity” (4:1-6) that we studied in the previous article, and now in this article, “Growing together in maturity” (4:7-16).
How do we grow spiritually? How do we become what God wants us to be in the body of Christ? How do we mature in our Christ-likeness?
The church is the place where we grow in maturity:
1. We grow in our maturity through Christ’s servants (7-11)
2. We grow in maturity for Christ’s service (12)
3. We grow in our maturity in Christ’s likeness (13-16)
Firstly, the church is the place where…
I. We Grow In Our Maturity… Through Christ’s Servants (7-11)
To each of you grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift (7a)
Each of us are given spiritual gifts by Christ to use for the edification of his body. No one person has all the gifts that the body needs. It is a co-operative effort through which the body maintains its unity and growth.
Christ has apportioned these gifts to the members of his body. When he ascended on high, he led captivity captive and gave gifts to men (8). This quote from Psalm 68:18 pictures the triumphant monarch who returns home with gifts to distribute from the spoils of battle. Paul applies this allusion to Christ’s ascension to heaven. He is our triumphant King who now has gifts to bestow upon us, his people.
Two difficult parenthetical verses follow (9-10), which expand on the implications of Christ’s ascension to heaven. Before he ascended to heaven in power, exaltation, and glory, he had to first descend to earth in humiliation, rejection, and death (9-10a). But both his descent and his ascent had one purpose - the supremacy of Christ over all the powers of heaven and earth. Now He reigns supreme over the strongest power on earth (death) and over the highest echelons of heaven, far above all the heavens (10b).
The result of his descent to the “bowels” of Calvary was his exaltation to the heights of glory from where he fills all things (10c) through his Spirit. In no place is the supremacy of Christ more clearly attested than in his church, to which he, the victorious King, has given gifts.
The gifts that Christ has given to his church are, in fact, people. And he himself gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers (11). Christ has given these people to the church for the specific purpose of assisting the church to its full maturity in him. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are ministers of the church, who, in this context, use their gifts to help others use theirs.
1. The Church Was Established By “The Apostles And Prophets”
He himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets (11a)
The apostles were first in time and importance:
- Because they had seen the risen Lord.
- Because they had been sent out by Christ to establish and organize the church.
- Because their works were accompanied by signs and wonders as evidence that they had the power of Christ operating in and through them. (Cf. 1 Cor. 9:1-2; Acts 1:21-23; Eph. 2:20; 1 Cor. 12:12).
The prophets founded the church with the apostles. They were important to the founding of the church because they made known the mind of God to the people, either by direct communication from God or indirectly through the interpretation of God’s Word. Their gift was not primarily “foretelling” (prophesying, predicting) the future, although that was part of it (see Acts 11:28; 21:9, 11), but it was primarily “forth-telling” (proclaiming) the Word, by convicting the people in their hearts and consciences (1 Cor. 14:24-25) and by strengthening and encouraging these new Christians (Acts 15:32).
So, firstly we learn from this passage that the church was built by the apostles and prophets. Second…
2. The Church Expands Through The Work Of “Evangelists”
He himself gave some to be… evangelists (11b)
Evangelists are Christians who are specially gifted in explaining the Gospel (cf. 2 Tim. 4:2). They preach to those who have never heard it or who cannot understand it. Now, we may not all have the gift of evangelism, but we do all have the responsibility to witness for Christ. When was the last time you told someone about Christ? Do you know how to explain the Gospel in a few words and in a way that people can understand? We cannot all do the work of a prophet, or pastor, or teacher, but we can all “do the work of an evangelist” in some way (2 Tim. 4:5). Let’s pray to God that he will give us a burden for souls.
The church was established by the apostles and prophets; it grows through the work of evangelists, and…
3. The Church Matures Through The Ministry Of “Pastors And Teachers”
He himself gave some to be… pastors and teachers (11c)
Pastors and teachers are probably two related functions that go hand in hand. Pastors are “shepherds”. They care for the flock of the Good Shepherd (1 Pet. 5:2; Acts 20:28) by supplying spiritual leadership and protection from spiritual danger.
Teachers work hand-in-hand with pastors by providing the flock of God with spiritual food through instruction. It has been well said that every pastor must be a teacher, but every teacher is not necessarily a pastor. There are many teachers of the Word who don’t function as pastors (such as teachers at Bible colleges and seminaries).
Christ’s servants, then, are gifts to the church for the benefit of the entire body of believers (1 Cor. 12:7). Through the exercise of their gifts, the body of Christ grows and matures. That’s why the church is the place where “We Grow in our Maturity through Christ’s Servants”. It is also the place where …
II. We Grow In Our Maturity… For Christ’s Service (12)
1. We Mature For Christ’s Service As... We Are Trained For Ministry
Church leaders are to equip (train) the saints (12a). They are to train and prepare the members of the body for constructive and unified service, by each member carrying out his or her appointed function (2 Tim. 3:17). Equipping means to make each member fit for carrying out their function. It means that those in leadership must feed the members with nutritious spiritual food and train them in the proper use of their gifts in the church.
When we are properly equipped for our God-given task in the body of Christ, the church will work right - it will be healthy and it will grow. It will work together in harmony as we complement one another in the use of our gifts.
No one person’s gift dominates the others. “Arms,” for example, do not grow while “legs” stay paralyzed. One member does not mature while another remains stunted. Rather, the body grows together and matures as we are trained for ministry.
We mature for Christ’s service as we are trained for ministry. And…
2. We Mature For Christ’s Service As… We Work In Ministry
Our gifts are to be used for the work of the ministry (12b). Every Christian has a role to play in the ministry of the church. Ministry is not the sole responsibility of the pastoral staff, “but the privileged calling of all the people of God.” 2 That’s why it’s so important to identify each person’s gift and to train them in the use of their gift. Everyone has something to contribute to the church’s ministry. Everyone has been gifted by God to contribute to the work of the ministry.
The task of church leaders is to help each person identify their spiritual gift, train them in the use of that gift, give them opportunity to use that gift, and then affirm them in their gift. There is no such thing as a non-serving Christian. We have all been called to salvation and thus also to service.
So, we mature for Christ’s service (1) as we are trained for ministry, (2) as we work in ministry, and…
3. We Mature For Christ’s Service As… We Edify Others In Ministry
Each person’s spiritual gift is to be used for the benefit of all in the church, for the edifying of the body of Christ (12c). The end result of using our gifts for God is that the body of Christ is edified – i.e. built up and strengthened spiritually and numerically.
If every member’s gift is to be used for the benefit of all, then you can see the dire consequences that result when that gift is not used - the body won’t function properly, just as our physical bodies don’t function properly if one part is out of order.
A few years ago I had a medical condition called a “frozen shoulder”. Before it occurred, I didn’t notice all the work my shoulder did, but now, I have the utmost respect for it. As soon as it stopped working properly, I suddenly realized how much I depended on it and needed it. Just so in the church, when one member fails to use his or her gift for the work of the ministry the body can’t function properly because it is not edified properly.
As we work together, the body of Christ is edified. No one person can properly build up the church on their own, neither does any one person have all the gifts to do so. But when we have been trained and do the work of the ministry, when all of us do our part by exercising our God-given gift, then the body of Christ is built up and nourished so that it grows and flourishes.
The church is the place where we “grow together in maturity”. It is the place where (1) we grow in our maturity through Christ’s Servants; (2) we grow in our maturity for Christ’s service, and it’s the place where…
III. We Grow In Our Maturity… In Christ’s Likeness (13-16)
The real evidence of spiritual maturity is “Christ-likeness”. As each person is trained in the use of their gift and puts their gift to use in the work of the ministry, so the church is built up and each person matures in Christ-likeness.
The First Level Of Maturity In Christ-Likeness Is… Doctrinal Maturity
Until we all come to the unity of the faith (13a)
This refers to unity in our understanding of the basic doctrines of the Christian faith. Spiritual maturity comes through the accurate teaching and application of the Word by pastors and teachers. As this takes place, the results become apparent by the common confession of “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (4:5-6).
As the Word is taught and applied properly, the church is united. We all come to the unity of the faith. When the church is working properly there is a general spiritual maturity. It’s not that everyone has the same spiritual or intellectual capacity but that there are no schisms in the body over these central doctrines.
The Second Level Of Maturity In Christ-Likeness Is… Relational Maturity
Until we all come to… the knowledge of the Son of God” (13b).
Relational maturity comes with doctrinal maturity. Just as “we all” come to the unity of the faith, so we all come to the unity of the knowledge of the Son of God. Spiritual maturity is not only doctrinal (it’s not just about “the faith”), but spiritual maturity is also relational.
Unity of the faith leads to unity of the knowledge of the Son of God. In other words, as we mature in our knowledge of God and his Word, so we mature in our knowledge of Christ. Then, that knowledge moves from our heads to our hearts and our relationship with him deepens. As our relationship with Christ deepens so our unity intensifies because he is the centre of our faith and the focus of our knowledge.
If the first level of maturity in Christ-likeness is doctrinal and the second level is relational, then…
The Third And Final Level Of Maturity In Christ-Likeness Is … Perfect Maturity
Like physical maturity, spiritual maturity is progressive. Spiritual maturity progresses from spiritual childhood to spiritual adulthood until we all come… to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (13c).
Full grown, adult maturity represents full development. So, the spiritually mature person is in the prime of spiritual life, full of spiritual vigor and vitality, strong in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God.
The final step in our walk together in maturity is when we are so like Christ that it fills us to overflowing; when we, to some degree, measure up to him; and when our completeness is found in him, nothing lacking. Then we have arrived at the fullness of Christ. Whether we ever attain the stature of the fullness of Christ in this world is not made clear, but that is where we are to aim.
The objective of this maturity process is stability: …that we should no longer be infants tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting (14).
Spiritually immature Christians are easily persuaded by others. Like children, they are unstable in their convictions, susceptible to false teachings, easily slipped up by craftiness and trickery. But full grown, mature Christians are stable in their convictions. They leave behind their spiritual immaturity with its instability, gullibility, and impressionability, and they stand firm in their doctrinal convictions and Christian relationships.
So, How Do Fully Mature Christians Act?
1. Fully mature Christians do not mimic deceitful men with their craftiness (14) but they communicate the truth in love (15a).
Sometimes people say: “I was just being honest” as though that was adequate justification for saying something unkind. But there is never justification for saying something which, although it may be true, is not wrapped in love. Someone has said, to speak the truth without love is cruel; to love without truth is irresponsible; to speak the truth in love is spiritual.
How would you characterize your speech? Do you communicate the truth in love?
Or, do you love without proclaiming the truth?
2. Fully mature Christians are united in their growth toward Christ-likeness. They grow up in all things into him who is the head – Christ (15b). They are like a plant that pushes through the soil, reaching for the light.
3. Fully mature Christians act like a human body. They take their direction from their Head who is Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth for the body for the edifying of itself in love (16).
They are controlled by their Head who gives them direction. Then the individual parts of the body of Christ act in unity with one another: every part does its share. Each limb, muscle, and joint does its assigned task so that the whole body acts in unison, which, in turn, causes growth for the body for the edifying of itself in love. Love is the lubrication that oils the machinery (cf. 1 Cor. 13); it is “the soil out of which…growth in unity takes place.” 3
This is how Christians are to mature progressively. This is the goal to which we must aim. Now lets ask ourselves some searching questions:
Are we progressing in our spiritual maturity as we walk together? Are we growing up to maturity in Christ? Or, is our growth stunted? Are our leaders training the members for work in the ministry? Do we give opportunity for people to edify others through their ministry? Are we as individuals and as a church becoming more Christ-like? Do we manifest that by acting in unity with one another, harmoniously going about our ministry, taking our instructions from our Head?
These are hard questions. To some of these we would have to respond that we fall short of the standard. What Christian would claim to have achieved the level of a perfect man? Or, the full measure of the stature of Christ?
Though the standard is hard to reach, that does not excuse us for not trying. If we fail to strive toward this goal, we are admitting that not only are we not mature, but we don’t think we can be. Even the apostle Paul said that he had not already attained the relationship or identification with Christ that he desired: “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfect; but I press on” (Phil. 3:12). Not having arrived is no reason to fail to strive for it: “I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things that are behind and reaching forward to those things that are ahead, I press toward the mark” (Phil. 3:13-14).
Let us press toward the mark as a body of believers, united in our resolve to become fully Christ-like even if that is not attained until our glorification. Let us resolve to encourage one another, learn from one another, build up each other, esteem each other highly in love for their works sake.
Let us ensure that our church is a mature church, one that is fully equipped so that (1) all the members are exercising their gift, (2) the entire body is growing and becoming more Christ-like, (3) the truth is communicated lovingly, and (4) all our component parts are acting in harmony with each other and with the Lord.
1 1001 Humorous Illustrations, # 918.
2 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Ephesians (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1979), 167.
3 Arthur G. Patzia, Ephesians, New International Biblical Commentary, ed. W. Ward Gasque (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1990), 247.
Related Topics: Christian Life