This post is the fourth in a series about “Christian Unity” Check out the rest here
I was seriously about to post this article without an introduction. Utter mental block.
Until just now. I just thought of something.
You know, for all of the ‘differences’ we bring up between our churches and every other church out there, it’s fair to say that all true Christians agree on a lot more than what they don’t agree on. Right?
Like, there’s this belief we have in Jesus Christ – that guy, you know? Savior of the world. Son of God. King of Kings. That He died and rose again. We believe he has not only risen, but He is coming back again. We all agree there is a Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We agree on the existence of sin in all men. We agree that we must love God with all our souls, minds, hearts and strength. We even agree that we must love our neighbor as ourselves. We agree on God’s nature and on His infinite power. That He loves us enough to give up His Son for us. We agree on the Twelve Apostles. We (mostly) agree on the New Testament, and the Old Testament for sure. We all know the world will end. And those who believe in Christ will be with Him for eternity.
To be honest, I don’t really even understand how most differences in doctrine can split a church, or a group of believers. I disagree with my family on all sorts of fundamentals, and we still live together. Most people do. And what do we think the word means by being “part of God’s family”?
Here’s what it means. A lecturer of Theology was once quoted as telling this to his students at the semester’s first class:
“20% of what I’m going to teach you this semester is false teaching. The trouble is, I can’t tell which part!”
Wise words. Humble ones. The Apostle Paul’s submission was that at present, we can only know in part. We cannot fully know the nature of God, His power or His love or His truth. We shall know that fully only at the return of Christ (1 Cor 13:12). In what must surely be a grossly under-taught scripture, Paul places love above all things – including knowledge, because even our knowledge of God is imperfect. For the imperfect cannot fully know the perfect.
Our arguing and fallout concerning the teaching of God is easily explained by our sinful nature – full of imperfections and misconceptions. And lacking in forbearance and patience, we run to emphasize divisions rather than focus on commonalities. But more on this next time.
Yet, we the imperfect are being made perfect in the image of Jesus Christ. Not only is our knowledge being made perfect, our faith is being made perfect as well. And today’s passage explains how Jesus has divined that our faith in Him, even small as He often has described, is being made perfect and whole.
Our faith in Him, united.
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors 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.
The section which begins in verse 11 expands Paul’s doctrine of the Church by revealing the different offices to which Christians have been called. Because verse 11 talks about the manner of calling, it parallels verse 1 of this chapter where the Apostle urges the Ephesians concerning their Christian conduct.
So when we think about this whole chapter, Paul wants Christians to do this: to live a life worthy of the call of Christ. The plain reality about Christianity is that it is not just an escape from hell. It is a high calling to being in the company of Jesus Christ.
When we are in the presence of ‘Her Royal Majesty’ The Queen, we dress, talk and act in a very regal, proper, posh way. That is the conduct required in the presence of earthly royalty. What about the conduct required in the presence of the King of Kings? It is littered with humility and gentleness and patience (verse 4). We must consider if this is the way we live among one another.
But, I digress. In Ephesians 4, the impassioned plea of Paul for Christian conduct is interwoven with the call for unity in the church – various forms of the word ‘one’ appear nine times in this chapter.
This chapter – and indeed all of Ephesians – is big on the subject of unity. The unity of Christians is characterized by different types of ‘oneness.’ Key among them is the oneness of Faith (verse 5 and 13).
Unity of Faith In Christ
Paul’s desire for the Ephesians was for them to come to the unity of faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ. Indeed, that is God’s desire for Christians everywhere. And this teaching is central to Christianity and the life of the church. No two people can claim to know any person if they only know different halves of who they are. God’s gracious purpose has been to reveal Himself to us fallen people, who were incapable of knowing Him. In fact, the entire purpose and exploit of eternal life, I’ve come to learn, is to actually know God (John 17:3). We will actually spend our eternal lives finding out who God is.
How long does it take to know an infinite God? Forever.
But this verse combines two rarely combined concepts: faith and knowledge. In our lifetimes, we have always created a tension between ‘what we know’ and ‘what we believe.’ In fact, science has been designated the Throne of Knowledge and religion, the Throne of Faith.
But in Christ, we are to have both Faith and Knowledge. We Christians must both believe in Jesus and come to a full knowledge of Him.
Maturity in Christ
The full knowledge of Jesus Christ can only come about when we shall see Him fully as He is – and that’s when we shall be as He is, in eternity (1 John 3:2). But Paul speaks of a ‘measure of being like Jesus’ (verse 14) right now in this present walk of ours. He puts an ‘equals’ sign between three targets:
Unity of Faith and Knowledge = Mature Manhood = Measure of the fullness of Christ
What Paul is talking about here is what Christians have come to refer to as ‘Christian Maturity’ aka ‘Being Mature in Christ.’ God’s goal for our present experiences, work, relationships, struggles, hopes and outcomes is to glorify Him by maturing us as His children.
Who do we say is a ‘mature Christian’? Quite rightly, somebody whose conduct mirrors the conduct that Jesus requires. But this conduct that Paul describes throughout chapter 4 (being humble and gentle, speaking the truth, putting away bitterness and anger, forgiving one another) is founded on the proper knowledge and faith of our savior.
We also tend to think that Christian maturity is an individual pursuit… right? I mean, I become mature if I seek out God, if I obey His commandments in scripture, if I pray daily and become rooted in scripture… right?
Well… yeah! You’re actually right. So keep doing that or start doing that, by all means.
But that’s not all. Paul’s word to the Ephesians is not addressed to the individual, but the collective. The call about maturity in Christ is not just about a ‘me and my God’ journey. It is as much a corporate effort as the individual one. So guess what? We are all responsible for the maturity of Christians in our lives. We are called to work not just towards our own maturity, but to theirs as well.
The church’s maturity and ‘manhood’ (not gender-specific by the way) is contrasted with being ‘children’ tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine (verse 14). Paul is addressing the danger of the church becoming divided along lines of faith and maturity when Christians allow other Christians to continue in disunity of the truth and knowledge of Jesus. We know this danger is real, because it is the present reality of the church today. We rail against the ‘prosperity gospel’ and against the ‘health and wealth’ teachings we commonly see and hear on TV and radio. But have we considered our role in allowing the sheep of Christ to be taken up in false teaching as we stand aside and only scoff at other ‘lost’ churches?
This is why Paul teaches the power of ‘speak the truth in love’ in growing us up in every way to Jesus Christ, our head (verse 15). But, ‘speak the truth in love’ to who? To myself? Certainly, Paul is not talking about being real with ourselves or giving ourselves life pep-talks while driving. He’s talking about raising Christians of all churches in maturity and truth. He’s talking about a whole body joined up together, with every part working properly as it has been equipped to. He’s talking about Christians who have been equipped in biblical teaching about Christ working together and growing the church. He’s talking about the ultimate target: the church’s unity with Jesus our Head and Lord – in love and truth and knowledge.
So now we get to the purpose of what people generally refer to as the ‘Five-fold ministry’: Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers. Many debate about whether the ministries are only five (they’re not), whether there are still apostles and prophets (I can’t say, tbh) and many other issues are raised. But allow me to contend that the focus of verse 11 isn’t to focus on the nature of ministry, but on the role of ministry in the whole body. First of all, all of them are given by Christ (‘He gave’), all are given to His followers, are for the sake of His followers. The ministries of the church have one end: equipping (all) the saints for the work of service which will contribute to the building of the ‘body of Christ’ aka. The Church.
So what’s the take-away? The purpose of all ministries – be it evangelism, worship, prophecy, teaching (even blogging?) is equip all Christians to serve Jesus. All Christians are called to serve Jesus by working to grow His church.
This will definitely be shocking to some who have come to imagine that only a few ‘Superstar Christians’ are called to serve Jesus in ministry – the rest are there to cheer them on or give tithes and offerings. Or tell them how they can be served better, or something. The reality of a united church is an impossibility if the Christians are not united in doing the work that Jesus has asked of us. Only when ‘each part’ is working ‘properly,’ does the body grow and build in love.
Therefore, the key teaching of Ephesians 4:11-16 is that Christ has designed the means by which His church must grow, and He has laid out that the target for all Christians should be unity in the faith and knowledge of Him who has not only called us, but has also called us all to individual roles that, when done right, will cause this unity and maturity – not just for you or me, but for all of us.
Are you playing your part in uniting the church? Rather, how are you maturing the faith and actions of your fellow Christians?
Pray concerning this teaching, and may God increase us increasing one another.
Have a great week!
P.S. the ‘key teaching’ paragraph is a mouthful of a sentence. I can write notoriously long sentences, but this time it’s actually a homage to Paul’s absurdly long sentences throughout Ephesians. Lol. Ok bye.