Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 4:12c “. . .for the edifying of the body of Christ:. . .”
“Edifying” refers to building up, it highlights growth in numbers, and also the building up of individual saints. When we all do our part, the Church is increased and each member is improved thereby. Do not be deceived by Satan’s lies. He wants you to think doing nothing is the way to happiness. No! When Christians do not work they shrivel and atrophy. We are most fulfilled individually when making a contribution to the whole.
Notice, this service is done in the context of “the body.” Doing good deeds in other charitable settings is fine, but the believer must always have a ministry within the context of a local church. Deeds done elsewhere inevitably chart a path which eventually detracts from Jesus. We may start out giving a cup of cold water “in Jesus’ name,” but eventually give a cup of cold water. . .period. For instance, the YMCA, a fine organization, used to say, “Come play basketball and we will tell you about Jesus.” Now they say, “Come play basketball.” Our best work for Jesus is done in the church, for a head always has its greatest glory within the context of its own body.
Eph. 4:13a “Till we all come in the unity. . .”
When a pastor equips saints, and members find and exercise their spiritual gifts, the church is edified, built up. The question is, built up to what? A builder has in mind a picture of what his finished product will look like. It is important for us to consider the blueprint, the master-plan, we are to follow. One can lose sight of the forest due to the trees if day to day tasks become all encompassing, ends in themselves. Since it is easy to lose sight of the ultimate goal, pastor and people must ever remind themselves to what they are building. Verse 13 offers three construction goals.
The first construction goal is “unity.” Cliques should not exist in a church. Close friendships are good and desirable, but also dangerous. They can easily become closed to outsiders. The tie that binds often becomes a wall that excludes. When you get together with church friends, include at least one new person or family in your gathering. Always do all you can to fight against exclusiveness. Remember, our construction goal is “unity.”
Eph. 4:13b “. . .of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of
God,. . .”
Here are two pillars on which “unity” can be successfully constructed. “Son of God” modifies both “faith” and “knowledge.” Thus, the “unity” we seek must be based on “the faith. . .of the Son of God” and on “the knowledge of the Son of God.” “Unity” grows from “faith” in Jesus. Pastors who try to equip the saints, and members who labor to use their spiritual gifts, feel compelled to lean ever more totally on Jesus. In the effort, in the arena, we are forced to cast ourselves ever more fully on Jesus for strength. This increasing dependence on Jesus knits us more to one another, for when all trust is put in Christ, self decreases, humility increases, resulting in expanding openness toward others. Thus, “faith” in Jesus promotes “unity.”
Our “unity” is also based on “knowledge” of Jesus, a reference to “profound and vital acquaintance” (Maclaren). Laboring in our respective situations, and increasingly exercising “faith” in our efforts to equip and serve, our familiarity with Jesus is enhanced. And as we know Him ever more intimately, we are drawn closer to one another.
“The Son of God,” not dogma, is the ultimate basis of our “unity.” “Unity” has often been misinterpreted as every one agreeing on every thing. Believing the same things is certainly helpful, but does not cement people to one another. Shared ideas can bring agreement, shared acquaintances can bring “unity.” At a gathering of Baptists, I am in basic theological agreement with everyone present, but bonding is more likely with those who introduce themselves with phrases like, “I knew your grandfather,” or “I know your dad.” Such words increase the possibility of “unity” with a person because they draw my heart into the relationship. For me to know Jesus intimately requires giving my heart to Him, for you to know Jesus intimately requires giving your heart to Him. Thus, “knowledge of the Son of God” promotes “unity,” for where two hearts meet, there truly is “unity.”
Eph. 4:13c “. . .unto a perfect man,. . .”
The second construction goal is maturity. The subject of this verse is plural, “we all,” but the object of this preposition is singular, “a perfect man.” The former refers to individual members, the latter to the church as a whole. From Jews and Gentiles, Jesus made “in Himself of twain one new man” (EP 2:15), a “new man” which He expects to be “perfect,” mature.
Spiritually speaking, a church is to be a full-grown adult consisting of members who are full-grown adults. In the church, we mature collectively and individually. The body grows only as its members grow. In its corporate personality, a church develops a level of spiritual maturity to which each member contributes by becoming a spiritual adult. Collective development is totally dependent on individual development.
A part of the purpose for our individual growth is to enhance corporate growth. This is one reason “the higher reaches of the Christian life cannot be attained in isolation from one’s fellow-believers” (Bruce). Growth in isolation would not help the group. “I” grows in order to help “us” grow. Avoid selfishness. Help the whole be mature. Every congregation should desire a mature pastor leading mature members to become a mature church.
Eph. 4:13d “. . .unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of
The third construction goal is tenacity, the refusal to cease striving for perfection. “Measure” refers to a prescribed standard of evaluation. “Fullness of Christ” means “the sum of the qualities which make Christ what He is” (Wuest). Our goal, when rightly understood, is the highest standard in the Universe. The level of maturity for which we individually and collectively strive is nothing less than all the perfections found and manifest in Christ Himself. This is why I included in the job description for our Minister of Pastoral Care that he “shall in every phase of life seek to be an example of the Great Shepherd and Pastor of the flock, Jesus Christ. He will seek to love the sheep as Jesus does.” This should be the attempted touchstone and bench-mark for us all. The sum total of what Christ is meant to be for a hurting world is to be imaged in each Church and in its every member. Jesus can do all He wants to do only when His body is a perfectly responding vehicle of action. “A perfect man” is one in which the body is yielded totally to its Head. All is coordinated, every member works properly, the whole responds to the mind.
Christ wants Christians and churches which act just like Himself. He yearns for a body through which He lives again. In the Crimean War Florence Nightingale bent over the hospital bed of a badly wounded soldier who looked up at her and said, “You are Christ to me.” Oh that Fort Smith could say of East Side and its members, “You are Christ to me.”
The church and its members will attain absolute perfection only in Heaven, but can realize here and now a high degree of maturity which glorifies and pleases Jesus. Paul said, “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect,” yet a mere three verses later added, “Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded” (PH 3:12,15). We cannot achieve absolute maturity on earth, but marvelous growth is attainable.
This reminds us of the sentiment in 4:1, where Paul beseeches us to “walk worthy.” This is impossible to do before the Lord. No individual has merit and inherent worth before God, but we can “walk worthy” before the world. Godliness can be the over-riding tenor, the dominant trait, of our lives. This same principle applies to churches as a whole. They cannot be absolutely perfect, but they can be “worthy” and mature before the world.
Our goal is total Christlikeness, corporately and individually. Never lower the criterion. Whenever the standard is lowered, the actual quality of Christian living is also lowered. The Bible nowhere even hints we have the right to cease striving to attain God’s ideal.
It is not enough to say Christianity tries to make men better; Christianity seeks to make men perfect. We do not arrive at “decent and respectable,” and then stop. We press on, determined to “make progress till death” (Calvin). There is always another hill to climb, another height to scale, another stream to ford. The old saying, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence,” is actually true if the fence is one we have not yet crossed in our spiritual pilgrimage. Ours is a life marked from first to last with aspiration–upward, onward, heavenward, Christward, is our watchword.