VIII. Unity and Maturity in the Body of Christ (Ephesians 4:1-16)


VIII. Unity and Maturity in the Body of Christ (4:1-16)

4:1-2 Paul begins the second half of his letter with the word therefore. In light of the gracious riches they have in Christ and the glorious reality of this new community called the church, there are now accompanying responsibilities.

He urges them to live worthy of [their] calling (4:1). They must conduct themselves in a way that reflects their new status. There must be humility and gentleness—a willingness to submit to the lordship of Jesus Christ—among them. They must have patience, bearing with one another in love (4:2), showing tolerance for others and seeking their well-being.

4:3 By living this way, they will be able to keep the unity of the Spirit. Again, unity is not sameness. We Christians maintain our God-created uniqueness but share a common vision and goal. A football team includes players with different roles, but teammates work together for the same purpose.

Notice Paul commands them to “keep” this unity, not to “establish” it. This is God’s program. The church didn’t create the unity. God calls us to preserve what he’s already created (see 2:11-22). This unity is tied to our Christian character (4:2) and is based on the work of the Holy Spirit. If your point of reference isn’t the Spirit of God, you’ll be operating from a merely human point of view. But when you relate to people based on God’s point of view, the Spirit can override human differences and hold us together through the bond of peace. Peace—harmony where once there was conflict—will act like a belt to hold us together.

4:4-6 The operative word, Paul says, is “one.” There is one body and one Spirit . . . one hope . . . one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father. The church is one body, united by one Spirit, called to one hope, worshiping one Lord, trusting with one faith, identified by one baptism, submitting to one God and Father. When we fail to keep the unity of the Spirit, we deny our oneness.

Cancer is a dreaded disease in which cells no longer want to unify with the body as a whole. Cancerous cells have their own independent vision and program. They want to stay in your body, but they want to do their own thing—and multiply. Their goal is to shut you down. Similarly, Satan wants to shut down God’s people. And he knows nothing will shut us down like disunity, since God is a God of order (see 1 Cor 14:33).

4:7-10 To equip the church for unity and service, God graciously gives every believer a spiritual gift (4:7)—a spiritual ability to be used in service to God’s people for the expansion of his kingdom. Paul quotes from the Old Testament (4:8) to explain that before Jesus ascended far above all the heavens (4:10), he descended to the lower parts of the earth (4:9). After defeating Satan on the cross, Jesus’s spirit descended and declared victory to the demons (see 1 Pet 3:19). Then the conquering King took the captives captive and gave gifts to people (Eph 4:8). Behind those words is the picture of a Roman general who defeats the enemy and leads his captives in a triumphal procession. Those people who were formerly captives of Satan’s kingdom are now captives of God’s kingdom. And the victorious King distributes gifts to them.

4:11-12 These gifts include empowerment for the leaders: he gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers (4:11). Their purpose is for equipping the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ (4:12). Some people attend church only for their own benefit. But that’s not what being a church member looks like; that’s called being a leech. God saved and equipped you for the work of ministry, the work of service. Why? To build up the body.

To understand the church, all you have to do is understand your body. It’s a living organism composed of many parts working in harmony to contribute to the whole. Paul says the church is Christ’s body. And the church will only grow and mature when all the parts operate in harmony, in unity. If you have a Lone Ranger personality, you will be a feeble saint—and the body will suffer for it. Our relationship to the corporate body is crucial to our own spiritual development and the development of the church.

4:13-14 Only by growing into maturity will we no longer be little children. Children are unstable in their thinking, easily tossed to and fro. Christians need the right theological and spiritual foundation to keep from being blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning. We need to be stabilized by maturity, and maturity only comes when we’re connected to each other.

4:15 To mature, to grow in every way, we must be in an environment of speaking the truth in love. Truth is what God says about a matter. Truth must reign, and sometimes it isn’t pretty when the truth confronts our sin. That’s why the truth can’t be used like a destructive hammer. It must be spoken with love, which involves compassionately, righteously, and responsibly seeking the well-being of its recipient.

4:16 Paul says the body grows with the proper working of each individual part when it is fitted and knit together. The body is built up when the various parts contribute to the whole. California has some of the largest organisms on the planet: redwood trees. They grow massive in size and ancient in age. The secret to their stability and growth is that their roots intertwine. Underground, they’re all interconnected. You can’t mess with one without messing with the whole grove. When fierce winds blow, their connectedness allows them to borrow from one another and grow strong. So it is, Paul says, with the body of Christ.