Doing Church, Part 11 – Ephesians 4:15-16
Over the last 10 posts we have been working our way through Ephesians 4:11-16 as Paul outlines the big picture and purpose of life in the church, or what we’ve been calling it: "Doing Church.”
Of course, doing church involves more detail than this picture, which is why the letter to the Ephesians doesn’t end at verse 16 and that Ephesians is not the only book in the New Testament on the church! For example, another passage that is similar to Ephesians 4:11-16, but considers it in a larger space is Romans 12-15. However, there are not many passages in the Bible that teach what life in the church is all about quite like this passage does in just six verses.
So, what is life in the church all about, according to what Paul writes in this passage?
In verse 11, Paul continues a thought he began in verse 7, which itself is built on the beginning of chapter 4. Chapter 4 begins the second section of Ephesians with the theme of “Living a Life Worthy of the Blessing of God.” The first stop for Paul on living this kind of life is unity in the church (vv. 2-6). The next stop is verses 7-16, where Paul teaches us how diversity in the church fosters unity in the church. In verse 7, Paul says that to each one a grace-gift was given by Jesus Himself. In verses 8-10 Paul explains where these gifts came from: Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension.
So verse 11 is a continuation of Paul’s thought from verse 7. In verse 11, Paul identifies certain diverse gifts that foster unity in the church: apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherd-teachers. These gifts, who are given to the church by Jesus, are for pursuing certain goals for the church.
Verse 12 tells us what the overall goal of these gifts is: to equip the saints for the work of ministry, which Paul further identifies as building up the church body.
Verse 13 tells us what the accomplishment of that goal looks like: all the saints being sound in the faith and in knowing Christ. Another way to say this is what Paul writes in the rest of the verse: spiritual maturity after the pattern of Christ Himself.
Verse 14 begins to tell us the purpose of these goals. First, Paul states it negatively: to not be subject to the whims of false teachers and their methods.
Then in verse 15, before stating the purpose positively, Paul tells us the prerequisite of this positive purpose. It can only be done by speaking the truth in love.
Finally, Paul states the positive purpose of the goals of life in the church. The body is to be equipped for the work of ministry so that we would grow up in Christ. Look at how he puts it:
15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ,
16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
Let’s break this down in this way: grow up to be like Christ, Christ provides what we need in order to be like Christ, and what Christ provides for us is you and me.
Grow Up to Be Like Christ
When Paul writes we are to grow up, he is continuing his purpose statement that he began in verse 14. So, the goals of church life, which the particular gifts in verse 11 are given to pursue, are for this positive purpose: growing to be like Christ.
Notice also that Paul says that growing to be like Christ knows no boundaries or limitations: in all aspects or in all things. Therefore, Jesus is not only interested in His people understanding and believing sound doctrine (which He certainly is), He is also interested in His people connecting the dots between sound doctrine and sound living (which is what the rest of Ephesians is all about!). In other words, Paul is telling us that a life that pleases God is lived upon the foundation of doctrine that God has revealed.
And this all results in being more and more like Christ Himself.
Christ Provides What We Need in order to Be Like Christ
Next, Paul puts this pursuit of growth in terms of how a body works. The head is Christ Himself. The body is the church. The individual members of the church are the individual members of the body.
Paul actually began this metaphor in verse 13 and continued it in verse 14. In verse 13 he writes that a goal of church life is “unto a mature man.” In verse 14, he writes that church life is intended to prevent people from remaining “infants.”
Consider how Paul puts the metaphor in verse 16: “from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”
Think for a moment about what an infant looks like. Usually, an infant’s head is out of proportion to the rest of the body. An adult’s head is usually in proportion to the body. This is the picture Paul paints. He doesn’t want the body to look like an infant. He wants the body to grow up to be an adult.
And here is the great news! Jesus, as the body’s head, provides what the body needs in order to grow into proportion to the head!
How does He do that? At least in this passage, Paul has in mind the gifts listed in verse 11, which leads to equipping the body, which leads to the body doing the work of ministry, which is the building up of the church!
So, Jesus provides what the church needs to grow up.
But what is it that He provides?
What Christ Provides for Us is You and Me
Look again at verse 16: “from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”
This is a long and fairly complicated verse that completes the sentence begun in verse 15. But the point is clear: Jesus provides you and me for the growth of the whole body.
In other words, how the head provides for the growth of the body is each member of the body.
This means that the gifts specified in verse 11 are only a part of the provision. The bulk of Jesus’ provision for spiritual growth in the church is how each person in the church promotes the growth of the whole!
What does this mean? This means that your personal spiritual growth is intended to help others grow. And the spiritual growth of others is intended to help you grow.
This means that everything you do and experience as a person who belongs to Jesus is intended by Jesus to help others grow to be more like Jesus!
And this means that everything you do and experience in the big picture of Jesus’ intention for the church matters.
As a believer in Jesus, He intends your personal growth to be a vital contributor to the growth of the church.
So, whether it happens on a Sunday morning or a Thursday afternoon or a Tuesday night, doing church is about being more like Jesus in our believing, thinking, and living… and helping one another do the same.