Doing Church, Part 6 – Ephesians 4:14
In the last four posts we considered Ephesians 4:13 and the overall goals of doing church: unity in doctrine, knowing Christ, and spiritual maturity.
In this post we consider Ephesians 4:14 and what we’re seeking to avoid in “doing church.”
11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,
12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of 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 a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.
14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;
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.
As he exercises his apostolic gift (v. 11) Paul teaches believers in verse 14 that the purpose of “Doing Church” is to avoid a certain spiritual state.
Doing Church is about Avoiding Being Spiritual Infants
First, notice what Paul writes: as a result, we are no longer to be children.
Paul indicates that the result or the purpose of the goals of teaching in the church (sound doctrine, knowing Christ, spiritual maturity) is what the NASB translates as “no longer being children.” The word “children” refers to very young children or infants. This means that teaching which pursues sound doctrine, knowing Christ, and spiritual maturity also has the intended result of believers no longer being like infants.
What does Paul have in mind when he thinks of a spiritual infant? He explains himself in his following words: helplessness at sea, proneness to submit to false teaching, and proneness to following pragmatism.
Spiritual Infants are Like Drifters at Sea
Consider Paul’s next words: tossed here and there by waves. James writes something similar: …the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind (James 1:6). The picture painted here is that much like something caught in the sea, there is no stability to life. The last time I swam in the ocean, I spent time simply bobbing up and down. There was another group of people close to me and every few minutes I noticed that they were getting further and further away from me. Eventually, they were probably fifty or sixty yards away. I thought, “Wow, they drifted a lot!” Then I looked at the beach behind me where I expected to see the rest of my family. It turns out, they were down by the other group! It wasn’t they who had drifted. It was me!
The parallel to Paul’s explanation is clear. It’s not only that when we’re not tethered to sound teaching we can drift from Christ. It’s that we do drift and we don’t even realize it! This is part of what Paul means by being a spiritual infant.
Spiritual Infants are Prone to Falling for False Teaching
Paul takes this imagery of drifting into the next image of spiritual infancy: carried about by every wind of doctrine.
The Greek word for this image is vivid. It can be translated in a woodenly literal way carried around or borne around. The sense is that you’re at the mercy of the one carrying you. This kind of thing happens to us every time we get in a car but we’re not the driver. We are being carried along according to the intention of the driver.
Paul says this carrying around is by every wind of doctrine. Here Paul picks up the same imagery that Jesus uses in John 3 to talk about the mysterious regenerating ministry of the Holy Spirit, except Paul uses it with a negative implications. The wind Paul speaks of is the wind of false teaching. Just as a plastic bag is driven about by the wind, going wherever the wind takes it, so also spiritual infants are prone to the whims and purposes of false teaching.
Why is this true of spiritual infants? It is because they are not grounded in sound doctrine and so growing in spiritual maturity in conformity to Christ. Instead, they are subject to where false teaching and false teachers want to take them.
In his following words, Paul provides a basic outline of what characterizes false teaching: it is trickery according to a “whatever works” mentality and calculated to deceive people.
We’ll look at this in the next post.