Doing Church, Part 9 – Ephesians 4:15
In this series of posts we are considering what “Doing Church” looks like according to Ephesians 4:11-16. This passage describes for us the overall picture of what life in the church looks like. From verse 14 we considered what spiritual maturity is not: being spiritual infants. In the final four posts we consider the last two verses and what spiritual maturity is: every individual doing his or her part to help the body to grow.
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.
If verse 14 is about what we seek to avoid (remaining in spiritual infancy), then verses 15 and 16 are about what we seek to promote. But before he tells us what it is, Paul tells us how it happens.
Spiritual Growth by Words
He begins: speaking the truth in love. These words are the circumstances of spiritual growth. In other words, whatever progress is made in growing in spiritual maturity, Paul says it’s goin to happen through words.
If we’ve been following along so far, this makes sense, because the gifts Jesus gives to the church carry out their function through words and speaking. Saints are equipped for the work of the ministry by these words. Saints are directed through these words to spiritual maturity by means of sound doctrine and knowing Christ. And saints are protected from remaining in spiritual infancy and being subject to the dangers of false teaching through these words.
So, it’s clear that speaking the truth is necessary for spiritual growth and maturity. And it’s clear that the truth Paul has in mind is not merely a general honesty, although that is important. What Paul has in mind is truth that is in accord with the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God (verse 13).
Speaking the truth was a centerpiece in Paul’s own ministry. Note what he said to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:20, “I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable.” And also in verse 27, “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.”
This point is important when we think about “doing church.” It means that spiritual growth and maturity in a church is a product of exposure to the truth of God’s word. Just as a plant needs sunlight and water for growth, so also a church needs nourishment from God’s word for growth.
This also means that spiritual growth won’t happen apart from exposure to the truth. So the regular diet of the church’s teaching needs to be one where the truth of God’s word is put on our plates at every meal.
However, should we understand what Paul writes in verse 15 to be only about teaching? Not at all!
Remember what verse 12 says: for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, to the building up of the body of Christ.
In other words, it’s not just those who teach publicly who have the responsibility to speak the truth in accord with God’s word. The responsibility is for all of us. Whether it’s in the building on a Sunday morning, or over a meal during the week, or an unexpected interaction at the grocery store, spiritual growth and church edification is the result of countless discussions in innumerable contexts.
This is why the content of what we hear as a church is so important. The consistent teaching of God’s word, over time, has the encouraging effect on how we think about the truth and how we speak to one another and to our neighbors.
In God’s wisdom, He has put in place a ministry model that covers all the bases. The Son of God gives gifts to His church, who in turn teach His people so that they grow in spiritual maturity through the teaching of His word, and that teaching spreads out to the people that His people meet every day.
In other words, the teaching of God’s word to God’s people does not remain a mere “in house” discussion. It spreads out into the world through His people!
However, how we talk about the truth is just as important as the truth we speak. That will be the focus of our next post.