To equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:12–16)
Paul is into the body. There are other metaphors for the church: a temple, a bride, a family. But he’s going with the body, this time highlighting the idea that bodies mature.
We all need to grow up. We all need to grow up to mature adulthood. We hope to mature correctly in the right proportions. Ladies, later on in chapter five we’ll talk about how the men need to think of themselves as brides, but here you have to think of yourself as a mature man. That’s the word Paul uses, but he just means an adult person.
I have two boys. Now they’re 19 and 17, but I remember when they lost their first teeth. I remember when I took a trip with each of them when they were about 12 or so and we talked through the birds and the bees. I remember when they started getting hair in their armpits. I remember when they started making their own school lunches. When they started figuring out their own bedtimes. When they started driving. Are they adults yet? Not yet, but they’re getting closer. I don’t want them in a perpetual adolescence. I don’t want them to live at home much longer. We want them to grow up to be men, and our daughters to grow up to be women.
We don’t want our kids to be toddlers forever. Or teenagers forever. They need to mature. They need to grow up. Paul says the same thing about us. We need to mature spiritually, no longer being tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine, cunning or schemes.
We are to grow up in the unity of the faith. We are to grow up in the knowledge of Christ. We are to grow up to measure the stature of the fullness of Christ. We are to grow up to speak the truth in love. We are to grow up in every way into Christ. We are to grow up so that we regard each other as important in the body. We are to grow up in love.
“Grow up.” That can be pretty demeaning statement. Act your age. It’s okay for Anna to act four years old, because she is four years old. It’s not okay for you to act four when you’re twenty.
Are you still unconnected from the body? Are you still absent from the means of grace, the work of the church? Are you still thinking that the world revolves around you, your wants, your hungers, your timetables, your view of reality?
When are you going to grow up? Paul says we shouldn’t always wish we were nursing babies, or catered-to five-year-olds, or skinny fifteen-year-olds, or perfectly fit and young twenty-year-olds, or stylish twenty seven-year-olds, or in-our-career thirty-five-year olds. I don’t know what “age” he envisions is the mature adult. Maybe fifty. Maybe seventy. Maybe ninety.
And here again Paul forces us to need each other. As Rob Rayburn writes in his sermon on this passage, “Paul’s vision of spiritual maturity is not an individualistic vision. It is very much a corporate vision. Ecclesiology, or the doctrine of the church, is supreme in Paul’s view of the Christian life. And it is supreme in Paul’s thought because it is supreme in Jesus’ thought. He said, ‘I will build my church,’ not ‘I will build up each believer and let him live for me as he wills.’”
“That is very important for us to hear and face because ecclesiology does not usually reign supreme in our thinking in the same way. The church is not the be all and end all of our existence that it is in the mind of Christ himself and in the teaching of his apostles. If individualistic, American Christians were to write this section of Paul’s argument, in all likelihood they would have listed other gifts in verse eleven, gifts that were more popular and democratic, gifts that any and every Christian might receive, gifts that didn’t imply a difference between the church’s officers and her people. They would not likely have defined spiritual maturity in terms of the place a believer occupies in and the contribution he or she makes to the life and ministry of the church.”
We need each other.
And we need the truth in love. We can’t ignore the truth. We can’t sugar coat it. We can’t make up our own reality and call it truth. We need the truth in love.
“Take love from sanctification. The result is self-righteousness, the kind of thing that distinguished the scribes and the Pharisees of Christ’s day but allowed them to be filled with hatred, so that they crucified the Lord Jesus Christ when he came. Sanctification is destroyed.
“Take truth from love. The result is bitter orthodoxy. Truth remains, but it is proclaimed in such an unpleasant, harsh manner that it fails to win anybody.
“Take love from mission and you have colonialism. In colonialism, we work to win people for our denomination or organization, but not for Christ.
“Take love from unity and you have ecclesiastical tyranny, in which a church imposes human standards on those within it.”
“But if instead of subtracting love, you express love…. Love for God leads to joy; nothing is more joyful than knowing and loving him. Love for the Lord Jesus Christ leads to holiness; as he said, ‘If you love me, you will obey what I command.’ Love for the Word of God leads to truth; if we love the Bible, we will read it and grow in a knowledge of what the Word contains. Love for the world leads to mission. Love for other believers leads to unity.
Can we attain this sort of vision? Can the church really be this way? Can we have this sort of authentic community, loving Christ together in unity, truth and love?
I think so, because Paul thinks so. We need to be equipped, to use our gifts to build up the body and to grow up.
We need to eat our fruits and veggies, to make our bed and clean our rooms, to help our brothers and sisters, to study hard and do our best in school, to exercise, to trust our parents, to make friends and stay away from strangers, to say we’re sorry, to use soap when we bathe, to turn off the television and get good rest, to know when and what to say no to and yes to, to keep our hands to ourselves, to respect our elders. We need to grow up, speaking the truth in love.
We’re not grow up yet, are we? We’re children. We’re tossed to and fro by the waves. We’re carried away by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, but craftiness in deceitful schemes.
We think it’s funny when kids act like adults. But not funny when a ten year old gets in the car to drive. It’s funny when your three-year-old daughter wears your high heels, but not when she starts to make dinner.
Is it funny when adults act like kids? When we throw temper tantrums? When we’re upset we don’t get our way? When we eat a whole package of candy before dinner? When we waste all our money on what we saw at the store? When we can’t get our clothes on the right way?
We all fail. Paul knows that. He’s not rolling his eyes with a dismissive, “Grow up…” He’s calling us to maturity in Jesus and with each other. He’s calling us to a body life that’s healthy and growing. Strong not weak. Fit not flabby. Unified but also diverse. Appreciative. Knowledgeable.
He’s calling us to grow up in Jesus. He’s the head of the body. He’s the bridegroom. He’s the giver of all gifts. He’s the incarnate truth. He’s the word made flesh. He’s love. He’s come down from heaven to earth to gather us to himself. He’s our brother. We’re unified in him. He’s the evangelist, the pastor, the prophet, priest and king. He’s the counter. He’s the cleaner. He’s the generous giver.