Ephesians 4:11-16 (NIV)
11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,
12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up
13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.
15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.
16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
The Body of Jesus Christ
The first time Jesus Christ talked about the church was when he promised to build it upon a personal revelation of who he was. (Matthew 16:13-18) In their epistles, the apostles wrote in great detail about the church, what it was, how it was to function, its purpose, and its mission.
God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.1 Corinthians 12:21
The Apostle Paul often compared the church to a body, a living organism made up of many different parts. He explained how each part was unique and different, yet provided a critical function to the rest of the body. Members of the church are comparable to body parts. Our ears are for hearing, our legs for walking, our eyes for seeing, our mouth for talking. The church likewise has members for different functions. Some sing, some play music, some visit the sick, some pray, some preach, some contribute financially. Most people do multiple things. (1 Cor 12:18-24)
In comparing the church to a body, Paul actually compared it to a very specific body: the body of Jesus Christ. He explained that Christ is the head and the members of the church make up the rest of his body. The Holy Spirit works through the whole body to unite it.
Growth is a concept that is repeated throughout the New Testament, and Paul explains that the church grows too. Paul said that the body of Christ as a whole, is being built up as each member grows and matures. The church “grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:16)
Paul explained the purpose of this growth. It is so we can “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:13) That is our target and goal – to become increasingly like Christ. Throughout our Christian life, we are seeking to attain that goal: to be like Jesus. The Apostle John explained that one day our transformation will be complete. When we finally meet Jesus Christ face to face, we will at last be like him.
…when he shall appear, we shall be like him…1 John 3:2
Through time, men have come up with different ideas of what being like Christ means. But knowing Christ and his nature is something each of us must come to understand through our personal relationship with him. Scripture and experience will reveal Jesus to us. Knowing him is the first step to becoming like him.
When we receive the new birth, we start a new life. Through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit we are renewed and gradually changed to be conformed to the image of Christ. (Romans 8:29)
The church is a not a building or a structure, or a place. Church is not something you do. But the church is people and lives. The church is every person who has come to faith in Christ, and been baptized into his body. The body of Christ is people who have spirit of God is living within them. No man can put you in the church, and no man can take you out. Each one of us are a unique part of the body of Christ.
While each of us are growing as individuals, the church body is also growing as a whole. The growth experienced by the church comes in both in quantity and quality. New members are added to the body, and those existing members grow to become increasingly Christ-like.
to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built upEphesians 4:12
Paul went on to explain the purpose of the preachers who are called and appointed by Christ to serve the church. Like all members of the body, their purpose is to use their unique talents and gifts to encourage growth. The preachers have a special responsibility in this regard, because sharing the word of God through teaching is the primary means God uses to spread the gospel.
Ministers in a leadership capacity also have a responsibility to help guide the individual members of the church to maturity, so that their individual gifts and talents can be matured and exercised for the benefit of the entire the church body.
Truth and Love are Essential
Paul mentions two essential elements to the growth of the church: truth and love. Speaking the truth in love is the way to stimulate growth of the church. (Ephesians 4:15) When the truth is preached and shared in love, it will have a positive effect. People will grow in their lives, and new people will hear the gospel.
Paul also explained that there were some people who cunning, deceitful, and scheming. (Ephesians 4:14) They did not tell the truth, in part, because they did not love those who they were teaching. Hiding the truth or building on lies can never bring the maturity and growth Paul described, and men and women who do those sort of things are the corrupt preachers that the apostle Paul warned the church to avoid. The absence or denial of truth will make growth impossible.
The truth must also be conveyed in love to effectively stimulate growth. If the truth by itself is not adequate. Without love, it will never have its intended effect. Numbers may increase, programs may be successful, but without truth and love driving the process, the growth is not the kind Paul described.
Truth and love will make all the difference. When a church can hold onto those two things, it will grow. The church will “build itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
The Mission of the Church
As Christ’s body on earth, the church has a divine mission. Scripture tells us different aspects of that mission. (Matthew 28:18-20)
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…Matthew 28:19
One part of the church’s mission is to share the gospel and make disciples of all men. We do this through encouraging each other to do what is right and good, through preaching, teaching, exampleship, counseling, parenting, and serving those around us. (Hebrews 10:23-25)
We share the gospel by supporting mission work both inside and outside of our community. The entire world needs to hear the good of Jesus, and it is our God-directed mission to proclaim that good news. (Acts 1:8)
…the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.1 Timothy 3:15
Giving praise to God for his saving work is another duty of the church. (1 Pet 2:9, Ephesians 1:11-12) We show forth our praises in our daily lives, and also in our praise and worship services together. God desires our praise and adoration, and it is one reason he has made himself known to us.
The church also stands a pillar and buttress of truth. (1 Tim 3:15) It defends the truth of the gospel, delivered once and for all time to the saints, resisting efforts to dilute, pollute, or corrupt it. (Jude 1:3) The church stands for and upholds the gospel truth, like a pillar holds up a ceiling, or like a buttress protects a wall.
A Connected Church
The individual parts of the body are connected so they can work together. Similarly, the members of the body of Christ are connected to they can also work together and support each other. As disciples of Christ, it is important for us to be connected to a community of believers. That is something that looks different for different people. There is variety, and not every community of Christians looks the same, as there are different ways we can connect and live in community with each other.
Growing to our full potential, serving to our full potential, and contributing to the other members of the body of Christ can only happen when we remain connected. It is important to find a healthy church community where you can both grow and serve. (Hebrews 10:25)
The Church In Action
Are you seeking ways to serve? Are there areas being neglected where you could help? Are you encouraging your neighbors to live godly lives and do what is right by showing a good example, through your words, and your life? Are you supporting the spread of the gospel in your community and outside of your community with your time or resources? Are you ministering to the needs of people around you? Are you growing in your personal relationship with Jesus? These are all areas where you have an opportunity to fulfill Paul’s words and help the body of Christ grow and build itself up in love.
Remember, you are part of the church too. And your growth and well being is just as important as the other members around you. You can’t help others if don’t first help yourself. And when you are strong and healthy in your relationship with Christ, then you can be a beacon to help those around you.
Kept By God: A Prayer of the Puritans
Thou Creator, Upholder, Proprietor of all things,
I cannot escape from thy presence or control,
nor do I desire to do so.
My privilege is to be under thy agency of
omnipotence, righteousness, wisdom, patience, mercy, grace.
Thou art love with more than parental affections,
I admire thy heart and adore thy wisdom,
Stand in awe of thy power, abase myself before thy purity.
It is the discovery of thy goodness alone that can banish my fear,
Allure me into thy presence,
Help me to bewail and confess my sins,
When I review my past guilty and am conscious of my present unworthiness,
I tremble to come to thee,
I, whose foundation is in the dust,
I, who have condemned thy goodness,
Defied thy power,
Trampled upon thy love,
Rendered myself worthy of eternal death.
But my recovery cannot spring from any cause within me,
I can destroy myself, but I cannot save myself.
Yet thou has laid help on One that is mighty,
For there is mercy with thee,
And exceeding riches in thy kindness through Jesus.
May I always feel my need of him.
Let my restored joy be my strength;
May it keep me from lusting after the world,
Bear up heart and mind in loss of comforts,
Enliven me in the valley of death,
Work in me the image of the heavenly,
And give me to enjoy the first fruits of spirituality,
Such as angels and departed saints know.
In Jesus name, I ask it
The Valley of Vision: A collection of Puritan Prayers Edited by Arthur Bennet, 1975
- What is the mission of the church, and what are some things you do in your life to contribute towards that mission?
- Can you name two essential elements for a church to grow? Can you think of any other important things for growth besides those two?
- There are many areas where the members of a church can serve one another. How many can you name?