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Unity in Action

Ephesians 4:7-16

(Eph 4:7-16 NIV) But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. {8} This is why it says: "When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men." {9} (What does "he ascended" mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions ? {10} He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) {11} It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, {12} to prepare God's 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 men in their deceitful scheming. {15} Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into 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.


Again, Paul brings us back to the starting point of all matters relating to the Faith: Jesus Christ. He starts this section by reminding us that it is Christ who is the one who "apportions" grace. The word in the Greek (metron) means to measure out. It does not imply a blanket smothering but rather a specific action.

Paul then takes us back to the Old Testament, in Psalm 68:18 - and misquotes it. Much has been made of this. Some think it simply a lapse of memory; others an amplification of the original intention. The original has God receiving gifts from men, as if they were the captives. Here Christ is shown as giving gifts. Both are correct, of course, as thoughts. We must remember that the sense of quotation was different in these times.

The implication, however, is quite clear. Christ is possessed of all authority, the one who has filled heaven and earth. It is by that authority that such apportionment is made. We now are reminded of the source; we must now look to the measurement.

Office in the Church

It is clear from other writings of Paul that this is not meant to be an exhaustive list of the public offices of the church. Rather, Paul is listing these as examples of how Christ has measured out his grace, and why.

Public Offices

Paul lists four of the public offices of the church:

·         First are the Apostles. These are required to be eyewitnesses to the Resurrection of Christ. Their function is to be the ambassadors who started the church. As such, for both reasons, this office is no longer held to be in existence. But note well that many who were witnesses of the Resurrection were not Apostles. Just because you're qualified does not mean that you are chosen.

·         Next are the prophets. The word itself is taken from the Old Testament. These too are no longer with us (though there are those who will disagree about this). Their function was two-fold:

·         In the usual sense they were to foretell - really, to warn - about the future. In this sense they are given visions of the future, and then commissioned to speak those visions to the church.

·         In the other sense, they are to "forth tell" - to rebuke those who were in sin. The office was known for some time in the church. The prophets traveled from one site to another, correcting error and rebuking sinfulness. It is not a position which gives popularity.

·         Next - and still with us - are the evangelists. These seem now to come in two flavors:

·         There are those who have the title of evangelist, such as Billy Graham. This is one who preaches the good news (the word means one who carries good news) to the world at large.

·         There are those who travel to different cultures to do this, the missionaries.

·         Finally, there are pastors and teachers. The phrasing in the Greek implies that these are the same people. It is quite the case; a teacher who does not care for his students, who does not shepherd them (which is what "pastor" means) is not a teacher.

God has given the church these offices, among others. These are singled out because Paul is talking about the unity of the church, and these offices are designed to promote that unity.

Purpose of these offices

Why did Paul select these? Why did Christ implement these? The answer is clear: it is to "perfect the saints" (KJV), or to "complete" them, as the NIV has it. The word is an interesting one. It does not mean to make someone sinless. It has two main meanings:

·         It means first to completely furnish something for a particular purpose. When we furnish a room in a house, it is most pleasant to put in it exactly those things, no more, no less, than are suitable for the use of the room. This is the same sense here: these teachers, etc., are to make us complete for the purposes for which God intends us.

·         It also is used in the sense of "mending," as one would mend a net or set a broken bone. These teachers are to assist us in the process of being mended for God's purposes.

And who are these teachers to "perfect?" The saints, the ones set aside for the purposes of God. But perfect for what?

For works of service! So much emphasis is laid on "sola fide" that we sometimes forget that faith without works is dead. Again, Paul's phrasing here is worth a look:

·         The word he uses for works, ergo, is the root of our word "ergonomics." It means physical work, labor. This is not a reference to prayer and fasting.

·         The word for service, diakonia, is the root of our word "deacon." It is sometimes translated deacon, minister or servant. What is key for us is this: such service is the taproot of sound doctrine. If your doctrine is not worked out in service, it is inherently unsound. But that service must have a purpose.

That purpose is this: that the body of Christ may be built up. The word used is also used of building a house or a city. We are to work so that the body may be built up, and we are to do it in whatever fashion Christ has called us to. That may be evangelism, or it may be discipleship.

Desired Results

What then are the desired results of all this "building up?" Are we to build the body just for the sake of making it bigger? Not so; our Lord has a purpose in this. Indeed, several such purposes:

Unity in the faith

The point has already been made - the seven fold unity of the faith we talked about last time. It is not sufficient for us to recognize it; we must achieve it. This is the "thick" of our faith; we may not understand how it happened but we can see its results and love the one who created it.

Knowledge of the Son of God

The word in the Greek is epignosis, and it means "full knowledge." Charles Wesley translated it "experimental knowledge." That means the knowledge of one who has experienced it, who has investigated it, who thoroughly understands it. That is the "clear" of the faith; we are to know him to the best of our abilities.


Maturity has a bad name in our day and age. We prefer youth and inexperience to age and skill. But see what it meant here: the words translated "whole measure" are again that Greek word metron, the measurement of Christ. This could have one or more of these meanings:

·         It could mean that we are to fully use the grace that Christ has measured out to us. In other words, we are to take the gifts God has given us, and like the wise stewards in the parable, use them for God rather than hiding them in the ground.

·         It could also be taken to mean that we fully imitate Christ, that we become as much like him as it is possible for us to achieve.

·         Or it could mean that we are to be filled, completely, with the spirit of Christ.

All three of these meanings carry a message for us, and I suspect all three are included in the meaning that Paul had for us.

Actions in Response

All this is wonderful - but meaningless if we don't do something about it. What actions does Paul tell us we must take? What shall we do?

No longer infants

This means that we are not to follow those who teach false doctrine. That implies some responsibility for determining just what is true, and false, doctrine.

·         It is the responsibility of the elders, and by implication the teachers, to teach sound doctrine and ensure that nothing but sound doctrine is taught. For this reason their responsibility is the greater.

·         It is the role of the mature Christian to recognize such doctrine, and coach and counsel the immature Christian to do the same. If they recognize doctrine which is unsound, they are to raise the alarm.

·         It is the role of the seeker to ask. It is not sufficient to say, "I didn't know." God will ask what you did to seek the truth.

So the seeker might ask, "How do I tell the truth from the false doctrine?" Interestingly, Paul tells us to look at those who are teaching. There are two tests given:

·         Christ tells us simply to wait: by their fruits you will know them. Examine their lives; examine their families. Does this seem the fruit of what they claim to be teaching?

·         Paul gives us another test here: the cunning and deceitfulness of the men in questions. If they appear clever rather than deep, you should challenge that. Wesley says that the Greek here carries with it the idea of "cogging the dice." Beware those who can flip pages in Scripture too fast.

Now that we know what to avoid, what should we look for?

Speak the truth in love

Here is the true method of the true teacher of the Gospel: he speaks the truth in love. He condemns the sin; never the sinner. His purpose is always the same - that his students might grow up into Christ. Spurgeon encourages us with this:

Many Christians remain stunted and dwarfed in spiritual things, so as to present the same appearance year after year. No up-springing of advanced and refined feeling is manifest in them. They exist but do not “grow up into him in all things.” But should we rest content with being in the “green blade,” when we might advance to “the ear,” and eventually ripen into the “full corn in the ear?” Should we be satisfied to believe in Christ, and to say, “I am safe,” without wishing to know in our own experience more of the fulness which is to be found in him. It should not be so; we should, as good traders in heaven’s market, covet to be enriched in the knowledge of Jesus. It is all very well to keep other men’s vineyards, but we must not neglect our own spiritual growth and ripening. Why should it always be winter time in our hearts? We must have our seed time, it is true, but O for a spring time-yea, a summer season, which shall give promise of an early harvest. If we would ripen in grace, we must live near to Jesus-in his presence-ripened by the sunshine of his smiles. We must hold sweet communion with him. We must leave the distant view of his face and come near, as John did, and pillow our head on his breast; then shall we find ourselves advancing in holiness, in love, in faith, in hope-yea, in every precious gift. As the sun rises first on mountain-tops and gilds them with his light, and presents one of the most charming sights to the eye of the traveler; so is it one of the most delightful contemplations in the world to mark the glow of the Spirit’s light on the head of some saint, who has risen up in spiritual stature, like Saul, above his fellows, till, like a mighty Alp, snow-capped, he reflects first among the chosen, the beams of the Sun of Righteousness, and bears the sheen of his effulgence high aloft for all to see, and seeing it, to glorify his Father which is in heaven.

From Him the body grows

We return full circle. All authority is in Christ Jesus, and in him the body grows. By his power and authority:

·         The body grows in size, by the work of evangelists.

·         The body grows in strength, by the work of pastors and teachers.

The question is, are you growing too?

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