Summary: Presents the goal of unity and building up the body of Christ.
We have been going through the fourth chapter of Ephesians. Let’s review. After three chapters extolling the blessings of God shown to believers in Christ Jesus, Paul begins to address how we live in response to those blessings. In verse 1 he tells us to walk in a manner worthy of the blessed calling we have received. Verses 2 and 3 lay out the manner of that walk. It is to be done in humility and gentleness, with patience and bearing with one another in love. It is to be accompanied by an eagerness to maintain unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
With the term “unity” Paul has introduced the central idea in the passage of verses 1-16. He then, in verses 4 through 6, presents the elements upon which unity is founded – one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father. These are foundational truths that cannot be changed by us.
Nevertheless, we have a role to play in manifesting unity. We have been given grace from Christ who distributes gifts to his people. We all have the necessary gifts and power to contribute. Furthermore, Christ has given to the church offices – apostles and prophets who laid the foundation, then evangelists to spread the gospel and start churches, then pastors-teachers who shepherd those churches. These different types of teachers equip us to work together in building the body of Christ.
Now, here is the question – What for? What are we building? What is our unity to be achieving? This is what verses 13 and 14 address.
Read verse 13:
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,
Our unity is to be achieving unity – to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God. The goal is not merely to agree with one another, but to agree on “the faith,” that is, the gospel, and on the Son of God, Jesus Christ. It is critical what we are united about. For if we grow together in the right understanding of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, we will attain maturity, indeed we will grow to “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” To put it simply, we will become like Christ; we will grow into his image. That is where we are trying to get; that is where our walk is to take us, both as individuals and as a united church.
The opposite of maturity is remaining as a child, as described in verse 14:
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.
Being like a child is not always bad. Jesus wants us to have the humility of a child. Indeed, the only way to enter the kingdom of God is through such humility. But remaining like a child in the way that we receive and assimilate knowledge is not healthy. Just as we want our children to develop mentally and to build on knowledge, so we are to develop spiritually. Otherwise, we will not only fail to progress, but will become unstable as we go from one way of thinking to the next based on the skill of others to manipulate us.
To understand more clearly what Paul is saying in these verses, we are going to look at two childish churches as case studies, both of whom were started by Paul himself. That fact alone should alert us that falling away from “unity of the faith” can happen to any church. The churches are the church in Corinth and the church in Galatia.
Paul wrote to the Corinth church: “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3).
What was wrong with the church? He goes on to say there is jealousy and strife among them. That strife rose from doctrinal error. The church was filled with people who thought they had arrived spiritually, indeed, even passing Paul himself. They had gotten caught up in two things – their spiritual gifts and their freedom in Christ. Their gifts led them to believe they were wiser than they were. They thought they were extra spiritual, when in reality they were merely mimicking the world in wanting to be looked up to as special. As to the concept of freedom in Christ, they loved the concept so much that it led them to be “free” to act just like the world in their morals. The result was a church indistinguishable from their neighbors, except for having the added conceit of portraying themselves as being God’s favored people.