Summary: We consider what is involved in growing up together into Christ our Head.
We have been looking the past several weeks at the first half of Ephesians 4, in which the Apostle Paul discusses what the church is to be about. After three chapters extolling the blessings of God shown to believers in Christ Jesus, he now addresses how we live in response to those blessings. We are to walk in a manner worthy of the blessed calling we have received. That walk 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.
That unity of the Spirit is founded on seven elements: there is 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 by which to contribute. Furthermore, Christ has given officers to the church – 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.
The goal of the building project is to attain unity in the faith and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ. In such unity we attain, as a church, mature manhood and become like Christ, and thus we avoid being as children who flit from one idea to the next. Indeed, rather than remaining like children, we, well, we do what our final two verses tell us.
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 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.
Let’s break down this long sentence.
Rather, speaking the truth in love…
We covered that phrase last Sunday. In order for us to grow we must embrace and speak truth. And in order to handle truth correctly we must do so in love.
Then we are told that “we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”
What does it mean for the body to grow up into the head? Paul has spoken earlier in verses 12 and 13 about “building up the body of Christ…to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” In both expressions, it seems that he is saying that Christ is the one whom we aspire to be. We are not just growing to get bigger, but to be like our Head, Jesus Christ. Even so, that preposition “into” forces us to acknowledge that we cannot be like Christ if we are not connected to Christ.
Furthermore, that connection impacts every aspect of our lives. We cannot have a “religious” part of us, then a “social” part, then a “career” part, and whatever other parts there may be. To put it another way, we can’t be one person in church and then another person in the home and another at work or school. We are to grow up “in every way” into Christ.
The next verse gets a bit tricky if we don’t carefully follow the grammatical construction. Let’s put our rusty grammar skills to work. Verses 15 and 16 make up one long sentence (in English; in Greek the sentence begins back in verse 11). Verse 15 has the main clause of the sentence, which reads “we (the subject) are to grow up (verb phrase) into Christ.” After Paul comes to Christ, he now adds a thought related to Christ. Christ is the Head of the body, and so from the Head, the body…well, the body what?
There is this long sentence about joints and parts, and growing and building. It seems natural to me for Paul to say something like this, “We are to grow into the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body is held together and grows.” As the head, Christ is the source of life and direction for the body. He is what makes the body grows.
Certainly that is true. Without the head the body has no life. Without the control signals and the energy pulsating from the head, the body will not grow. And so it is with the church and Christ. Without Christ being our head, the church is lifeless. It cannot function as the body of Christ.
But that’s not really what verse 16 is driving at. Let’s identify the subject, verb, and direct object in this long passage. (I trust I am warming the heart of every English teacher.) The subject is “the body.” The verb is “makes.” The direct object is “grow, or growth.” Knock out the phrases in the middle and this is what we have: “The whole body makes the body grow, or the growth of the body.” Does Christ make the body grow? Yes. He is the head from whom the body grows. Does the Spirit make the body grow? Yes. We are built together by the Spirit (2:22). But the point being made here is that this growth is worked out through the body functioning in such a way as to make itself grow.