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.
Let’s break the verse down: from whom the whole body. Not part of the body, not certain parts of the body, like the pastors and elders, but the whole body is involved. The whole body is “joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped.” Other translations have something like “every joint which supplies.” I lean that way, but it does not matter. However we do the fine translation, still the message is that every part of the body is needed to supply the body with what it needs to hold together and grow. Every part has a part to play.
Now look at the next phrase: when each part is working properly. We can read this in a couple of ways. We can keep the focus on the initiative of each body member to do the work assigned to it. Or we could go back to the head of the body and think of the power given to each part to do its word, so that it reads something like, “according to the power given to each part.” We can then reference verse 7 where it speaks of “grace…given to each one of according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” Whatever we choose, both truths are evident. The body works together according to the power given to every member by our Head Jesus Christ. And it is our obligation to carry out the work assigned to us and with which we have the power to perform.
And all of this is for the purpose that the body “makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” We are made members of the body of Christ. Now that we are members, each one of us has a role to play in building up the body we belong to. And the operating dynamic that is to be pulsating through the body is love.
This is the calling to which we have been called – to build up the body of Christ. The manner in which we to fulfill the calling is in humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, eager to maintain unity. The foundation upon which we are to build are the seven pillars of one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God the Father. We have each been given grace to do our part, and that grace is given by our generous Lord. Our Lord has given for his body, the church, servants to lay the foundation and equip us for our obligation to building up the body of Christ. Our goal is to attain unity of faith and of the knowledge of Christ, to reach maturity and be like Christ. We are not to remain as children going back and forth on what we believe, but rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow into Christ who is our head and who gives us the power to work together to build up the body in love.
Well, then, let’s take this description of what a church is to be like and use it to examine our own church. How are we doing?
In the area of teaching the fundamentals of the faith as expressed in those seven elements of verses 4-6, we seem to be doing well. You will recall, if you were here four years ago, that we actually gave out a spiritual health survey to try to gauge where we stood in different areas. In the area of doctrine, we asked a number of questions about God, about the doctrine of sin, about salvation, and so forth. There was high agreement on all the essentials. We know that our God is sovereign. We know that we are sinners in need of the saving work of Christ. We know that in Christ we are accepted by God. We trust the Word of God to be true. However much we may stumble in our Christian walk, it is not because we don’t know the essentials of the gospel faith.
We’ve had good pastor-teachers who have taught these truths well. And they have done it well enough that we have come to rely more on good teaching than the teachers themselves. So when beloved and respected pastors are no longer with us – I think of James Boice and Phil Ryken, but also Rick Phillips and Aaron Messner – we are able to continue on, as long as faithful teaching of God’s Word continues. That’s a healthy sign for a church.
Then there is the manner of our walk expressed in verses 2 and 3. That’s a bit trickier to measure. Who here is ready to say that you got humility and gentleness and patience down? How about forbearance in love? We might say we are eager to maintain unity, but if the other traits are essential for unity, are we really that eager to keep the peace?
I am hesitant to rate us in those categories, although, if I am going to speak the whole truth, I ought to say a word about the elders of our church. I have served in other churches; I know the experience of other ministers, and I can say that an all too common phenomenon is what would be called power struggles. Sometimes the source is one or more elders who have undue influence over the church. They pretty much run the church or try to. Sometimes the source is jealousy among elders and among pastors. Sometimes a character trait like stubbornness or bad temper creates havoc. Whatever the cause, there can be a fair amount of tension “behind closed doors.” I have to reveal that it is a blessing to serve in a church where the elders and the pastors have mutual respect for one another. Can you imagine the controversies that really could have risen during this time of transition? We have our differences, but we don’t have our battles. We don’t have the scenario that could have been expected – namely, that when the leader of the church is gone, opposing parties fight to fill in the gap.
I can’t express what a blessing it is to serve not only with such elders but with deacons and deaconesses, with staff who stay the course because – to a degree that they will not admit of themselves – they serve in humility and forbearance in love as servants of the church.
I’ll even give the rest of you good ratings! Let’s be honest here; we’ve taken our share of blows. In January you were expecting someone a bit taller standing in this pulpit in September. We had our struggles as in any congregation. The economy was and still is taking a toll. These Capital Campaign projects have been great, but raising the funds (which still are not complete) and adjusting to all the construction can get tiring. It is great to be starting another daughter church, but there are emotional costs in losing people we love to that work. And there are plans still not realized, but at least when the year began we knew our Senior Minister would be around.
Now that has been taken from us. It would be understandable if the past few months had been marked by division and controversy. It would not have been surprising for sizable numbers to leave. But I think new church attenders during this time would attest that they would not know there has been a great loss inflicted upon us. Why? I think it has to do with our steadfast confidence in the doctrines of the gospel – the fundamentals of the faith. But it does also indicate that there is some measure of humility and patience and eagerness for unity. Let’s give the Holy Spirit his due. He must be doing some kind of work among us in this area.
Then there is this area of each part working properly. We were told in verse 7 that each one of us was given grace to do our part in the body of Christ. That grace was given to the measure of Christ’s gift, a measure of generosity. We were told in verse 12 that we have a role to play in the ministry of the church. And our verses now make clear that it takes the whole body, with each part of the body doing its work, to have healthy growth. How are we doing in that area – of everybody pitching in to do their part?
We do okay, but….
Before I go on, let me follow my own rules about speaking the truth in love. As the Executive Minister, I think I can safely say that I have the best perspective of the breadth of ministry taking place to build up the body. There are many people in this church who labor tirelessly for the sake of Christ’s body. Many wonderful works are taking place because of dedicated brothers and sisters who are doing all sorts of ministry. A great challenge for me is simply keeping track of what everyone is doing.
One might reasonably ask if it really does matter if every single member of the body does its part. After all, it’s not like being in a small church where everyone’s role really does matter. I’ve served in small churches – 35-50 members. I would say that individuals actually are more necessary in a large church as Tenth. As pastor of a small church, I knew everybody. I visited everybody. If you were in the hospital, I visited you. I knew all of your children. Every visitor to the church would be greeted by me. In a small church, you only need a handful of individuals who can cover everything. You only need one outgoing person to make visitors feel welcome. In a church like ours, visitors can walk in, worship, walk out and never be known, never be greeted. On the basis of what the individuals around them do this morning, they will determine whether we are a warm church or a cold church.
In a church like ours, a church member can stop attending and get the message that he is never missed. He can be seriously ill, face all manner of trials, and no one know, or if they know, they assume someone else is reaching out. In a church like ours, precisely because we are so busy “doing ministry,” we fail to keep in touch with our brothers and sisters.
REM is right, “everybody hurts sometimes.” In a large church of 1,500 people a lot of people are hurting at anytime. And no one feels that more than the shepherds of the church, your elders. No one feels less adequate to meet all the needs than they. There are broken marriages, broken families, sheep who are straying, members who are suffering. That is to be expected. Christ has not returned; we have not reached glory. But that is why every member of the body is needed to build up the body in love. Until Christ returns, we are needed to represent him, our Head. We are needed to build up our brothers and sisters in love.
Love cannot work through the body without being shown by another human being. The truth cannot be spoken in love if no one speaks. In a large, spread out church like ours, people come here from all walks of life. They live on this block and an hour away. Some can no longer attend because of their health. Some are very active and have lots of support. Some have never made a real connection. And the difference between their despairing and becoming embittered or having their hope and faith renewed is likely to be the effort of one individual reaching out. This is what you can do, whatever your gift or lack of gift. You can make a contact. You can say hello to the person you are sitting beside. Or can pick up the phone and make that call you have been meaning to make, or send that card you thought would be good to send.
Everyone here – every member of this church – can think of somebody right now that you have been meaning to contact. Do it! You could be the difference maker. Your call, your visit, or email, or text message, or tweet – whatever it is you do – your simple act of friendly connection could be what connects that brother or sister with the body of Christ and with the Head, Jesus Christ.
You are the ones who can make a difference for your poor elders who feel inadequate to keep connected with everyone. You can’t take their places. They are not allowed by their Chief Shepherd to let go of pastoring their flock. But you can help them. You can pass on their needs of their flock to them. You can help make the connections they need. Indeed, you can be their connections. They cannot do the work without you.
How are we doing as a church? We are doing okay. But I don’t think “okay” is what our Head, the Lord Jesus Christ, wants. He wants to see us growing up in every way into him. He wants to see the life that he pours out into us so working in us that we are at work reaching out to one another, building each other up in him in love.
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By D. Marion Clark. © 2020 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org