Grace and maturity. There is a need for both in this fallen world. The need for a mature body has not gone away; the world needs to see authentic, mature Christianity in the lives of Christ’s follower. There is the ever-present need to mature the body; every member of the church must strive for and be moved toward maturity. Thus, we still need the grace of Christ, spiritual gifts, in order to attain unity, maturity, even the full measure of Christ. In verses 7-16 of Ephesians 4 Paul unpacks the grace Christ has given His body that it might be moved toward maturity.
A Mature Walk (7-16)
Christ gives gifts to His church so that she matures and grows up into Him.
7But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
But grace…each one of us: The church is unified by the preceding seven (7) ones (4-6), but she is not uniform. Each one of us has a unique contribution to the body due to the grace…given us by Christ. In view is not saving grace but spiritual gifts Christ gives His church.
Saving grace is the same for all; this grace given according to Christ is measured and different for each Christian. Each member has received his measure from Christ. But no one member has all the various spiritual gifts. This is by design so that we are dependent upon one another.
According to…Christ’s gift: Measure (Gk metron) indicates that some get a larger measure, others a smaller measure. But everyone gets some amount. Cf. Matthew 25.14-30. The gifts come from Christ and are for the same purpose—building up & maturing the body (v.12-16).
Each Christian has received grace (a spiritual gift) to build up the church of Christ. Therefore, every member of the body is vital to the healthy function of the body. There are no spare or unimportant parts. Christ doesn’t come to the end of building his church and have extra parts like we sometimes do when we put together a piece of furniture.
8Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.”
Therefore it says: or “He says” (KJV, NKJV). Either is an acceptable translation.
“When He ascended…to men”: Universally, scholars identify this as a quote or allusion to Psalm 68.18. However, it differs slightly from the Hebrew text (2nd person changed to 3rd person; different last phrase). Why? See “Special Study” below. Paul says that was written in Psalm 68 was ultimately speaking of Christ, the triumphant King, leading principalities & powers captive (1.21-22).
While there are those who would seek to destroy faith by pointing to texts such as this and saying there is a contradiction, there are good answers as to why there is a difference in readings here and in the Psalms…
Special Study—Did Paul Misquote Psalm 68?
Even a cursory comparison of Ephesians 4.8 and Psalm 68.18 show that they differ somewhat. In the Psalm, the nouns are in 2nd person; in Ephesians, the nouns are 3rd person. Also, does the subject “receive” gifts (Psalms) or “give” gifts (Ephesians)? Various suggestions have been offered to explain these differences. There are those who say Paul made a mistake and misquoted (intentionally or unintentionally) the verse. This simply will not do since the Holy Spirit is ultimately the author of both texts. John Stott says the two passages are essentially the same with no contradiction (since one would “receive “ in order to “give”). Others say this is a rabbinic exegesis. The explanation which several point to is a Targum (Aramaic paraphrase) which is virtually identical to how Ephesians reads. In the Targum, it is Moses who gives gifts, specifically the Law, from Mount Sinai. So Jesus, the second and greater Moses, gives gifts. Thus, Psalm 68.18 is Messianic and finds fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Also, this could be an early Christian hymn using the language of Psalm 68. Either way, neither Paul nor the Holy Spirit have made a mistake.
9(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth?
In saying, “He…the earth: Paul begins to explain the quotation from Psalms. The key to understanding it is in the phrase the lower regions, the earth. Does it mean “the lower parts of the earth” (NKJV, NASB) or the earth itself (ESV, NIV)? If the former, it means Hades. If the latter, three possibilities: 1) the Incarnation, 2) Christ’s death on the cross, or 3) Christ giving the Spirit at Pentecost. Due to Paul’s usage of a similar phrase elsewhere (Rom 10.7), it seems he has Christ’s death in view (cf. Psalm 69.15, “the deep” & “the pit” being poetic for death/the grave).
10He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)
He Who…also ascended: After His death, burial, & resurrection, Christ ascended back to the Father’s right hand (Acts 1.9; 2.33). This is “the highest honor and glory possible” (Foulkes 124). Having attained that lofty position, He gave (spiritual) gifts to men, specifically, the church (v.12).
Far above all the heavens: The Hebrew idea was that there were three (3) heavens (cf. 2 Cor 12.2). Ancient cosmology thought there were seven (7) heavens. However many there are, Christ has been exalted above “all the heavens” to the very throne of the Father.
That He might fill all things: “That he might be the fountain whence all blessings might flow” (Clarke). Christ fills “the whole universe” (NIV) with His glory.
11And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,
And He gave…: The triumphant King disperses gifts to His citizens.
[some] apostles: typically we think of the Twelve, however, generally, those “sent ones” of the church. Barnabas is an example of the latter (Acts 14.14).
[some] prophets: not so much foretellers of the future but forth-tellers of the Word of God to the people of God.
[some] evangelists: good news tellers. While some may be esp. gifted in this, every Christian is an evangelist (Acts 8.4).
[some teaching-shepherds]: those given to the church to feed, bind, nourish, heal through teaching ministry.
By no means exhaustive, we get a glimpse of the diversity/variety of the gifts Christ gives His church. Christ qualifies the Christian and gives him/her to His church. So all members of the church, in their respective ministries, are God’s gift to the church.
12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
To equip…work of ministry: The aim of Christ giving gifts to the church is that the saints would have the equipment they need for ministry (Gk diakonias). Since it is the work of ministry it will require zeal, labor, & effort.
For building…body of Christ: The figures of building and body are combined here. Here is the target at which we are aiming: body building—quantitatively, qualitatively, and structurally.
Can you imagine a football team showing up to the game without helmets and pads? Or what about a baseball team showing up without bats and gloves? To play the game you need the necessary equipment. Christ has graciously provided the equipment we need to get on the field and play ball. Further, every member must participate in the process or else the body will be deficient in spiritual and numeric growth.
13until 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,
Until we…the Son of God: In v.3 we “maintain the unity of the Spirit;” here Christians attain (reach for with the goal of arriving at) unity in two areas: 1) faith & 2) knowledge. The goal of unity of the faith is that Christians believe the same thing about the Son of God (cf.v.5). The goal of unity…of the knowledge is that Christians enjoy the deepest levels of fellowship with the Son of God (cf. Phil 3.10).
There are no spiritual Rambos or Chuck Norrises in the church. We are together to work toward unity in faith & knowledge. Together we work toward spiritual growth and maturity rather than just individually doing our own thing, striving for spiritual growth apart from the body.
Another important note is that these are goals we are to reach for (“attain”), striving together for them. It is ideal that we believe everything alike. But do we? Not on everything. But in the essentials, it is imperative that we agree. We can have liberty in non-essentials. And in everything, we need to love one another. Further, it is not just knowing about Christ, but (relationally) knowing Christ which is the emphasis of faith & knowledge.
To mature manhood: the body is to move from spiritual infancy to a full grown man.
To the measure…fullness of Christ: Even as we are to be flooded by God Himself (3.19), so we are to flooded by Christ and ultimately look like Him in measure & stature, i.e. in every way.
Even as children are not intended to be babies forever, so babes in Christ are to grow up into Christ. Members of the church who are equipped and continually edified have attained the measure of adulthood. Does that mean there is no room for improvement? No, it means your no longer an infant being tossed about by various & contrary winds. You fill up what is lacking and attain the measure of the stature that belongs to Christ
14so 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.
So that…children: Children here is juxtaposed with the “mature man” of v.13. While we are to be “infants in evil,” but mature in our thinking (1 Cor 14.20).
Tossed…by every wind of doctrine: Maturity in our thinking will keep us from being like storm tossed ships, following after ear-tickling speakers and listening to dangerous doctrines.
By human…schemes: human cunning of “trickery of men” (Gk kubeia, from which we get our word “cube”) has to do with dice playing. The metaphor is that these men are deceptive since dice players sometimes cheat to win. Their craftiness was merely specious wisdom wrapped in lies (deceitful schemes). There must have been some scheming heretics Paul had in mind, though he decided to leave them unnamed. His original audience would have known them.
We still have scheming heretics today, don’t we? Men who are rolling the dice on their own spiritual well-being and causing others to roll the dice on their spiritual lives. Mature and stable churches, no longer children, allow the wind (Spirit) of God to fill their sails. Those who love truth and speak truth to one another (v.15) are able when error rears its ugly head to identify it for what it is.
15Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,
Rather, speaking the truth in love: Lit. “truthing in love.” The word for speaking the truth implies both being honest, following truth, & telling the truth. “But truth must be inseparably married to love” (Pulpit Commentary 150). Good news spoken in a harsh manner is not good news. The winsomeness of truth can be adversely affected by a negative spirit. Furthermore, in love stands in juxtaposition with the craftiness in deceitful schemes of the preceding verse.
Notice two things – 1) Truth must be spoken. This is the way to avoid error, and this is the way to preserve others from error. In opposition to all trick, and art, and cunning, and fraud, and deception, Christians are to speak the simple truth, and nothing but the truth. & 2) Truth must be spoken in love. There are other ways of speaking truth. It is sometimes spoken in a harsh, crabby, sour manner, which does nothing but disgust and offend. When we state truth to others, it should he with love to their souls, and with a sincere desire to do them good. When we admonish a brother of his faults, it should not be in a harsh and unfeeling manner, but in love. Where a minister pronounces the awful truth of God about depravity, death, the judgment, and future woe, it should be in love. It should not be done in a harsh and repulsive manner; it should not he done as if he rejoiced that people were in danger of hell, or as if he would like to pass the final sentence; it should not be with indifference, or in a tone of superiority (Albert Barnes).
Some congregations have “all truth” but are lacking in love; others may have a loving spirit but are deficient in truth. Both are needed otherwise we end up with harsh legalism or soft liberalism.
We are to grow up…into Christ: Notice that the primary audience of truth is we, i.e. Christians. We are to speak truth to one another in love for edification. Truth will enable the body to grow up in every way into the Head. In fact, the aim of growth is that we draw closer to Christ.
16from 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.
From whom the whole body: i.e from Christ the whole church grows. Growth is directly connected to our relation to Christ. Severed from the Head, the body will die.
Consider the human body since that is the figure Paul uses to address functional unity in Christ’s church. We have the various bones – arms, legs, head, ribs, etc. – which are held together by connective tissue – muscles, ligaments, nerves, etc. Every member of the church should contribute something to the prosperity of the whole. He should no more be idle and unemployed than a nerve or a blood-vessel should be in the human system. What would be the effect if the minutest nerves and arteries of the body should refuse to perform their office?. Langour, disease, and death. So it is in the church. The obscurest member may do “something” to destroy the healthful action of the church, and to make its piety languish and die. (Barnes)
Joined and held together: Joined and held together are present tense verbs indicating that this is a continual process. The individual members are fit exactly together in their respective places (joined) and are united together (held together or “knit together”) Harmony and solidarity are pictured. In addition, these words are passive voice which means that the various members are acted upon to bring about this cohesion in the body. Though unnamed, no doubt the agent of this is Christ.
By every joint…equipped: The means by which Christ accomplishes this functional unity is every joint with which it is equipped (or “what every joint supplies” [NKJV]). What seems in view are the various gifts Christ gives His church (v.11) which are the equipment of the saints (v.12). Through the several ministries of the gifts, especially teaching, Christ joins and holds together His body.
When each part is working properly: Every member is dependent upon the other members. No one member can write-off another member as useless. Every part has a role to perform in the body of Christ. Each member has their respective ministry and must labor in it for the Lord.
Makes the body…in love: Makes…itself is the verb and indicates that the growth is from within while dependent upon the energy of Christ. The atmosphere for growth is one of love wherein each member will seek the edification of all.
Spiritual increase is the primary focus of Paul in this section. If & when the church engages the process of fostering an atmosphere of love, depending upon the strength & power (energy) of God, relying upon Christ to unite and bind us to one another, and speaking the truth in love to one another, she will grow in faith, knowledge, and love. No doubt where there is a loving community of believers, numeric increase is sure to follow.