As we’ve studied Ephesians 4:7 – 16 over the last few weeks, I’ve been reminded of a few biblical themes regarding the purpose of the church. The church was not designed to be a country club, a social club or a political power. It’s not meant to be another activity on our list of other good things to do. And it’s also not meant to be a place where spiritual goods are merely consumed.
In Ephesians 4:7 – 16 Paul says…
7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” 9 (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10 He who descended is also the one who ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and the teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 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, 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. 15 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.
So the church was designed by God to be his living representation of Jesus on this earth. The church is designed to be a maternity ward, a pediatric clinic and an emergency rescue center. The church is meant to give birth to spiritual babies. It’s meant to help spiritual infants grow into spiritual adults. And it’s meant to provide care for wounded people. The church is not a building. The church is a people who simultaneously consume and contribute to the spiritual needs of the church family and the community it occupies.
Martyn Lloyd Jones, commenting on this passage, says, “The business of the church is not just to tell us that we can be happy, and how we can find a friend, or how to overcome sin. We are too subjective, we are too self-centered. The way to grow is to look at Him, to have faith in Him, to have this knowledge of Him.” So in other words, our main goal is turn one another towards Jesus.
Jones continues: “The revelation (of Jesus) is in God’s written Word, and the Spirit is given to help us to understand it. (Therefore) I must give myself with all diligence to its study; and it is the business of pastors and teachers to inform their people concerning these things and to build them up. But we do not stop at that, for (this study) is meant to bring us to the full knowledge of the Son of God – ‘That I might know Him’ – namely this intimate, personal, subjective, experimental knowing of Him, rejoicing in Him, and receiving Him as our life, and drawing from His fullness, and being filled with His fullness.” So our main goal in the church is to know Christ and to make him known. That’s the goal.
The church isn’t a country club. It’s not a social club, a political power or a place for consumers to feed without contributing. The church is the visible body where the Spirit of Christ lives on Earth. The church is meant to be full of people who are full of Jesus. It’s meant to be full of people who are becoming Christians and growing in Christian maturity and helping to rescue the lost so that they too can hear and believe and grow in the gospel.
So our goal is to grow more and more mature in our relationship with Jesus. And then we are called to help others to know him in the same personal and experiential way. Our calling is two-fold. First, we are called vertically to know Christ and then we are called horizontally to make Christ known. But how do we do this? What are the goal lines of spiritual growth?
In verses 7 – 12 (the verses we’ve studied for the last three weeks) Paul says that God gives each of us gifts and then he removes our enemies so that we can utilize the gifts that he’s given us. And then he gives each of us to each other so that we can do the work of equipping and building up the body of Christ. And then last week as we looked at what it means to equip and build up the body we paid special attention to the centrality of the Word of God in this work of ministry. We must remember that ministry that doesn’t have the Biblical gospel at its center is not a ministry that equips and builds up the body of Christ at all. This kind of ministry (if it can be called ministry) is a social club at best.
And then this week in verse 13 we see the goal of what Paul has been explaining to us all along. A ministry that biblically equips and biblically builds up the body of Christ helps people grow “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.” So we have three things to consider today from this text. Attaining the unity of the faith, attaining the knowledge of the Son of God and attaining mature manhood.
But there’s one other thing to consider…
Before we look at attaining faith and attaining knowledge and attaining maturity, I want us to look at the phrase “until we all attain”. And I want us to specifically think about the meaning of the word “attain”. What does Paul mean when he says that the work of ministry is meant to equip and build up the body “until we all attain” faith, knowledge and maturity?
Does this word “attain” mean to arrive at something in the sense of completion? Or is Paul just throwing words around? I don’t believe Paul is just throwing words around. Number one, Paul doesn’t use his words flippantly. Number two; I believe the words of Scripture are divinely inspired meaning that I don’t believe God throws his words around either.
So what does the word “attain,” mean in this context? I think the best way to explain this is to think about the already, not yet nature of our faith, our knowledge and our maturity. Theologically or Biblically speaking it is true that Christ’s work at the cross, accomplished perfection for us. In other words, Jesus completed the work of purchasing us out of our sin at the cross and we were in that moment made perfect in front of our Heavenly Father. This is known as the doctrine of justification.
We were completely and perfectly justified or made right with our Father in Heaven in that moment when Christ said, “it is finished”. This is the already part. But in terms of our sanctification (completed perfection) we are not yet completed in this moment. Perfection is a process with a goal of completion that will be attained once we step into the arms of our Father in Heaven. We are not yet in his arms and so we are not yet completed. So already/not yet means already complete but not yet completed.
So our faith and our knowledge and our maturity is complete in Christ before our Heavenly Father but it is not yet completed because we are not yet in our Father’s presence in Heaven. Therefore we are all on a journey of attaining perfect faith and attaining perfect knowledge and attaining perfect maturity. This is why the church exists today.
The church exists to equip and build up the body of Christ with its many members until we completely attain or arrive at perfect faith, perfect knowledge and perfect maturity. We will not arrive at perfection in these things until we arrive in Heaven. So for now we are attaining or pursuing perfection of faith, perfection of knowledge and perfection of maturity. So let’s take these one at time.
- We are attaining to the unity of the faith…
Faith is about conviction and I don’t know about you but while I know that I am complete in front of my Father in Heaven because of Christ’s work at the cross, I know I am not yet completely or perfectly convicted or convinced in my faith. If I were completed in my faith I wouldn’t chase after sin. If I were completed in my faith I wouldn’t listen to the accusations and lies of Satan. If I were completed in my faith I wouldn’t follow the passions of this world.
When I listen to Satan, sin and the world, I’m struggling in my faith because in those moments I’m struggling to believe and to trust that Jesus will satisfy the desires and the longings of my heart. And it’s a battle to trust and believe that Christ will satisfy my every desire right now. When things are out of control it’s a struggle to believe and trust that Jesus is in perfect control. When I feel alone it’s a struggle to believe and trust that Jesus will never leave me or forsake me.
So I struggle with being convicted in my faith. But the Bible reminds me that faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Heb. 11:1) And I’m also reminded that we are to look to Jesus the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb. 12:2). You and I may struggle to be convinced and convicted in our faith but there will be a day when we attain full unity (or full conviction) of faith together in Heaven.
On that day we will stand in perfect faith in the presence of our Heavenly Father. We may argue and vacillate between different secondary doctrines of belief today. But on that day in Heaven, the day we all look forward to, we will be perfectly convicted and perfectly convinced in our faith. We will fully believe and fully trust in Christ on that day. Until that day we are attaining.
Until that day, we are all striving to attain to the unity of the faith. Until that day we stand on the finished work of Christ who for the joy set before him, endured the pain and despised the shame so that we could taste victory over our enemies. We can say with conviction: Satan where is your power? Sin where is your reward? Death where is your sting? Stand firmly my friends. Trust and believe that Jesus is enough for you. Be convinced in your faith that one day you will be completed in Christ.
- We are attaining to the knowledge of the Son of God…
Knowledge is about confidence and steadfastness. When I think of being perfectly confident in the knowledge of the Son of God I think of something or someone that is immovable, unwavering and courageous. Perfect knowledge of perfect love casts out all fear. But if I’m honest with you, I am not perfect yet. Surprise! I am growing in perfect knowledge but I have not arrived yet. There are still dark places and wounded places and especially, fearful places of doubt-filled knowledge contending for the truth deep within the hallways of my heart.
But I am reminded that the Bible teaches me that I know the truth and the truth has set me free and the truth has a face and a name. His name is Jesus. Jesus is the way the truth and the life and through him I can come into my Father’s delighted presence. I have not yet attained perfection in my experiential knowledge of Christ’s loving presence. It’s hard to understand that Jesus loves me perfectly even in the midst of my darkest sin. Every day I have to wake up and remind myself that I am not in Heaven yet and I have to beg God to reassure me of his unconditional love and his never-ending presence.
Nearly every day I struggle with not just feeling lonely but feeling alone in a room full of people who neither, care if I’m there or acknowledge my presence or communicate that I am even wanted. This is not physical or spiritual reality. Those feelings are fickle. But this is an emotional reality and it is definitely realistic spiritual warfare. Satan hates the work that God is doing in me. Sin cries out to me with promises of momentary reward. The world reminds me that I’m missing out in momentary pleasures.
But I have a Father in Heaven who sings songs of joy over me. His delight and his pleasure in me is without end. Psalm 41:11 reminds me that by this truth I can trust that my Father delights in me: that my enemies will not shout in victory over me. And according to Revelation there will be a day when Christ returns on a white horse with a sword coming out of his mouth and lightning bolts coming out of his eyes with a tattoo on his leg that says King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And on that day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
On that day all my enemies will be silenced for all of eternity. This life is a breathe in the face of eternity with my Savior. That’s the victory I look forward to. Until I walk into Heaven, I am striving to attain perfect experiential knowledge of Christ’s love, which casts out all fear. We live in the already/not yet. Already complete. Not yet completed. We are attaining to the perfect and completed knowledge of the Son of God.
- We are attaining to the measure of mature manhood…
Maturity is about character and character is about measuring height, age and fullness. It feels uncomfortable to talk about measurement in regards to Christian character. But the Bible doesn’t shy away from measuring Christian growth. And if we shy away from measuring Christian character then we are saying that we are ok with being immature rather than becoming mature.
We must measure spiritual height, spiritual age and spiritual fullness if we are going to pursue authentic spiritual growth. This is why Paul says that we are called to equip and build one another up “until we all attain… to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”. So how do we measure stature? And how do we measure fullness? How do we measure Christian character?
The Bible teaches us that Jesus grew in wisdom and stature. If the sinless Son of God has no problems being measured then we sinful, broken people ought to have no problems being measured either. And Paul exhorted Timothy to let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. So Paul seems to set some measuring rods in place in his discipleship or mentoring of Timothy. So we are probably good to follow the same example (Lk. 2:40; 1 Tim. 4:12;).
The Bible also tells us that the fullness of God was pleased to dwell in Jesus. And Paul challenged Timothy to fan into flame the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control (Col. 1:19; 2 Tim. 1:7). So wisdom seems like an important measuring rod. Being an example seems to be an important measuring rod. Speech, lifestyle, love, faith and purity all seem to be good measuring rods. Fear seems to be a negative measuring rod. And I think the evidence of the Spirit’s power in a maturing person’s life is evidenced by love and self-control. Do you really love people and are you really self-controlled?
What are you full of? Fullness seems to be the key. And I’ve always said that when someone gets squeezed, you find out what they’re full of. Testing always reveals what our character is full of. Suffering always has a way of squeezing a certain kind of juice out of us. It’s either bitter or it’s sweet. The fruit of the Spirit is a key here too. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are great measuring rods for Christian maturity.
I’ve personally witnessed some professing Christians who are 20-30 years into their walk with Christ who are far more immature than some Christians who are 6-10 years into their walk with Jesus. I’ve also met some amazing saints who have walked with Jesus faithfully for over 30 years whose lives I want to emulate today. The key with every maturing Christian I’ve encountered is a vital and life-giving, fruit-filled relationship with Jesus.
People with a vital and life giving, fruit-filled relationship with Jesus have a presence of faith and knowledge that has deepened with every test and every trial and every season of suffering. This kind of Christian produces fruit in keeping with repentance. This kind of Christian doesn’t think too highly or too lowly of himself. But instead a maturing Christian exalts Christ in everything they do. The question is: Is this you?
Application (Believe and obey)…
Are you attaining a more perfect faith and are you attaining a more perfect knowledge that is producing a more perfect maturity in you day by day? What do you need to believe today? What have you been trusting in recently? What kind of knowledge of the Son of God have you been relying on? What do you need to be obedient to?
Conclusion and Summary…
Our Father has been kind and gracious to every one of us in the cross of Christ. Even the suffering we face is His kindness towards us who believe because it is perfecting within us a kind of faith and a kind of knowledge that leads to a kind of maturity that is characterized by the fullness of the presence of Christ. What are you full of today?
Are you attaining to the unity of the faith? Are you attaining to the knowledge of the Son of God? Are you attaining to mature manhood? Are you exalting Christ in everything you do? Because God’s Word to us today is that if we’ve trusted in Christ, then we are not called to be a country club, a social club or a political power. We are called to equip and build up the body of Christ “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”. Is this you today?