The Growth of Unity
The first sixteen verses of Ephesians 4 set forth Christ's platform and provisions for unity. The previous articles in this series have discussed the life necessary for unity (vv. 1-3), the facts of unity (vv. 4-6) and the gifts of unity (vv. 7-11). We will conclude this series with a study of the growth of unity, as presented in verses 12-16.
After naming the "gifts" that Christ gave (v. 11), Paul stated that their purpose was: "for (pros) the perfecting of the saints, unto (eis) the work of ministering, unto (eis) the building up of the body of Christ." The different prepositions in the verse are significant. Vincent's Word Studies observes: "The preposition 'for' denotes the ultimate purpose." Paul was saying that the gifts were designed to "perfect" the saints, that they may be equipped to do the work of "ministering" and "building up" the body. We will study each of these expressions.
"Perfecting of the saints" refers to the process of "fitting or preparing fully" (W.E. Vine). One who is 'perfect" is mature, complete, grown up. Jesus was "made perfect" by the things that He suffered (Heb. 5:8, 9)' "Perfect" here does not have reference to sinlessness, but to completeness as our high priest (Heb. 4:14-16). God's arrangement is for every saint to be "perfected" through growth so that he may be able to "minister" and "build up" the body.
The word "ministering" (diakonia) is used in our society to refer, almost exclusively, to the work of preaching, but the New Testament uses the word to refer to both benevolence and teaching. In the Jerusalem church there was a "daily ministration." Some of the Grecian widows were being neglected; the church selected, and the apostles appointed, seven men to look after their needs (Acts 6:1-6). When brethren in Judea were in need, saints in Antioch, according to their ability, "determined to send relief (for ministry)" unto them (Acts 11:27-30). Paul and Barnabas delivered the relief to the elders and "fulfilled their ministration" (Acts 11:30; 12:25). When Christians in the first century were in need, Christ had already provided the "gifts" to see that their needs were met. Specifically, pastors or elders, had been given to the church; they acted as "overseers" of the benevolent work of the church. There were other members who had matured and were able to assist in the work of "ministering."
Those who deny that the church is equipped to accomplish the work Christ authorized it to do in benevolence are denying that the "gifts" that Christ gave are sufficient to accomplish the work of "ministering." They also deny the plain fact that the early church provided for its own, under the oversight of the elders (Acts 6:1-6; 11:27-30).
The work of teaching the gospel is also called "ministering." Paul said, "But all things are of God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and gave unto us the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:18). "And say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it" (Col. 4:17). The teaching which came from Christ is called "the ministration of righteousness" (2 Cor. 3:9).
Churches provided teachers in their local work and supported teachers in other places (Phil. 4:15; 2 Cor. 11:8; 1 Thess. 1:8). There is no evidence in Scripture that a local church worked through a "Missionary Society" or a "Benevolent Society." The "gifts" Christ gave were for His church, not some human organization.
The expression "unto the building up of the body of Christ" also involves teaching. The word oikodome "expresses the strengthening effect of teaching, 1 Cor. 14:3, 5, 12, 26; 2 Cor. 10:8; 12:19; 13:10, or other ministry, Eph. 4:12, 16, 29 (the idea conveyed is progress resulting from patient effort" (W.E. Vine).
A church may "swell" by providing food and recreation, but "edification" comes through teaching God's word and mutual encouragement in worship to God. A careful reading of the passages in the Corinthian letters will show that "building up" or "edification" is a spiritual process produced by God's word. The context of our text will also show clearly that the growth under consideration is a spiritual growth. Physical growth may be, and is, brought about by food and recreation, but Christ did not give "gifts" to the church to fulfill that mission!
"Till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a full grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (v. 13). The "unity of the faith" probably refers to the unity demanded by the one faith. By being "in Christ" and "growing up in all things unto him" we are not led astray with "every wind of doctrine."
"But speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into him, who is the head, even Christ" for whom all the body fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplieth, according to the working in due measure of each several part, maketh the increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love" (vv. 15,16). A person may speak the truth without love, but he cannot love and not speak the truth! The whole body makes the increase of the body, as each "joint" supplies every other "joint" with the "supply" that comes from Christ. Each member cannot do the same work, but as someone said, "Others may do a greater work, but you have your part to do; and no one in God's universe can do it as well as you!"
The importance of doctrinal and moral unity cannot be over emphasized. In this series of articles we have not advocated "peace at any price" but the "unity of the Spirit" (v. 3), or "unity of the faith" (v. 13), to which each child of God should strive. This unity cannot exist without lives that are governed by the Spirit, and doctrine that is true, as well as spiritual growth that causes each member to use the "gifts" that Christ gave in order that, being "perfected," he may be able to contribute his part to the unity and growth of the body.
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 20, p. 614