Building up of the body of Christ
Ephesians 4:1-16 from the daily reading in the One Year Bible
Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.
7 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says,
“When He ascended on high,
He led captive a host of captives,
And He gave gifts to men.”
9 (Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.) 11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of 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 a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
There are many today, both outside of the church and within the church, who are critical of the church, saying that it has become too inwardly focused, that far too much of the church has forgotten its purpose and the commission of Christ to: go into all the world and preach the gospel. They say the church should be outwardly focused, serving and ministering, witnessing to those who are not part of the body. When we look at Paul’s message to the Ephesian church, in today’s text, it would seem that it may not really be as simple as whether the church should be inwardly or outwardly focused. It really is not a question of outward focus to the world or inward focus to the body, rather it is what is the focus of both the inward and outward ministry of the church.
Paul says: I implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called. Individually each believer may have a different calling on their life, a different plan that God has for them and also to use them. Paul continues: with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. So there is a unity that individual believers are to have with each other. The church is often referred to as a community of believers. The word community comes from combining the words common and unity. Believers are unified, bound together by the common Spirit within each one, the Holy Spirit. Within the church, Paul says there should be humility, gentleness, patience, we should have tolerance for one another, this is not the tolerance that the world promotes, where everyone is accepted or permitted to do as they please, the tolerance that is within the church is to be tolerant in love. According to 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Our tolerance also then should do and be all those things, including, not rejoicing in unrighteousness, but rejoicing in truth.
Paul continues: But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, “When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, And He gave gifts to men.” Paul names those gifts saying: And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers In 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, Paul also named some of the spiritual gifts given to individuals within the body: But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills. In verses 25-28 Paul continues: that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.
The real problem in much of the church today is that the focus of the church has shifted to the entity of the church. The church has become a corporation, an institution whose main purpose is to grow the institution. In our entertainment hungry culture the best way to grow the corporate church is to give the people the entertainment they desire. As long as the corporation meets the people’s expectations and desires the church grows. Unfortunately, people, in that type of church culture, identify more as members of the corporation than as members of the body of Christ. Paul’s instruction to the early church, as he said in 1 Corinthians 14:26, was: What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. The gathering of the body of believers was to be a gathering where everyone contributed and participated. Far too often, in the church today, a few minister, while the majority are spectators, there only be entertained, only to receive.
In today’s text Paul says that the purpose for all the gifts is: for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ. People should come to church to be equipped not entertained. The focus of the inward ministry of the church should be to teach, train and equip the body for the outward ministry of the church. Evangelists who go out to preach outside the church, those whose call and mission is to, like Jesus, seek and save the lost, should also be focused on building up the body of Christ. The body is built up in two ways. Its numbers, the size of the body increases as the gospel is preached to the world. The church is built up in maturity as individuals are taught, trained and equipped. In Acts 2:42-47 we see how the early church body was built up: They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles… Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. The early church grew day by day. They did stop meeting together to focus on outward ministry. They met together in the temple and from house to house. They also though preached the gospel and ministered in the streets.
In today’s text Paul says that our focus is not inward or outward, but rather that we: all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. It is not the corporate entity of the church, the institution which must grow. It is each individual who must grow to their full potential and purpose so that the body of Christ attains the unity of the faith and the measure and stature of the fullness of Christ.
Heavenly Father, Lord Jesus Christ; precious Holy Spirit, may Your church today be all that it is called to be. May we not focus either inwardly or outwardly, but rather may we focus on You, Your purpose and Your will. May each one be trained and equipped to fulfill their purpose according the gifts You have given. Amen