A Plan for Unity and Maturity in Christ


“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building 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, 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. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 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” (Ephesians 4:11-16).

In the first half of Ephesians chapter four, the apostle Paul summarizes God’s provisions for the cultivation of unity, maturity, and stability among his people. Through his appointed servants and the message entrusted to them, the saints may be equipped for the work of service and the edification of the body of Christ, the church.

The text emphasizes the importance of diligently working to preserve the “unity of the Spirit” (vv. 1-6). The life to which Christians have been called requires walking in love and showing mutual forbearance. Unity depends on such attitudes, as well as teaching and adhering to the principles revealed in the gospel. The teaching of those principles promotes unity of the faith and the knowledge of Christ among believers (vv. 11-13). Those who share this common faith and Christ-knowledge are further bound together in unity and growth in spiritual maturity.

The analogy of children (v. 14) suggests spiritual immaturity here, as elsewhere in the New Testament. For example, Paul wrote to the Corinthian Christians that, for all their cultivation of knowledge, their carnal attitudes proved that they were still infants in Christ (1 Cor. 3:1-2). The writer of Hebrews compared some who had not progressed in the word to infants who still required milk rather than solid foot (Heb. 5:13-14). Peter described some converts as newborn babes, and he wanted them to develop an appetite for the pure milk of the world, so they may grow in faith (1 Pet. 2:2).

It may be that the Ephesians were still infants in this latter sense, but in any case, they must not remain so. Infants are defenseless, unable to protect themselves. Spiritually they are easy prey for those who would like, through their influence, to lead them astray. Like ships at sea without adequate means of steering, they are tossed about by the waves and carried along by the prevailing winds. Their growth to maturity will bring with it the capacity to evaluate various ideas and teachings encountered in the world, to accept what is true and reject what is false.

The answer to finding spiritual maturity and stability is to embrace and follow the truth (v. 15). Speak truth, but do so in love. Paul’s reminder here is an important one. Truth is never to be separated from love. Our confession of faith is inconsistent with the objective and claim of knowing Christ, and ultimately self-defeating, if it is not accompanied by the spirit of love. If we fail here, we will fall far short of the goal of maturity in Christ.

The body in all its parts derives its life from Christ, who is its head (v. 16; Col. 2:19). By his power the body is fitted together and held together. It is from the living Christ that his people receive all they need to experience growth and stability, both individually and collectively. The success and growth of the church depend on the functioning of each member. Each one functions best in union with Christ and with each other. The bond is the bond of love.

God has provided for the growth, unity, and maturity of his people. The church is part of his eternal purpose and plan. As such it serves as a living manifestation of his eternal wisdom (Eph. 3:10-11).

Dan Petty