In Ephesians 4:11-16, the apostle Paul describes the church in terms of a body which corresponds to Jesus Christ who is the head. The Lord has given gifts to the church – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers – to equip believers to do the work of the ministry, which is to build up the body of Christ by speaking the truth in love. As with any other living organism, when the conditions for life and growth are met, maturation naturally occurs. That is what God expects of each and every Christian, and so Paul concludes this paragraph with a positive description of the church, the body of Christ.
“…but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head–Christ–from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” (Ephesians 4:15-16)
We are all to grow up into Christ, who is our head. This speaks of the intimacy and oneness that believers are supposed to have with Jesus Christ, which Paul speaks of in several places. In Philippians 1:21 he says, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” And in Galatians 2:20 he testifies, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” And in 2 Corinthians 5:17, he applies this to every Christian when he says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”
Jesus Christ is our head, our source of life and vitality which causes us to grow as we are in right relation to him. It is from him that the whole body is made to grow, as it is joined and knit together, which speaks of the unity of the body of Christ. But the members which are so joined in true fellowship also supply to the body the things necessary for growth. What Paul has in mind is just this: that every Christian is brought into a vital relationship with Jesus Christ and into a growth relationship with the other members of the church. This growth takes place when we minister to one another, speaking the truth in love, and it is both the speaker and the hearer who are made to grow. In the end, God’s plan is that “we all [would] come to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God.”
When children are given proper nutrition, rest, exercise, education, and play, we have every reason to expect them to grow into healthy, well-adjusted adults. No one has to tell them to grow, they just do. And likewise, in the spiritual realm, no believer causes himself to grow, we just grow when the conditions are met. According to the Scriptures we have studied here, the conditions for growth are membership in the body of Christ, not just receiving life from Christ our head, but also being knit together with a local church body. This brings us under the equipping ministry of gifted pastors and teachers, so that we can be outfitted and deployed into the work of the ministry ourselves. It also provides the place and people to whom we can speak the truth in love and from whom we can hear the truth spoken in love. When these conditions are met, and every part does its share, then we can all come into maturity according to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. This is the goal and purpose of the local, New Testament church.