In Ephesians 4 we are confronted with the fact that Christ has given gifts to his church in the form of apostles and prophets whose inspired writings form the basis for our faith and instruct us in the way we should live. These once-for-all gifts are followed by evangelists and pastors and teachers whose goal is not to do ministry but to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry and so build up the body of Christ. Like any necessary function, the edifying of the church has a specific benchmark by which we may measure the effectiveness of the work we are doing. Beginning in verse 13, Paul explains what the saints doing the work of the ministry is supposed to accomplish.
“…till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;” (Eph. 4:13)
The first benchmark is unity. Paul speaks here of the “unity of the faith” and the unity “of the knowledge of the Son of God.” These are two related, yet distinct themes. All genuine believers share the same faith, but not all Christians have the same knowledge of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As Henry Alford notes, “true and full unity of faith is then found, when all thoroughly know Christ, the object of faith, alike, and that in His highest dignity as the Son of God.” In other words, the saints in Christ are to continue doing the work of the ministry, building up the body of Christ until all of us come to the thorough knowledge of Christ and complete faith in him.
Why don’t we see more unity in our churches, then? Well, one reason is that we confuse unanimity with unity. Bill Hull explains the difference: “Unanimity means complete agreement on all issues; unity is coming to agreement based on a common objective.” It may be that we have more unity in our church than we realize, but we are disappointed in our search for unanimity. True unity, however, requires that we share a common purpose, and that is exactly what Paul is suggesting in Ephesians 4. Every believer is to engage in the work of the ministry wholeheartedly and with a singular focus on pleasing the Lord who has called him to serve. This shared purpose of ministry and edification will unite even the most diverse congregation to reach toward the second benchmark, maturity.
Paul describes maturity in terms of a full-grown man, who has reached “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” This maturing process takes time, and indeed, in the spiritual realm it is never-ending, for even the most spiritually mature among us must agree with the apostle Paul’s self-assessment in Phil. 3:13: “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended.” So the best we can say is that we are working together as brothers and sisters in Christ toward full maturity, according to the standard set by our Savior and revealed in his word. Since this process never ends in this life, our unity of purpose should also be continuous, as long as we live, to exercise our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, to seek to know him and to make him known. And all in the context of the local church.