BECOMING MATURE Ephesians 3–4
“So that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:12–13).Love is essential to mutual ministry, and mutual ministry to spiritual growth.
The unity of Jew and Gentile in one body is an unexpected revelation (3:1–13). Yet, one family now, unified by love, Christ’s people experience His power at work in us (vv. 14–21). We are to maintain this unity and mature in Christ (4:1–16), as new men and women living together in love and holiness (vv. 17–32).
Understanding the Text
“The mystery made known to me by revelation” Eph. 3:1–9. A “mystery” in Scripture is a facet of God’s plan previously unknown, but now revealed. The Old Testament made it clear from the very beginning of the Jewish people that God intended to bless Gentiles (Gen. 12:1–3). The unexpected aspect of God’s plan was that Jew and Gentile would be united in Christ’s church, with each welcomed alike on the basis of faith (Eph. 3:6). This feature of the Gospel antagonized many Jews, who thought of themselves alone as God’s chosen. If we’re not alert, we can fall into the same trap, and resent others who unexpectedly receive the grace of God. Let’s remember that the Gospel is God’s great equalizer. Scripture marks everyone as a sinner, so that anyone can be lifted up by grace. “The manifold wisdom of God should be made known” Eph. 3:10–13. The word “manifold” might be translated “multifaceted.” God’s plan seems so straightforward when we read the Old Testament. He chose a people, promised them redemption, a Saviour King, and ultimate triumph. And history moved toward this fulfillment. Then, suddenly, the Son of God appeared as the promised King, was rejected by His people, crucified, and resurrected, and we realize that all along God intended far more for humankind than was previously revealed. Don’t put God in a box, or try to squeeze Him into limiting categories. God’s plans and purposes are multifaceted, and each facet reflects His complex wisdom and love. The more we glimpse of that complexity, the more we should be moved to worship and to praise. “I kneel before the Father, from whom His whole family . . . derives its name” Eph. 3:14. Paul immediately gives us an example of God’s complex wisdom. The church is the body of Christ: each believer is united to Him as Head, and thus to one another. But, Paul said, the church is also family. We derive that name, family, from the fact that we are also related to God the Father. And, if we are sons of the same Father, we must by virtue of our relationship with Him be brothers and sisters—family. How complex the wisdom God displays in the church. No single image is capable of expressing what we have in Christ, or who we are (see DEVOTIONAL). “Immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” Eph. 3:20–21. This benediction may well have been drawn from early church liturgy. If not, it must soon have become part of the Christian church’s affirmation of Christ’s great power. These verses surely challenge us today. Sit down, and list the greatest work you can imagine that God might do in your life or the life of a loved one. Then ask Him, in complete confidence, to do it. You can have complete confidence, for our God is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” “There is one body and one Spirit” Eph. 4:1–6. Everything Paul wrote in this letter was based on the conviction that the body of Christ is one. “One Lord, one faith, one [Spirit] baptism, one God and Father of all” (vv. 5–6). Our lives also must express this conviction. And the way we express it is by affirming our love for other believers—even for those with whom we differ. Paul reminds us, “Be completely humble and gentle.” Christians do differ, and differ on important matters. If we focus on our differences, convinced as we are that we are right and the others are wrong, we will become proud and judgmental. Only a humble spirit will free us to love without feeling the need to debate our differences. Only a humble spirit will maintain the bond of peace. Don’t be proud. No matter how doctrinally correct you may be, if your attitude denies the oneness of the body of Christ, you are wrong. “He led captives in his train” Eph. 4:7–16. The image is of the return of a conquering general, who liberally distributes the spoil he took from a defeated enemy. Christ triumphant distributes gifted individuals to the church, not to do the ministry, but “to prepare God’s people for works of service” (v. 12). Here’s another expression of the complex wisdom of God expressed in His design of Christ’s church. Growth toward maturity doesn’t depend on the ministry of leaders, but on the ministry of the laity, whom leaders are to equip! Here too we see an echo of Paul’s prayer in 3:14–19 (see DEVOTIONAL). Growth toward maturity takes place as the whole body “grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” The spiritual vitality of your congregation depends on becoming a loving, serving community of saints. “Put off your old self . . . put on the new self” Eph. 4:17–24. In Ephesians 2 Paul led us to look at the raw material from which God has constructed Christ’s church. He showed us our deadness: the corruption of our original nature, and the futility of self-effort. And Paul reminded us that God “raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms.” This imagery is picked up here in Ephesians 4. The “old self” is that person we were when ruled by “deceitful desires.” The “new self” is the astounding capacity God has given us to love others, to love God, and to set our hearts on service. The “old self” is selfish and self-centered. The “new self” is selfless and “like God in true righteousness and holiness.” Many different illustrations have been used to capture the implication of having an “old self” to put off, and a “new self” to put on. Some say it’s like a teeter-totter: when one side is up, the other must be down. Some say it’s like a path that forks in opposite directions, and each person decides down which he will turn. An old Indian is supposed to have said there were two horses inside him, one black, one white, pulling against each other. Which one won? The one he decided to ride. Paul himself used an analogy. The old and the new are like cloaks a person wears. You put off one, and put the other on. This analogy has surprising force. Teens have always adopted clothing styles as symbols of how they see themselves. Research has shown that these symbols have great power in shaping adolescent behavior. Change the hairstyle, replace that pale, white makeup and the clothes that don’t match, and you change the way a teenage girl sees herself, and thus the way she behaves. This is what Paul is saying here. Don’t see yourself in the old way anymore. Take off the old man, and hang it up like a suit of discarded clothes. Put on the new man, look at yourself in God’s mirror, and when you see yourself clearly, go out and behave like the person you now really are. “Be kind and compassionate” Eph. 4:25–32. Just so there’ll be no mistake, Paul held up a mirror for us to look into. Here, he said, is the new man. He doesn’t lie. He gets angry now and then, but not enough to lose control and sin. Once a thief, he’s now hard at work on an assembly line. Once foul-mouthed, he now concentrates on saying loving, positive things that build others up. Instead of bitterness and rage, the new man is marked by kindness and compassion. Instead of brawling, the new man forgives others just as Christ forgave him—freely, generously. Look closely in this mirror. The person you see—the honest, decent, loving, forgiving individual—is you! This is who you are in Christ! So put this new man on. And take him with you wherever you go.
Knowing Christ’s Love(Eph. 3:14–21)
I’ve recently been made aware again of how few people really know love. No, not love as something they give. Love as something they get. So many of us have never really been loved: loved for ourselves, loved unconditionally, completely. I thought of that again as I reread this prayer of Paul’s for the Ephesians, and sensed his earnest desire that God’s people be “rooted and established in love.” The “love” Paul spoke of here isn’t the love of God, or love for God. His theme was family love—love for one another in Christ. And it’s vital that we understand why Paul prayed so fervently that God’s family members root and establish their relationship with each other in love. Paul said that so rooted, we have power “together with all the saints” to grasp and know the love of Christ (vv. 18–19). So family love is a key to spiritual growth—“that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Why is this? Partly at least because “love” is such an abstract, confusing term. All too often it’s a selfish term: “I love you” means nothing more than I want to use you to meet some physical or psychological need of my own. How different the love of Christ! Christ’s love is totally unselfish: His “I love you” means He was willing to give Himself to meet our own most desperate need. How can we ever grasp or understand such love? God, in His wisdom, drew Christ’s people together and made us family. In the context of the family, a family that loves and cherishes, that nurtures and supports, that cares and shares, we are to learn by experience the width and length and height and depth of the love of Christ. The first great calling of any congregation is not to build a larger building, to raise more money for missions, or even to evangelize its neighborhood. The first great calling of any congregation is to be family. Nurtured by the warmth of Christ’s love as this is expressed through brothers and sisters who care, God’s people are “filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” And Christ, filling our lives, will then reach out through us to win not just our neighborhood but the world.
The mark of a truly spiritual church is still, “See how they love one another.”
Christ has no body now on earth but yours; yours are the only hands with which He can do His work, yours are the only feet with which He can go about the world, yours are the only eyes through which His compassion can shine forth upon a troubled world. Christ has no body now on earth but yours. -Teresa of Avila