A Growing Church
For 6 weeks now, we have been asking the question: What kind of church must we be? And today's answer to that question--A Growing Church--is the answer to our question.
All of the other important endeavours of the church lead us here. The reason we must be a Gospel-proclaiming church, the reason that we must be a Scripture-examining church, the reason we must be alert, unified, and effective, is so that the church might become full-grown. We see in Ephesians 4 that God's ultimate purpose for the Church is that we might grow to spiritual maturity.
So you see, the growth that Paul is speaking of here is not numerical growth, but spiritual growth. Numerical growth is important, and it should happen in healthy churches, but the growth Paul is speaking of in Ephesians 4 has to do with Christian maturity.
Many of you will remember this from last Sunday: God appointed ministers for the purpose of equipping members of the church for the work of ministry. And the work of ministry, Paul tells us, is done for "the building up of the body of Christ"(4:12).
And "the building up of the body of Christ" is done "until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man"(4:13).
Notice again, that the unity prescribed here is not a superficial, handholding, unity, but "the unity of the faith". And the critical word here is the word "the". Without the word "the", "faith" is a reference to how humans respond to the Word of God--'Our faith is in the Lord', we say.
Paul calls us to something different, however, when he calls us to "the unity of the faith". Phrased this way, "the faith" refers to the theological content of Christianity (Boice, Ephesians, 148). In verse 13, the spiritual growth and maturity of a church is said to correspond with the degree that we are united in our essential Christian beliefs.
Paul goes on to say that spiritual maturity is not complete until we obtain "the full stature of Christ". Perfect maturity then, is becoming like Christ. This is not something we can fully accomplish, but it is something we must strive for. Our chief purpose is to glorify God, and we do this by striving to become like Jesus Christ. This is how we measure spiritual growth.
Christian maturity does not refer to experience or age. Christian maturity is not a reference to how long you have held membership in a particular church. Christian maturity has reference to our proximity to Jesus Christ.
And now, in verse 14, Paul outlines the implications of this growth to maturity. As we grow in our likeness to the Son of God, as we continue to progress in the unity of the faith, as we become mature, it follows that we would no longer act in an immature manner. "As a result (of becoming more mature)", Paul writes, "we are no longer to be children"(v.14) with respect to our doctrinal understanding.
The Christian life begins with new birth, Jesus tells us in John 3. And this metaphor is picked up by Paul who understands that we are not intended to remain as spiritual infants, or as spiritual children, but we are to grow up to become "a mature man", he tells us. And with maturity comes the ability to distinguish between various doctrines. Maturity enables us to distinguish between what is sound and what is faulty.
Without maturity, Paul tells us we will be like children in the sense that we will be more prone to being led astray by error. Paul introduces a new metaphor when he equates childlike maturity with a ship being "tossed to and fro by waves"(v.14). The idea I think Paul is trying to convey is that spiritual immaturity is an unsteady condition. And as long as we are rudderless, we run the danger of being thrown off course.
Paul goes on to contrast this unsteady condition with being connected to the Head, who is Jesus Christ. The stronger our connection to the Head, the more stable our condition is. The stronger our connection to the Head, the more spiritual growth we will experience.
This is what Paul tells us in verse 16--it begins with the words, "from whom". The growth to maturity, the building up of the body is "from" somebody--referring us back to verse 15. The source of spiritual growth in the church is the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ.
But while Christ is the source of all spiritual growth, notice that Christ is not the immediate cause of spiritual growth in the church. We see in verse 16 that the immediate cause of spiritual growth in the church is the body itself. When the various parts of the body are in tact and are "held together", and when "each part is working properly", this causes the body to grow--"building itself up in love".
We conclude, therefore, that the ultimate cause of spiritual growth in the Church is Christ. He is the Head, and we are the Body, and we cannot survive without being connected to Him. As one theologian has said, "A church that is only united in itself, but not united to Christ, is no living church at all."
Yet, even with Christ as our Head, God has ordained that the immediate cause of spiritual growth in the Church is the Body itself. Growth in the Church is not an automatic function of having a bunch of Christians together. As Spurgeon once said, "The Church of God should be one, but not piled into one heap." If the Church, though connected to Christ, is to grow to maturity it is necessary for each part of the body to work properly.
Paul is clear about this: "(it is) the proper working of each individual part, (that) causes the growth of the body"(4:16). And notice also, that it is "love" that enables this to happen. As Calvin once observed, "without mutual love, the health of the body cannot be maintained." Without loving concern for other parts of the body, the church suffers.
Thinking like this should help us understand why there is such a thing as church discipline. When a church disciplines one of its members it is not engaging in some archaic church practice aimed at harming an individual. If a church disciplines one of its members it is done out of love for the entire body. If one member is harming and injuring other members of the body, the most unloving response would be to do nothing. But because we have a love for the Body of Christ, it is difficult for us to tolerate it when individual members of the Body mean to do the Body harm.
Keeping with Paul's analogy, suppose that one of the bones of your leg had said to itself, "I am in the body, and that is enough for me; I do not intend to grow any more." You would have had to go hopping through the world, with one short leg, all your life long, and that would have been a very uncomfortable thing for you, and you would probably have had great pain as well as inconvenience. In the same manner, if one Christian in the Church does not grow, he will give trouble to others, for the person next to him is growing, and it makes matters very awkward when some advance and others do not.
Our application of this text should be clear. As individual members of Christ's Body, we have a responsibility to contribute to the health of the Body. We do this, in part, by feeding and nourishing ourselves, but we also do this by working in unison with those members who are next to us.
It profits the church nothing, if you and your Christian neighbour are content to row the boat in different directions. It profits the church nothing, if you shrug your shoulders at your Christian neighbour and say, "let's agree to disagree".
Strive, therefore, for "the unity of the faith". Foster a loving concern for the spiritual health of every member of the church. It is not enough for us to grow, if we do not grow together.
With Christ as our Head, and with love for our neighbour, let us strive together towards Christian maturity. Amen.