We’re continuing to look at Paul’s admonition to the church in Ephesus in chapter 4. Last time we discovered that we are to walk or live in a manner that is worthy of who we are as called sons of God. The last thing we talked about was the fact that the Spirit gives unity to the body. We are to maintain this unity as we live and worship together. Just as our spirit pervades our entire body and gives unity to it, the Spirit of God does the same for Christ’s body, the church.
I have a concern that we have developed and maintained a cultural view of the church. We hear people ask, “Where do you go to church?” Sometimes people will refer to someone who has stopped “going to church.” Church is more like a club to join rather than a living body that has the life of the Spirit flowing through it.
Let’s take a quick look at what Paul writes in Ephesians 4. In verse 11 he tells us that God has given gifts to the church, namely apostles, prophets, evangelists and teaching-pastors. Why are these individuals given to the church? He writes that they are given so that the saints are equipped to do the work of the ministry. This tells me that there should be no fringe members. By fringe members I’m talking about those who show up for a worship service and leave again and are not involved at all in the ministry to one another that occurs within the body of Christ. I’m not just speaking about ministry that happens in the church building but among the members of the body throughout the week. The kind of ministry or service to one another that should occur within the body requires equipping or training. We all need to be taught how to minister to one another.
In any area of life where there are skills that need to be learned, we need to be taught and shown how to do it by someone who knows how – the teacher. Sometimes there are things we don’t know we need to know and so we are coerced in some way to be trained. This happens for children in school and it happens sometimes at the workplace. In the church setting, we rely on the working of God’s Spirit within the hearts of his people to seek the opportunities for the equipping needed in the local church.
The purpose of this equipping is so that the body will be built up until we call come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God with the goal of reaching the stature of the measure of the fullness of Christ (Eph 4:13). This is a lofty goal. And in this context it is not so much an individual goal as a body goal. He goes on to elaborate on this in the next couple of verses.
For our purposes today, let’s jump down to verses 15 and 16. Here we see in this edification and growing process we are to grow up in all things into him who is the head of the church, which means Christ.
But verse 16 I think is crucial for expanding our vision of the church and its functioning. The first words in verse 16 are “From whom.” The whom is Christ. From Christ, the whole body…. Now we need to access the English grammar part of our brain. What is the main verb of this phrase? And yes it is important to know this. From Christ the whole body causes the growth of the body, for the edifying of itself in love. So Christ, working throughout the whole body causes the growth of the body. The implication is that this occurs when the body is functioning effectively and properly.
How does it do this? First we notice it is the whole body, not just part of the body. That means everyone who is truly a member of the actual body of Christ, not those who simply gain membership in the local church. Next we see that it is “joined and knit together by what every joint supplies.” Each part of the body is described as doing its part. “Every joint” is a phrase used to stand for each member of the body. But Paul makes this more explicit as he goes on to speak of the effective working as each part does its share. It is this functioning of each individual part doing its share that enables the body to cause the growth of itself. This is analogous to our human body. When each part is functioning and doing what it was designed to do, the body grows and is strengthened.
When there are “members” of a church that are not functioning according to the gifts the Holy Spirit has given them, the church will not be building itself effectively. It might be possible for individuals who are members on paper not to actually be members of the body of Christ. They may be members by profession but not in reality and practice. It seems to me that one of the things we as church leaders need to focus on is building the understanding necessary and the patterns and procedures that will enable and encourage a biblical view of church life. In such a climate, easy church membership without actual functioning in that role would not occur as frequently as it does now in many churches.
I believe that part of this process is establishing an effective and church-wide climate of disciple-making. If a church were to have a dynamic, effective and ongoing practice of discipleship so that actively engaged Christians were the ones admitted into membership, perhaps those who don’t really have an interest in growing together in relationship with others and who don’t have an interest in serving together in the local church would weed themselves out. But if people continue to see church membership as meaning merely somewhat regular attendance at a worship service, we will continue to perpetuate a non-disciple-making climate and the body will not be edified and the glory of Christ won’t be displayed the way God would have it to be.