The apostle Paul is urging that we walk worthy of the calling to which we have been called. We have a God-given purpose. When we try to live outside of that purpose, we find pain and sorrow. Living according to this God-given purpose is the only way to find joy, peace, satisfaction, and fulfillment. The first aspect of us walking worthy is the need to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. This unity will be maintained when we have proper attitudes of humility, gentleness, and patience (4:1-3) and when we build our faith on seven absolute truths (4:4-6). Paul is going to explain how this unity will be maintained in the body of Christ. You can see this in verse 13 where the result is attaining the unity of the faith. Unity is not going to come to the body by all of us being exactly the same. Unity is not by duplication. We are not going to be carbon copies of each other and thus maintain unity. Unity does not exist in being the same in person or responsibility. Instead, unity exists because the same one God and Father and one Lord and Savior Jesus Christ gave the gifts. Therefore, our differences will be highlighted and elevated so that unity will exist to the glory of the Father. This is what Paul explains in Ephesians 4:7-16.
Jesus’ Authority To Give Gifts (4:7-10)
The way that unity would occur by the hand of God is that Christ would give gifts. Verse 7 is so interesting because it almost sounds like he started an argument that we have not read yet. Verse 7 begins with the word “But” somehow contrasting what was said earlier in the fourth chapter. We have these seven absolute truths that are the foundation for our unity. But that was not all. Grace was given to each of us. “Grace” is not referring to salvation here. The reason we know this is because verse 7 says that there were varying measures given of grace. There are not varying measures of salvation. You are saved or you are not. “Grace” refers to blessings and gifts by God. Each of us was given grace (a gift) according to the measure given by Christ. However, before Paul explains these gifts, Paul shows the authority by which Christ gives these gifts.
In verse 8 the apostle Paul quotes Psalm 68:18 as his proof that Christ has given gifts. While there is much that is worthy of our study from Psalm 68, I will simply summarize the concept of this psalm, encouraging you to read Psalm 68 and see this great message for yourself. Psalm 68 describes the power of the Lord who scatters his enemies. In conquering his enemies, the Lord has risen up and received gifts. To say this another way, the Lord has conquered and received the spoils of victory from the people. Paul uses this text as his proof that the Lord has given gifts. The Lord conquered, received the spoils of war, and gives gifts from the spoils.
Paul explains in verses 9-10 what this conquest is referring to. Paul says that since the psalmists says that the Lord ascended on high, then it must mean that he at some point descended. Since the Lord ascended to the highest part, namely heaven, then the Lord must have descended to the lowest part, namely earth. This is what Jesus did. Jesus first descended from heaven to the earth. Jesus conquered Satan, sin, and death by dying on the cross, being buried in the earth, and raising from the dead. Then Jesus ascended back to the throne of God, taking with him the spoils of his conquest. Therefore, Christ has the authority to give gifts to people because he conquered Satan, sin, and death. This is the point Paul is making. Jesus is the conqueror and has the right to distribute gifts as he sees fit. Christ has the authority to give gifts because he is the conquering King as seen in his earthly work on the cross.
Jesus’ Distribution of Gifts (4:11-13)
Verse 11 picks back up with verse 7. Paul declared in verse 7 that grace or gifts were given to each of us according to the measure of Christ. After explaining how Christ is able to give gifts, verse 11 continues that, “Christ gave.” Paul lists what Christ gave: apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers. In a sense, Christ gave people. People are given to bring about our unity. To think of this another way, Christ gave different roles and functions in the body to bring about our unity and growth. I think we must ask an important question at this moment. Why did God decide that he would have apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers? Why have a body of Christ with these roles? The answer is that this is the way we would be equipped in Christ. This is the way we would grow in Christ. Let this forever answer the question why we need to the church. Why do we have to bother coming together? Why do we need the body? Because this is how Christ equips and grows you. Notice that this is what Paul teaches for the rest of this section.
The purpose of these gifts, according to verse 12, is to equip the saints for the work of ministry (service). Christ did this for the building up of the body of Christ. These gifts were given so that everyone would be able to do works of serving in the kingdom and build one another up. Christ did not want only a couple gifted people doing the work. Christ gave gifts with the purpose that every person (notice it again in verse 12 “saints” which is all saved believers) would do the work of serving and build up each other. Something is horribly wrong when the body is not doing the work of serving and building up. There has been such an inversion of thinking when this clergy/laity distinction where a few do the work and the rest watch. This is not what Christ ordained.
This equipping and building up is to continue “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, and to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (4:13). The goal is unity, knowledge, and maturity. We are to mature according the measure of the fullness of Christ. The glorified Christ becomes the standard at which we are to aim. We need each other and come together so that we can grow up into Christ. Again we see the purpose and need for our Bible studies. This is our opportunity to discuss the scriptures so we can grow in the faith. Let me sum all of this up with one sentence: God wants you to grow. You are to grow in faith, knowledge, and maturity so that the body of Christ can be united. The fullness of Christ is our growth target.
Why Growth Is Important (4:14-16)
Verse 14 describes the negative goal. We must grow so that we are no longer children. God does not want us to remain immature. Staying immature is going to cause you problems. You are going to be tricked and deceived by Satan and by others. You are going to be tossed around in your life like waves battering against your body. Every teaching is going to knock you down like a strong wind. You will be deceived by people’s scheming and craftiness. Unity of the faith, knowledge of the Son of God, and maturity in Christ will stabilize your faith and stabilize your life. Do you feel unstable in your life? Do things feel difficult in your life? God tells you why. You are not growing in faith, knowledge, and maturity. To put this in the language of this chapter, you are not walking worthy of your calling. You are not walking according to the purpose God has given you. That is why you are struggling in your soul. I realize that the despair I felt in high school that caused me to consider ending my life was there because I did not have strength in faith and knowledge nor maturity in Christ. I didn’t have anything like that. So I did not know what to do. Satan isn’t going to throw you around when you are grounded in your faith. He is going to blow a strong hot wind on your life but you will be like a tree firmly planted (Psalm 1).
Verse 15 describes the positive goal. We will grow up into Christ. Unity of the faith, knowledge of the Son of God, and maturing into Christ brings spiritual growth. We will grow into him. Now what will be the catalyst of this growth? Paul tells us in verse 15, “Speaking the truth in love.” This is why we have to be together: so that we can speak the truth in love to each other so that we can grow into Christ.
Think about the challenge of this call. To walk worthy of the calling to which you were called means you must speak the truth in love. Think about all the contexts where this command works. We must speak the truth in love to each other to have unity. This is the most immediate meaning of God’s command. We must lovingly speak the truth. In our Bible classes whether at the building or in our homes, we need to speak, teach, and comment with love. We need to watch our tone. We need to watch our attitude. We need to think about how it sounds. We need to make sure we are not coming off hurtful or hateful. We need to use words that others in the room will understand. We need to not blow people up for saying something poorly. Speak the truth in love.
We need to speak the truth in love in our homes. Husbands must speak lovingly to their wives and wives must speak lovingly to their husbands. Even when we are speaking the truth or having a serious discussion or argument, love must be maintained in our words. Children must speak with love to their parents. I really hate how I see children talking to their parents these days. You must not allow your child to hit you, speak ugly to you, or be disrespectful. You must teach them that because God has told you to train them in the way they should go. Loving actions and words are only allowed, even if the child is angry, tired, or upset. Parents must speak with love to their children, even when needed to discipline. Discipline does not lack love but must reinforce that we are disciplining because of love. There is no excuse for us not to speak with love to each other in the home. To neighbors, co-workers, and employers we must speak the truth in love to one another. In Colossians 4:6 Paul said it this way, “Let your speech always be gracious.” How difficult this is, but how necessary it is for we have been called to walk worthy of a glorious calling. Speaking the truth in love at all times is the catalyst for our growth and will lead to unity of the body.
Verse 16 describes the result of this behavior. When we are equipped for the work of serving and building up, then we will be led to grow in unity of the faith, knowledge of the Son of God and in maturity in Christ. Then each of us will work properly as our part in the body. When each one does its part in the body, this “makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” This is a glorious goal. We will see the body of Christ, the kingdom of God, grow throughout the world when we are doing our part and functioning properly.
What a thought! We maintain unity when we grow from the gifts Christ has distributed to us. Growing up into Christ means a greater harmony and unity in the body. Christ gave various roles in the body of apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers so that we would grow, and by growing, maintain unity in the bond of peace. Think about this another way: if we lack growth, we are hurting unity and hurting our work in the kingdom. God is to be glorified through the church (Ephesians 3:21). God is glorified in your spiritual growth because you will be doing more of what God has called you to do.
Take personal responsibility for your growth. Attendance for a couple hours to worship services is insufficient for growth. You will not grow simply listening to teachers. You need to take to your heart and the words of Jesus, the apostles, and prophets and let those words change your thinking, habits, and behavior. You cannot will yourself to grow. You do not grow plants by wishing for them to grow. They need fertilized soil, proper watering, and sunshine. We must tend our hearts in the same way. Take out the weeds in your life that are choking out your ability to grow. Remove things that are clogging your schedule from spending time with Jesus. Let your “unwind time” be in the word of God. Then you cannot help but grow. Plants grow naturally when given the proper circumstances. You will grow when you give your heart the proper circumstances. Pray, read God’s word, and gather with your Christian family. Speak the truth in love and watch your life change.