Ephesians 4.1-16: Growing to maturity

We continue to examine the amazing and very challenging letter to the Ephesians!

 

This passage is about becoming mature. It’s about growing up. Not in a physical sense but in the spiritual dimension. Most people develop physically and emotionally as they grow from being a baby to becoming an adult. They get taller and broader and our personalities develop as well. When we reach physical maturity we continue to grow but mostly broader! All sorts of things happen on the road to maturity. It can be painful and exciting but for most people it does happen, provided we eat and drink and take good care of ourselves.

 

But here’s the big question. Does it happen in the spiritual dimension of our lives? Do we grow and develop spiritually? Or do we stay as babies in that area? St Paul was aware that not all of the people in his new fledgling churches were growing spiritually. There’s a danger (v14) that we will not grow up. ‘Then we will no longer be infants’ says St Paul. Whoever wrote the letter to the Hebrews wrote that (5.12) you still need milk not solid food. You’ve not progressed past the basics. You need to grow. For many of us spiritual growth and development is not the priority it should be.

 

This passage from Ephesians encourages us to grow into maturity. And for Paul this means growing up into Christ, becoming more like him both as individuals and as a community together.

 

Two weeks ago we looked at chapter two where Paul describes his vision of the church as a spiritual temple made of living stones. We saw then how important our relationships with each other are and we see this again today. You can’t be a Christian on your own – in complete isolation from others. OK maybe it’s just about possible under certain unique circumstances but you need to be in relationship to other believers if you want to function properly – to give and to receive. Similarly, according to St Paul, you can’t grow to maturity on your own – by doing your own thing, by being independent. Oh yes, we need a personal, individual relationship with God and that needs to grow but these verses from Ephesians show us that maturity is also something that we experience together. We are unlikely to grow spiritually as individuals if we try to do it outside of and independently from the Christian community of which we are a part. We grow in maturity together. Verse 16 provides the key.

 

16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

 

As well as seeing the church as a living temple Paul also sees it as a body (rather like the human body) with Jesus Christ as the controlling head. From Jesus Christ, the head, the whole body grows and builds itself up. But it does so through being held together (fitly framed together as in Ephesians 2) by each supporting ligament. You probably know what a ligament is? It’s a kind of strong, flexible material that holds the joints of the body in place and helps control the movement and prevent movement in the wrong direction. One part is joined to another by supporting ligaments and then each part can do its job. And notice once again that it’s all done in love.  Every passage we’ve looked at in this letter has ‘love’ somewhere near its centre. It’s so crucially important.

 

The ligaments are an interesting image that St Paul gives us. What exactly is he getting at? Maybe he means that the love we express towards each other provides the ligaments, the cement that holds the body together. Or maybe he means that we ourselves are the ligaments that support each other. Whichever way you want to look at it, it’s clear that relationships are important. Paul’s letters in particular are full of expressions which use the phrase ‘each other’ or ‘one another’. Love one another. Pray for one another. Encourage one another. Support each other. Stir one another up to good works. Help carry each other’s burdens. Confess your sins to one another. The list is endless really.

 

What I wonder can we do today, this week, or whenever to strengthen our relationships with each other and so grow together in spiritual maturity? How can we strengthen the ligaments that hold the body together?

 

The human body has many diverse and different parts each doing its job to keep the body alive and healthy. The church is also like that. It’s a strange thing that our very diversity with so many different personalities and gifts is what leads to maturity and also surprisingly is the basis for unity. There are some specifics mentioned here in verse 11: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers – there are many others. It’s interesting isn’t it that we generally tend to regard these as very public, ‘up front’ roles. Not so actually. All or most of these (maybe not the apostle – but all the others) are also just as much ‘back room’ jobs as ‘up front’ ones. We can all teach and help each other understand our faith and what we believe. We can all pastor or shepherd each other and care for each other – share one another’s burdens. We can all share something of our faith and our relationship with Jesus with others even if we are not public evangelists.

 

It’s so important to understand that this isn’t a paragraph aimed at church leaders but at everyone in the church.  As we use our gifts in obedience to Jesus we will find ourselves growing in our faith. As we use our gifts we will find others growing as a result. We will grow together into maturity – into Christ the head.

 

Finally, how can we recognize spiritual maturity? What are some of its characteristics? We get a few clues here.

 

Maturity means understanding more about what we believe. We see this in verse 14. Not tossed back and forth by the waves and blown here and there by every wind of teaching but knowing the truth and knowing what we believe. Hence the need to join where we can with others to think and reflect and pray and ask questions of our faith.

 

Maturity means speaking the truth to each other but most importantly speaking the truth in love. That’s a really important element to understand. This doesn’t necessarily mean being up front and frank or ‘calling a spade a spade’. So many people delight in speaking what they think is the truth but not everyone does so ‘in love’. Some speak the truth for all kinds of motives – personal gain, getting one’s own back, having their ‘say’ maybe – but not from the motive of love. Before we open our mouths we should think – firstly are we speaking the truth and secondly are we speaking in love? Will what we are saying build the other person up in love?

 

Maturity means unity. One of the most frequent words used in these verses from Ephesians chapter 4, especially early on, is the word ‘one’. One body, one Spirit, one hope, one faith, one Lord, one baptism, one God and Father of all. We may be diverse and varied in our gifts and abilities, we may have differences of opinion and disagreements but we have one thing in common – our faith in the one Lord Jesus Christ. ‘Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit’ we read in verse 3. We need to work at our relationships.

 

What St Paul desperately wanted to see and was earnestly praying for was mature believers relating together in a mature body – a mature church. Maturity isn’t something to be achieved in isolation from everyone else. It’s something that depends on living and relating together. What will the mature Christian resemble? What will the mature church resemble? The answer – Jesus Christ. The goal is that the world out there will see Jesus Christ in us. With maturity comes a change in the way we live and conduct ourselves. The passage starts with a challenge: ‘live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love’. That’s a challenge indeed. And it ends with a vision of believers growing together into Christ-like maturity, speaking the truth in love.

 

The letter to the Ephesians provides us with a challenging vision of what the church can look like. Let us pray and work towards seeing that vision fulfilled in us.
Comments