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Grow Up Into Him Who Is The Head (4:11-16)

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The Apostle Paul writes that leaders are among the gifts which Christ has given to His followers. In chapter 4, verses 11 through 16 of his inspired letter to the Ephesians, he writes: “He gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, shepherds and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, to the work of serving, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a full grown man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we may no longer be children, tossed back and forth and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error; but speaking truth in love, we may grow up in all things into him, who is the head, Christ; from whom all the body, being fitted and knit together through that which every joint supplies, according to the working in measure of each individual part, makes the body increase to the building up of itself in love.”

Leaders have been given to the followers of Christ for at least three reasons. The first is to prepare or train them to serve and meet the needs of people. Many approach Christ or the church from selfish motives. They are interested in what they can obtain or how they may benefit by claiming to put their faith in Christ. But a true follower of Christ will want to serve and give of himself. For example, the Apostle James wrote, “Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (James 1:27) It is the responsibility of leaders to train Christ’s followers how to serve.

Another responsibility of leaders is to help the followers of Christ be united in their faith and their knowledge of Christ. This is in accordance with Jesus’ prayer for his followers. He prayed, “that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that you sent me.” (John 17:21)

A third responsibility of leaders is to help the followers of Christ attain “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” In other words, to help people become as much like Jesus as possible. In another place Paul writes, “For whom he [that is, God] foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son...” (Romans 8:29)

The importance of good leaders in the church is indicated not only by their responsibilities but by what results in their absence. In this passage Paul gives several contrasts to help us understand this. For example, Paul writes that in the absence of godly leadership the followers of Christ are exposed to the “cunning and craftiness of men”. (vs. 14 NIV) The Apostle Peter describes such people in this way, “...uttering great swelling words of emptiness, they entice in the lusts of the flesh, by licentiousness, those who are indeed escaping from those who live in error;” (2 Peter 2:18)

Paul writes that a consequence of the followers of Christ not reaching unity in the faith is that they will be “tossed back and forth and carried about with every wind of doctrine.” Unity implies agreement. As Paul writes in another place, “Now I beg you, brothers, through the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” (1 Corinthians 1:10)

But it is possible to be united in the wrong thing. In contrast to the ‘deceitful scheming’ of men (vs. 14) Paul writes that if the followers of Christ are to grow, they must speak the truth in love. (vs. 15). So, how can we know that what our leaders teach and promote is the truth? In addressing one group of leaders Paul, himself, warned, “Men will arise from among your own selves, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.” (NIV, “Even from among your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.”) (Acts 20:30) With this in mind it is extremely important to remember that the apostles and prophets are among the leaders Paul lists among Christ’s gifts to the church. In this same letter, in chapter 2, verse 20 Paul wrote that the apostles and prophets are in the foundation of God’s household. In chapter 3, verse 5 Paul also reminds us that God’s message has been revealed to the apostles and prophets by God’s Spirit. The apostles and prophets carefully wrote down and preserved the message which had been revealed to them in the book which today we call the New Testament. The New Testament is the only objective standard by which we can judge teaching, and is the basis upon which all the followers of Christ can reach unity. Notice, however, that it is not enough to merely be united in truth. Paul emphasizes that it must also be in love. As Paul writes in another place, “If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but don’t have love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2) Do we exhibit the same kind of love that Christ did?

In verse 13 Paul writes that under the guidance of godly leaders the followers of Christ will become mature (“a full grown man”) and attain the fullness of Christ. On the other hand, in verse 14 he warns that those who remain children (NIV, infants) in their faith will be unstable. From this we learn that is essential for every follower of Christ to grow and make progress in his relationship to Christ. But growth is not only necessary on an individual basis, it is also necessary for the followers of Christ as a whole. Paul likens them to a body. In chapter 1, verses 22 and 23 he had already defined the body of Christ as the church. So, it is necessary for the church to grow and make progress in the faith as well. It is important to understand, however, that just as Paul had defined maturity for the individual as becoming like Christ, so too, he defines the building up of the body, that is the church, as “grow[ing] up in all things into him, who is the head, Christ.” (vs. 15) The maturity of the body cannot be measured by how wealthy it is or by how many members there are, but only by how Christlike it is. The focus of the body must always be on its Head. Are we like Christ?

It is worth noting that full maturity is not achieved instantaneously. Just as a human child requires time to grow from an infant into an adult, so too, spiritual maturity in the body of Christ is a process. Also, just as a child requires the proper nourishment in order to grow properly, Paul indicates that it is love which nourishes and causes the spiritual body to grow. Note, too, though Paul has emphasized the role of leaders in helping the body to grow, he clearly says that Christ’s body will be built up to the extent that each individual who makes up the body works to accomplish it.