14 …”so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:14–16 (ESV)
What is the purpose for which pastors labor and strive in serving the Lord in their local church? What are pastors looking forward to witnessing among their congregations? The Apostle Paul provides the answer in Ephesians 4:14-16, in both negative and positive terms.
The equipping ministry of pastors is important because when congregations attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, a discernable pattern of character and behavior will appear in people.
First, Paul concludes that congregations will no longer be children, in the spiritual and biblical sense of the word. In other words, they will become mature, spiritual adults. Second, the apostle then states that mature Christians will also grow up in every way in Christ.
The only way for this spiritual growth to occur is for people to be joined to Christ. If they are not, the congregations may be large, but they will be dead.
Paul labors this point when he says, “from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” Paul uses the metaphor of the human anatomy to describe the church and how it should function.
The phrase from whom refers to Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:15). The church’s life source, not only for justification but also for sanctification, is the person and work of Jesus Christ. This completed and ongoing work by Christ is applied to the whole body, or the entire church. No one is to excluded or exempt from the necessity of being in Christ.
The word joined (συναρμολογέω; synarmologeo) means fit together. The phrase held together (συμβιβάζω; symbiazo) means to be united or to brought together to be a unit. Both verbs are present, passive participles. In the context, this means that Jesus Christ alone does the work of not only fitting the church together, but also keeping it together.
This joining and unifying work by Christ extends to every joint (ἁφή; haphe) or ligament of the church. Ligament is another word for tendon, sinew, or muscle. The phrase with which it is equipped (ἐπιχορηγία; epichoregia) refers to provision. Jesus Christ provides the spiritual muscles the church needs.
The result of this work by Christ is for the church to function properly at its fullest degree. This results in true church growth that is constructed, not of brick and mortar, but rather on the love sourced in Jesus Christ.
Dr. John Walvoord writes, “The phrase “in love” occurs three times (vv. 2, 15–16), thus pointing to the way unity is maintained. Significantly the word “measure” (metron) is also used three times in this context (vv. 7, 13, 16). Each believer is to function in Christ’s body by God’s enabling grace in accord with the measure of the gift Christ bestowed on him (v. 7). When each believer accomplishes that measure, then the church grows properly (v. 16), coming ultimately to the measure of Christlikeness (v. 13). Stunted growth comes when one does not allow his or others’ gifts to function.”
True, godly, and biblical church growth occurs when every member of the local church fully uses their spiritual gift(s), in submission to the Holy Spirit and in cooperation with other believers (cf. Col. 2:19). Any other definition of church growth is a sham or an insufficient substitute.
Many people evaluate church growth strictly by the church’s physical size; be it building(s) or number of people. The Bible evaluates church growth in an entirely different way. Let us not forget this this biblical truth.
Soli deo Gloria!