Illustration: I was 14 years old when a family friend of ours looked at me and said, “You’ve got broad shoulders. All you need is some muscle around it and you’ll look great.” I still don’t know if he was joking or not but I took his advice seriously. Over the course of the next few years I worked hard on building some muscle. At that point I was really skinny and so it took me a while before I saw any impact of the workouts. But that made me think and wonder…how does the body of Christ get built up? What does that look like?
7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says,“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.”[a] 9 (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth?[b] 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds[c] and teachers,[d] 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood,[e] to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 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.
I think this passage tells us about three stages in that body building process:
– Christ gives gifts to the church graciously
– The church utilizes the gifts faithfully
– The church grows into Christ eventually
1) Christ gives gifts to the church graciously
7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. (Eph 4:7)
V7 says that grace which is the unmerited favour from God was given to us. This grace is the reason why we are saved. By grace we are saved through faith. (Eph 2:8) And this grace is also the reason why we’ve received different kinds of gifts. The whole definition of grace means that it’s not earned neither can someone claim to deserve it. Two observations on this:
a) God’s has graciously given us gifts for the church
Paul uses his own example in Eph 3:2 to tell the Ephesian church that the gifts that God gave him were meant for the church. While addressing the Corinthian church that was divided over having certain kind of spiritual gifts, Paul says “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Paul was telling them that they were missing the point by arguing over which gift is important or better than the other. Gifts were given for the common good. So that others may benefit out of it not for your own good. This is a very essential thing to remember…in the world people are hailed and exalted because of their talents. That’s not how it’s supposed to be in God’s church. You’re spiritual gift was not meant for yourself but for the “common good”.
b) God determines the gifts that are given to each of us.
V7 says grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gifts. Do note that God has given all his children gifts. He’s not partial and he decides which gifts for us are the best ways in which He can be glorified. That’s why it doesn’t help when we complain over not having certain gifts or are jealous over other people’s gifts. By doing that we undermine God’s wisdom in giving us those gifts and also become ungrateful and ineffective in using them. The point for giving gifts again was not to grow in prominence and become famous but to serve each other with these gifts.
Now let’s come to the uses and the goal of giving gifts:
2) The church utilizes the gifts faithfully
8 Therefore it says,“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.”[a] 9 (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth?[b] 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds[c] and teachers,[d] 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood,[e] to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,
V8 further is a quotation from an OT psalm. Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.”
“he ascended” is a reference to Jesus which we see being explained in the next two verses. It says Christ gave gifts to men. Now when we come to v11, we see the details of these gifts.
11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds[c] and teachers,
This is important thing to note. When Christ ascended into heaven, he gave some gifts to his church. They were apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers. Apostles were messengers or delegates sent forth by Christ. The church was founded on the apostles teachings (Acts 2:42). It wasn’t self created teachings by the apostles. They were echoing what Jesus taught and showed them during his earthly ministry and communicated what was being taught by the Holy Spirit. Now we have their written letters in the NT. All these NT scriptures are authoritative because they taught as delegates of Christ.
Prophets in the NT were people who were moved by the Holy Spirit to speak, instruct, rebuke, comfort, encourage, convict and stimulate their hearers by spontaneous words of revelation.
Evangelists are people who would be gifted to preach the good news. Just let me add here, that all of us are called to evangelize and tell people about Jesus. However, for some people it comes very naturally and easily. I remember once when I went with Supreet for jail ministry and met a brother there who had the gift of evangelism. Could see how people didn’t even bat their eye lids as he presented the gospel to them with clarity.
Shepherds and teachers: I believe these are not referring to two different roles but a single role of an elder or overseer. As we remember studying in the qualifications of an elder…he needs to be an apt teacher. Why? So that he can lead people in their study and love for Scripture. A shepherd/pastor spends time trying to understand what Scripture says and apply it to his church.
And so you see 4 different types of giftings mentioned here. It’s not to make them more prominent than the others. The next verse states the purpose for giving these gifts to the church:
12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
The reason why these church leaders (apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherd-teachers) are given to the church is not to exalt them or make them popular but so that they may “equip the saints for the work of ministry”.
The Greek word used for equip means “to perfect or complete” the saints for the work of ministry. Hebrews 12:2 clearly says that Christ is the founder and perfecter of the faith. Christ does use church leaders to strengthen the faith of his people. And we’ve learnt a great deal over the past few weeks on why it’s important to be led by church leaders. Obeying leaders is important because they are the ones whom God has appointed to watch over your soul. (Heb 13:17)
Equip the “saints”. The word saint actually means “most holy thing” and someone who is “morally blameless”. I look at this definition and I realize how all of us don’t deserve that title of a saint. We are everything apart from being saints. We are so corrupted by sin that we cannot comprehend what it means to be holy and a saint. All our sins have been committed against God defying His Holy will and character. We loved sin and hated God. Every time we look at our sinful pleasures, our pride, things of this world, praises and acceptance from people and find more joy in them than God, we literally communicate how much we love sin and hate God. God being righteous has to punish and pour His wrath on sin but He also is full of grace and love. He sends His only Son (Jesus) to die as a pure, spotless sacrifice to pay the penalty for our disobedience and our hatred toward God. Three days after dying Jesus rises from the grave to make the “most unholy” people like you and me “most holy” before God if we trust Him as Lord and Deliverer. Christ’s death is the reason why we are saints. It’s a free gift from God.
Saints are equipped for what? Work of ministry. What does that mean? It’s the labor put into serving people with your giftings, time and resources. You would be praying and serving people in such a way that they grow and are benefitted by your service. Did you ever see yourself as a minister of God? Did you ever think how God has given you spiritual gifts and leaders to help you labor more effectively as a minister? Church leaders exist to fuel and fan into flame your passion to serve people around you.
for building up the body of Christ,
This phrase means the act of promoting another person’s growth in Christian wisdom, piety, happiness and holiness.
It plays out in two contexts:
1) To the outside world: The desire to kill the selfishness within you to want to see the lost come to know and experience the love of Jesus.
2) In the church: Wanting to see your brothers and sisters in Christ exceed you and grow in the knowledge and wisdom of the Word. Wanting to see them have more better prayer times. Desiring that they experience great joy and happiness in Christ. Wanting to see them have a life of holiness that surpasses yours.
And this is crazy because it goes against what we see in the world around us. The world around us gives us models for self-growth to progress and succeed. In the body of Christ, success is desiring and working towards seeing the other person grow to be the people God calls them to be.
I think this is what Hebrews 10:24 says “24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,”
Till when is this building supposed to happen?
13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood,[e] to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,
The goal is attaining the full maturity: that is becoming completely and fully like Christ. That’s why it’s wrong to think we’ve arrived in our spiritual faith. If the thought process for you is to think that you are mature and look down on others & think you don’t need to be actively participating in the building up process, here are a few observations from this verse:
1) You will only truly reach full maturity when everyone reaches unanimity of the faith.
2) Are you trying to say that you have complete knowledge of the Son of God? And this knowledge isn’t theoretical or intellectual knowledge. It is experiential personal knowledge. Knowledge by understanding, applying and living out your faith.
3) Are you trying to say that you’ve already become like Christ with no more sin issues to be dealt with?
Biblically, knowledge of Christ is always related or connected with becoming like Him. In other words, knowing is becoming! So if you claim to know Christ because of your immense theoretical knowledge, then can you back it up with a lifestyle consistent to that knowledge? I’ve met many people who have been to seminary and yet not known Christ!
1 John 2:3-5 says “ And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.  Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him,  but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected.”
Again it’s not referring to sinless perfection. However, if you’re life is described by your persistent sinful lifestyle you need to question if you are truly in the faith. Remember, knowing Christ is coming into an intimate knowledge of Him. You can’t know Him and not be changed by Him. That’s not how it works and it’s not true salvation either. What characterized your life? Is it sin or holiness unto God?
If the answer is no to these questions, then we should humbly assume a posture where we realize there’s so much more to grow spiritually and also actively use your gifts and resources to help others grow in their faith.
3) The church grows into Christ eventually
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.
Mature manhood in the previous verses are being compared out here to being a child. If mature manhood means reaching the fullness of Christ and unity of the faith with other believers then being a child would mean being easily influenced by different doctrines around you. I remember as a young believer I was fascinated by these televangelists. I would spend hours watching these programs and paying attention to their sermons. There was an elderly man meanwhile who would faithfully take bible studies for us at our church. Initially I would argue with him because I believed in prosperity theology with all my heart. I was convinced it was scriptural. Over a period of time by the grace of God I got introduced to proper bible teachers who helped me see the glory of God in Scripture and also see my utter sinfulness. But the more I thought about it, my growth took place not in the idleness of trying to discover right theology but as I tried to apply Scripture and immerse myself into serving other people. An idle mind and a selfish heart are good breeding grounds for wrong doctrine.
V15 is often misunderstood as telling hard truths to believers in gentleness. Recently I came across an interpretation of that verse that makes it clearer…speak the truths refer to speaking truths about Jesus and His acts to each other “in love”…with love and affection. We are constantly embedding the gospel into every conversation and life situation. Conversations about Jesus are woven into moments of doubt, conflict and temptations. As that’s happening, we are selflessly building up the faith of the other person because the most loving thing you can do for a person is not tell him 5 worldly solutions to solve his problem but to direct him to Christ who is His Lord, comforter, provider and Savior. And that’s how the church grows into the head- Christ!
V16 is another reminder how the body orginates from Christ by His victorious work on the cross. The body of Christ is also sustained by Christ. And the body grows into Christ as well. Let’s not forget that as we think about the call to action. Christ strengthens us to build the body. However, there is a participation required from our end. when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
Have you ever broken a foot or sprained an ankle? I’ve had several accidents in my lifetime and so I know the amount of extra effort that my other foot needs to put when one foot isn’t functioning properly. If that’s true of the physical body then isn’t that true also about the body of Christ? If I’m not actively using my gifts to serve my brothers and sisters, if I’m not speaking the truths about Jesus in love, if I’m selfishly only being concerned about my own problems and my own life…isn’t Christ’s body being affected by it? Isn’t my involvement essential and indispensable to the body growing up into Christ? How does that speak to the passivity of our hearts?