How the Lord Grows the Church | Ephesians 4:11-16

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  • How the Lord Grows the Church | Ephesians 4:11-16
  • Matthew 16:13-20 predicts the sovereign construction of the not-yet church: “I will build my church.”Ephesians 4:11-16 explains how the church is built up in Christ. 

    Ephesians 4:1-3 exhorts the church to walk in unity: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the body of peace.”

    Verses 4-6 states the grounds of unity: “There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” 

    Verses 7-10 explain that unity does not mean uniformity: “But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, ‘When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.’ (In saying, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)” 

    The church is one in Christ. Yet the Lord has given diverse gifts to the church. 

    • What are these gifts? 
    • How do these gifts function? 
    • What is the purpose of these gifts? 

    Ephesians 4:11-16 answers these questions. It is a complex sentence that makes a simple point: Healthy churches are growing churches. There is no correlation between the size and health of the church. A church can be small and strong or big and weak. Church growth is not big crowds, large budgets, and huge facilities. It is Christlikeness. Healthy churches grow to maturity in Christ. How does the Lord grow the church? What are the marks of a grown-up church? Verses 11-16 teach the process and purpose by which the Lord grows the church. 

    The Process by which the Lord Grows the Church 

    The New Testament uses word pictures to describe the church. The primary metaphor is a body. Ephesians 4:3 says, “There is one body.”

    • Christ is the Head of the church. 
    • The church is the body of Christ. 
    • We are members of one another. 

        What is the process by which the Lord grows the church? 

    Through Spiritual Gifts. Ephesians 4:8 claims Psalm 68:18 is fulfilled in Christ: “Therefore it says, ‘When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.’” Ephesians 4:11 comments on this victorious act: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers.” The gifts Christ has given to his people are gifted people. 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12 list spiritual gifts that enable us to serve. The gifts mentioned in verse 11 equip us to serve. These five terms refer to four gifts. 

    “Apostles” means “sent ones.” Apostles were eyewitnesses of the resurrection of Jesus commissioned to proclaim the gospel and establish the church. Envoys sent out by churches were also called apostles. Paul is talking about the apostles of Christ, not the church. Prophets are God’s mouthpieces – divine oracles who spoke God’s word by supernatural revelation. 

    Ephesians 2:20 says the church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.” Ephesians 3:5 says the mystery of Christ “was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.”Apostles and prophets had a foundational ministry. You only lay the foundation once. The apostles and prophets guided and guarded the church until the New Testament was complete. Now that we have the complete revelation of scripture, we do not need apostles or prophets today.

    “Evangelists” were heralds of the gospel of Christ. Acts 21:8 calls Philip “the evangelist.” 2 Timothy 4:5 exhorts Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist.” Paul lists evangelists as gifts to the church. They functioned as a part of the body-life of the church. The saints need the gospel just as much as the world. The grammar indicates that “the shepherds and teachers” describe one role: “pastor-teachers.” 

    Pastor is the Latin word for shepherd. The primary function of a shepherd is to feed the sheep. The primary role of the pastors is to teach the word of God. 2 Timothy 4:2 charges: “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” Pastors-teachers are gifts from Christ to nurture the church to maturity by teaching God’s word. 

    By Mutual Service. Verse 12 issues two big responsibilities that facilitate one great purpose. 

    The first responsibility belongs to pastor-teachers: “to equip the saints.” Pastors are not given to do the work of ministry. They equip the saints for the work of ministry. “Equip” means to make fit, ready, or prepared. Pastors who take too much responsibility for ministry work stunt the church’s growth. The church members need to exercise their faith in service to one another for the body to grow up. 

    This passage affirms the priesthood of all believers. The dichotomy between clergy and laity is not biblical. Every member of the body is a minister of Christ. The church is to practice every-member ministry. No church members are passengers. All are members of the crew who share “the work of ministry.” This phrase refers to practical Christian service. You may not have the qualifications to lead, the gift to teach, or the talent to sing. But there is work for you to do. Galatians 6:10 says: “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

    Why? “For the building up of the body of Christ.” “Building up” is an architectural term used for erecting a house. Mixing metaphors, Paul says pastor-teachers equip the saints for the work of ministry to build up the body of Christ. The goal is edification. Romans 14:19 says: “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” 1 Corinthians 14:26 exhorts: “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.” Spiritual gifts build up others, not yourself. They are tools to work with, not toys to play with. Worship is not about your gifts, tastes, or needs. Everything should build one another up. 

    For Eternal Glory. Ephesians 4:1 urges us to walk worthy of the calling to which we have been called. That eternal call should govern how we walk here and now. Verse 13 contains three Christ-exalting goals we should strive to attain.  

    Spiritual Unity: “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God.”Ephesians 4:3 says to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

    • There is a unity we are to maintain. 
    • There is also a unity we must attain. 

     It is the unity of the faith. The faith is the body of Christian truth. It is doctrinal conviction rooted in personal devotion. Paul connects “the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God.” The closer we get to Jesus the closer we will get to one another. 

    Spiritual Maturity: “To mature manhood.” Revival breaks out when lost people are born again. The fires of revival cool off when the born-again do not grow up. What is mature manhood? 1 Corinthians 13:11says, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” The Lord wants his church to give up childish ways. Colossians 1:28 says: “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.”

    Spiritual Conformity: “To the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” The Lord Jesus Christ is the head of the church. The body derives its life from him. The body is governed by him. The body grows to maturity in him. Romans 8:29 says: “For whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might become the firstborn among many brothers.”

    The Purpose for which the Lord Grows the church

    What are the characteristics of a grown-up church? 

    A Doctrinally Sound Church. Verse 14 says, “So that we may no longer be children.” Christians are to be childlike, not childish. The church is not to cater to self-centered babies. We are to strive to no longer be children. Paul mixes metaphors to emphasize the immaturity and instability of children: “tossed to and fro by the waves.” This nautical metaphor pictures the church adrift at sea. The storm-tossed waves drive the church from one extreme to another. While our culture is in a storm of divine abandonment, the church acts like a ship with a rudder, compass, or anchor – “carried about by every wind of doctrine.”

    • The church needs to know what not to say “Amen” to. 
    • The church needs to know what preachers not to listen to. 
    • The church needs to know how to identify false teaching. 

     “Carried about” was used for sick people carried on their beds (Mark 6:55). This is what happens to a church that is not committed to sound doctrine. 

    • It is like little children in an unprotected nursery. 
    • It is like a rudderless ship on a stormy sea. 
    • It is like an incapacitated man carried about. 

    Note the sinister motives: “by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” Some teach error because they are ignorant of the truth and need to sit down to learn before they stand up to teach. Many twist the scriptures to satisfy people who want junk food rather than sound teaching. 2 Timothy 4:3-4says: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”

    A Spiritually Mature Church. Verse 15 says, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” A church is not biblically regulated just because the pulpit preaches sound doctrine. The body-life of the church must be characterized by speaking the truth in love. Proverbs 27:6 says: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” You need people who will tell you the truth. Truth-telling is counterproductive if you do not speak the truth in love. 

    • Truth without love is brutality. 
    • Love without truth is hypocrisy. 

    As we speak the truth in love, “we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”There may be times when the church is not growing numerically. There should never be a time when the church is not growing spiritually. We are to grow up “in every way.” No area of the life of the church should go undeveloped or under-developed. There should be a total commitment to spiritual growth. 

    “We are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” Christ is the sphere and standard of Christian growth. 2 Peter 3:18 commands: “But grow in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” 

    Comparison is the favorite indoor sport of the church. Some struggle with pride as they compare themselves to the less mature. Others struggle with discouragement as they compare themselves to the more mature. Christ is the standard. Philippians 3:13-14 says, “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting that lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

    A Mutually Equipped Church. Verse 16 presents Christ as the source of growth: “from whom the whole body.” The growth of the whole body comes from Christ. Matthew 16:18 says: “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Christ builds his church through mutual edification: “joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped.” 

    The joints, ligaments, and muscles of the body hold it together and equip it to grow. So it is in the church. But each part must work properly. Every member of the body has a function. It is a sin against the body of Christ to come to church and only spectate, receive, or criticize. You have work to do! When every member is working properly it makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. 

    The passage closes with the third reference to love in this chapter. Ephesians 4:2 exhorts us to be “bearing with one another in love.” Verse 15 exhorts us to be “speaking the truth in love.” Verse 16 says the body that “builds itself up in love.” Ephesians 4:1-16 is about begins and ends by telling us that walking in unity is about loving one another. John 13:34-35 says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” What does this look like in practical terms? Ephesians 4:32 says: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you”


    H.B. Charles Jr.

    Pastor-Teacher at the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church of Jacksonville and Orange Park, Florida.