2013-01-20 Christ’s Dependent Body | Ephesians 4:15-16
Ephesians 4:15-16 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.
In this passage we are told that as the body of Christ our continued growth into spiritual maturity is both dependent on one another and on Christ.
Dependent on one another (v 15)
First, in order to become like Christ, we are dependent on one another, because we grow by truthing one another in love. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…Another way of saying this might be “but practicing the truth in love, we will, or we should in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head. In other words, we are to maintain, to live and to do the truth.
The meaning of the phrase “speaking the truth” is debated. In classical times the verb could mean “to speak the truth,” or “to be true, or to prove true.” In the Septuagint it appears four times and translates four different Hebrew words. In all of these, it is an ethical term used of proving or being true, not with the idea of speaking the truth.[i] In the NT the only other place the verb appears is in Gal 4:16 where it means “to speak the truth.” Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?
However, in Ephesians the concept of “being truthful” is the best sense of the word. Back in verse 14 the false teachers are said to lead us astray both by what they say and what they do, “by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” So by contrast, verse 15b tells us that we will grow to become more like Christ if we will be real or truthful with one another in what we say and what we do. One commentator states it this way, “…the believers’ conduct should be transparent, revealing the real state of affairs, as opposed to hiding or suppressing the truth through cunning and deceit.[ii] So in order to grow up into Christ we need to reveal the true state of affairs with one another – about ourselves, about the Christian community in which we live, and about God’s Word – by what we say and what we do.
But, as it says, we must do so “in love.” On the one hand we are living out, defending and upholding God’s revealed truth in the way we live and speak, and on the other hand we are maintaining and exhibiting brotherly love. If we take to the extreme defending God’s truth to the exclusion of love, we end up always fighting with one another. However, if we take to the extreme exhibiting brotherly love, we can sacrifice the central truths of the faith. As John Stott says, “Truth becomes hard if it is not softened by love; love becomes soft if it is not strengthened by truth” (commentary, p. 172).
So we need one another – to be truthful, and to be loving – simultaneously. Some of you are better at one of these than the other. However, as we practice them together, we will learn from one another how to be more truthful and how to be more loving simultaneously, and so grow more like Christ.
Who could do it better than Christ himself in his earthly ministry? Don’t you just marvel at the way he did and said things? He always seemed to know the right thing to say or do at the time – how tough or tender he should be when to go or when to stay, when to perform a miracle, when to do nothing. The scribes and Pharisees he called a brood of vipers but he withheld condemnation from the woman caught in adultery. He tested the faith of the rich young ruler and when he found it wanting let him walk away, but Zaccheus he called down from the tree and invited himself over to the house. He discerned the hearts of the people and treated them accordingly. As we do the same with one another we will help each other grow up into Christ.
- Dependent on Christ (v 15b-16)
We are not only dependent on one another for spiritual growth, second, we are dependent on Christ because as the head of the body he causes the growth among us as we each do our own work in love. We are told two things about Christ. He IS the head of the body, and he MAKES the body grow.
First, he IS the head of the body. 15b tells us, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ… In some places, Paul writes that the Christ the head is part and parcel with the body. Here he makes a distinction between the head and the body. We are told that it is from the head that the whole body procedes, – from whom the whole body being fitted together and held together. Without the head there would be no body at all. \
Jesus’ disciples, during his earthly ministry, were so totally dependent on him. He was the head of the band of 12, of the 72 and others before his crucifixion. Without him there would have been no band of 12 or 72 or anyone else. After his resurrection, at Pentecost, he became the head of the entire body of Christ for all time in heaven and earth. Without the head, Christ, there is no body.
Second, we are also told that Christ makes/causes the body to grow. This reminds me of 1 Cor 3:6 where Paul writes “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” How does Christ cause the body to grow? Through its various parts – through you and you and you! Just as God caused the growth of the Corinthian church through the preaching of Paul and Apollos, so God causes the growth of the body of Christ in every locale through the working of its various members. …the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly. Christ’s body is “being joined” and is “being held together” – present tense – by you, the members of his body. You are what he calls “every joint with which it is equipped.” This joining and holding together takes place when you do your part – “according to the working of each part.” You are gifted by God, as we saw earlier, to perform a particular service for the good of the whole body. You are “holding together” some part or parts of Christ’s body when you do your work, when you perform your ministry.
Christ during his earthly ministry brought about spiritual growth in his own little band as they each did their part. Peter’s role was that of leader and chief communicator. He spoke first and answered all the questions for them! John was probably in charge of fellowship and community. As the beloved disciple, he stayed close to Jesus’ side, and therefore was able to pass the love he received on to the others. Philip was probably in charge of evangelism. Remember how he brought Nathanael to see Jesus? Thomas was likely in charge some aspect of administration in their group because he was such a stickler for detail.
What is Christ’s purpose in making the body grow? So that it builds itself up in love.
There’s that “in love” phrase again! Christ’s purpose is to build up his body in love. He wants a strong body, but also a loving body. Again, these must be held in tension. The body must become strong, but it must be done so in love.
Remember how Jesus both challenged his disciples to stretch their faith but also checked their attitudes? If they were seeking a higher position than others, for example, he reminded them that the greatest among them must be the servant of all. And he modeled this at the Last Supper when he washed their feet. Christ built a strong but loving band of followers in his earthly ministry and he’s doing so now from heaven as the head of the church.
- Putting it all together: Christ’s body – unity, diversity, inter-dependency (vv 1-16)
Third, and finally, verses 1-16 as a whole give us a picture of Christ’s body in its unity, diversity and inter-dependence and in so doing, give us a better picture of Christ himself. As we see Christ’s purpose for his body in Scripture, we begin to catch a glimpse of Christ, the head, himself.
In his goal for the unity of his body we see the unity of the Father and the Son in John 17:22 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one.
In the wide diversity of gifts and various ministries of service among the members of his body we catch a glimpse of the many ministries of Christ as prophet, priest and king, his willingness to wash the feet of his own disciples as the lowliest of servants, and his willingness to lay down his life for his friends.
In his purpose for growing love among the members of his body we are reminded of the love of Christ not only for his heavenly Father but also for the world in John 17:23 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
In his goal for the inter-dependence of his body we are reminded of Christ’s earthly ministry in which he was dependent on both his heavenly Father for daily guidance and even on his own disciples in his own disciples in his darkest hour.
In the his purpose for the growing maturity of his body we catch a glimpse of the full stature of Christ and of the fullness of God and of Christ in Eph 3:19.
As we close, let us catch a fresh glimpse of the living Christ our head whose body we are from Colossians 1:15-20 – He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities– all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. Amen.
Sing: How Great Is Our God
[i] (Gen 20:16; To Sarah he said, “Behold, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver. It is a sign of your innocence in the eyes of all who are with you, and before everyone you are vindicated.”
Gen 42:16; Send one of you, and let him bring your brother, while you remain confined, that your words may be tested, whether there is truth in you. Or else, by the life of Pharaoh, surely you are spies.”
Pro 21:3; To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.
Isa 44:26; who confirms the word of his servant and fulfills the counsel of his messengers, who says of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be inhabited,’ and of the cities of Judah, ‘They shall be built, and I will raise up their ruins’;)
[ii] (See H. W. Hoehner, Ephesians, 564–65, and R. Bultmann, TDNT 1:251.)