… until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood … Eph 4:13
Christ’s gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are for a specific purpose – for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, for the edifying of the body of Christ (vs. 12). Each believer in Christ’s body has received a gift to serve the whole body (Eph 2:7), and the ‘ministers’ (apostles, prophets, etc.) are given to instruct the church in what these gifts are and how to use them.
But what is the work of service to achieve? The answer to this found in verse 13 … until we all (that is the whole number of those in Christ’s body) attain to (or arrive at) the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood … The pivotal conjunction “until,” indicates the period of time during which Christ’s ministry gifts to the church, exemplified in verse 11, will endure – until we all attain to … a mature man, the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph 4:13). That is to say, until the whole company of the redeemed reach mature manhood in a spiritual sense and attain to the measure of the full stature of Christ; in other words – complete conformity to Christ is the ultimate destiny of the church. The idea here is not individual conformity to the image of Christ, but rather that of the whole body of believers reaching its fullness. Ephesians 1:23 refers to the church as the fullness of Christ, by the call of God. That is the “already” aspect or our fullness; but the “not yet” component to achieving fullness is attained as members grow and serve together in the church. The goal, in its fullest sense, will not be reached until the end of time, when the church as the bride of Christ stands before Him as “glorious,” “without spot or wrinkle” (Eph 5:27); however, the specific marks of maturity described in verses 14-16 of Ephesians 4 – namely, doctrinal stability, love, and faithfully fulfilling one’s appointed function in the body of Christ – are certainly temporal marks to which we can strive for here in this life.
The most heart-breaking thing in the ministry is seeing members of the body of Christ remaining spiritual babies their whole Christian lives – never growing up to fulfill their calling. Often what lies at the heart of spiritual immaturity is an errant or false belief system. But as we submit ourselves to solid, balanced scriptural teaching, error will not sway us – in fact we will be able to identify, and even expose it. On the other hand, it is perhaps the most frustrating thing in the ministry to see pastors of churches occupied with programs and the busyness of ministry, while neglecting the teaching of the Word; for it is only as Christians grow in the Word of God that they are adequately equipped, and can grow to maturity. Compare the program-driven ministry of the modern church, to the emphasis of the early church outlined in Acts 2:42 – they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Here is the one and only Biblical program for the body of Christ to attain to the unity of the faith unto mature manhood. Because the disciples of the early church gave themselves to the study of the Word, and the spiritual disciplines taught therein, their love and unity had a profound impact on the Roman world around them. Can the same thing be said of the church today?