The book of Ephesians is profoundly personal and yet breathtakingly global. So far in this series we have seen that Christians are those who by grace have been chosen by God, adopted, redeemed, and forgiven. This was achieved by Christ’s death on the cross by which He has reconciled all people – both Jew and Gentile – to God. These adopted, redeemed and forgiven people from all cultures, nations, peoples and groups now form one body – the Church. Yet, a primary question remains unanswered. How are we (the Church) to live? More specifically, how are we to live as a corporate body? And how are we to live as individual members? It is the first part of this broader question that this article seeks to answer.
Training is important. What may at first seem fruitless and repetitive over time produces strength, perseverance and excellence. As a society I think we recognise this. It’s why we admire athletes, musicians and professionals. It’s why we ourselves go to the gym, show up at team practice and attend workshops. Training is important. This is no less true for the body of Christ.
The church is to be trained in the word so that they might reach unity and maturity in Christ.
1. Training in the word
“…Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
– Ephesians 4:11-13
Through His victory over sin and death Jesus has gifted His Church with apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Their role is to build up the body by enabling and training God’s people in order that all members of the body may build the body, each in their own unique way; as chapter 4, verse 7 notes, “To each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”
The body of Christ is to be enabled and trained through the teaching of God’s word. The Bible is God’s provision for the edification and care of his Church. Therefore, the teaching of God’s word is central to the growth of a church. It is why we must keep the Bible at the centre of our ministries and lives, letting it shape our communal gatherings, minds and hearts. As Martin Lloyd-Jones wrote, “Preaching the Word is the primary task of the Church, the primary task of the leaders of the Church, the people who are set in this position of authority; and we must not allow anything to deflect us from this, however good the cause, however great the need.” Ephesians 4 offers two motives for goals for this training: Unity and Maturity.
2. Training for Unity
“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
– Ephesians 4:3-6
Churches are diverse places. You will find people from religious backgrounds sitting next to former sceptics, professionals sharing communion with the homeless, high schoolers and the elderly, businessmen and former drug addicts, refugees and immigrants. Churches are a melting pot for learning and acceptance. But due to our sinful hearts more often than not our diversity leads to exclusivity and conflict. The ultimate, cosmic reality is that as Christians we are all one in Christ Jesus. There is but one Church, one Spirit that binds us together, one hope that we yearn for, one Lord that we worship, one faith that we profess, one baptism that we share, and one God and Father to whom we belong. Knitted together by the blood of our Christ, united as one by His resurrection. The basis for our unity, in the midst of our diversity, is our oneness in Christ. Paul appealed to the Ephesians, and he appeals to us, to make every effort to maintain this unity. Naturally we scorn that which is different; gravitate towards that which is familiar but Christ is like a magnet; drawing us together to Himself through the gospel.
We may resist and struggle all we like but the ultimate reality is unchanged: we are one in Christ. We need to train and be trained to live and love in unity.
The goal of training is to “reach unity in the faith”. “From him [Christ] the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” Through teaching God word, we need to train our people and ourselves to put aside partiality and selfishness, to value and honour our different roles and gifts, and to engage and do life with one another, not just on Sundays but throughout the week.
3. Training for Maturity
“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”
– Ephesians 4:14-15
Imagine a toddler being thrashed about in the ocean. How would you feel?
That is the image that Paul presents in verse 14. Where Christians are not being trained in God’s word they are being captivated by the false teachings and empty philosophies of our world. It is not only dangerous but deadly. I wonder if you have ever seen the world in this way? As a billowing depth that seeks to drown us in its ‘truths’ and values. I wonder if you have ever thought of the Bible in this way? As an anchor that grounds our life, minds, hearts and souls in a world that tries to drown us with these ‘truths’ and values. The desperate picture painted by Paul ought to drive us to grasp the necessity of growing in Christian maturity.
We need to train and be trained to grow in maturity as one people. The goal of training is to “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Through teaching God word, we need to train our people and ourselves to speak the gospel into the lives of those around us, to grow in knowledge of God, and to live and think in our society and culture.
Where training God’s people in His word is not primary, unity is feeble and maturity missing.
The church is to be trained in the word so that they might reach unity and maturity in Christ. As a Christian how are you being trained in God’s word to grow in unity and maturity? Do you see it as an optional extra if time permits or a core necessity of your life? Be trained in the word and in so grow in unity and maturity. For those of us who have the gracious privilege of teaching and equipping God’s people, let us be reminded: We preach and teach the Bible, not our own opinions, anecdotes and hobbyhorses. We don’t just offer good wisdom and advice that informs but good news that transforms. We extend to others God-breathed Scripture that is sufficient for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. Let us never grow weary of doing so.
Originally written for the LAS Article Series (March 2013) - Ephesians