|By: Dr. Wayne Barber; ©2000|
|In the past few articles, Dr. Barber has examined the gifts God gives to help equip the saints. Now the question becomes: "Why do the saints need to be equipped? What does God want them to do?"|
There is a thought in verse 13 that completes verse 12, the Goal of the Equipping of the Saints. What is the final goal? How do we know when we have reached that goal? We saw in verse 12 that the gifted men God has given to the church are given a task. That task is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry and also for the building up of the body of Christ. Now, how do we know when this project is complete?
Verse 13 tells us: “until we all attain.” That little word “attain” is the Greek word katantao. It is used nine times in the book of Acts of a traveler who takes a journey and arrives at his destination. When you are equipped as saints, when the gifted members of the body are taught by the gifted men given to the body, and the body is equipped for the work of the ministry, you can know when you have reached the goal of all of that equipping. Paul is about to tell us what the goal is in the equipping and the building up of the body of Christ.
I am reminded of I Peter 4:10. It’s speaking in the context of spiritual gifts, about grace: “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” The word “manifold,” poikilos, means multi-colored grace of God. It is almost like God is the master artist. He takes individual believers and gives them a different colored grace. He gives them a gift that fits into the body of Christ. If you put all those colors up on a board, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense. But when you begin to get believers equipped with the Word of God and believers who are functioning under the control of the Holy Spirit of God, all of a sudden all those different colored graces, all the different gifts, begin to blend. What you begin to see is not individuals with gifts; you begin to see the Lord Jesus Christ visibly made manifest through His body represented by the believers.
It is so much fun watching people discover their gifts. It takes you a little bit of time to watch the picture come together. But when you begin to see people get under the authority of the Word of God and become filled with the Spirit of God and controlled by the Spirit of God, watch God begin to develop ministries into their lives. You begin to watch them grow up and mature. It is one of the most beautiful things to watch people grow and reflect the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the body being built up and developing so that Christ can visibly be seen in that body.
In Ephesians 2:20 it says we are the household of God, the dwelling of God on this earth. That is why he prayed his prayer, as a matter of fact, in chapter 3:14-21. It’s so we might become filled with the Spirit of God, empowered by the gifts and abilities God has given us, and so that Christ might be made visible in and through our lives.
Well, in verse 13 of our text, the tapestry is now woven and the design clearly seen as to what all of this equipping and building up the body is all about. Look at what it says in verse 13: “until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ.” Now the goal that we are headed towards, the final end, the destination of all the equipping and the building up of the body of Christ is three-fold. First of all, it is unto the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God. That is number one. Number two, it is unto a mature man, a perfect man. Number three, it is unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. How do you know when the body has reached the point that God? Remember, we have the universal body of believers, the local body of believers and the individual believers. Keep that in mind as we move through this.
First of all, there is the unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son of God. The ultimate spiritual target for the church begins with the unity of the faith. As in verse 5, the word “faith” here with the definite article, does not refer to one’s belief at salvation. It refers to the body of Christian truth. The faith is the gospel in its most complete form. When believers are properly taught and faithfully obeying Christ and allowing His Spirit to minister His gifts through them, then the inevitable result is the unity of the faith.
Let me give you an example of what doesn’t reach that goal. If you have ever studied Scripture and you have studied the church of Corinth, you know that the church of Corinth was one of the biggest problem church in the New Testament. It is a little risky when you get into the book of Corinthians because everything Paul says is to correct an error that is taking place in that church. The church of Corinth is a good example of how disunity (remember, all of this is in preserving the unity of the spirit) occurs when believers are ignorant or disobedient of Scripture.
What were they doing in Corinth? There were several things. One was they were having a meal at the Lord’s Supper. I mean, they thought it was great to bring everything to the church. Instead of understanding what it was all about, they were making a party out of the thing and completely obliterating its biblical meaning. Not only that, they were cursing God and saying they were speaking in other tongues. They were trying to recreate Pentecost at Corinth. The solution that the Apostle Paul gives to them is in I Corinthians 1:10: “Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree, and there be no divisions among you, but you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.” In other words, it is the doctrine that we adhere to that unifies us. When a person is growing in the Word, when a person is filled with the Spirit of God, the inevitable result of that will be a doctrinal unity, the unity of the faith. We must be united in the faith, in that which we hold to and in that which we believe.
I have never seen a person’s devotion be pure when his doctrine was wrong. We live in America and every time you see something that looks like it is sincere, everybody thinks they must be right. Folks, I am telling you, if people don’t hold to biblical doctrine in the sense and the context of the Christian church, what happens is somewhere down the road you always find where they are not as pure as you thought they were. If a man is not doctrinally right and correct, then his devotion is impure.
If a person’s devotion is pure, his doctrine will be correct. It is a unity of the faith that you come to when you are down on your knees, submitted to the Lordship of Christ, letting His Spirit minister those gifts through your life. There is something about an adherence to a proper doctrine. It is mentioned very precisely in verses 4-6, in the seven that are mentioned there. You begin to draw together in that which a person believes. If you are not doctrinally correct, most of the time you are devotionally impure, even though we may fool other people.
Unity of the faith is something God has to bring together with people who are submitted to His Spirit, understanding what they can’t do and empowered by the Spirit so that their gifts are manifesting Christ and not themselves. There is a doctrinal unity that comes when that kind of thing happens.
You’ve got a lot of people sincerely doing a lot of things, and people mistake that sin‑cerity for proper doctrine with proper devotion. If you’ve got the right devotion, you will have the right doctrine. If you don’t believe it right now, hang on for a while. God will expose the impurities of that devotion somewhere down the road. This kind of unity, which we are striving for, is the goal that the church is headed for. It’s when the church can join hands with the unity of doctrine and understand that it is Jesus being Jesus in us. It is His body. He wants to be made visible in us.
When we join hands in that way, this kind of unity will produce something else. It will produce the knowledge of the Son of God. He didn’t say it will produce greater knowledge of the Word; that is going to be taking place anyway. Not only will you know the Word of God, but you get to the know the God of the Word. It is a beautiful thing. The word “knowledge,” epignosis, is the word that means participatory knowledge, full knowledge. In other words, what you have in your head starts sinking down in your heart. There comes that point in a person’s surrender to Christ. That is the ultimate goal of what we are pushing towards. That is when we start growing up. That is when we start becoming what God wants us to be, when we begin to experience Him, not just know about Him. You get to know Him.
Let me ask you a question. Do you know Him? Do you walk with Him? Do you talk with Him? Do you see Him manifest Himself in your life? This is where you are headed. This is what unity of the faith produces. It produces the knowledge of the Son of God. You get to know Him and experience, as Paul said in Philippians 3:10, His power and His resurrection. You experience the fellowship of His sufferings. That is the intimacy that God is drawing us into when we come to that place of surrender to Him and He meets with us and we begin to experience Him on a personal basis. That is when you know it is working. It is not just your gift ministering to somebody. Oh, it is far beyond that. We come into the unity of the faith, and we don’t argue over every Scripture. You see the Scriptures have become strangely inerrant and strangely understandable as we have bowed before the Lordship of Christ. All of a sudden we stand up, join hands and begin to experience the reality of Jesus in our personal lives. Now that is what the goal is. That is the destiny. That is why it is so important to listen to his prayer in chapter 3 when Paul says, “That we might be strengthened in the inner man with His power like we have never known before.”
Look over in Colossians. It is sort of the commentary on Ephesians. You can’t say that in every passage, but it is certainly written from the same place, in the same prison. Paul says almost the same thing in verses 9-12 in another prayer in chapter 1 of Colossians: “For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” I want to summarize that. That is the Word of God right there. You will never know the Will of God apart from the Word of God. God will give it to you with spiritual understanding. God will give wisdom. Wisdom is the supernatural ability to take something written that long ago and bring it up to date, bring it right into your life and show you practically how it applies.
The word “understanding” means to take all the facts, put them together, draw a line and come to a conclusion that is practical and workable in a person’s life. Now Paul says in Colossians 1:10, “I am praying for you that you might be filled up with this knowledge so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, [that’s the same phrase we find in Ephesians 4:1] to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” The word “increasing” means to grow in the knowledge of God. So when a person begins to come to the unity of faith, they are doctrinally holding on and embracing the same Christ, doctrinally holding on and embracing the same philosophy of ministry, doctrinally holding on and embracing that which God has said.
Something else happens. You begin to enter into the unity of that knowledge of the Son of God. When we are all living that way, that is the goal. We are getting closer and closer as we grow. Do you want to talk about having a praise time when we come to church? When we begin to worship Christ and surrender to Him, praise is the overflow. You just celebrate. But if a man has not worshipped and is not living that way, then he is not pushing toward the goal for which we are all supposed to be destined. So the goal is to be united in the faith, a doctrinal unity, but also in that doctrinal unity comes the knowledge of the Son of God. That also continues to unify as we experience His presence together.
Second, it says when we attain to a mature man. That is the goal for all of us. The whole church as the universal body will never attain to it down here. I wish it could, but it won’t. We know that. But one day we will all be changed. God will take care of that. We are pressing towards that goal. The chance is a little bit better with the local body. As individual believers, we can get at least to the point where we begin to enter in to that which he is talking about.
What in the world is a mature man? The word is teleios. It means that which has reached its end, that which is complete, that which is full, that which is lacking in nothing. This really emphasizes something we all need to understand. It emphasizes the continued growth that should ever be the pressing motivation of the believer. How many times have you had the tendency to compare yourself with somebody else in the body of Christ? “Well, Lord, I’ve done pretty good. Look at him. They have a whole lot more information than I have and look how they are doing. I am doing a whole lot better than they are.” Friend, it is not a matter of competing with anybody. When we get saved, that is a beginning, not an end. We are to be growing in our faith. We are to be growing up in our faith. There is the word teknon, which means little child. There is the word huios, which means son. We are to grow up and become mature sons of God to the point that we don’t lack anything, to the point we find our completeness in the sufficiency of Christ.
Look at verse 14: “As a result, we are no longer to be children.” That is the whole thought. We are to grow up. So many people give their testimony and say, “I got saved 30 years ago.” That is wonderful! But what is God doing in your life right now? If there has been no growth in 30 years, there was probably no birth 30 years ago because when you get saved you are growing, increasing, growing up to be a mature man. You are growing up to become the son that God wants us all to be. This goal is something that is in front of all of us.
Let me ask you a question. Are you going forward or are you going backward? There is a prophecy against Israel and the prophecy says, “Since you have continually disobeyed me, you are no longer going forward, you are now going backward.” Has there ever been a time in your life when you loved Jesus more than you love Him right now? Has there ever been a time when you had a quiet time in your Christian walk that you couldn’t wait to get into that you don’t have anymore? Has there ever been a time in your life that you were thrilled at the things God was doing, but you are not thrilled anymore? Well, friend, you are going against the very grain of what Christianity is all about. It is pulling you to grow. You are going backward and not forward. We are to grow from where we are. Christianity is not static. It didn’t happen back here and not effect us. It happened, so therefore, it completely effects us. We are to grow and become a mature person in Christ.
Well, finally the picture is complete in the last statement of verse 13: “until we allattain...to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ.” God’s great design for the church is that every member of the body of Christ be conformed to the image of His Son Jesus Christ. That is our goal. That is where we are headed. While we are down here in the quarry, God wants us to be growing that way. As I learn to be strengthened in the inner man, as I learn to obey God’s will in my life, God is doing a transforming work in my heart. I get to know Christ. I get to walk with Christ, but I am moving towards something. I am being moved to the point that I am filled to the fulness of Christ. I begin to measure at some point. That is the goal, the stature of the fulness of Christ.
Romans 8:29 says that He has predestined us to become conformed into the image of His Son. Since the church is the presence of Christ in the world today, the goal is that we, the members of His body, come to the place that we are so filled with the fulness of Christ that we radiate Him everywhere we go. When we walk into a restaurant, when we get on a plane, when we are in a gas station, wherever we are, just radiate the person of Christ, filled up to the fulness of Christ. Christ is now manifesting Himself in our life.
First John 2:6 tells us that we ought to walk as He walked. How did He walk? He walked in total submission to His Father. As Christ was to the Father, we are to be to Christ. As the Father was to Jesus, manifesting Himself, so Jesus will become to us. We reach the point where we are completely dominated by Christ. What fills us, remember, controls us. When others look at us and see Him in us, then we are reaching that goal that is ahead of us, the destiny of the fulness of Christ, the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ.
The bottom line in this passage is, we need each other to get there. That is why the gifts are given. No man gets there on his own. That is why the gifted men are given. We need to join hands united in faith, united in the knowledge of the Son of God, coming to a mature man. Then all of us can rise up, and when the world looks at us it will not see us, but Christ. We desperately need each other. If you are not living in the gift that God has given you and you are not ministering in that gift, we are being short-changed for the whole body to reach the stature of the fulness of Christ.
What is the unity of the Spirit? The unity of the Spirit is that which the Spirit alone produces. We preserve it. We don’t produce it. He is the ligament that holds us together. As I begin to let His gift in me function, then I am reaching out to you and you are reaching to me. We are reaching out to each other through the unique gifts that God has given you and me. After a while, we have come to that unity of faith. Then we begin to experience Christ together like never before. Then it begins to take its progression. We begin to mature and grow up to the stature of the fulness of Christ. That is the goal. We need each other to get there.