Let’s do a thought experiment. Imagine for a second a person sitting before you, wearing a bib, drinking from a bottle, with a pacifier close by. What picture comes into your mind? Was it a baby? That’s where our minds immediately go, because that’s what we might expect. Now, what if I were to tell you that the person before you is actually a grown man?
There is nothing wrong with this man. He’s not hindered by an illness nor is he lacking in the ability to eat more adult food. He simply never matured. I imagine that we would be frustrated with such a man. This isn’t how he should live his life. He should, by now, in our minds, be functioning like a grown up. He should be able to walk, talk, feed himself, and clothe himself. In short, we expect him to function as a mature adult.
Growth is a sign of life. Living things grow. Babies grow into toddlers. Toddlers grow into young adults. Young adults to adults. This is the development of life. Christians also grow through stages. When we enter the Christian faith, we enter as babies. However, we shouldn’t remain babies in the faith. There should be growth. We are to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18). It’s a harsh rebuke when Paul says, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food (Heb. 5:12).”
Paul concludes his marks of a healthy church in Ephesians 4:13-16 in saying that healthy churches are those that are growing in their faith. What does it look like to grow into maturity in the Christian faith? Paul outlines four characteristics of maturity in the life of a believer: Christlikeness, established in doctrine, love, and contribution.
Christians ought to be like Christ. We know that we won’t be like Him in every respect, as we are sinful human beings, but that doesn’t mean that we should not be conforming to the image of the Son. That is in fact, the will of God for our lives, our sanctification. Paul concluded verses 11-12 by saying that Christ has gifted His churches with gifted leaders. Why? That we may grow in the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (v.13).
We know that this will not be perfectly fulfilled in our lifetime, but it is a journey worth taking. The goal of our churches is to be like Christ. He is the ultimate picture of maturity (Merida, Ephesians). How are we to be like Christ? In short, we are to be marked by those characteristics Paul details in verses 2-3. We ought to be humble, patient, gentle, bearing one another’s burdens, and eagerly maintaining unity amongst one another.
If we wish to grow into mature believers in Christ, we must look like Christ. How does this happen?
Established in doctrine
Maturity is the result of holding to sound doctrine. Paul says, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God (v.13).” Holding to sound doctrine doesn’t, in and of itself, quantify a mature believer (more on that later), but it’s a start. We see from this passage that theology matters. What we believe matters. We must be a people that hold fast to the Word of God.
We must be good students of God’s Word. We must believe what the Bible teaches. There are many that wrongfully believe that theology is to be left to the leaders of the church, or professors in the seminaries. That’s just not true. We are to grow in our love for the Lord and a means by which we do that is through our study and knowledge of God’s Word.
There are those that believe that to be “caught up” in theology is to be cold and lifeless. I have come across many that believe to be concerned with sound doctrine means that one lacks passion and enthusiasm for the Lord. That’s simply not true. I love my wife. We have been together for 7 years now. Through our marriage, I have come to know more about my wife that I didn’t know before. I have learned of her pet-peeves and what delights her heart. I have been a student, diligently studying my wife’s personality for 7 years, and you know what? I love her more now than I did when I first met her. My knowledge of my wife hasn’t diminished my love for her; it has only served to fuel my desire to love her and serve her more.
Paul gives a reason for why we should be students of God’s Word: stability in the faith. He says that we are to grow in our knowledge of Him “so that we may longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes (v.14).” Children are gullible. As a father of three children under the age of 4, I know this. I can convince my children to believe crazy things (if I wanted). Paul doesn’t want us to be children in the faith. He doesn’t want us to be deceived into believing lies. He wants us to be mature and stable in the faith. He doesn’t want us deceived into believing that Christianity isn’t real, that the bible is just another book, that there are multiple roads to heaven, and all of the other nonsensical lies the enemy attempts to persuade us with.
Therefore, if we wish to be stable in the faith, we must be diligent in studying the Word of God both individually and corporately as a body of believers. The leaders of Christ’s church must be diligent in preaching the whole counsel of God’s Word. We need men that boldly and unashamedly proclaim the Word of God from the pulpits, so that we are equipped in the faith. The church should be a pillar and buttress of truth (1 Tim. 3:15). Our churches will be healthy when we are growing in our knowledge of God.
Paul says that we ought to speak the truth in love to one another (v.15-16). This characteristic can be difficult. We’re not to be bullies with the Word of God, beating down those that are slow to grasp its truth or those that may be slow to agree with every point of our theology. Again, we must be patient and gentle (v.2-3) with one another. We must be patient to walk with those in the faith, helping them to grow in the faith. We must also be humble, realizing that we don’t possess perfect knowledge of God’s Word, and may be in error.
Elsewhere Paul says, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging symbol (1 Cor. 13:1).” We could relate this to today and say, “Though I speak with lofty, theological jargon, can articulate the deep things of God, defend the faith with precision, maintain perfect attendance in church, pray daily, and share the gospel fervently, yet I have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging symbol.”
If what we believe doesn’t make us love God and others more, we’ve missed something. Right belief should lead to right living. Our theology ought to lead to doxology. What we believe about God should deepen our love for Him and for others. May we be a loving people. What good is it if I know right theology, but fail to love my wife as Christ loved the church? What good is it if I can boldly proclaim the gospel on the streets, but fail to disciple my children? What good is it if I know the gospel, but am harsh and unloving towards others?
Paul concludes this section by saying, “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 (v.16).”
Again, we need one another. In order for the church to be healthy and mature, every part must be working together harmoniously for the praise of God’s glory. Every member is to contribute to the overall health of the body. As we are growing into Christ, we must use our giftedness for the edification of the saints.
May our churches be marked by health and maturity. May we be a lighthouse for the gospel of Jesus Christ. May we continuously die to ourselves and live for Jesus Christ.
Soli Deo Gloria
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