How the Saints Minister to the Body
From Gospel Translations
By John Piper
About The Nature of the Church
Part of the series The Church: Living Together When Christ is All in All
But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore it says, "When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men." (Now this expression, "He ascended," what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 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 fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
Last week we used this text to answer the question: Why the saints minister to the body of Christ. That is, to what end or to what goal do we do our ministry in the church? The answer came out in three ways.
Three Aims of Our Ministry to the Body
One was that the aim of our ministry is the upbuilding of the body. Verse 12: Christ gives leaders to the church (like pastors and teachers) "for the equipping of the saints for the work of service [or ministry], to the building up of the body of Christ." So the aim of our ministry is building up the body. Not just the individual members of the body but the body as a whole.
Second, the aim of our ministry is the unity of faith and the unity of the knowledge of the Son of God. Verse 13: " . . . until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God." So our aim is to keep on building up the body until there is unity in our faith and unity in our knowledge of Christ.
Third, the aim of ministry is that the body of Christ attain a corporate personality of Christ-likeness. Verse 13b: (keep on building up the body) "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 fullness of Christ." In other words the aim of ministry is not just that individuals be built up, but that the body of Christ attain to a mature man (not men, but man).
Christ is the head of the body and he is fully mature and complete. The church is his body, and we are not fully mature and complete. The aim of ministry is to build the church and to cause it to grow up into the kind of maturity that corresponds to Christ. The aim of ministry is corporate likeness to Christ. A kind of corporate personality that is like Jesus.
A Fourth Aim of Our Ministry
That much we saw last week. We passed over verse 14 and so we should add this week (as a fourth part of our aim in ministry) that this corporate likeness to Christ in verse 13 has definite implications for us as individuals. It results in our not being gullible and unstable. Verse 14: "As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming."
When the whole body is building itself up in corporate likeness to the maturity of Christ, the effect is that the members of the body in that process become discerning and perceptive and stable. They have their faculties trained to see through the subtle, manipulative use of language that tricks people into affirming things that are not true or right.
So one of the reasons why the saints minister to the body of Christ is so that every member would become more astute and penetrating and perceptive and stable, and less gullible and credulous and unthinking.
Tremendously Relevant to Today's World
This is tremendously relevant in a politically charged year like this one. For example, are you babes in listening to the candidates, blown about by the subtle, political exploitation of Scripture? Or are you mature and discriminating? Can you tell the difference between what the Bible means and the almost blasphemous misuse of it for political purposes.
Abuse of Scripture for Political Purposes
For example, in January President Bush sacrificed the meaning of Matthew 5:14 on the altar of national pride, when he said to the National Religious Broadcasters in defense of the Gulf war, "I want to thank you for helping America, as Christ ordained, to be a light unto the world." What that amounts to is an outrageous distortion of Jesus' meaning. That misuse of Scripture is designed for immature babes that are easily swayed by surface words without thought and discernment. The "light of the world" in Matthew 5:14 does not refer to Americans bombing Iraq no matter how justified the war may have been.
Governor Clinton refused to be outdone in this torture of Scripture. At the democratic convention he exploited the precious biblical vision of the New Covenant, sealed by the blood of the Son of God, into a political vision that stood the biblical reality right on its head. His worst misuse of the Bible was when he mangled 1 Corinthians 2:9, "Scripture says: 'Our eyes have not seen, nor our ears heard nor our minds imagined what we can build.'" Now that is emphatically not what the text says. A glorious promise of what God has prepared for those who love him was prostituted into a biblically sanctioned endorsement of human effort.
Endorsing Error in Craftiness and Deceit
Now this sort of thing is rampant, and not only when the words of the Bible are brought in to exploit the religious sentiments of the American people. You are being urged to endorse wrong and embrace error almost everywhere you turn with words that are so sly they can be given a surface defense when a moment's thought shows the real agenda. Christ does not want the members of his body to be babes in these things, blown about by "the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming."
For example, in the halls of Roosevelt High I saw official, school-sponsored posters that were clearly endorsing homosexuality, but in a most subtle way. One said, "One in ten people are gay, lesbian, or bisexual. They could be your brother, sister, parent, or friend." This is tricky. First of all the 10% figure has been discredited. A University of Chicago study suggests 1%. The National Center for Health Statistics estimates 3%. William Simon with the Kinsey Institute estimates 2–3%. So first, the numbers are inflated to make the students feel overwhelmed.
Then, with no moral assessment of the behavior, the emotional appeal is made that your parent might be homosexual. The net effect of lodging that surface truth in a teenager's mind is not to encourage careful moral reasoning based on durable standards of right and wrong. It simply implies to him that he should process this whole issue with statistics and feelings.
The other poster is even more subtle and forceful. It said, "Respect sees no color, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability." There are at least two serious problems with this public morality statement. One is that it puts homosexuality in the same category with gender and race. In doing that it short circuits the whole issue of whether homosexual behavior is right or wrong, and it implies that it is right (it doesn't say it outright). Acting like a male or a female is a matter of indifference; and acting like a black or a white person is a matter of indifference; so acting like a homosexual or a heterosexual is a matter of indifference. The endorsement is implicit and subtle, but very real and very powerful.
The other problem with this poster is that it bases respect on what one doesn't see instead of what one does see. "Respect sees no color, gender, etc." The result is that the positive foundation of respect is missing and there is no wonder that students see little reason for it. No reason has been given. The first ground of respect is that every person has been created in the image of God, no matter what. So you can even have a kind of respect for a murderer, by holding him accountable and punishing him, unlike you would do with a snake if it killed a man. But in everyday life there are different degrees and different kinds of respect, and these are emphatically based on what we see. And gender does matter—there is a courtesy that men ought to show women that is distinct from the way they treat men. They ought not to walk into the women's locker room. And the only way to affirm that form of special respect for women is to see gender and to honor it. Religion matters too—we should have less respect for a person whose religion is Satanism and who engages in satanic ritual abuse, than we do, say, for a Jewish person who strives to live by the ten commandments.
Your Discernment Is Tested Everywhere You Turn
Now the point of all this is not to make life hard for those who struggle against homosexual temptation. I stand with you in that struggle, not against you. I count you among the most courageous people in our society when you say, "Yes, this is how I feel, and I am against it. That is not my main identity. I will resist those temptations and will not build my life on that reality."
The point rather is simply to show you how tremendously relevant this passage is today. Everywhere you turn your discernment is being tested—are you a babe being carried along by politicians who manipulate Scripture? Are you a babe being shaped by posters that subtly endorse an immoral agenda? Are you a babe being formed and guided by TV advertisers that plant assumptions and desires in your mind? Or are you growing up with the body of Christ into the maturity and discernment and stability of Christ in the truth?
How Does the Body Grow into Christlikeness?
Today's question is: How does this happen? How do we minister to each other so that the body grows up into corporate Christlikeness? How do we minister so that unity of faith and knowledge emerges? How do we minister so that babes become keen, perceptive, discerning saints?
The answer I want to develop is found in verses 15 and 16. Verse 15 we will unfold this morning and we'll focus on verse 16 tonight. Verse 15 gives the heart of the answer, and verse 16 spells it out in at least five ways.
Speak the Truth in Love
Verse 15 says, "Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ." The plain answer to how we grow into Christ—how we become corporately like Christ and take on the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ—is right here: we speak the truth in love. "Speaking the truth in love, we grow . . . " Speaking the truth in love is HOW we build the body up.
Clearing Up a Misconception
Let me clear up a wrong idea here that I had for years about this phrase because I ignored the context. I used to think that the phrase, "speak the truth in love," meant, "Tell it like it is, but gently." Like: if a student bombed a test or if a man loses his job, you may have to do the tough work of telling them the truth, but you do it in love to soften the blow. So the truth which is in view here, I thought, was just the hard facts of life that a person might need to hear about in love.
Well, that is no doubt part of the meaning here (especially in view of Ephesians 4:25) but the context points in a different direction, that is very crucial to see for the good of the church. The context is all about doctrinal truth—truth about God and about his Son. Notice three evidences of this.
The Context Is All About Doctrinal Truth
First, the equippers of the saints in verse 11 are all truth agents: apostles (the authoritative, foundational witnesses to the truth), the prophets (the charismatic speakers of truth that apply it with supernaturally guided pointedness), the evangelists (who do the work of evangelism with the truth of the gospel in regions where apostles have planted the church), the pastors and teachers (who take the truth and use it to feed and protect the flock of God). Every one of these offices centers on the truth of God and Christ and the gospel. These people are truth agents.
Second, verse 13 says that the goal of building up the body of Christ is to attain to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God. So the building begins with equippers who are all agents of truth, and the aim of the building is unified knowledge, that is, unified grasp of truth.
Third, we have seen that verse 14 shows Paul's great concern is that as we grow into corporate Christlikeness, we are not to be babes who are blown around by every wind of doctrine. So again the issue is stability in true doctrine so that we will not be deceived by false doctrine.
Speaking Biblical Truth in Love
In view of these three points: (1) the body is built up through equippers who are all truth agents; (2) the aim of the upbuilding is a unified vision of truth about the Son of God; and (3) the aim is also for individuals to be mature in their ability to use truth to avoid error—in view of this context, "speaking the truth" in verse 15 must mean "speaking truth about God and about Christ and about the gospel." In other words, it means speaking biblical truth, spiritual truth, truth about life as God sees it.
So how do the saints minister to the body? Answer: by speaking truth about God and about Christ in love. Both are crucial. Knowledge and love. Knowledge without love puffs up, Paul said (1 Corinthians 8:1). But love without knowledge is confused and aimless, and disintegrates into sentimentality. That's why Paul prays in Philippians 1:9 "that your love might abound more and more in all knowledge and discernment." Love abounding in knowledge and discernment is what builds the body of Christ.
One of the main reasons people come to Bethlehem is because we put a premium on speaking biblical truth. God has honored it. May we never minimize it. But one of the reasons for this series of messages is that we are not as strong in the other half—namely, speaking the truth to one another IN LOVE. We as leaders long to see God bring this balance to us in such a way that the whole body grows into the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.
Paul packs five practical ways to do this into verse 16, and that's what we look at tonight.
October 25, 1992, pm
Lesson on Ephesians 4:16
Why Minister to the Body?
- (v.12) for upbuilding
- (v. 13) unified faith and knowledge
- (v. 13) corporate personality of Christ-likeness
- (v. 14) no longer babes
- (3:10) glory of God's wisdom
We minister by speaking the truth in love (v. 15) [see also 2 Peter 3:17–18].
How Do We Minister? (From v. 16)
1. By relying on Christ as the source of growth ("from whom . . . ")
- Christ gave gifts and grace to all (v. 7)
- Christ gave equippers to the church (v. 11)
- Christ is the model and aim (v. 13) to guide and as inspiration
- "I will build my church" (Matthew 16:18)
- The Lord produces love (1 Thessalonians 3:12; Galatians 5:22)
- Christ wins obedience through word and deed (Romans 15:18)
2. "The whole body . . . makes the growth of the body"
The question seen from v. 12 is: do equippers minister or do the saints minister?
Saints (note the change in preposition, the "whole body," "each single part," v. 16d)
Do you feel responsible to speak the truth in love?
3. The body makes growth by connectedness ("joined and knit together through every joint for supply")
Joint: may be every place of connection (from part to part) not every bone connection (elbow, shoulder, etc.) as we know it.
Point: growth happens through points of contact. Corporate building happens through connectedness.
The supply is truth and love
4. "The working in measure of each individual part" (v.16d)
not just all; but every individual
in measure (v. 7): we do not have the same measure
see also Romans 12:3 as God measured a measure of faith.
5. Upbuilding of itself; through/from Christ, but we do make a difference (v. 16f)
6. Do it in love (v. 16g)
1 Corinthians 8:1—love builds up
2 Corinthians 12:19—we speak . . . and all, beloved, for your upbuilding
So the exhortation is this: speak the truth to one another in love, relying on Christ as the source, for he makes the whole body grow. Do more than just pray . . . speak to one another, and encourage one another.