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The Body of Christ and Edification in Ephesians 4

Posted by on Dec 18, 2009 in community, edification, scripture | Comments Off

I published the post “The Body of Christ and Edification (Ephesians 4:1-16)” about 3 years ago. I think it goes along well with this week’s theme of “mutuality.”

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The Body of Christ and Edification (Ephesians 4:1-16)

Paul’s use of “edification” language is especially connected to the metaphor of the church as the body of Christ; and this is most noticeable in 1 Corinthians 12-14 and Ephesians 4:1-16.

In Ephesians 4:1-16, Paul encourages the believers in Ephesus “to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called” (Eph. 4:1) in response to his instructions in the preceding sections of his letter. According to Paul, the church demonstrates the worthiness of its walk through its unity; but not in a unity brought about by uniformity. Instead, “grace was given to each one of [them] according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (4:7). The purpose of these gifts, and of gifted people, is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (4:12-13). In this passage, “edification” (“building”) is associated with “equipping”, “service”, and “unity”, and measured by the “maturity” and “stature” of Christ himself. It is possible to understand equipping, service, and edification as the domain of those listed in 4:11 only. However, this “clergy/laity” distinction is contrary to Paul’s focus on unity in 4:1-6 and the responsibility of the entire body in 4:15-16.[1]

Paul continues by describing the opposite of being “built up” in 4:14 when he says that the believers should “no 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.” Just as teaching and debating played an important role in the life of the church in Acts, teaching must continue to be important for the church. Through teaching and doctrine the church continues to edify itself and protect itself from various false teachings and cultural fads.

In the last two verses of this passage (4:15-16), Paul returns to the idea of “edification” and the growth of the body. The church grows when its head is Christ, every member is serving as gifted by the Spirit, and its motivation is love. Interestingly, Paul says the growth of the body is both from Christ and toward Christ. The teaching and doctrine that Paul encouraged in vs. 14 must center on the person and work of Christ. Furthermore, the work of growth is the responsibility of everyone in the body, which Paul reinforces by stating it in two different ways: “from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped” and “when each part is working properly.” As in the previous section, every member is responsible for his share (lit. “in measure”; c.f. 4:7, 13, 16) in the growth of the body. “Christians are mutually dependent on one another and they are collectively dependent on Jesus Christ for life and power. [They] meet together to benefit from the relationships and ministries [they] can share with one another.”[2] The interdependence between believers is not for the sake of interdependence only, but for interdependence that leads to the growth of the body.[3]

Therefore, in Ephesians 4:1-16, Paul combines the metaphor of the church as the body of Christ with the language of edification to instruct the church how to grow as a group. The body metaphor intimates that every member of the group must grow; otherwise the organism becomes deformed.[4] This growth occurs when all believers work together for each other’s benefit. From the emphasis on each believer doing his part, it is apparent that there are no unnecessary members of the body, and that all members are responsible for the edification and growth of the body. “Paul’s primary focus in Ephesians 4 is not on the need for individuals to grow to maturity, but for individuals to learn to contribute to the life and development of the believing community as a whole.”[5] Christ, the head of the body, will hold the believers responsible based upon each one’s ability-“measure”-which was provided by Christ himself (through the Spirit).

Notes:

[1] Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 547-49.

[2] David Peterson, Engaging with God: A Biblical Theology of Worship (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1992), 208.

[3] Andrew T. Lincoln, “The Theology of Ephesians,” New Testament Theology: The Theology of the Later Pauline Letters, ed. Andrew T. Lincoln and A.J.M. Wedderburn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 99.

[4] Wallace M. Alston, Jr., The Church of the Living God: A Reformed Perspective, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 39.

[5] Peterson, Engaging with God, 210.