Building Up the Body | Ephesians 4:7-14


But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says,

“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.”

(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may 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.

Ephesians 4:7-14 ESV

Having begun the second half of Ephesians by rooting it firmly into the first half, the apostle urged us to walk in manner worthy of the salvation and abundance of blessings that we have received in Christ. He then proceeded to describe the importance of us maintaining the unity that Christ bought for us by killing the hostility between us, grounding our unity upon the unchanging realities of our faith. In the following verses, Paul will continue to expound upon this theme of unity by revealing how God calls us to use our variety of gifts for the good of maturing the whole body of believers.

GRACE GIVEN TO EACH ONE // VERSES 7-10

After emphasizing that we are to maintain unity because we are one body, with one Spirit and one hope, in one Lord and faith, through one baptism, and to one God and Father, Paul now begins verse 7 with the word but. This conjunction, of course, points to a contrast or slight shift in what the apostle is about to say, which is exactly what happens. He pivots from speaking about the church as a collective to Christ’s grace given to each Christian within the body: But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

The grace to which Paul refers here is not the gift of salvation; instead, he is referring to the various gifts that we each receive through the Holy Spirit. The apostle expounds upon this idea in more detail in Romans 12:3-8 (pay particular attention to the similarly of wording to our present text):

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

The idea, therefore, is that in addition to receiving the grace of salvation we have each also been given a particular gift of grace for blessing and edifying our brothers and sisters in Christ. Both unity and diversity are on harmonious display here. In fact, the imagery of the body is particularly affective for communicating this truth. As 1 Corinthians 12 explains even further, we are one unified body with Jesus being our head, yet we are individually different members of that body. A heart and a foot, for instance, have drastically different functions and do not resemble one another at all, but the same DNA is embedded within their cells, enabling them to work as distinct members of the same body.

We, likewise, do not carry the same abilities and strengths. Considering the gifts from Romans, we are each called to display those gifts in some scenarios. We are all commanded to serve and to contribute. We are all called to teach, although most will only do so on an individual basis rather than in front of a group. While this is certainly the case, we will each still find ourselves strong in some areas and weak in others. Although you may find serving others to be your strong suit, you might find exhorting a brother or sister to be a terrifying prospect. Or maybe you find exhorting a fellow believer to come naturally, but you wrestle to be generous in your contribution to the body. What comes easily to you, may require much work in someone else. Yet all of this is by design. We are not the same nor are we called to be the same. Rather, it is through our distinctiveness that God’s unifying grace is so gloriously magnified.

Next, Paul cites Psalm 68:11 to connect our receiving of Christ’s gifts to His ascension. This is an interesting verse because the apostle quotes it as reading: when he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men. Yet the verse actually reads: “You ascended on high, leading a host of captives in your train and receiving gifts among men,    even among the rebellious, that the LORD God may dwell there.” The most notable difference, of course, being that Paul changed receiving gifts among men to gave gifts to men. While neither the Hebrew or Greek exhibits the apostle’s wording, there are translations in Aramaic and Syriac that Paul may have been using.[1] Nevertheless, the overall theme of Psalm 68 is the LORD’s kingly triumph over His enemies, and Paul’s description of Jesus’ ascension fits that theme.

Verses 9-10 give us an explanation of the words he ascended. Paul reasons that one can only ascend after having first descended, which is exactly what Christ did. Jesus, the eternal Son of God, descended to the earth to take on flesh and dwell among us. Then, following His substitutionary death and triumphant resurrection, He ascended back into heaven as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Furthermore, it is through His ascension that the gifts of His grace have been given to us. Foretelling His departure, Christ promised to the send the Holy Spirit to indwell His followers, and it is from the same Spirit that we each receive both the gift of salvation and the gifts for building up the body.

While these two verses can easily feel like a shift in thought, John Chrysostom warns us against such thinking:

Do not suppose when you hear this that he has changed the subject. For his design here is just the same as in the epistle to the Philippians. When he was exhorting them there to be humble he showed them Christ. So he does also here too, showing that even Christ descended to the lowest parts of the earth.[2]

Christ’s incarnation and then willing death gave to us the greatest example of humble, gentle, and patient love for others. Thus, in our striving to maintain unity with those who are different than us, Jesus must be our model and example. As we become like Him in His humility, so He also uses us for His exaltation. As He fills all things and unites all things to Himself, so He also makes us into His church, His instrument for fulfilling this great mystery.

THE WORK OF MINISTRY // VERSES 11-13

In verse 11, Paul specifies some of the gifts that Christ has given to His church. This list of spiritual gifts differs from the lists in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 in so far as these gifts particularly pertain to the church leadership, of which he gives four roles: apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherds and teachers.

Although the offices of apostle and prophet are no longer present,[3] their ministries formed the foundation of the church upon which we are still rooted through the Scriptures that they penned. Evangelists, even though we are all called to evangelize, are those who are particularly called and gifted to proclaim the gospel to non-Christians. Shepherds and teachers are here one role under two joined descriptions, which is to say that shepherding and teaching are intimately connected actions. As Jerome notes, “No one in the church, even a saintly person, should take to himself the name of shepherd unless he can teach those whom he feeds.”[4] Indeed, I would add that feeds comes through teaching. Thus, we can rightly say that a shepherd must also be a teacher, yet we must also note that not all teachers are shepherds.

Verse 12 then describes the function of these roles within the church: to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ. The purpose of these roles of leadership is to equip all saints to do the work of the ministry, and the work of the ministry is for building up the body of Christ. Notice, therefore, that ministerial work belongs to all saints. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherd-teachers are roles that equip the rest of the body, so that the church can be built up.

Notice also that the purpose of ministry is to build up the body. Even evangelists, whose ministry would appear to exist primarily outside the church, are still building up the body by adding new members to it. Pastors and teachers have the ministry of declaring and guarding the sound doctrine of the Word of God for the benefit of the church. Ministry, therefore, is for the church.

But how is the church built up? According to verse 13, we must all mature in Christ. Both phrases until we attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God and to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ are modifying the central phrase of the verse: to mature manhood. We are each called to maturity, and Christ is the measure of maturity. The stature of the fullness of Christ is our goal. We desire to be like our Savior, to imitate Him in word and deed. John the Baptist displayed true maturity whenever he responded to everyone flocking to hear Jesus rather than him by saying, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). The joy of every believer to become more and more like Jesus.

Yet this maturity is displayed through attaining two things: the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God. Both unity of the faith and the knowledge of Christ are signs of maturity. A divisive person who loves to stir up conflict is not mature but rather “warped and sinful” and the church should “have nothing more to do with him” (Titus 3:10-11). This is not to say that conflict is never necessary. The defenses of Christ’s divinity at Nicaea and of salvation through faith alone during the Reformation were necessary battles for the faith. In fact, in contrast to the general assumption, Luther did not break from Catholicism; Catholicism broke from him. He truly was seeking to reform of the church back to the authority of the Word, not a massive church split. Most conflicts and divisions, however, are not wars for orthodoxy but are avoidable squabbles. We should, therefore, be a people who value and long for unity within the church.

Yet if Christ is the standard of maturity, we cannot truly mature unless we also attain the knowledge of the Son of God. We cannot be like Christ without knowing Him. Of course, from chapters one and three, we have already seen that this knowledge goes beyond the mere intellect. Instead, it is a knowledge that comes from having the eyes of our hearts enlightened and from beholding the magnitude of His boundless love for us. Knowing Christ must be an affectual knowledge, not purely informational. And yet it is still knowledge. Knowing my wife more requires cognitive engagement, yet I do not come to know her more in order to pass periodic exams. Instead, the more I know her, the deeper my affection for her becomes. The same is true of knowing Christ. Knowing Him more requires real work and intentionality. It requires listening to His Word with a meditative heart. It requires a pursuit after Him. Yet this effort fans the fires of love rather than extinguishing them. Maturity begins with knowing and loving Christ, who is our measure of maturity, and such maturity must indeed lead to unity, to the building up of the body for the work of the ministry.

NO LONGER CHILDREN // VERSE 14

This final verse for our present study provides a glimpse at the immaturity that harms both the individual and the unity of the church as a whole. As we grow into the mature manhood of verse 13, we will 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. This description of childish immaturity immediately draws to mind the word unstable. A childish believer is an unstable Christian. Of course, we all begin as children and infants in the faith, so the church should always have immature believers who are growing into maturity, just as we should also have actual children who are physically growing into maturity. Problems arise, however, whenever maturity never comes. The author of Hebrews lamented this very thing:

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 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, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

Hebrews 5:11-14

Mature believers are “trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” This ability can only come through knowledge of Christ. Many today view themselves as experts on distinguishing good from evil, yet without knowing Christ, who is goodness, good and evil are subjective terms, detached from reality. Indeed, the doctrines, cunning, and schemes of this world can only toss us to and fro like waves because they are not rooted in truth. They are shifting sands uncapable of sustaining the weightiness of life.

We must also be aware that these doctrines, human cunning, and deceitful schemes are ever-present. Because doctrine simply means teaching, we cannot avoid being indoctrinated. Indeed, one of the greatest dangers is to believe that we are capable of receiving un-doctrinal information. Everything is teaching us, whether for good or evil, but without Christ, all doctrine is false and unsound. The appeal of religions such as Islam, Mormonism, or Hinduism is kind of solidity. They feel firm and fixed, rooted in immovable truths, except, of course, that they do certainly change. These religions continue to grow because the human heart naturally searches for security. Yet their security is false. Secularism, on the other hand, provides more blatant evidence of tossing its adherents to and fro. The postmodern subjectivity of our present day is increasingly revealing its fickleness. Without holding to objective truth, nothing, including society, is rooted to the ground. This is why our world can easily be summarized into one word: unstable. We have become a society of children who think that we can live without consequence because mom and dad are not around.

The most loving witness that we can provide to an unstable, immature world is to be rooted and grounded in the knowledge and love of Christ. The only antidote to the deceitful schemes of the enemy is truth, which is why we are called to be a people who wear truth about us as a belt. Time and truth are with us because we are children of the God who is eternal and true; therefore, we do not need to bow and bend to every gust of wind. We know how this story ends. Ours is the blessed hope that will not fail. Let us, therefore, play the long game. Let us live for the eternity set before us and for the generations that will go further than we have. Let us fix our eyes upon Christ, let us be like Christ, and using our variety of gifts, let us hold out Christ to the world around us. Nothing else will do.


[1] F. F. Bruce, 342.

[2] Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, 164.

[3] Missionaries, of course, fulfill an apostolic role of being sent out to proclaim the gospel where it has not yet been heard, and many still fulfill prophetic ministries of calling for repentance and great zeal for the LORD. However, the actual offices of apostle and prophet were associate with special revelation through the Holy Spirit, which is now complete with the conclusion of the Scriptures.

[4] ACCS: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, 166.

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