Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 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.
Ephesians 4:15–16 ESV
So far, unity has been the dominate theme of chapter four. Paul began the chapter by urging us to walk in a manner worthy of the grace and blessings that we have received in Christ. He then specifically commanded us to maintain the unity of the Spirit with one another which Christ gave to us through His crucifixion. Yet even though we are one, united body, we are each given distinct and diverse gifts to be used for building and maturing one another in the faith. These two verses before us fittingly summarize and conclude all of verses 1-16, while also serving as a launching pad into the second half of the chapter.
The central exhortation within these verses is that we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. The word rather sets up this exhortation in direct contrast to the warning of verse 14. In that verse, Paul warned us against remaining children in the faith because children are immature and, therefore, unstable. As we briefly mentioned last week, there is nothing inherently wrong with being immature in the faith since no one is saved into maturity. We all begin our walk with Christ immature. The problem is whenever we remain immature. Baby babble, for example, is precious to the parents, but if real words never come, it becomes a harbinger of a developmental problem. We are meant to mature.
Furthermore, Paul noted that children in the faith are more susceptible to being “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). We rightly value the innocence of children but call similar behavior in adults naivety. The naïve person is often a danger to himself by being oblivious to the presence of any danger. Since the Christian life is filled with “many dangers, toils, and snares,” we cannot afford to be naïve. Christ warned us beforehand, saying, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Indeed, our “adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). When we mix the craftiness of his deceitful schemes with human cunning, we find the world within a hurricane of false doctrine, threatening to blow us off the narrow path.
We must, therefore, mature. We must grow up in every way into Christ, and the growth must be together. When we are each working properly, the body builds itself up into Jesus as our head. We are each individual members of Christ’s body, but together we are His body. Paul expounds upon this metaphor in 1 Corinthians 12:14-20:
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
We are distinct but united. Whenever one part of the body is not working properly, the whole body suffers. If your foot is injured, your whole body has a limp, not just the particular foot. Likewise, the limitations of one member impacts the entire body. A man with a broken arm will not be able to a lift as much as someone with two fully functioning arms. Also, the disfunction of a particular member can cause harm to another member. High blood pressure, for instance, can often cause damage in other organs, such as the kidneys or the eyes. We are each, therefore, called to do our work properly for the good of the entire body.
In fact, fulfilling our place in the body is a crucial element of bearing with one another in love. Whatever spiritual gift that Christ has given to you is meant to be used for the building up of the body. Of course, other than during our corporate gatherings, we will most often be serving one another individually or in smaller units, such as community groups. Yet we must remember that supporting one member of the body is support for the body itself. No act of grace is too small to escape the vision of our Lord. In fact, healthy growth comes through making a long-lasting series of tiny acts, like drinking water instead of soda or exercising daily. A healthy lifestyle is the cumulation of thousands of seemingly insignificant healthy decisions. Likewise, the church continues to grow into health and maturity through each of us using our particular gifts to love, serve, and build up one another in thousands of our seemingly insignificant interactions with one another.
I would further argue that this is the truly radical nature of Christianity. Jesus has not given us a religious system or program to follow. Instead, He has made us into new creations that do all things for His glory. In Him, every moment is an opportunity for offering adoration and obedience. Just as no sip of water is too small to glorify God, so too is no interaction between believers too small to build one another up in love. Therefore, do not simply think of using your gifts in large “ministerial” ways (but don’t neglect thinking in these terms either), but also consider how you might use the gifts of grace given to you in individual, everyday interactions. Because the church is not a corporation, ministry is not limited to teams and committees. Ministry is the body of Christ acting like its head. We are all members of the same body and should, therefore, both serve and support the body collective and its members individually.
Yet in our striving to grow up together as one body, Paul provides two conditions and requisites for doing so, which are what we will now turn our attention toward.
TRUTH IN LOVE & INTO CHRIST
First, in order to grow up in Christ, we must speak the truth in love. Lloyd-Jones helps us understand the depth of this phrase:
The Greek word means ‘professing’, so we may translate the phrase, ‘professing the truth in love’. Many have urged that a very literal translation, though it is not a pleasant one, is ‘truthing’—‘but truthing in love’. What the expression conveys is that we are ‘in the truth’ and that we are ‘walking in the truth’. Perhaps the best translation of all would be ‘having or holding the truth in love’. That, of course, includes speaking it, and discussing it together, and teaching it. But it is not merely speaking; it covers the whole of our deportment. We are to be true and to walk in truth and in love.
In contrast to the instability of the worldly doctrines that blow about to and fro, we hold onto to sound doctrine. The doctrines (or teachings) of God’s Word are stable and steady. They are firm and cannot be moved. Though “heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18). As the psalmist declared, “Forever, O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens” (Psalm 119:89). We are a people of the Book. Since the almighty God has spoken His Word through His apostles and prophets, we submit ourselves entirely and completely to the Scriptures. Its truth is the foundation of the church.
As we discussed last week, we must show ourselves to the world to be rooted in truth. The greatest witness that we show to a world of houses built upon sand is the security of a house built upon rock. The materialistic worldview of secular humanism is waning. We were made to know the Transcendent One, so very few have ever been able to stomach the idea of sheer nothingness after death. We all long for more than this world alone can offer. Materialism has “been weighed in the balances and found wanting” (Daniel 5:27). So, everyone is becoming spiritual again, but this time without the yoke of religion. Meditation and mindfulness are constantly discussed because the world is hungry for depth, peace, and tranquility. They are searching for the security of truth, but they are looking within themselves. The end is ultimately the same vanity as materialism, but such create-your-own spiritualities do still offer a form of transcendence to make everything feel deep, solid, and true.
But the answer is only Christ. Our God does not merely speak truthful words; He spoke all of creation into existence. And Jesus is called the eternal Word of God and is the One who “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3). He is truth. He alone is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Paul also will note in verse 21 that “the truth is in Jesus.”
For this reason, Paul also declares that our growing up must be into Christ. Just as the church has one true foundation upon God’s Word, it also has one true head, Jesus. In fact, submission to the Word will inevitably lead us to Christ because the entirety of the Scriptures bear witness about Him (John 5:39-40). Thus, even though I list speaking the truth in love and growing into Christ as being two different statements modifying our command to grow up, in reality they are the same idea. Christ is our goal and aim, and He is our mode and means. We grow into Him, and we walk and speak in Him. He is the object of both our present faith and our future hope. We, thus, do not give to one another or to the world around some vague and mystical concept called ‘truth’; we present and profess Jesus. Truth is a Person.
Yet as we grow into Christ, who is the truth, we must also speak the truth in love. For many today, love is the great virtue, if not a de facto deity, and yet few descriptions of it are given. Thankfully, Paul wrote a sketch of biblical love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7:
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
This is the sort of love that we are called to show. It is humble, gentle, and patient. It is sacrificial, after the pattern and example of Christ, who loved us enough to ransom us from our sins by His own blood. Indeed, if we are recipients of Christ’s love, how can we not also love others? Since He did not consider it beneath Him to become one of us and die in our place, how much more should we be willing to bear with our fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord?
Because Jesus who is the truth is also the great display of God’s love for us, we should note that truth and love are not mutually exclusive; instead, they work harmoniously in tandem. As Paul noted in verse 6 of 1 Corinthians 13, love “rejoices with the truth.” Love, like truth, is an attribute of God Himself; therefore, they made to fit together. Conversely, love “does not rejoice at wrongdoing.” “Love is patient and kind” toward wrongdoers themselves, but love can take no delight in sin. Even as God’s great love for us was given while we were still dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:4), we should be avenues for displaying God’s love to our fellow believers in their sin and to the world around us in their sin. Yet we still acknowledge that sin is sin and makes God’s own appeal for repentance. Because love genuinely desires the good of another person, how could love not long for them to leave sin behind and embrace Christ? We are calling everyone around us to flee death and embrace life.
The same gospel that is uniting us together as a church into Christ as our head is also the shoes for our feet that walk in throughout life. We have been rescued and forgiven by His glorious grace, and our life now must be lived worthy of its lavish riches. We must be a people who live and walk in truth and love, as we live and walk in Christ who is the great example of both virtues. We must be a people delight in God’s Word and meditate it day and night as it is the fountain at which we drink the Living Water.
Therefore, with each of our own gifts of grace by the Spirit, we must call our brothers and sisters deeper into the knowledge and love of our Lord, knowing that maturity is only found in Him. The great goal of each of our ministries, of each interaction between two believers, of witness or evangelism before non-believers, and of the growing and strengthening of the church is to know and love Christ, who is our “life, and health, and peace.” Our greatest joy and highest honor is to exalt His name to its rightful place above all other names, and true unity and maturity is found nowhere else.
I will conclude with words from John Calvin, who summarized this exhortation of these two verses quite fittingly:
We must also have the same doctrine of peace in our thoughts and in our hearts, and endeavour, as much as possible, to bring into union of the gospel those who are separated from it as yet. And if they who have been, as it were, stark mad against God, yield themselves as lambs and sheep of the flock, we must be ready to receive them. Let us then devote ourselves to that, and not be given each man to his own profit; but let us assure ourselves that since God has joined us together and bound us to one another, every one of us ought to employ himself to the uttermost of his ability and according to his own measure to draw his neighbors with him, so that we may be truly one body, and that Jesus Christ may reign over us.
 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Christian Unity: Ephesians 4:1-16, 241-242.
 John Calvin, Sermons on Ephesians, 395.