Don Styles
Principles of Ecclesial Life

Ecclesias are for Growth

"And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ; that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love" (Eph. 4:11-16).

These verses are very impressive in underscoring the fact that ecelesial life is mandatory to growth. Even when the spirit gifts were given, nobody had all the abilities needed for the growth God wanted. Every believer, even those having the greatest of gifts, was only partially equipped. They all required what others had to offer and the community as a whole needed what they as an individual could provide. God deliberately arranged His gifts so that the necessity of ecclesial association would stand out for all to see.

The objective of growth through ecclesial association is made clear in the emphasized phrases in the above quotation.

v.12 "perfecting" -- Greek is katartismos, "a restoring, restoration: a making perfect, educating" (Liddell-Scott Greek Lexicon). The basic idea is to improve the quality of something; here the word has particular reference to improving ecclesial understanding of the word of God.

vs.12, 16 "edifying" -- Greek is oikodoniee, "the act of building: a building, edifice. 2. metaphorically edification, improvement, instruction" (L-S). As a building grows from the initial foundation to its full size, so the body of Christ is to grow in size and in quality.

v. 13 "unto a perfect man" -- Greek for "perfect" is teleios, "complete, perfect, entire ... of animals, full-grown; a full-grown man..." (L-S). The figure of a child growing into a man is prominent in vs. 14 and 15; we are "to be no more children" but are to "grow up" into mature disciples in Christ. Note how the figure of speech is based on the human growth process of many individual body parts maturing, sometimes at different rates, but eventually resulting in a single mature person.

Growth In knowledge

In these verses, one phrase after another underscores the need for growth in knowledge.

V. 13 "...the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God..."

v.14 "...carried about with every wind of doctrine... "

v. 15 "speaking the truth...

Everybody was dependent upon others for growth in knowledge. Most needed to learn from those who were particularly blessed in this regard -- those who were apostles, prophets, teachers. If those with such gifts absented themselves from the ecclesia, others would not be able to grow in knowledge as God intended. Even those who were prophets needed to learn from those who were teachers, and teachers from those who were prophets. God so designed the situation that ecclesial association was a requisite to growth for each believer.

Today we are blessed with the completed New Testament and we may feel the principles that were true for ecclesial life in the first century are not true today. But the sweeping language of Ephesians 4 surely persuades us God's principles have not changed.

We may think we can not learn anything from somebody else or we may think we can learn everything necessary from one person. Such is not the case. The interchange of exposition and discussion of various points that is an integral part of ecclesial life contributes to the growth in knowledge of even those who know the most about scripture. The responses and questions of some babes in Christ often help clarify points for everybody.

We need to be wise in this regard. A hasty stifling of a question that may be new to us can shut off an area of consideration that would eventually add to the growth of our own knowledge and that of the ecclesia.

We may wish that all wisdom could be garnered from one teacher. We may find it disturbing to associate with those who approach things differently from ourselves. But one of the reasons for ecclesial life is growth in knowledge and this comes about by the various parts of the body contributing as they are able.

Growth In numbers

Part of the "work of the ministry" and the 'Fulness of Christ" (vs. 12, 13) relates to the quantity of people who are converted to the Truth. While quality is more important than quantity, it remains true that "blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in" (Rom. 11:25).

Rarely has someone learned the Truth without several ecelesial members contributing to their instruction and conversion. Once baptized, the ecclesia supplies the new member (or should do) with continued instruction, family-type fellowship, social activities and sometimes financial assistance.

Without such support, many who turn to the Truth would not be able to hold fast to the end. We are social creatures and we need the fellowship of like-minded believers. In many cases, the Truth separates people from their natural families. The ecclesia must step in and fill this gap. The fact of an ecclesial community thus contributes to the growth in numbers of those who are in Christ.

Growth in character

We are to speak the truth in love; the body is to increase unto the edifying of itself in love.

There is to be more than growth in knowledge and in numbers within ecclesial life. Our characters must increase and develop and our personality traits often must be modified.

The ecclesia, with all its component parts, is supplied that we, individually and collectively, might come "unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (vs. 11- 13). Love and persistence, forgiveness, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, wisdom, judgment, holiness, justice, integrity are all to improve for we are to "grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ" (v. 15).

This is a vital area of growth, for the saints of all ages are to be joint rulers of the world with Christ.

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