Paul describes five leadership roles, and the purpose for which God placed them in the church. This is probably an ad hoc list and not supposed to be entirely exhaustive; at the very least we could name a few other leadership roles that we find in the New Testament. In any event, Paul’s focus is on how Christ has gifted the church with leaders in order for the church to grow! Wuest notes that in the Greek text there is an intensification, he himself gave (Wuest, K. S. (1997). Wuest’s word studies from the Greek New Testament: For the English reader. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans). The foundation of this passage is the deliberate endowment of the church with leadership, by Christ himself, in order to precipitate the results he wants. The goal is maturity, stability, unity and mutuality, with Christ as the head. There is a christocentricity to this passage that should not be ignored. The success of the church requires the church to function as Christ intended under his authoritative leadership, with leaders under him whose purpose is to equip the church to act in service and to mature as saints and as a corporate body.

Paul gives several things as the goals for the progressing, forward moving church, which he subsumes under two heads. The role of leadership in the church is to equip the saints to serve God (and one another) and to build up the body. He will explain what he means by build up the body in the next few verses, which take up the theme of the growth, maturity and well being of the church. It is important to however, to acknowledge what he means by works of service. This seemingly throw away phrase is important, because in other places in the New Testament service is a central theme or made an important pillar in the Christian life. Works implies something concrete, in terms of action. Works implies something that is in contrast to idleness and inactivity (Theological dictionary of the New Testament. 1964- (G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley & G. Friedrich, Ed.) (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans). Such action can range from what is normally associated with life and making a living to the sublime heights of altruistic and exemplary deeds, even heroic ones. To connect works with service, διακονίας is to specify what finds of works Paul had in mind flowing in and out of the church, as a result of the equipping of its leadership; these are works of service. διακονία occurs 34 times in the New Testament, and the overwhelming sense is that at the heart of the word is practical service rendered. So to say works of service, Paul is saying that the church is to be equipped to act in ways that render practical benefit to others. It is part of the church mission to be helpful to others in terms of practical action. It is part of the purpose of the church!

Our focus right now, however, is the other of Paul’s stated purposes for equipping the saints, to build up the body of Christ (Eph. 4:12). To equip means has at its heart the idea of correcting what is deficient and giving instruction (guidance, teaching) (Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.). Katartismos probably means development (Patzia, A. G. (2011). Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon. Understanding the Bible Commentary Series. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books). So the purpose of leadership is to aid in and support the very process that Paul is describing as the goal of the church progress, producing a mature church and mature saints, who are fully equipped to serve God in terms of the practical outflow of their lives (Eph. 4:12a).

This idea of equipping the saints receives some further explanation and attention through verse 16. In this respect, the goal that Paul has in mind is maturity, a fully developed church, and believers (Eph. 4:13). To speak of the maturity of the church is not to speak of the full development, or expansion of an organization or corporation to its full potential, but to speak of the spiritual maturity of the saints that make up the church. What Paul has in mind is the personal organic maturity of the saints as individuals, in their relationship to one another forming the church as the body of Christ, the lives and personal attributes of the saints in terms of character before God and in relationship to one another. This idea involves notions of righteousness and sanctification (a moral component), but it also has to do with knowledge, faith, grace, character and action (cf. Eph. 4:13; 2 Pet. 3:18). So in the following verses Paul qualifies and describes what he has in mind by maturity and build up!

Maturity has implications on the personal and collective level in the church. The spiritual development the individual contributes to the welfare of the church as a body, and thus supports and enhances the spiritual development of the others saints (Eph. 4:16). When saints mature in their personal spiritual lives as a result of being equipped by leaders, it creates an environment that is favorable and supports the spiritual development of other saints around them, which in turn contributes, through that very growth, to their own spiritual advancement. So maturity in the church is a cyclical process in which everyone benefits from the full engagement of others in the church, while also contributing to that growth at the same time.

There are certain concrete results in terms of benefits accrued to the church and saints that come from this process of every increasing maturity. The first is a unity of faith and knowledge (Eph. 4:13). Faith and knowledge are two sides of the same coin of confidence in God. To know God in an increasing measure is to become more confident in him and to trust him more and more. There is no doubt that we have to conduct our lives with a certain amount of faith that is pure trust in God. But that trust is supported by our knowledge of God, first premised on the gospel message, but which grows as we learn more from the Word. A greater knowledge of God leads to a deeper level of trust. Trust produces a desire for greater knowledge. In the context of the church and our relationships with other saints an increasing and developing trust and knowledge of God is made possible, through fellowship and intimacy. The final goal of course it fully measure up to the stature of Christ ultimately as a church and as individual saints, so that we more perfectly represent and reflect him! But right now it is enough to know that this is the process we are engage in.

The advantage of maturity is stability. The mature and maturing are not tossed about by the seas and waves of doubts and false teachings, philosophies and godless sciences of this world (Eph. 4:14). There is so much in modern society that opposes God, not least on the level of his supposed improbability when measured by the standards of our modern criteria, based on materialism as the absolute. Such assaults are a danger to spiritual infants, but Paul says they are not as dangerous to the mature and maturing in Christ. The subversion of the saints by the philosophies of this world, Paul does not portray as honest speculation, or the result of honest ignorance, but the deceitful scheming of those who seek to lead people away from God. In order for the saints to recognize error, they must be mature or be engaged in the process of maturing.

On the more positive side, while others are deceiving people , the mature and maturing saints of God will be speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). What is true of those who don’t know Christ or oppose him, involving deception, becomes the back drop against which the actions of the saints are seen, because they are opposed and opposite. Speaking the truth is uncharacteristic for this world. Speaking the truth with compassion is even more antithetical to the way the world operates. Paul has in mind more than speaking compassionately to one another here. He is also thinking of speaking the truth in love to unbelievers, in terms of sharing the good news about Christ.

Speaking the truth in love has the effect of undergirding, even feeding and fertilizing the growth of the saints! Paul seems to imply that speaking the truth, while a derivative of maturity, also enhances and supports the process of maturing to the end it produces fully mature saints, who recognize the headship of Christ (Eph. 5:17). Recognizing Christ as head of the church is both an result of submission leads to speaking the truth in the right way or spirit (love), and that obeys his leading rather than human impulse that has a tendency to act out of character with Christ. It is a surrender of one’s character to act and be like Christ himself out of submissive obedience. Speaking the truth with love may just be the hallmark of Christian surrender to the Lordship of Christ, as head of his church.

Such a surrender, to a principle like speaking the truth in love, paves the way to full spiritual maturity in every respect of the Christian life (Eph. 4:15b). To sum it up Paul explains that the church matures and the saints themselves mature, when everyone does their part. He pictures the church like a body of interconnected parts. Each part, connected to other parts, not necessarily directly connected to the head, supplies what is needed for the health and development of other parts of the body (Eph. 4:16). The result is the body grows, or matures. The power flows from the interconnectedness of maturing saints or love and fellowship with one another, and who engage in genuine acts of practical service to one another.

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