Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 05/09/1999
The pastor/teachers equip the saints "until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ."
We have learned so far that the Gifts and Offices of the Church are for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the Body of Christ (3:12). In the following verses, we learn what such a built-up or edified Body would look like, described positively in v. 13 in terms of unity, knowledge, maturity, and stature, and negatively in v. 14--no longer children, no longer carried about by every wind of doctrine. Today, then, we need to ask, "How far does our ministry have us on the road to v. 13?" How well, in other words, is it helping us to "attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ"?
The phrase "unity of the faith" of course reminds us of v. 4-6, where we have already established that there is one Body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all. All these ones flow from our faith in one God; they are entailed by monotheism. To have a pluralist Church with multiple faiths would be an admission that we are really polytheists after all. For if there is only one God, then there is only one source of revelation, doctrine, and knowledge about Him, his Word. If there is only one God then there is only one Gospel by which we may be reconciled to Him, the Gospel of Eph. 2:8-10 and John 3:16. We are saved by grace through faith because that one very particular God loved the world enough to give his only begotten Son for it. If there is one God, then there is and can be only one authoritative source of revelation, one Gospel, and one Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
The unity of our faith then is an expression as our identity as the worshippers of this one God. Because He alone is God and Christ is his Son, we are therefore Christ-centered, Bible-centered, and Grace-centered people. Therefore the one Faith could be defined as the Nicene Creed supplemented by the Reformation sola's: sola scriptura, sola gratia, sola fide, solus Christus, soli Deo gloria--Scripture alone, Grace alone, Faith alone, Christ alone, and glory to God alone. All these "alones" are just another form of the word "one," and if we have this one very particular God from whom they all flow, then we must believe this one faith.
To ask then if we are attaining to the unity of the faith is to ask whether we as a Body are unified around this one faith. It is not a matter of total doctrinal agreement on every issue but of unity on the essentials that flow from having one God and therefore one Bible, one Gospel, and one Lord. And it is not just whether we agree on those essentials, but whether they are the things we make central in our lives. Do we find our identity as a people in the form of baptism we administer, the form of church government we follow, or do we find it in Christ and the Gospel? To say we are attaining unity in this faith means that the importance of these things is what is pulling us together as one in a common cause.
The word translated "knowledge" here is EPIGNOSIS, the regular Greek word for knowledge (GNOSIS) with an intensifying prefix. It connotes not just possessing information about something but rather an acquaintance, even a familiarity, based on personal experience. Therefore, the unity we are to be attaining is not just agreement on the same set of doctrines, even on the same set of essential doctrines. It is rather a personal relationship with the Christ described by those doctrines, experienced as more than just an Evangelical cliche. This indeed is the very definition of eternal life given by our Lord himself: "to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent" (Jn. 17:3).
What then are the signs of a truly built-up Body? It is a unity of doctrine not taught and argued for its own sake but for the sake of faithfulness to Christ. It is Christ as the central focus of that doctrine, presented as a living Person. It would be testimonies that go beyond mere answers to prayer to how those answers manifest Christ to us. It is nothing less than Christ present among his people, manifesting Himself in their in praise, confession, petition, and commitment as a living Person, the Lord of Glory.
The word translated "mature" is the Greek TELOS, which means perfect in the sense of fully developed or complete--hence, mature. It is a goal-oriented word, as seen in its English derivative "teleological" and in the fact that it can also be translated "end" or "goal." A Greek man who was properly described as TELOS would not necessarily be flawless, but he would be grown up, one who has attained the "ends" of the maturation process: walking, talking, potty-trained, able to accept responsibility, hold down a job, and balance his checkbook. A built-up Body then would be one in which people were attaining to the spiritual equivalents of these competencies.
What then would be the marks of such maturity in a built-up Body? People would be at all different levels of spiritual maturity, just as members of any family would be different ages, but they would all be advancing. They would not be satisfied with the Milk of the Word but would have a craving for solid food and be able to digest it. They would not, like children, be satisfied with a spiritual life that consisted entirely of playing or being entertained. They would want to put their doctrine into practice, take responsibility for their knowledge, stick their necks out on it, and pull their own load in the work of the Church. Unlike youths whose zeal is typically untempered by common sense or compassion, they would be learning the wisdom and humility that comes from experience--but they would be tempering that zeal, not losing it. In other words, they would not regard themselves as having laid hold of it, but this one thing they would do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, they would press on toward the goal of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:123-14).
How far down this road do we go? How much of this unity, knowledge, and maturity should satisfy us? When can we say we have arrived? When we are like Jesus. One of the chief signs of immaturity is the feeling that we have arrived. How many 14-year olds really believe they need to wait another two years to get their driver's license? In the same manner, students who are impatient with the discipline required in college or seminary, who feel they just need to be out there in ministry, manifest the same kind of immaturity. Therefore, the attitude of Phil. 3:13 is an essential mark of the built-up Body. The more mature we are, the less prone we are to think we have arrived, and the more we sense our need to "press on."
So then, what does a built-up Body that is pressing on to the fullness of the stature of Christ look like? It looks like Eph. 3:17-19, and it looks like it more and more. It is rooted and grounded in love. The rest of the book is really the working out of what this means, to walk in the way of love. We are to know the love of Christ in all its dimensions as we saw them back in chapter 3: broad enough to reach the unlovely, long enough to last forever, high enough to set the heart on things above, deep enough to lay down its life for the brethren. All this always increasing, never stagnant, until we reach the stature of the fullness of Christ. And it is possible because He is in us through his Holy Spirit.
I end then with the question I began with: How far are we on the road to having attained "to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ"? Not far enough? That goes without saying. Farther than we were a year ago? If so, then we are on the road. If not, why not? Let us recommit ourselves to the New Testament concept of ministry until growth these things is the most obvious and inescapable characteristic of Trinity Fellowship. We owe our Lord no less.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams