“But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” Ephesians 4:7, 11-13
The gifts are for the community. “the building up of the body” Have you ever played Jenga? It is a game where you have a stack of wooden blocks built into a tall tower. Each level contains 3 blocks, and are set 90 degrees to the one below and above. The object of the game is to take turns removing the blocks one by one without knocking the tower over. When you play the game you come to learn a little bit about engineering and weight distribution – all needed to win the game. The funny thing about Jenga, though, is that too often the church looks like it. Instead of the body being built up, we too often find ways to take it down, to push out one block, one person, one gift at a time.
I don’t want to dwell on where we go wrong as a church – and I only mention this because it seems to be too common in the church in North America today. Perhaps you have been part of a Jenga Church, but that is not us. We are here to build up one another, to stack the blocks together to build the tower, the house. We are a Lego church, a church that builds, that allows people the creative space to be who they are, and yet each piece fits together. When you work with Lego, you know every piece fits with every other piece. There are no pieces that don’t belong, and that if you want, you can build a magnificent city, or a crazy haphazard city – it is all good. In fact, the Greek word translated here as “building up” literally means “to build a house”. It is a construction term. The church, the community here, fits together like a house. It keeps out the storms, we are safe within its walls. Jesus is the cornerstone, and we all have a part to play.
What this passage says, though, is that it is the spiritual gifts given to us that is the means to building this house. Paul lists several purposes of the spiritual gifts. I am approaching this passage today by looking at the Greek words Paul uses to describe how the gifts help build this spiritual house.
The first phrase we come to is “unity of the faith“. The Greek word means “one”. We talked about unity last week, but let me say this: the primary aspect of unity is mission. The disciples came to Jesus one day complaining about other people doing things in His name, and Jesus said leave them alone, because you don’t want to find yourself pushing against what God is doing. Just because someone is doing something different does not mean they are doing it wrong – they are just doing it different. The mission we have as a church is not about the church, it is about the kingdom of God. It is around this mission that we can partner together with others who love Jesus. If we get our eyes off Jesus and onto the church, we will get derailed quite quickly in the area of unity.
The second phrase we come to is “knowledge of the Son of God“. There are a couple Greek words for knowledge. The first and most common is “gnosis”. It has to do with “a seeking to know”. Often it is connected to spiritual truth, as in Paul wanted to know Jesus, and the power of His resurrection…” The word we have here in Ephesians, though, has a more special recognition of the object than gnosko, a special participation in the object known. It is a derivative of the first, a strengthened form – “epignosis”. This word is not found in the Gospels or Acts. Listen to 1 Corinthians 13:12: “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” Both Greek words are used here. The first one is “gnosis”. When I was a child I had a basic knowledge. But as the child grew and lived and participated in life, he became an adult. The adult shall know fully, the second Greek word, “epignosis”. We participate in our journey – it is something God has invited us into, and leads us to.
Spiritual gifts, and the exercising of them, are going to lead us to a more complete understanding of God, of Jesus. Imagine trying to talk to a firefighter about his or her experiences. You can get a certain amount of knowledge from the dialogue, but it isn’t until you don the boots and coat and helmet and walk in them for awhile that you really understand what they were trying to say to you. If you feel far from God, you don’t understand what He is about, perhaps it is because you have only accessed head knowledge. Discovering and utilizing the gifts God has given you connects you more fully to the reason for your creation. It gives you a participating perspective that is often missing from people who claim membership in the Kingdom of God.
The next phrase talks about maturity. The phrase in some translations is a “man full-grown“. The word used here is “telos”, and refers to the final form. You can watch fascinating documentaries on how stuff is made. At the one end is the receiving doors, and in comes all the raw materials. To look at all that stuff provides no clue as to what the final form will be. But as things are shaped and glued, cut and welded, the item takes shape, and as it goes out the shipping doors there is finally an understanding of its purpose because you see the final form.
For you and I, as human beings, the final form is referred to as maturity. It involves a number of things relating to living and participating in community, to acknowledging and contributing to something beyond ourselves as individuals. In this passage we come to understand that this maturity we are journeying towards is accomplished, in part, by the exercising of the spiritual gifts in our life. Our final form – that for which we were created for – can only be realized as we find our place in this community, in the body of Christ. This is not to say that there are times in life when we need to be still. Life is often rough, and we can get hurt. There are seasons of retreat and healing, as well as seasons of progression and ministry. In those seasons we need to strive towards being what Christ has already created us to be, to move towards that final form, that “telos”.
The verse ends with the phrase, “the full stature of Christ”. The word used for stature is “aion”, and is the same root for the word eternal. Isn’t it interesting that Paul ends this passage with connecting us to the eternal purposes of God. We weren’t created just for this life – there are deep wells in us that reach into eternity, and God wants to move us towards these things. Did you ever consider how important, how far-reaching spiritual gifts are? Not only do they connect us to and benefit the body, but they connect us to the eternal purposes of God. They help produce the character of God in us.
The church is to be the place where the gifts and graces of God are found. These gifts and graces are to build up the body, and to produce maturity in us. Let us look to one another to encouragement in the gifts we have in our midst.