34. A Growing Body

Ephesians Meditations No.34

Eph  4:16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.


In the previous meditation we started thinking about the concept of growth in the Christian life. Our verse today continues that concept but adds a crucial aspect to it. It may be helpful here to recap a little to see where Paul has come from. Back in chapter 3 he spoke how he wanted us to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,” (3:18) so that the outworking would, “to him be glory in the church.” (3:21). He then went on to exhort them to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (4:3), also explaining that Christ has given gifts of ministries, “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up,” (4:12), so that “we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” (4:15).

So it is now, that he starts, “From him…” (4:16). This has all been about the ‘body’ which is the church, of which Christ is the head. Now here is the crucial addition to all that he has said so far: growth of the church depends on the relationship with the head. This verse speaks about the church which “grows and builds itself up” i.e. there is addition to the body (grows) and that new, bigger body is then to be strengthened (builds). That is what is supposed to be happening to the church; it is supposed to be getting bigger and bigger and stronger and stronger.

If you are of the mind that only looks for a diminishing church in the last days, remember Jesus parable about the mustard seed: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree.” (Mt 31,32). No, the call is to expect Jesus’ rule in and through his church to grow. But note in all this that there is a responsibility on the church to build itself up! Now that ‘building’ or strengthening will come about as the individual members relate properly to Christ and to each other. When Paul was counseling the Corinthian church he said, “Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.” (1 Cor 14:12). To the Thessalonians he said, “encourage one another and build each other up.” (1 Thess 5:11). Building or strengthening comes through encouragement. Can we ask ourselves do we encourage others in our part of the local church? Do we actively seek to build up the local church by building up individuals? Are people, blessed, encouraged and built up after they have encountered us?

So there are two concepts here: growth (numerically) and strengthening, and both of them come about when we are rightly related to the head and to the other members of the body. Remember, Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit.” (Jn 15:5) I quite like the older versions that speak of ‘abiding’ in Christ rather than just ‘remaining’ in him. It speaks of living with, sharing with, being in harmony with, him. If Christ is merely a figure from the past, we will not have this sort of living relationship with him, but it is this sort of relationship that brings this flow of life that produces change and fruit in us.

But let’s now think about rightly relating to one another. Paul’s analogy is not easy: the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament.” Now whatever else that means it speaks of each member being linked to, joined to all other members. What are the ‘supporting ligaments’? I’m not sure I know. Perhaps it refers to the mutual faith in Christ that we have, the beliefs from the Scriptures that we live by, and certainly the love of Christ that flows between us. These things, surely, bind us together.

But there’s a sting in the tail of this verse today: “as each part does its work.” Wow! Now don’t try and escape from this.  Remember what Paul said, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Cor 12:27). YOU are a part of the body of Christ that is the church if you are a Christian, and the body will grow and be built up if YOU do YOUR part!  So, here’s the crucial question: are you doing your part? It’s no good complaining about the state of the church if you are not doing your part with the gifts and abilities and love that God gives you. Passivity is not an option! Is it any wonder that some churches are in a poor state when the members see ‘the minister’ as the one who is to do all the stuff and they can just sit there in the pews and absorb! No, a thousand times, no! That is not the church that Jesus desires!

I realise we haven’t focused on one word in our verse today – love.the whole body….. grows and builds itself up in love.” It is love that builds the church. If you have anything against a brother or sister in your church may I remind you that “love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Pet 4:8). There is no room for division, dissension, criticism, gossip or anything that pulls down the others in the church. Jesus command was that we Love each other as I have loved you.(Jn 15:12).

These verses that we have been covering recently speak very strongly to the modern church which is so often so very far from the Biblical model – get it together, obey what God has said, start being what Jesus wants. If you nothing else do what these verses in these two chapters have been saying.