Copyright © 2005 Jeremy Myers
My brother was working on an addition for the largest church in town. I remember stopping into his office about a year ago, when the planning process was in it's final stages, and he was working on putting together a miniature chipboard model of what the church would look like with the expansion. He was almost done with the model at the time, and I remember looking at it in awe. He had cut out all the windows. He had made topographical contour lines, and little trees. When I expressed my amazement at the details, he told me that while he didn't include them on this model, sometimes he adds have little cars and people. And of course, all of it is a miniaturized replica of what the real building will look like. Upon seeing the incredible detail, I asked him how much time such a model takes. He told me that while the length of time it takes depends on the complexity of the model. This particular model for the church took a couple hundred hours and cost several thousand dollars.
A couple hundred hours and several thousand dollars? I wanted to gag. What they spent on a model could have supported our church for several months! It seemed like a terrible waste of the architect's time and building fund money. But I knew nothing of such things, and asked my brother why they spent money on these models. The reason, he told me, was that models show the people what the building will look like and how big it is. But most importantly, models of this sort help generate interest in the building project. Models help with fundraising and vision casting. People like to see what the end result will be before they get on board. Statistics show that money spent on the model generates more money for the actual project.
It occurred to me that this is what God does too. God, as the Architect, in His endeavors to expand the church, created a model for us. This model shows what the church will look like, and helps generate interest in the building project. As we continue to look at God's Blueprints for Church Growth, we see in Ephesians 4:13, The Model for the Church.
Verse 13 contains three aspects, or three dimensions to the Model God wants His church to become. All architectural models are made in three dimensions, width, depth and height. God's model also has three dimensions. The width of God's model is the unity among Christians. The depth of God's Model is the maturity we develop. The height of the Model is our growth into Christ-likeness.
The first dimension is unity. Verse 13 continues from verses 11-12, which inform us that the Foremen equip the Crew to serve in the church until we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God. This makes sense considering the context and structure of the book of Ephesians. Ephesians 4, 5 and 6 are the practical part of the letter, and Paul begins chapter four by instructing us to walk in unity. The first 16 verses are all about how to walk in unity. He told us in 4:3 to endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit, and now, in verse 13, he tells us that the first dimension of the Model church is unity.
In other words, unity is what should characterize the church. Yet too often, strife and division and personal differences of opinion are what churches are known for. For example, it is a sad fact that the majority of pastors who take their churches through large building projects – such as an expansion or relocation – don't stay long at the church after the project is completed. The reason is because there is so much strife and disagreement in a building project that by the time it is done, he is burned out. There are disagreements about who gets to make decisions. Disagreements about the color of the carpet – or if there should even be carpet. Disagreements about what to do with the old building. Disagreements about decorations. With all of this disagreement, pastors sometimes wish God had decided to give specific instructions regarding the church building as he gave specific instruction about the temple.
But in contrast to this, unity is when everybody works together. When everybody does what he or she is best able to do in order to serve others. Unity comes from a common goal, a common purpose, a common vision and a common direction. Where there is no such unity, churches split, fall apart and die.
This is the same with any building though, right? In a building, everything has to be put together with a unified purpose. Several years ago, I (Jeremy) was the summer caretaker up at a summer Bible camp. I was told that since the camp needed a storage rack for the life-jackets and canoe paddles, one of my jobs was to build one. They never bothered to ask if I know much about construction, and so I didn't tell them that I had never built anything. In hindsight, I should have told them.
The building I constructed was anything but unified. It could hardly be called a building. It was more like an open sided shed. It was about eight feet square and seven feet high. It had no foundation except a tree root and two cinder blocks. Yet even this was overkill, since all it had to do was store about twenty lifejackets and ten paddles.
Since I knew nothing about construction, I was unaware that the 2x4 framing studs needed to be spaced to match the 48 inch ply wood. I just decided to evenly space the studs every twenty inches. I also didn't know anything about corner framing, and so left all of the corners without any support. Of course, when I went to attach the ply wood, the seams between two pieces of ply wood had no support, and all the edge pieces were hanging unsupported. To make matters worse, when I put the metal roofing on, I hadn't planned for that either, because the roof was too short for the metal roofing sheets. So I got out the tin snips and cut them down to size.
By the time I was done, it was a pretty ugly and rickety building. Several of the buildings up there are in such condition – but this one was brand new! I remember we had a master carpenter up there at the same time, and he was constructing a snack shop and nurses station. I, in my ignorance, was proud of my new little pile of scrap lumber, so I called him over to assess at my work.
Looking back, I think he was very kind. He looked at my newly built shack, and said, "Hmmm…well…it'll work. All we need it to do is store the life-jackets and paddles."
Now that was seven years ago. If you were to visit the Bible camp this year and ask to see the shack I built, I can show you where it used to be, but I can't show you the shack. Why not? It fell down a few years ago during the winter.
The reason it fell is because it was not a unified building. I did not build it with all the pieces and purposes in mind. I didn't put the 2x4's together with the plywood in mind, and didn't make the dimensions of the shack with the metal roofing in mind, and the whole building was way out of control for the purpose it was intended for. It was not a unified building. And so now it is gone just a few short years later. Similarly, churches that want to last need to be unified according to the model God lays out here for us.
We should not, however, that unity does not mean mindless agreement in every little detail. The wonderful thing about the church is that we can be diverse, and yet still serve God in unity. We don't all have to agree on everything that goes on and is decided and it done in the church.
But there are a few essentials that all should be in agreement on. Paul lists two of them here. He says he wants us all to come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.
The first item a unified church needs to be in agreement on is the faith. The noun faith is used primarily in two ways throughout the New Testament. The first way is the way we most often think of it. We think of faith as a belief, trust, reliance in or persuasion about the truth. Faith in Jesus Christ for eternal life is synonymous with believing in Him. Without a doubt, that is the most prominent way the word is used in the New Testament.
But there are several places in Scripture where the word faith is preceded by the article – as Paul uses it here. In English, this is most often revealed by the translation "the faith." In these cases, "the faith" does not refer to the initial act of saving faith in Jesus Christ for justification. Rather, "the faith" refers instead to the essentials of Christian beliefs and practices (cf. Acts 6:7; 13:8; 14:22; 16:5; 1 Cor. 16:33; 2 Cor. 13:5; Gal. 1:23; 6:10; Php. 1:25; Col. 1:23; 1 Tim. 1:2; 4:1; 5:8; 6:10, 21).
Such a usage should not surprise us, for this is exactly how we refer to other religions. We talk about We refer to THE Mormon Faith, THE Jewish Faith, THE Islamic Faith...and THE Christian Faith. In all of these cases, we are referring to the whole system of beliefs and practices which differentiate one system from another. Wwhen the Bible speaks of "the faith" it is speaking of the doctrines and practices which separate us from the others. "Faith" refers to initial saving faith. "The Faith" refers to the set of beliefs and practices.
This difference is seen when a person is asked about when they became Christian, and how long they have been a Christian. In the first case, the question could be phrased, "When did you first place faith in Jesus Christ?" In the second case, the question is sometimes phrased, "How long have you been in the faith?"
So when Paul says, "God wants us to come to unity of the faith," he is saying, try to agree on the basics and the nonnegotiable of the Christian life and practices. Ironically, there is much disagreement about what constitutes "the faith." If you ask a hundred pastors what the core essentials of Christianity are, you will get 100 different answers.
But probably, if we could all sit down and talk things over, we could come up with a few basic fundamentals of the faith. At the very top of the list would be the one main thing that separates us from all other religions and cults. The first and foremost essential of Christian doctrine should be that justification is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone (Eph. 2:8-9). All other religions and cults incorporate some sort of works into their belief system.
If any person says that faith alone in Christ alone is not enough, that something more is needed, such as obeying the 10 commandments, performing the five pillars of the faith, going on a two year missions trip, going to confession, getting baptized, they are teaching a false gospel (Gal. 1:8-9). Faith alone in Christ alone is what sets Christianity above all the rest and as unique. Christianity is the only faith in the world which says you cannot work your way to heaven. All you have to do is believe in Jesus for eternal life. That is key to the Christian faith. God's church must be unified on this.
Beyond this nonnegotiable, there are other things which all Christians should agree on. From a historical standpoint, we could probably do no better than to simply point to Apostle's Creed or Nicene Creed, which uphold God as the creator of the universe, the Godhead as existing eternally in three persons, the dual nature of Christ, the virgin birth, the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, the reign and return of Christ, and the person and work of the Holy Spirit. In addition, we might want to add the inerrancy and authority of Scripture and the final destination of heaven for believers and hell for unbelievers.
There may be others that we should all agree on if we are going to become unified, but those are just a few examples of the essential beliefs of the faith which Paul mentions here in verse 13.
But as was mentioned, the faith includes more than just doctrine, more then just beliefs. It also has in mind how Christians behave and act toward one another. If church members are going to get along, they need to agree on a few basic ideas on how to live and act in this world and with one another.
Above the basic and universal admonitions toward obedience and upright living, some churches and denominations have dress codes and rules about drinking, smoking, movies, music, dancing and cards. Most of these issues are modern parallels to the issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols which Paul talks about in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 10. On such issues, we would be wise to remember Paul's final admonition in Romans 14:5-14 that we are not to judge each other in these matters. God has given some people freedom to do things which others do not have. Personal morality should be governed with the whole community of Christians in mind, and the fact that each one will stand before the judgement seat of Christ to give an account of himself to God (2 Cor. 5:10). Operating in this way will greatly increase the unity we have with one another.
Finally, aside from these moral admonitions, there are some basic Christian disciplines which every Christian should be involved in, and which will help us maintain unity. For example, praying, Bible study, faithful church attendance, tithing, and getting involved in ministry are all things that each Christian should endeavor to practice. These are all part of the faith and will help us grow in unity with one another. The Faith is made up of what we believe and what we do. And if we are going to live in unity with one another, we need to be in agreement on these aspects of the faith.
This is why Paul, in 1 Timothy 4:16, tells the young pastor Timothy to watch his life and doctrine closely, because if he does, he will save both himself and his congregation. This doesn't mean primarily that he will save them from eternal punishment in hell, but rather, by watching how he lives and what he teaches, he will save them from getting angry with each other, from believing error, and from ultimately, losing their unity. The width of our unity is first of all based on our unity in the faith. But unity is also developed as we grow in the knowledge of Christ.
Knowledge of Christ
For growth in unity, there is nothing better than gaining a deeper knowledge of the Son of God. But we must understand that the knowledge in view here is not just a superficial knowledge of Chris. The normal word for knowledge is gnosis, but here, Paul uses the word is epignosis. It means knowledge upon knowledge. It is used throughout Scripture as a full, complete and detailed knowledge. It is to know something exactly, completely, through and through. It is a certain and sure knowledge.
It is this kind of knowledge we are to have of Christ. Sadly, too many Christians today are content with a basic sketchy knowledge of the life of Christ. They know some of the basics and some of the highlights. But Paul says here, "That's not good enough. If you want to be unified with one another, you all need to come to a complete and thorough knowledge of the Son of God."
This is a daunting task he calls us to! Think of it - gaining a complete knowledge of someone who is infinite. It cannot be done…but we must try if we're going to become unified. And there is only one way to gain such knowledge – through careful and systematic Bible study. It doesn't really matter what book of the Bible is studied…the whole Bible is about Christ. However, the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, are probably the most detailed and specific about the life of Christ, so that might be a good place to start. The Pastor who wants his church to grow in unity is well advised to teach them as much as he can about Christ.
Such knowledge is essential, because, as we will see under the third dimension of the model, the church is to become like Christ. We cannot do this if we do not know Christ. But this is the first dimension: unity in the faith, and in the knowledge of the Son of God.
The second dimension of this model that we are trying to attain is Maturity. This is found in the next part of the verse 13 where it says to a perfect man. The Foremen of verse 11 train the Crew in verse 12. As the Crew are obedient, and use their God given gifts for ministry, each one becomes on their own, and as part of the church, a perfect man.
Despite what some teach, this does not mean that any one of us will become perfect or sinless this side of heaven. Perfection is what God has called us to (cf. Matt. 5:48), but because we still reside in our sinful flesh, we will not become completely perfect until we are glorified in heaven and receive a new body.
This does not mean we should not try, however. Rather, perfection should be our constant goal when rightly understood. The word used here for perfect should probably be translated "complete" or "mature." With this understanding, Paul is calling us to become mature Christians. That this is what Paul means is seen by verse 14 where he says "that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting,"
An immature Christian, a baby Christian, is someone who is not Biblically and doctrinally grounded. They are not able to tell the difference between good theology and false theology, or good teaching and bad teaching. Baby Christians think that as long as Scripture is quoted – it must be okay. Baby Christians think that as long as the pastor or the teacher has some Bible school training, some letters after or before their name, or some pastoral experience, what they are saying must be okay. Baby Christians think that as long as a teacher or a pastor has a few books published or is broadcast on the radio or television they must be okay. Baby Christians are easily swayed by fine sounding arguments. Baby Christians want their ears tickled. Baby Christian do not search the Scriptures daily to see if what they are being taught is true.
The good news is that a Baby Christian can grow up. A spiritual baby can mature just like a physical baby. Human babies who eat healthy, get enough rest, receive discipline, and some other things will grow up to be physically, emotionally and socially mature person. They also need to learn how to interact with other people and learn to handle increasing levels of responsibility.
To become a healthy, fully grown Christian, you do the same things. New, or immature Christians need to feed daily on the Word of God, take a Sabbath rest sometime during the week, and discipline their mind to pray and their wallets to give. A maturing Christian needs to attend church so that through fellowship with other Christians, and they need to learn to serve by taking some small responsibility in church and slowly adding to it.
God has given us everything we need for life and Godliness (2 Pet. 1:3). We just have to use what He has given us. Then we will mature and grow. Then we will become, as verse 13 says, a perfect man. This is the second dimension of this Model being laid out for us. God wants his church to grow into Christian Maturity.
The third and final dimension, found at the end of verse 13 is Christ-likeness. Paul says that we are to grow into the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. Previously, in verse 13, he told us to gain as much knowledge about Christ as we possibly could, now he tells us to become as much like Christ as we possibly can. One follows the other. Before you can be like Christ, you need to know what Christ was like. Only when we know of Him can we become like Him. "We get no deeper into Christ than we allow Him to get into us." We do this according to His measure, stature and fullness. Let's look at these one at a time.
The first way to become like Christ is in His measure. The word measure comes from the Greek metron, which is where we get our word metric. So Paul is saying, "Go to great lengths to become like Jesus Christ in every way. From the smallest little bit to the largest part." Become like Christ in His measure.
The word stature frequently refers to age, or number of years. But Christ only lived to be 33 years old, so Paul cannot be saying then that all we have to do is live to be 33 years old. If that were true, then most Christians today would be fine. But that is not what Paul is saying. Thankfully, the Bible translators understood correctly what Paul was saying and translated this word as stature, rather than age.
Stature refers to the reputation one gains for themselves as they grow older. In Luke 2:52, when Jesus is said to be growing in wisdom and in stature, we also see that he was beginning to gain a good reputation with men. This is the way it is with all great men and women. Nobody knows who the great men and women throughout history are when they are first born. Nobody knew who George Washington was or who Clara Barton was when they were first born But as they grew older and matured, and served courageously and self-sacrificially, they gained good reputations. They gained stature.
Sadly, Christianity today has bad stature. We have earned a bad reputation for ourselves. But we can work to reverse this stigma if we do the things Paul has already told us to do. If we live in unity with one another, and if we strive to become mature Christians, we will gain a good reputation again. We will, like Christ, grow in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men.
Finally, we are to become like Christ in His fullness. This just means to become like Him in every way. We cannot pick and choose which parts of Christ we want to imitate. We are to become like Him in His fullness. God wants every part of us to be like every part of Christ.
Christ-likeness then involves becoming like Him in His measure, stature and fullness. Although we've seen the three dimensions of the model church which God the architect is building – unity, maturity and Christ-likeness, when we really get down to what the model looks like, it is this last that is most prominent. The Church's model is Christ. If you want to know how you should life and think and act, all you have to do is look at Christ. If you want to know what the church should look like, and what the church should be doing, and how the church should act – all you have to do is look at Christ.
Back in Ephesians 1:22-23, Paul told us that "[God] put all things under [Christ's] feet, and gave [Christ] to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all." There's that word fullness again. The church is the fullness of Christ. The church is Christ to the world. If people in the world want to see and know Christ, they should be able to look at the church.
This is because Christ-likeness works both ways. Christ is our model. Everything we do, think and say as individuals and as a church should be patterned after what Christ did, what Christ thought, and what Christ said. And as we pattern ourselves after the model of Christ, we ourselves become a model of Christ for the world to see.
My brother, when he built that model the church expansion, said that it was for the purpose of helping people see what the end product would look like, and help people get excited about where they were going. God too, has laid out a model for us in Scripture. If we want to know what we're going to look like, if we want to get excited about our future, then we need to develop a complete and thorough knowledge of Christ, and the willingness to become like Christ.
Only when we all do this will we all come to a unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. Only then will we become like our Model.