A Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians 4:13-16. 4). Christian unity demands the maturity of our growth.
The apostle goes on to elaborate what he means by *building up the body of Christ*. It will evidently be a lengthy process, leading (in three pregnant phrases) to * the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, mature manhood*, and *the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ*. This is the goal to which the church will one day *attain*.
Because this verb *attain* means literally ‘to come to meet’ (*katantao*), and because the first and third phrases refer explicitly to the Lord Jesus (‘Son of God’ and ‘Christ’), Markus Barth interprets the second (‘mature manhood’) as referring to him too. He translates it ‘the Perfect Man’ and pictures the church as the bride of Christ going out in a joyful festival procession to meet her Bridegroom at his triumphal appearing. It is an attractive reconstruction, and certainly accords with the development of the bride and bridegroom imagery of 5:25-27. On the other hand, it seems somewhat forced, since what we are said to ‘attain’ or ‘meet’ is not simply ‘the Son of God’ but ‘the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God’, not simply ‘Christ’ but ‘the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’. In other words, the church’s goal is not Christ but its own maturity in unity which comes from knowing, trusting and growing up into Christ.
We pause to note that the church’s unity, although already in one sense given and inviolable, as we have seen, yet needs in another sense to be both ‘maintained’ (verse 3) and ‘attained’ (verse 13). Both verbs are surprising. If unity already exists as a gift, how can it be attained as a goal? Probably we need to reply that just as unity needs to be maintained *visibly*, so it needs to be attained *fully*. For there are degrees of unity, just as there are degrees of sanctity. And the unity to which we are to come one day is that full unity which a full faith in and knowledge of the Son of God will make possible. This expression effectively disposes of the argument that unity can grow without Christian faith or knowledge. On the contrary, it is precisely the more we know and trust the Son of God that we grow in the kind of unity with one another which he desires.
This full unity is also called *mature manhood*. Some interpret this individually of each Christian growing into maturity in Christ, which is certainly a New Testament concept. But the context seems to demand that we understand it corporately. The church is represented as a single organism, the body of Christ, and it to grow up into adult stature. Indeed, Paul has referred to it as the new humanity which God is creating, or as ‘one new man’ (2:15). To the oneness and the newness of this ‘man’ he now adds matureness. The *one new man* is to attain *mature manhood*, which will be nothing less than *the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ*, the fullness which Christ himself possesses and bestows.
Although it seems that this growth into maturity is a corporate concept, describing the church as a whole, yet it clearly depends on the maturing of its individual members, as Paul proceeds to say: *so that we may no longer be children* (verse 14). Of course we are to resemble children in their humility and innocence (Mt.18:3; 1 Cor.14:20), but not in their ignorance or instability. Unstable children are like little boats in a stormy sea, entirely at the mercy of wind and waves. Paul paints a graphic picture, tossed to and fro (*klydonizomenoi*, from *klydon*, rough water or surf) meaning ‘tossed here and there by waves’ (AG) and *carried about (peripheromenoi*) meaning ‘swung round by shifting winds’. Apparently Plato used this latter word of tops, which led E.K.Simpson to dub such people ‘whirligigs’. NEB brings the two storm pictures together by translating ‘tossed by the waves and whirled about by every fresh gust of teaching’. Such are immature Christians. They never seem to know their own mind or come to settled convictions. Instead, their opinions tend to be those of the last preacher they heard or the last book they read, and they fall an easy prey to each new theological fad. They cannot resist *the cunning of men (kybia* means ‘dice-playing’ and so ‘trickery’) or *their craftiness in deceitful wiles*.