A Commentary by John Stott

Ephesians 4:13-16. 4). Christian unity demands the maturity of our growth (continued).

In contrast to doctrinal instability, which is a mark of immaturity, we should be *speaking the truth in love* in order that we may *grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love* (verses 15-16).

We must not look in these verses for inspired instruction on human anatomy and physiology. The apostle’s intention is not to teach us how the human body works, but rather how the body of Christ grows. True, he uses some terms employed by ancient Greek medical writers like Hippocrates and Galen. ‘We can almost see him turn to “the beloved physician”, of whose presence he tells  us in the companion epistle (Col.4:14), before venturing to speak – technical language of “every ligament of the whole apparatus” of the human frame.’ But his emphasis is on the head ‘into’ whom we are to grow up (verse 15) and ‘from’ whom the body grows when ‘each part is working properly’. Markus Barth brings out clearly in his translation this focusing of attention on the initiative and work of the Head, Christ: ‘He is at work fitting and joining the whole body together. He provides sustenance to it through every contact according to the needs of each single part. He enables the body to make its own growth so that it builds itself up in love.’

If now we drop the body metaphor and enquire exactly how the church grows into maturity, Paul is ready with his answer. It grows by  truth and love. To allow ourselves to be hurled hither and thither by the fierce blasts of false teaching is to condemn ourselves and the church to perpetual immaturity (verse 14). Instead, what we need is ‘the truth’, provided we speak it ‘in love’ (verse 15). For it is ‘in love’ that the church grows and builds itself up (verse 16). What Paul calls for is a balanced combination of the two. ‘Speaking the truth in love’ is not the best rendering of the expression, for the Greek verb makes no reference to our speech. Literally, it means ‘truthing (*aletheuontes*) in love’, and includes the notions of ‘maintaining’, ‘living’ and ‘doing’ the truth. Thank God there are those in the contemporary church who are determined at all costs to defend and uphold God’s revealed truth. But sometimes they are conspicuously lacking in love. When they think they smell heresy, their nose begins to twitch, their muscles ripple, and the light of battle enters the eye. They seem to enjoy nothing more than a fight. Others make the opposite mistake. They are determined at all costs to maintain and exhibit brotherly love, but in order to do so are prepared even to sacrifice the central truths of revelation.

Both these tendencies are unbalanced and unbiblical. Truth becomes hard if it is not softened by love; love becomes soft if it is not strengthened by truth. The apostle calls us to hold the two together, which should not be difficult for Spirit-filled believers, since the Holy Spirit is himself ‘the Spirit of truth’, and his firstfruit is ‘love’ (E.g. Jn.14:17; 15:26; 16;13; Gal.5:22). There is no other route than this to a fully mature Christian unity.


The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Ephesians: Being a Christian. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.