Building up the Body of Christ

Text: Ephesians 4:12-16

Just before the Circuit Breaker period began in April, it was reported that many people were rushing to buy all the items that they would need before all non-essential shops would close as part of the CB measures. This resulted in a sudden surge in sales in certain products. One sports equipment chain reported a 43% increase in sales of home fitness products including equipment for body-building. Popular items include strength training equipment like dumb bells, kettlebells, bar bells, squat racks and weight clips.

This means that many people were planning to spend much time at home in physical training and virtual fitness classes to keep themselves fit and to build up their bodies. Perhaps they were all hoping to emerge from the circuit breaker with bigger muscles and a much-improved physique!

This morning we will learn about a different kind of body-building – one that all of us who are believers can be fully engaged in whether there is a circuit breaker or not, and it does not require any physical training equipment. This kind of body building is not for the purpose having an impressive outward appearance, but the glorious results it produces are worth far more than physical body building. It is the building up of the body of Christ! This is the subject of our passage of scripture in Ephesians 4:12-16.

12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:

14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;

15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:

16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.

You may recall that Paul wrote this letter to the Ephesians to address several practical problems in the church. One of them was the problem of disunity and division. Paul addressed this problem by exhorting believers to “endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (4:3). Then he gave them the strongest motivations to do this, motivations which are based on the unity that exists within God Himself. In last week’s sermon by Rev Quek we saw another motivation for Christian unity – it is the reason behind the spiritual gifts which Christ has bestowed on the Church. When all these spiritual gifts are fully used, the church, which is the Body of Christ, will grow in full strength and unity.

Now in vv.12-16 Paul brings this entire section on the unity of the church to a grand climax. He does this by describing what a united church will look like. Here we will see a wonderful picture of what the body of Christ ought to be. Therefore this passage provides us with a divine pattern or design to follow in our own church life. In God’s design, a church that is being built up as the body of Christ will display at least three characteristics. The first characteristic is…

1. Total Mobilisation (vv.12,13)

This characteristic is found in v.12 which makes better sense when we read it together with the verse just before it “And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ…”

Perhaps when you read this, you may think that it means that all pastors and teachers in the church have three responsibilities: perfecting the saints, the work of the ministry, and edifying the body of Christ. This is because of the commas just after the words ‘saints’ and ‘ministry.’ But let us understand that there were no commas in the original Greek text of the New Testament. The commas were added in by the Bible translators to make long sentences easier to read. When the commas are removed from verse 12 we will see that the responsibility of the pastors and teachers is actually the first one – the work of perfecting or equipping the saints. The ‘saints’ here are understood as the members of the church.

What are the church members to be equipped for? They are to be equipped to do the work of the ministry, which refers to the various areas of service in the church. Every one of us has been saved in order to serve. Then, as all the members serve the Lord and one another with their own spiritual gifts, the goal of edifying or building up the body of Christ is accomplished.

What we see then, is that God’s design for the church is not for the fulltime ministers or a small group of gifted people to be doing all the work alone by themselves, while the rest just watch them as spectators. God’s design is for every member to be involved in the work after being prepared and equipped to serve the Lord and one another. It is important for us to understand that building up the body of Christ is the work of the whole church. It requires the total mobilisation of all members of the church. Everyone must be willing to do his or her part in this work.

Do you know that great things can be accomplished when God’s people are mobilized to do the work of the Kingdom? One striking example of this is the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 3-6). These walls had been destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC at the beginning of the Jewish captivity. After seventy years the captivity ended, and the Jews were allowed to return home to rebuild their nation. But due to the difficulties and opposition they faced, they only managed to rebuild the Temple. The walls of the city remained in ruins for 140 years.

But in 446 BC God moved the heart of Nehemiah to rally the Jews together to rebuild the wall. Most people would have proceeded on the project on a modest scale: By building one section of the wall at a time, and hiring some skilled workers to do the work. But Nehemiah mobilised the entire Jewish community. Every section of the wall was assigned to a family to build. Their enemies tried to do everything possible to discourage and stop the work. But the Jews prayed and persevered in the building work, and they eventually completed the wall in 52 days. It is recorded in Nehemiah 6:16 that the enemies who witnessed the work “…were much cast down in their own eyes: for they perceived that this work was wrought of our God.”

This amazing feat is a powerful demonstration of what God will do through His people when they work together in unity. May this example inspire us all to work together, and to do our respective parts well for God’s glory. Today, the church is given the task of building God’s kingdom. Since the time when Life Church was founded in 1950 it has grown from a small congregation of 30 to over a thousand members. God has been pleased to use Life Church to send forth His light and His truth both locally and overseas, and the many B-P churches and mission stations that exist today bear testimony to that. All this has been accomplished through the concerted efforts of many church members who were equipped unto every good work, and were willing to do their part in the work of the ministry for the edifying of the body of Christ. But the work is not over yet.

Now, our church vision and mission is: “To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.” This is a very challenging task indeed – because there is so much work to be done and our resources are very limited. And it is even more challenging now, with all the measures that are needed to prevent the transmission of COVID-19.

But with God’s help it can be done. During the Circuit Breaker period we were able to edify one another online through our Sunday worship services, Children’s ministry, Sunday School classes, fellowship group meetings, NBCs and weekly prayer meeting. We even conducted a four-day online Bible seminar (in place of our church Bible camp that we originally planned to have in Batam this week). And though we are not able to travel overseas, we provided relief packages to needy families in Batam and Thailand through our missionaries and partners in missions. How wonderful it is to see our church continuing its ministry despite all the difficulties and restrictions we faced.

And I believe that much more can be done, if every one of us is willing to be equipped for the work, willing to use our spiritual gifts well, and willing to work together with others to get it done with God’s help. In this regard, I pray that the Lord will revive us and stir our hearts, to make us renew our commitment to build up the body of Christ together for His glory.

How long do we have to keep doing this work of building the body of Christ? The answer is given in v.13 “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” The word ‘come’ here means ‘reach’. It is used in the Bible of travelers when they reach their final destination. This verse therefore refers to the final end product of our sanctification. And the words “Till we all come… unto a perfect man” imply corporate sanctification, rather than individual sanctification.

It points to the future time when the entire body of Christ has reached its ultimate state of glory – when every spot, wrinkle and blemish is completely removed from it. It refers to the time when there will be perfect unity of the faith among all believers, and perfect knowledge of Christ. As we look at the church today, we realise that we have not attained to this as yet. We have to keep on building and building.

But we do this, knowing that this blessed hope of v.13 will be realized when our Lord Jesus Christ returns. Here and in many other passages of Scripture, the Lord has given us a glimpse of the final completed state of the church. Why does He do this? He does this so that we would know that our present work is not in vain. Since the outcome has already been determined, all the time and effort we invest in building up the body of Christ is worthwhile! Every drop of blood, sweat and tears that is shed for this body will bring forth the desired outcome – the universal church will finally attain full unity of the faith. In its glorified state, the church will delight in the most intimate and complete knowledge of the Son of God. It will be just like a full-grown man in whom the image of Christ has reached full development.

May this thought inspire all of us to keep pressing onward and upward, even as we see the world events coming to a head. The global pandemic, climate change, the economic crisis, and increasing disunity, unrest, protests and violence – all these things speak to us that the time of this perfect state of the church is coming! But I need to mention here that this blessed state of the Universal Church is reserved only for those who are in Christ. If you are not saved yet, I would urge you not to delay any longer. As long as you are still unsaved, you will have no part at all in this bright future. You will only have a part in the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, and you will spend eternity regretting that you did not make use of this golden opportunity that God has given you to be saved.

So, what do you need to do now to be saved? First, you must accept everything that the Bible says about Jesus Christ and about yourself as true – that He is the Son of God who came down from heaven to be made a sacrifice for sin, and that you are a sinner who deserves nothing but the wrath of God.

Then, you need to confess to Him personally that you are a sinner in need of His salvation. Put your trust in the righteousness of Jesus Christ alone, and stop relying on your own righteousness to save you. And third, to trust in Christ is also to commit your life to Him once and for all, with no thought of turning back. Let Him be your Lord and master from now on. And as you trust in Christ now for salvation, He will assure you that you now belong to Him, and that you are now part of the body of Christ which is being built up. And as you take your place in the ministry of the church you will benefit greatly from the next characteristic of the body of Christ, which is…

2. Growth to Perfection (vv.14,15)

The word ‘perfect’ is used in our text to describe full spiritual maturity. In God’s design, the church is to function as a place for believers to grow up into full maturity. Ephesians 4:14 tells us: “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.”

One of the strongest reasons why we all need to grow up to full spiritual maturity, is the perilous times that we live in right now. There are many subtle deceptions around us today – much more than in any other age in history! This is an age that calls for spiritual discernment. Christians today cannot afford to remain spiritually immature, because the consequences of doing so are extremely dangerous. We will become vulnerable and easily misled by the many false doctrines that are infecting and destroying churches today. Here in v.14, Paul employs the metaphor of a boat that is tossed to and fro by the relentless waves of the sea, and spun round and round by the raging winds.

Three months ago, a huge Christian doomsday cult in South Korea came into the spotlight because thousands of its members had become infected with Covid-19. The founder of this cult claims to be Christ himself and the only one who can interpret the Bible correctly. Its members are indoctrinated to think that it is perfectly alright to use deception and lies to carry out God’s will. And we heard that there was a local chapter of this cult in Singapore actively propagating its false teachings, targeting Christian youths and young adults.

And we can expect to see many more cults and false teachings emerging in the days to come, because Christ has already warned us that when the time of His return approaches, “…there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.” (Matthew 24:24) How then can we stand firm in the truth, as the winds and waves of false doctrines arise and increase to gale-force intensity?

The answer is found in the next verse of our text – “But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into Him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.” There are two things that we need to do. The first is to be well-grounded in the truth of God’s Word. The word which is translated here as ‘speaking the truth’ is not the word that is normally used in the Bible for verbal expression. In the original Greek text, it is actually the verb form of the word ‘truth’. And thus, it means firmly holding or professing the truth.

How can you do that well? You can do it by taking time to read the Bible every day, studying it deeply, attending Sunday School or a Bible study group, or lectures that are conducted by ERBL. There are ample opportunities in our church for anyone who wants to build a good working knowledge of God’s Word.

You can tell that a church is healthy when all its members are well-grounded in the truth by an effective ministry of the Word. By holding firmly to the truth, a church will not be easily deceived, tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine. However, there are some today who think that a church is healthy only when its attendance is growing by leaps and bounds. And so, they would do everything possible to increase their attendance by making the church much more attractive and user-friendly to everyone. Unfortunately, this often leads to using worldly methods and entertainment to fill the pews with people who do not seriously seek to know the Lord.

Dearly beloved, the kind of growth that God wants us to focus our efforts on, is not growth in quantity, but quality. As we put in our efforts into increasing in quality, God Himself will take care of the increase in quantity. When we speak of quality here, we mean building spiritual maturity, and this is defined in v.15 as growing “…up into Him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.”

This is the other thing that we need to do in order to be able to stand firm and not be easily deceived. Since the problem had been identified in v.14 as being ‘children’ or immature, the solution is to grow up into Christian maturity. We need to grow up in ‘all things’ or in all aspects, and that would include cultivating a Close relationship with Christ, Conformity to the image of Christ, and Consecrated living for Christ. This is our goal for every member in our church – that every member will be presented perfect (mature) in Christ. And I hope we all know that this is our church theme for this year – to present every man perfect in Christ! (Colossians 1:28)

Some of us may say, “Pastor, this goal is much too difficult for me to reach. I don’t have the time and energy to grow up into Christ in all these aspects. Let others pursue this goal, but not me. I am content to just enjoy attending the church worship service each week.” Please do not think like this, because it does not help the church to fulfill its God-given purpose!

The growth that God expects to see in His church is not merely individual, but corporate. Remember that our passage of Scripture is all about the unity that everyone of us should endeavour to keep. God has made you a part of the body, and the whole body needs to grow together. God has designed the Church to be the conducive environment for the spiritual nurture and development of all its members, where they can mature together by growing in their relationship with Christ, in the image of Christ and in living for Christ.

Hence, all of us ought to have the same united commitment to grow up into Christ. If some of us were to excuse ourselves from making this commitment, then it will be very difficult for the whole body to grow together and fulfill God’s purpose for the whole church. The growth of the whole body will be hindered, and this may lead to differences, strife and even division within the church. So I would urge us all to be united in making the same commitment today – a commitment to grow spiritually, both as individuals, and as a body.

Thus far we have already identified two characteristics of a church that is being built up as a body of Christ: The first is total mobilization, and the second is growth to perfection. We now come to one more characteristic:

3. Mutual Affection (v.15,16)

This is what we see in verse 16, which tells us that the whole body is “fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, making increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” The most important part of this verse is the last two words – “in love”. You will notice that these words are also found in v.15 – “But speaking the truth in love…”

And the same words are found at the beginning of the chapter: “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love…” (vv.1,2) Thus we see that Paul’s plea for unity in the Ephesian church begins with love, and ends with love.

We therefore ask the question: Why is love of such great importance in building up the body of Christ? There are at least two reasons. Firstly, love is the most divine of all virtues. 1 John 4:7,8 – “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.  He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” This divine virtue must therefore be evident in our lives if we are truly born of God. In fact, Christ has made love the hallmark that distinguishes His disciples from all others when He said, “By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one for another.” (John 13:35)

This point is actually reflected in v.15 of our text – “But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into Him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.” Here, you will notice that it is not speaking or holding to the truth alone that enables us to grow up into Christ in all things, but speaking the truth in love. Truth and love should always go together. What happens if we have only love without truth? We end up having an unbiblical kind of unity called ecumenism. But what happens if we have truth without love? Then we end up having an unbiblical kind of separation called schism. Therefore, we must be careful to hold both truth and love together.

This was also emphasized by Paul at the beginning of his great chapter on love, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1,2)

It is therefore good to have the habit of checking our motivation for everything we do – Is love the main reason why we use our spiritual gifts and talents? Is love the reason why we correct a brother or sister who has sinned? Is love the reason why we share the Gospel with our unsaved friends? Is love our motivation for serving in a particular ministry of the church?

Well, I must apply this to myself too: Why am I preaching this sermon to you? If I am not doing this out of love for Christ, and love for His people then I am nothing, and my preaching is in vain. And thus, I need to constantly abide in Christ and depend on Him to enable me to love others as I ought to love. For without Him, I can do nothing. And that’s what all of us need to do in order to keep on speaking the truth in love, and edifying one another in love. Thus, we have seen that Love is the most divine the most Christlike of all virtues.

Now we go on to the other reason why love is so important in building up the body of Christ: Love is the tie that binds us all together. Let us look at v.16 again “From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, making increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.”

Here we see the church being described as a growing body in which every part is actively working to edify or build up the body. But here Paul gives special attention to what joins the parts of the body together. (This is something that he may have learned from Luke, the beloved physician.) If you have studied human anatomy before, you would know that our body parts are joined together by connective tissue. But connective tissue isn’t there just to fill up all the empty gaps in between, or as a glue to keep the body from falling apart. Connective tissue serves the very important function of transporting substances from one part to another. It transports the oxygen, water and nutrients according to what each body part needs. It also transports away all the waste matter for disposal.

In the body of Christ, love is the connective tissue that binds us together. And it is through love that the needs of every part of the body of Christ are met and spiritual growth becomes possible. This may have been the reason why Paul referred to love in another epistle, written around the same time, as the ‘bond of perfectness’.

Let us read Colossians 3:12-14 – “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.” The bond of perfectness here refers to what holds everything together in a perfect unity. That is what love does. All this helps us now to understand how important love is to building up the body of Christ.

If you were to go into a forest and look at the trees, you would get the impression that each tree is an individual entity that is unlinked to all the other trees. But what you can’t see is that beneath the ground, the trees are actuallyconnected together through their intertwined roots. And trees can actually convey water and nutrients to one another through their roots! This is made possible by God’s wonderful provision of a unique fungus, called mycorrhiza.

This special fungus grows on the roots of trees, and forms a network which links the roots of one tree with the roots of others. These links become little channels through which nutrients and water may pass from one tree to another even over long distances. A forest of trees as large as 10 square kilometers is linked together like a community. If one tree has access to water and another tree has access to nutrients, and a third tree has better access to sunlight, the trees can actually share these benefits with one another, all through this underground fungal ‘wood wide web’.

Love is just like that fungus, linking us together as a closely-knit body. Through loving one another, we share the blessings God has given to each of us. If someone is in need, that love for one another will motivate us to supply to his need. If someone has abundance, that love for one another will bring the benefits he has to all the rest. In this mutual process of sharing, we all can serve one another, bear one another’s burdens, and strengthen one another. That is the way that love builds up the body of Christ in unity.

All of this is part of God’s design for the church, and I am sure you will agree that it is really quite a marvelous design. In this morning’s sermon we have seen that a church that is being built up as the body of Christ will display three characteristics: Total Mobilization, Growth to Perfection and Mutual Affection. Let us all strive to implement this divine design in Life church, and do all the body-building work that is required. And may the Lord be glorified as we become all that He wants our Church to be.