So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 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 yesterday’s devotion, we saw that Christian growth as pictured in Ephesians 4:11-16 is mainly corporate. Though individual believers are to “no longer be infants” (4:14), for the most part, this passage emphasizes the growth of the body of Christ as a whole. (Elsewhere in his writings, Paul can speak more pointedly about the growth of individual believers; see Colossians 1:28, for example.)
It would be wrong, however, to pit corporate growth against individual growth. Both are essential and, in fact, both depend on each other. This is implied in Ephesians 4:11-16, where the development of the church depends on actions of individual Christians. If solitary believers are not growing, then surely the growth of the whole body will be hampered.
Similarly, your individual growth in Christ depends, to a great extent, on your growing Christian community. If you are in a place where others serve, teach, encourage, challenge, and pray for you, then it’s likely you are growing in Christ. If you are in a church where you can watch the lives of mature believers, and where these believers mentor those who are less mature, then chances are good you’ll grow to be like them. Conversely, if you are in an immature church, or if you are living apart from the church altogether, then your growth as a Christian will be stunted. Yes, if you are extremely disciplined, you can still manage some growth because the Holy Spirit dwells within you. But it will be a struggle because the Holy Spirit is strongly active not just in individuals but also in the body of Christ.
You may very well understand what I’m saying here in light of your own experience. You can probably think of times in your life when you were growing solidly in Christ through the assistance of your Christian community. Conversely, if you think of times when you were really stuck in your spiritual development, there’s a good possibility you were trying to live the Christian life on your own.
Individual maturity in Christ is interwoven with corporate maturity in Christ. That’s the way God designed the church. That’s the way God designed you. Growing is a shared experience.
Something to Think About:
As you think of times in your life when you were growing actively in your faith, were you deeply connected to a growing Christian community?
How does such a community actually help you to grow in Christ?
Are you part of such a community now?
Something to Do:
If you are part of a small group, talk about how your group encourages individual growth and how each member contributes to the maturity of the whole group.
Gracious God, as I look back on my life, I see the deep interconnection between my own growth in you and my connection to a growing community. I thank you for those who have helped me and taught me and encouraged me to grow in you.
Help us, Lord, to grow in you as members of your body. If we are part of a Christian community, may our relationships in this community contribute to our growth in you. If we are not currently connected to a church, guide us to the place where we can invest and grow. Amen.