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August 17, 2017: Verse of the day

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John repeated for emphasis the truth from verse 1 that those who believe in Jesus Christ and have been born of God … overcome the world, gaining the victory over it through their faith. The phrase our faith literally reads, “the faith of us.” It could refer to the subjective, personal faith of individual believers, or objectively to the Christian faith, “the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3; cf. Acts 6:7; 13:8; 14:22; 16:5; 1 Cor. 16:13; 2 Cor. 13:5; Gal. 1:23; Phil. 1:27; 1 Tim. 4:1; 6:10, 21; 2 Tim. 4:7). It is safe to see in this context of believing that John is referring not to the objective content of the gospel as theology, but to the subjective trust by which God makes saints overcomers.[1]


4 Verse 4 builds on vv. 2–3 by describing the benefits of obedience. All those who are born of God “conquer [nikaō, GK 3771] the world” (NIV, “overcome the world”). The conquest metaphor is consistent with John’s dualistic perspective, which sees a hostile relationship between the world and God’s children. But the precise meaning of nikaō here is open to debate, especially since it seems to contrast starkly with the real-life experiences of the Johannine Christians (see Introduction).

Some suggest that nikaō is used in an eschatological sense. Schnackenburg, 229–30, for example, sees here a reference to “the victory that Christ won once for all in salvation history,” the victory that is “repeated in the lives of the Christians.” By participating in the work of Christ, then, believers experience the future victory over evil in the midst of the pain of this world. Rensberger, 129, takes a somewhat similar view with the suggestion that John is touching on the notion that Satan is “the ruler of this world” (Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). Jesus has conquered the ruler of this world, and all those who believe share the benefits of this victory. Other commentators believe that John is thinking of the moral sphere of human experience. Dodd, 126–27, for example, says that “the world” refers here to “the power of evil inclinations, false standards and bad dispositions.” “Victory” is achieved when believers choose to obey God and resist temptation (cf. Marshall, 228–29; Schnackenburg, 229).

While both of these views are reasonable, the most likely reference point for the believer’s “victory over the world” is John 16:33. First John 5:4 opens with a hoti clause that seems to introduce a traditional slogan or saying, and the phrase that follows is strongly reminiscent of Jesus’ words in the upper room. After assuring the disciples that they will be hated by the world, put out of the synagogues, and persecuted for his name (Jn 15:18–16:4), Jesus predicts that they will soon scatter and abandon him. Despite all this, they should not be discouraged, because “I have conquered the world” (NIV, “overcome the world”; 16:33).

Jesus’ “conquest” seems to consist of his resolution to obey God’s calling and suffer death. By analogy, 1 John 5:4 uses nikaō to describe the true believer’s willingness to serve God in spite of the world’s persecutions. Hence the conquest of the world may be reduced to “our faith”—the fact of holding fast to the orthodox confession in the face of pressure to abandon Christ. The verb nikaō is used with the same connotation in Revelation, where the believer’s “victory” is gained by overcoming the temptation to abandon the faith in the face of severe suffering and possibly death (Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21). If 1 John and Revelation were produced by the same person or by members of the same community, these references would also support the interpretation adopted here.[2]


5:4 Next we learn the secret of victory over the world. The world system is a monstrous scheme of temptation, always trying to drag us away from God and from what is eternal, and seeking to occupy us with what is temporary and sensual. People of the world are completely taken up with the things of time and sense. They have become the victims of passing things.

Only the man who is born of God really overcomes the world, because by faith he is able to rise above the perishing things of this world and to see things in their true, eternal perspective. Thus the one who really overcomes the world is not the great scientist or philosopher or psychologist, but the simple believer who realizes that the things which are seen are temporary and that the things which are not seen are eternal. A sight of the glory of God in the face of Jesus dims the glory of this world.[3]


4 This leads on to victory. The neuter ‘whatever’ (niv, everyone) makes the statement quite general (cf. 1:1). Our faith (the noun occurs only here in 1 John; it is not found in the gospel or 2 or 3 John) stands last with emphasis. Has overcome means that the decisive victory is in the past, when Jesus died to overcome evil, and in the case of the individual believer when that believer came to trust in him.[4]


[1] MacArthur, J. (2007). 1, 2, 3 John (p. 179). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] Thatcher, T. (2006). 1 John. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, pp. 490–491). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 2322–2323). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] Morris, L. L. (1994). 1 John. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 1408). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

10 Things You Should Know about Repentance

The Four Soils: The Rocky Ground

Luke 8:6

Code: B170816

Just a short drive from the freeways and congestion of Los Angeles you’ll find barren hills and mountains. During the rainy season they suddenly spring to life with luxuriant-looking greenery. But they quickly revert to a parched brown. The green that looked so promising turns into lifeless scrub, good for nothing but feeding California’s wildfires as tinder.

That’s a perfect metaphor for the way some people respond to the gospel. They are the polar opposite of the hard-hearted hearers we discussed last time. They are the “rocky soil” in Christ’s original parable.

The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell beside the road, and it was trampled under foot and the birds of the air ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky soil, and as soon as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. Other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out. Other seed fell into the good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great. (Luke 8:5–8)

The soil spread thinly over a layer of rock illustrates a shallow-hearted person who responds immediately but only superficially. Without deep roots, vegetation cannot live long in a dry climate. It grows green and leafy quickly, but dies just as quickly, before reaching fruit-bearing maturity. Such growth is useless for any profitable purpose.

Psalm 129:6 similarly compares the wicked to “grass upon the housetops, which withers before it grows up.” In the thin layer of dust that accumulates on a flat roof, grass or weeds may sprout and even look lush for a short season, but it is in a location that cannot sustain long-term life. It is doomed as soon as it sprouts—and even the dead straw left in the end is useless for any good purpose. The psalm goes on to say that “the reaper does not fill his hand [with it], nor he who binds sheaves, his arms” (Psalm 129:7, NKJV).

Rocky soil hearers seem receptive. They show a keen interest. Jesus says they “receive the word with joy” (Luke 8:13). They are exhilarated by it. But all that enthusiasm obscures the fact that there is no root. They “believe for a while.” That’s an important fact to acknowledge: intellectually, at least, they are receptive, affirmative—even quite enthusiastic. There is a kind of temporary credence that is not authentic faith, precisely because it is superficial—shallow, rootless, totally at the mercy of the hostile elements that are sure to test its viability.

It’s not a question of if but when such “faith” will fail. It usually (but not always) happens sooner rather than later. Each person who responds positively to the Word of God will face a “time of temptation.” The Greek word translated “temptation” in Luke 8:13 can also refer to a trial or a test—and that is clearly the sense here. The new disciple’s faith will eventually be put to the test under the threat of persecution, by one of life’s calamities, or by the sheer difficulty of maintaining the pretense of deep, abiding belief. If it’s superficial, rootless, heartless faith, no matter how enthusiastic the response may have seemed in the beginning, that person will “fall away”—meaning she will abandon the faith completely.

Jesus said in John 8:31, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine.” Hebrews 3:14 says, “For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end.” The apostle Paul said you can know you are truly reconciled to God “if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard” (Colossians 1:23).

Those whose faith is merely temporary hear the gospel and respond, quickly and superficially. Perhaps they have some selfish motive (thinking Jesus will fix their worldly problems or make life easy for them). They don’t truly count the cost. For a while they bask in some emotion—a feeling of relief, exhilaration, euphoria, or whatever. There are tears of joy, embraces, high fives, and a lot of activity—at first. That tends to convince other believers that this is a true conversion, well rooted in genuine conviction. We might even be inclined to think that’s a better response than the quiet restraint of some genuine believer who is so deeply convicted about his sin and unworthiness that all he feels is a profound sense of meekness and quiet gratitude.

An outburst of joy is not the distinguishing feature of an authentic conversion. Joy is a fine and appropriate response, of course. All heaven is filled with rejoicing when a soul is converted. “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7). But as Jesus makes clear in our parable, great joy sometimes accompanies false conversion. Neither hyperactive joy nor grateful quietude proves anything one way or another about whether someone’s profession of faith is an expression of superficial, temporary belief or deep and lasting conviction. The person’s fruit (or lack of it) will reveal that. “The tree is known by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33).

It doesn’t ultimately matter how much enthusiasm the shallow hearer shows in that initial response to the Word of God: if it’s a shallow conviction with no real root, that person will eventually fall away. And when that happens, it proves definitively that in spite of all that apparent joy and zeal, the person never truly believed in the first place. “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19).

 

 


Available online at: https://www.gty.org/library/blog/B170816
COPYRIGHT ©2017 Grace to You

You may reproduce this Grace to You content for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Grace to You’s Copyright Policy (http://www.gty.org/about#copyright).

The Four Soils: Beside the Road

Luke 8:5

Code: B170814

Ineffective evangelism can cause a lot of soul searching for the one evangelizing. Some re-evaluate the message while others question their methodology. But those are only worthwhile endeavors insofar as the message remains faithful to the one true gospel (Galatians 1:8–9) and the methodology is obedient to Christ’s command: “That repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all nations” (Luke 24:47).

Beyond that it all boils down to something we have absolutely no control over—the heart condition of those who hear the gospel. When Jesus started to teach using parables, He began by explaining that very issue.

The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell beside the road, and it was trampled under foot and the birds of the air ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky soil, and as soon as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. Other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out. Other seed fell into the good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great. (Luke 8:5–8)

This is a foundational truth that the church desperately needs to be reminded of—set in an agricultural story analogous to evangelism. Jesus went on to explain that the seed represents the message and the soil represents the heart of the hearer (Luke 8:11–15). And the various soil types in the story cover the whole range of human heart conditions.

The Hard Soil Beside the Road

The first soil type we encounter is the pressed-down, dry, and hardened soil “beside the road” (Luke 8:5). It pictures a heart that is impervious to biblical truth. This is perhaps the most disturbing and hopeless of all the conditions Jesus depicts. Unbelief and a love of sin have made the heart a dense, rocklike environment where truth cannot possibly penetrate, much less take root. The hearer is therefore oblivious, hopeless, spiritually dead—and totally susceptible to the stratagems of Satan.

Jesus explains: “Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved” (Luke 8:12). That verse, by the way, explains the true goal symbolized in the work of the sower. His aim is that people might “believe and be saved.” There is only one way to sow the proper seed for such a goal: by proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. The sower is an evangelist. He is hoping for a harvest of souls.

Inevitably, he encounters hearers whose hearts are like concrete. The Old Testament calls them “obstinate” (Exodus 32:9) people who “stiffened their neck” (2 Kings 17:14). The clear implication is that such people have deliberately hardened their own hearts. “They have stiffened their necks so as not to heed My words” (Jeremiah 19:15). Of Zedekiah, the evil young king who “did evil in the sight of the Lord his God” (2 Chronicles 36:12), Scripture says, “He stiffened his neck and hardened his heart against turning to the Lord God of Israel” (2 Chronicles 36:13). He deliberately steeled his own will against repentance. Men like that were the ones who stoned Stephen, and he called them on it: “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did” (Acts 7:51).

Such a person is depicted by the well-worn, barren footpath around the field. This heart is a thoroughfare, crossed by the mixed multitude of iniquities that continually traverse it. It is not fenced, so it lies exposed to all the evil stomping of everything wicked that comes along. It is never plowed by conviction. It is never cultivated with any kind of self-searching, self-examination, contrition, honest assessment of guilt, or true repentance. The heart is as hardened against the sweet beckoning of grace as it is against the dreadful terrors of judgment. Indifference, insensibility, and a love for sin have made this person’s heart dense, dry, and impenetrable.

This is the fool of Proverbs—the person who despises wisdom and instruction (Proverbs 1:7) and “has no delight in understanding, but in expressing his own heart” (Proverbs 18:2, NKJV). What’s interesting here is that Jesus is not describing atheists in His parable. He is speaking to people in a highly religious culture, and the hardest of all hearts in His audience this day are the religious aristocracy—the top scribes and Pharisees, the same ones who had so recently blasphemed the Holy Spirit, cutting themselves off from grace altogether. Their sin epitomizes the absolute ultimate in hard-heartedness. The rank atheist is in a better state spiritually than they are. Elsewhere, Jesus said to them, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father” (John 8:44).

In explaining His parable, Jesus again says hardened hearts are utterly at the mercy of the evil one. “The devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved” (Luke 8:12).

How does the devil snatch the Word of God away from a heart? He has many devices, and we should not be ignorant of them (2 Corinthians 2:11). If you think Satan and his works are always obviously diabolical, you are going to be defrauded by him. He uses deceit. “He is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). He transforms himself and his servants as angels of light and ministers of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:14–15). He confuses people through false teachers who come in Christ’s name but subtly attack or undermine the truth of the gospel. He also exploits sinful human passions: fear of what others might think, pride, stubbornness, prejudice, or various lusts. He appeals to the fallen heart’s love for the pleasures of sin. He knows

that people love “darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds [are] evil” (John 3:19), and he takes advantage of that. It is easy for him to make himself appealing to those who love darkness. Then having gained the sinner’s trust and attention, he diverts the mind from the truth of the Word, effectively snatching it away from the person’s consciousness.

That hardened soil by the roadside was emblematic of many in Christ’s audience. Jesus’ followers abandoned Him in droves once He stopped feeding them physically and started talking about the bread of eternal life (John 6:26–66). But the impenetrable surface of the roadside didn’t typify the hearts of all who followed him—including those who did so superficially. That’s why Jesus discussed three other kinds of soil in His parable. And as we’ll see in the days ahead, those different soil types run the whole range of human responses to the gospel.

 

 


Available online at: https://www.gty.org/library/blog/B170814
COPYRIGHT ©2017 Grace to You

You may reproduce this Grace to You content for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Grace to You’s Copyright Policy (http://www.gty.org/about#copyright).

August 16, 2017: Verse of the day

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Elizabeth’s closing statement, “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord,” supplements her earlier blessing of Mary. Mary was blessed not only because of her privilege in being the mother of the Messiah, but also because of her faith in believing that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord. But Elizabeth’s use of the third person pronoun she broadens the blessing beyond Mary to encompass all who believe that God fulfills His promises.

Mary is not the mother of God, or the queen of heaven. She plays no role in the redemption of sinners, and does not intercede for them or hear their prayers. But she is a model of faith, humility, and submission to God’s will. She is an example to all believers of how to respond obediently, joyfully, and worshipfully to the Word of God. Therein lies her true greatness.[1]


45 “Blessed” describes the happy situation of those God favors. Elizabeth gave the blessing Zechariah’s muteness prevented him from giving. See vv. 68–79 for the blessing he later pronounced on the infant Jesus. Luke uses the blessing Elizabeth gave Mary to call attention to Mary’s faith.

The way in which v. 45 supplements v. 42 is noteworthy. In v. 42, Mary is called the “blessed” one because of her maternal relationship with her son Jesus. In v. 45, however, Mary is recognized to be truly “blessed” because of her faith in and obedience to God. The same contrast is developed later in the Lukan material. In 8:19–21, for example, Jesus redefines family relationship in terms of one’s faith in and obedience to God: “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice” (v. 21).[2]


45. And blessed is she who believed,

Because there will be a fulfilment of the words

Spoken to her by the Lord.

Although the rendering “And blessed is she who believed that there will be,” etc., is also possible, the first translation has the following in its favor:

  1. The positive assurance that God is going to fulfil his promises to Mary is a more solid ground, a more valid reason, for calling her “blessed” than her own subjective faith in the fulfilment of these promises.
  2. “Blessed is she who believed” is a richer expression than “Blessed is she who believed that,” etc. The first rendering more definitely than the second describes Mary as a woman of faith.
  3. “Blessed is she who believed” is in line with “Blessed are those who, though not seeing, are yet believing” (John 20:29). See also Gen. 15:6 (cf. Rom. 4:3; Gal. 3:6, 9; James 2:23).
  4. As to conciseness of phraseology, the beatitude “Blessed is she who believed” is also more in line with the familiar beatitudes of Luke 6:20 f., cf. Matt. 5:1 f.
  5. Finally, the construction, “Blessed is she who believed,” describes more adequately than does its alternative what had been Mary’s reaction to Gabriel’s message.

That reaction, it will be recalled, had been: first, alarm and astonishment (verse 29); then, an earnest request for an explanation (verse 34); and finally, the complete surrender that characterizes the person who lives by the rule, “Trust and obey” (verse 38). For the rest, see the note on verse 45 on p. 99.

As to … “there will be a fulfilment,” etc., note the following: the words of the Lord (via Gabriel) recorded in 1:31a, 35a (unique conception) had already been fulfilled, and the promises contained in 31b, 32, 33, 35b (still largely unfulfilled) were going to be realized, as the rest of the Gospels, etc., abundantly prove.

What deserves special attention is this outstanding fact, namely, that in Elizabeth’s entire exuberant exclamation (verses 41b–45) envy never raises its head. Elizabeth was, after all, much older than Mary (cf. 1:7, 18, 36 with 2:5). Yet this aged woman is deeply conscious of her own unworthiness and genuinely rejoices in the joy of her much younger relative!

How can this complete absence of the begrudging attitude be explained? The answer is found in 1 Cor. 13:4: “Love does not envy.” Is not this a good reason for calling this poem “Elizabeth’s Song of Love”?[3]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2009). Luke 1–5 (p. 72). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[2] Liefeld, W. L., & Pao, D. W. (2007). Luke. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (Vol. 10, p. 64). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Luke (Vol. 11, pp. 97–98). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

August 15, 2017: Verse of the day

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The Purpose of God’s Pattern

until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, (4:13–15a)

The building up of the redeemed involves a two–fold ultimate objective, which Paul identifies as the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, out of which flow spiritual maturity, sound doctrine, and loving testimony.

Some commentators advocate the view that such an ultimate objective is only attainable at glorification, believing that Paul is describing our final heavenly unity and knowledge. But that idea does not fit the context at all, because the apostle is not describing the final work of Christ on behalf of the church in heaven but the work of gifted men in the church on earth. These results could only apply to the church in its earthly dimension.

Unity of the Faith

The ultimate spiritual target for the church begins with the unity of the faith (cf. v. 3). As in verse 5, faith does not here refer to the act of belief or of obedience but to the body of Christian truth, to Christian doctrine. The faith is the content of the gospel in its most complete form. As the church at Corinth so clearly illustrates, disunity in the church comes from doctrinal ignorance and spiritual immaturity. When believers are properly taught, when they faithfully do the work of service, and when the body is thereby built up in spiritual maturity, unity of the faith is an inevitable result. Oneness in fellowship is impossible unless it is built on the foundation of commonly believed truth. The solution to the divisions in Corinth was for everyone to hold the same understandings and opinions and to speak the same truths (1 Cor. 1:10).

God’s truth is not fragmented and divided against itself, and when His people are fragmented and divided it simply means they are to that degree apart from His truth, apart from the faith of right knowledge and understanding. Only a biblically equipped, faithfully serving, and spiritually maturing church can attain to the unity the faith. Any other unity will be on a purely human level and not only will be apart from but in constant conflict with the unity of the faith. There can never be unity in the church apart from doctrinal integrity.

Knowledge of Christ

The second result of following God’s pattern for building His church is attaining the knowledge of the Son of God. Paul is not talking about salvation knowledge but about the deep knowledge (epignōsis, full knowledge that is correct and accurate) through a relationship with Christ that comes only from prayer and faithful study of and obedience to God’s Word. After many years of devoted apostleship Paul still could say, “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, … that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings. … Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:8–10, 12). Paul prayed that the Ephesians would have that “knowledge of Him” (1:17; cf. Phil. 1:4; Col. 1:9–10; 2:2). Growing in the deeper knowledge of the Son of God is a life–long process that will not be complete until we see our Lord face–to–face. That is the knowing of which Jesus spoke when He said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them” (John 10:27). He was not speaking of knowing their identities but of knowing them intimately, and that is the way He wants His people also to know Him.

Spiritual Maturity

The third result of following God’s pattern for His church is spiritual maturity, a maturity to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ. God’s great desire for His church is that every believer, without exception, come to be like His Son (Rom. 8:29), manifesting the character qualities of the One who is the only measure of the full–grown, perfect, mature man. The church in the world is Jesus Christ in the world, because the church is now the fullness of His incarnate Body in the world (cf. 1:23). We are to radiate and reflect Christ’s perfections. Christians are therefore called to “walk in the same manner as He walked” (1 John 2:6; cf. Col. 4:12), and He walked in complete and continual fellowship with and obedience to His Father. To walk as our Lord walked flows from a life of prayer and of obedience to God’s Word. “We all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18). As we grow into deeper fellowship with Christ, the process of divine sanctification through His Holy Spirit changes us more and more into His image, from one level of glory to the next. The agent of spiritual maturity, as well as of every other aspect of godly living, is God’s own Spirit—apart from whom the sincerest prayer has no effectiveness (Rom. 8:26) and even God’s own Word has no power (John 14:26; 16:13–14; 1 John 2:20).

It is obvious that believers, all of whom have unredeemed flesh (Rom. 7:14; 8:23), cannot in this life fully and perfectly attain the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ. But they must and can reach a degree of maturity that pleases and glorifies the Lord. The goal of Paul’s ministry to believers was their maturity, as indicated by his labors to “present every man complete (teleios, mature) in Christ” (Col. 1:28–29; cf. Phil. 3:14–15).

Sound Doctrine

The fourth result of following God’s pattern for His church is sound doctrine. The Christian who is properly equipped and mature is no longer a child who is tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming.

Kubia (trickery) is the term from which we get cube, and was used of dice–playing. Just as today, the dice were often “loaded” or otherwise manipulated by professional gamblers to their own advantage. The term for dice therefore became synonymous with dishonest trickery of any sort. Craftiness (panourgia; see Luke 20:23; 1 Cor. 3:19; 2 Cor. 12:16) is a similar term, carrying the idea of clever manipulation of error made to look like truth. Methodia (scheming) is used later in the letter to refer to “the schemes of the devil” (6:11). No doubt it has reference to planned, subtle, systematized error. Paul’s point is that neither the trickery of men nor the deceitful scheming of the devil will mislead the spiritually equipped and mature believer.

It is spiritual children (nēpios, lit., one who does not talk), such as were many of the Corinthian believers (1 Cor. 3:1; 14:20), who are in constant danger of falling prey to every new religious fad or novel interpretation of Scripture that comes along. Having no thorough knowledge of God’s Word, they are tossed here and there by waves of popular sentiment and are carried about by every wind of new doctrine that seems appealing. Because they are not anchored in God’s truth, they are subject to every sort of counterfeit truth—humanistic, cultic, pagan, demonic, or whatever. The New Testament is replete with warnings against this danger (see Acts 20:30–31; Rom. 16:17–18; 2 Cor. 11:3–4; Gal. 1:6–7; 3:1; Col. 2:4–8; 1 Tim. 4:1, 6–7; 2 Tim. 2:15–18; 3:6–9; 4:3; Heb. 13:9; 2 Pet. 2:1–3; 1 John 2:19, 26).

The immature Christian is gullible; and in the history of the church no group of believers has fallen into more foolishness in the name of Christianity than has much of the church today. Despite our unprecedented education, sophistication, freedom, and access to God’s Word and sound Christian teaching, it seems that every religious huckster (cf. 2 Cor. 2:17; 4:2; 11:13–15) can find a ready hearing and financial support from among God’s people. The number of foolish, misdirected, corrupt, and even heretical leaders to whom many church members willingly give their money and allegiance is astounding and heartbreaking.

The cause of this spiritual plight is not hard to find. A great many evangelists have presented an easy–believism gospel and a great many pastors have taught an almost contentless message. In many places the Body of Christ has not been built up in sound doctrine or in faithful obedience. Consequently there is little doctrinal solidarity (“unity of faith”) and little spiritual maturity (“knowledge of the Son of God … to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ”).

Just as many families today are dominated by their children, so are many churches. It is tragic when the church’s children—spiritually immature believers (cf. 1 John 2:13–14) who change their views with every wind of doctrine and continually fall prey to men’s trickery and Satan’s craftiness and deceitful scheming—are found among its most influential teachers and leaders.

Authentic Loving Testimony

The fifth and final feature that is primarily a requirement and yet also a result of following God’s pattern for His church will be in direct opposition to being tossed, carried away, tricked, and deceived by the schemes of Satan—namely, speaking the truth in love, a principle that applies to every aspect of Christian life and ministry. The verb translated speaking the truth is alētheuō, which means to speak, deal, or act truthfully. Some have translated it “truthing it,” while others say it conveys the idea of walking in a truthful way. The verb refers to being true in the widest sense and is hard to translate into English. Yet in Galatians 4:16 it seems to especially emphasize preaching the gospel truth. Since the reference in Galatians is the only other use of the verb in the New Testament, it seems safe to say that the emphasis in Ephesians 4 is also on the preaching of the truth (within the context of a truthful and authentic Christian life). Authentic, mature believers whose lives are marked by love will not be victims of false teaching (v. 14) but will be living authentically and proclaiming the true gospel to a deceived and deceiving world. The work of the church goes full swing, from evangelism to edification to evangelism, and so on and on until the Lord returns. The evangelized are edified, and they, in turn, evangelize and edify others.

The spiritually equipped church, whose members are sound in doctrine and mature in their thinking and living, is a church that will reach out in love to proclaim the saving gospel. God does not give us knowledge, understanding, gifts, and maturity to keep but to share. He does not equip us to stagnate but to serve. We are not gifted and edified in order to be complacent and self–satisfied but in order to do the Lord’s work of service in building up and expanding the Body of Christ. In love is the attitude in which we evangelize (cf. 3:17–19; 4:2; 5:1–2). Paul was an example for such love, as seen in the following testimony:

But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having thus a fond affection for you, we were well–pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us. For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory. (1 Thess. 2:7–12; cf. 2 Cor. 12:15; Phil. 2:17; Col. 1:24–29)

John Bunyan said of Christians, “When all their garments are white the world will count them His,” and the skeptical German poet Heinrich Heine said to Christians, “You show me your redeemed life and I might be inclined to believe in your Redeemer.” The authentic life that speaks the gospel with a spirit of loving sacrifice will be eminently convincing.

Speaking the truth in love seems deceptively easy, but it is extremely difficult. It is possible only for the believer who is thoroughly equipped in sound doctrine and in spiritual maturity. For the immature believer, right doctrine can be no more than cold orthodoxy and love can be no more than sentimentality. Only the mature man, the man who is growing up to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ is consistent in having sufficient wisdom to understand God’s truth and effectively present it to others; and only he has the continual humility and grace to present it in love and in power. The combination of truth and love counteracts the two great threats to powerful ministry—lack of truth and lack of compassion.

we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ (4:15b)

This loving, authentic testimony assists believers in growing into the very likeness of Jesus Christ. The phrase in all aspects calls for a comprehensive Christlikeness such as that described in verse 13 (cf. 1 Cor. 11:1; 2 Cor. 3:18; Gal. 4:19; Eph. 5:2; 1 Pet. 2:21; 1 John 2:6).

The head … Christ expresses a familiar Pauline analogy indicating Christ’s authority (Eph. 1:22; Col. 1:18), leadership (Eph. 5:23), and here, as in Colossians 2:19, controlling power. He not only is the sovereign Head and the ruling Head but also the organic Head. He is the source of power for all functions. Human beings are declared officially dead when the ekg is flat, signifying brain death. As the brain is the control center of physical life, so the Lord Jesus Christ is the organic source of life and power to His Body, the church.

To grow into His likeness is to be completely subject to His controlling power, obedient to His every thought and expression of will. It is to personify Paul’s prayers “For to me, to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21) and “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).[1]


Spiritual Adults

Ephesians 4:14–16

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 men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into 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.

Several years ago the elders of Tenth Presbyterian Church spent a great deal of time thinking about a succinct statement of the unique purpose of the church. When it was finished it read like this:

Tenth Presbyterian Church is committed to developing and maintaining a strong teaching pulpit in center city Philadelphia, an effective network of fellowship groups aimed at meeting individual needs, a program of Christian education to promote the steady growth of our church family to spiritual maturity and, in cooperation with other Christians, an evangelistic outreach to our city and the world beyond.

Then, after this purpose statement was finished, it was passed on to a long-range planning commission, by whom it was expanded into five specific goals:

  1. To uphold our tradition of strong expository preaching by skilled men of God from our center city location.
  2. To integrate each member of the congregation into smaller fellowship groups where individual needs can be met and each can minister to others.
  3. To provide an effective Christian education program to inform, train, and disciple all segments of our congregation.
  4. To advance the missionary work of the church in the Philadelphia area and throughout the world, and
  5. To serve the social and physical needs of our community.

The next step in this plan will be to compile a list of particular objectives that would accomplish these goals, and then to set up a specific timetable for accomplishing them and a process of measurement afterward to see if they really have been accomplished.

The whole process sounds like a modern approach to church management, but it is as old as Ephesians 4. In that chapter dealing with the church, the apostle Paul states God’s purpose for the church and mentions his goals and objectives.

God’s Purpose for God’s Church

Without looking at this passage closely, what would you say the purpose of God for his church is? Some answer that question in terms of the missionary mandate. They remember that Jesus instructed his disciples to “go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15). Since this command is repeated with variations in each of the four Gospels and an additional time in the book of Acts it is obviously of great importance. It is neglected at the church’s peril. Yet, is this the church’s purpose? Those who think so think of the church as a mighty army engaged in a great, worldwide invasion. Their favorite image of the people of God is the church militant.

Others think of the church in terms of its social concern. They remember that Jesus spoke of separating the sheep from the goats on the basis of whether those involved fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, looked after the sick, and visited the ones who were in prison (Matt. 25:31–46). People who emphasize this ministry generally think of the church as an international social service agency. But is this the proper emphasis? Is this God’s greatest purpose for his people?

Still others regard the church as a retreat from the world, and their image of it is a fortress. In the world we have conflict. We take batterings from those who do not own Christ’s lordship and are opposed to manifestations or extensions of his rule. To these people the church is a place where we can nurse our wounds and be fired up to fight another day. Is this the proper view? Did God establish the church chiefly to be a refuge from earthly conflicts?

In the verses I am speaking of Paul handles the issue of God’s purpose for his church quite differently. No doubt Paul would have had little quarrel with these other emphases. These are things the church is called to do and areas in which it is to function. But “purpose” is a more embracing concept, and when Paul writes about it, as he does here, he thinks of it as God’s developing wholeness or maturity in his people. His image is that of a body, Christ’s body, and his concern is that it be built up. See how he puts it. God gave “some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s 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” (vv. 11–13).

Then, after speaking of the opposite possibility, namely, of the church remaining spiritually immature, like children, he says, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into 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” (vv. 15–16).

In these verses Paul speaks of maturity once and of building up or growing up four times more. It means that for Paul God’s chief purpose for the church is that it might become full-grown and that each of its members might contribute to that maturity by becoming spiritual adults.

Unity to Be Attained

Paul is not just painting the scene with some broad brush of imagery, however. He is also being specific, as a careful examination of these verses shows. Granted that the church is to become spiritually mature. In what does that maturity consist? The first answer Paul gives—the first specific goal under his overriding purpose—is unity, the very point he has been making all along.

Up to this point Paul has been speaking of unity as a given, as something the church has and must maintain. He recognizes that there is diversity within the church, but far more important than the diversity are the things the people of God hold in common. He says, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (vv. 4–5). The church possesses these seven great unities. Since that is so, Paul’s admonition is: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (v. 3). A unity like this can only be maintained.

But it is entirely different in verse 13, where Paul speaks of reaching “unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God.” This unity is something to be attained. It does not yet exist but is an expression of the full maturity to which the church and its members should aspire. It has two parts: “Unity in the faith” and “unity … in the knowledge of the Son of God.”

“Faith” usually means an individual’s subjective response to the Word of God and the gospel, and “knowledge” usually refers to the content of what a child of God is to believe. But in this expression—“Unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God”—it is actually the other way around. “The faith” refers to the theological content of Christianity; it is “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3).

“Knowledge of the Son of God” refers to experiential knowledge of Jesus attained through day-by-day discipleship; it is what Paul refers to in Philippians 3 where he writes of his desire “to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (v. 10). Paul means knowledge that goes beyond what can be packed into the head, knowledge that also trickles down into the heart and flows out into the life in obedient and loving service to the Lord.

This twofold knowledge—of the head and of the heart—is what Paul says the mature church should attain. Where possible we should have an outward, visible unity, for Jesus prayed that his church might have a unity on the basis of which unbelievers might be stimulated to faith (John 17:23). But far more important than any outward show of unity is that deep, inward, motivational unity that comes from believers growing in a knowledge of the truth, as we find it in the Bible, and living that truth out experientially in day-by-day fellowship with Jesus Christ. This reality transcends denominational and all other barriers.

Christlikeness

The second specific goal under the general heading of maturity is what we would today probably call “Christlikeness.” It is what Paul is speaking of in the phrase “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” In other words, it is not only that we are to have an experiential knowledge of Jesus Christ and his ways. In addition we are to become increasingly like him through such fellowship.

This goal has a personal side, namely, that individuals might become Christlike. Ironically the temptation that first came to Adam and Eve in the garden was precisely at this point. The devil had succeeded in getting the man and the woman to doubt God’s goodness and then question his word. But the clinching argument was when he said to them, “God knows that when you eat of it [that is, the forbidden tree] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5). This was a lie, of course, although like all good lies it had a measure of truth mixed with it. It was true that if the man and the woman ate of the tree, they would come to know good and evil. Before this they had known the good but not the evil. The lie was in the fact that they did not become “like God,” knowing good and evil. They became like Satan, who not only knows what evil is, as God knows, but also practices it.

Here is the irony. Before the Fall the man and the woman actually were like God. That is the meaning of the thrice repeated phrase “in our [his own or God’s] image” from the creation account in chapter 1. In their unfallen state our first parents actually were like God, and this is precisely what they lost by succumbing to Satan’s temptation. The wonder of the gospel is that this original image, once lost through the Fall, is now progressively restored as individuals are made like Christ within the church’s fellowship.

Does anyone feel the need of performance standards for the achieving of this goal? They are in Galatians, where Christlike character, termed “the fruit of the Spirit,” is unfolded: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22–23). This describes Jesus Christ. It also describes the direction in which individuals grow by the power of Christ’s Spirit.

There is another aspect of this that is also worth considering. I have been writing of Christlikeness on the personal level as involving each individual member of the church, and this is important. It is how the church matures. Yet it is also true that in this great passage of Ephesians, dealing with maturity, Paul is thinking not so much of individual believers as of the church as a whole. He is saying that just as there is a growth in maturity for the individual, so also there is a growth in maturity for the church corporately. I think this means that, as the church goes about its business in this world, God works in it to develop one aspect of the character of Jesus Christ in a particular way here and another aspect of the character of Christ in a special way there, so that the entire church in every place is necessary to manifest the full character of the Lord.

Are you aware of that? Do you pray for that? It is what the Lord Jesus Christ wants to see in the people who constitute his body.

Growing in Truth

The third specific goal of maturity for the church is truth; without truth there is no real maturity. Paul writes in verse 15, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.”

The contrast here is with the nature and conduct of infants described in verse 14: “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 men in their deceitful scheming.” Children are delightful little creatures to have around, but they do have their limitations. Two are instability and naïveté. Children are notoriously fickle. They will be interested in one thing for five minutes; then they change their minds and focus on something else entirely, and five minutes later they move on to a third concern.

Again, children may be easily fooled. It is easy to deceive them. That is why parents have a special responsibility for the sound education and careful guidance of children; it is part of what it means to be a child. However, it is an unfortunate thing when those same characteristics hang on into adult life, weakening a person’s character and limiting his or her usefulness. It is particularly unfortunate when the same marks of immaturity mar a Christian’s development. Neither individual Christians nor the church as a whole are to be so weakened. If the church is not to be weakened, it must grow in the truth of God.

This is why Paul began by speaking of teaching gifts: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. It is not that these are the only gifts; they are not. Paul lists others elsewhere. But he lists these since they are the ways the church is to grow out of spiritual infancy to maturity. One of the tragedies of our day is that the church is so immature in this area. Consequently, it is always being carried along by the world’s fads or being led astray by false theology. The only real cure is teaching followed by teaching and then still more teaching.

Truth Wedded to Love

Yet it is not truth in isolation, as if we only needed to bombard people with facts. Truth is important! But we also need to speak the “truth in love.” Love is the fourth and last of these specific expressions of maturity. Indeed, Paul emphasizes love. This is not so evident in our English translations, but in the original text the word “truth” is actually a participle. So a more literal translation than “speaking the truth in love” would be “truthing [it] in love.” The combination means both speaking and living the truth in a loving manner. In the combination of these goals, love (the noun) is emphasized.

I was impressed with this emphasis some years ago when I was studying the seventeenth chapter of John in which Jesus prays for his church, highlighting six marks by which the church is to be recognized: joy, holiness, truth, mission, unity, and love (John 17:13–26). Each of these is important. But it struck me that love is most important, which can be seen either by subtracting it from the other marks or by expressing it in every way possible. Subtract love from joy. What do you have? You have the kind of hedonistic reveling found in the secular world, the pursuit of pleasure for its own sake. Joy is distorted.

Take love from sanctification. The result is self-righteousness, the kind of thing that distinguished the scribes and Pharisees of Christ’s day but allowed them to be filled with hatred, so that they crucified the Lord Jesus Christ when he came. Sanctification is destroyed.

Take love from truth. The result is bitter orthodoxy. Truth remains, but it is proclaimed in such an unpleasant, harsh manner that it fails to win anybody.

Take love from mission and you have colonialism. In colonialism we work to win people for our denomination or organization, but not for Christ.

Take love from unity and you have ecclesiastical tyranny, in which a church imposes human standards on those within it.

But if instead of subtracting love, you express love—for God the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Bible, one another, and the world—what do you have? You have all the other marks of the church, because they naturally follow. Love for God leads to joy; nothing is more joyful than knowing and loving him. Love for the Lord Jesus Christ leads to holiness; as he said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15). Love for the Word of God leads to truth; if we love the Bible, we will read it and grow in a knowledge of what the Word contains. Love for the world leads to mission. Love for other believers leads to unity.

When Paul speaks of the church’s maturity, as he does in these verses, he does so in terms of bodily growth. And the point of that is that growth is a process. Growth takes time. The church does not become mature overnight any more than we as individuals become mature overnight. But if God is nevertheless working to accomplish this in us, we must trust him to do it and be patient as he works. I am sure you have seen that little pin that quite a few Christians have taken to wearing. It contains just a string of letters (PBPWMGIFWMY), and it is meant to provoke curiosity. The letters stand for “Please be patient with me; God isn’t finished with me yet.”

We want everyone to be patient with us. Let us learn to be patient with them, and with the church—as God works in each believer, in all places and at all times to build and perfect Christ’s earthly body, of which we are a part.[2]


15 By way of contrast, Paul designates the positive component of the purpose (still governed by the conjunction hina in v. 14) for building up the church. No longer ought we to be infants, but (adversative de) we should “in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” Paul said earlier that Christ is Head over all things for the church, his body (see on 1:22–23). As its Head, Christ occupies the prominent place in the body. (The idea of “source” may also fit here, given Paul’s declaration in v. 16 that the body grows “from him.”) Repeating the idea of “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (v. 13), Paul champions growth (“we are to grow,” NASB) “in all things” (ta panta, accusative of reference)—i.e., in every conceivable way—to or toward Christ to avoid the potential shipwrecks instigated by deceivers. Again, Paul stresses the corporate growth of the body. The goal of the church is to become like Christ, its Head, in every possible way. The idea of growth into Christ parallels the metaphor of the church as a building in 2:20–22.

One means to achieve such growth is to continue “speaking the truth in love” (instrumental use of the present tense participle), an appeal well suited to the present theme of unity. The verb alētheuō (GK 238) means “to be truthful,” or “to tell the truth” (see Gal 4:16 for its other NT occurrence; cf. Eph 4:25). It counters the schemes “of error” (NIV, “deceitful,” from the Greek planēs, GK 4416) of v. 14. Note that Paul’s concern here is not with individual believers’ personal speech and truthfulness or honesty. In this context concerning unity, faith, knowledge, and maturity, “speaking the truth in love” denotes teaching orthodoxy against those who would pervert the truth of the message—yet all under the constraints of love. A few contend that Paul’s instruction here does not refer to speaking the truth but to living the truth, that Paul does not limit “truthing” to speaking. A better case can be made, linguistically (see its uses in the LXX and Gal 4:16) and contextually, however, for “speaking the truth,” as most versions and commentators agree. “In love” occurs six times in the letter (1:4; 3:17; 4:2, 15, 16; 5:2). Only teaching orthodoxy in a loving way will maintain the twin requirements of unity in the faith. Mitton, 156, wisely counsels, “Of any proposed action or word we ask not only ‘Is it true and right?’ but also ‘Is it kind and loving?’ ”

Unity at the cost of truth, or “truth” that sacrifices unity—both come with prices that are too high. To grow up into Christ requires the speaking of truth, for only there reside true salvation (1:13; 4:21) and orthodox Christianity. But any speaking that destroys unity is not truth-speaking, for there is only one body. A teaching that divides the body is not truth. Love, not deception or trickery, must govern how Christians speak the truth.[3]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (pp. 156–160). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Boice, J. M. (1988). Ephesians: an expositional commentary (pp. 145–151). Grand Rapids, MI: Ministry Resources Library.

[3] Klein, W. W. (2006). Ephesians. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, pp. 121–122). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.