The Edification of the Body of Christ.

Ephesians 4:11-16.

Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, such, as we have seen, are the gifts of an ascended Christ. But it is important to take notice that they are gifts, not offices. The confusion of these two things has led to the greatest disorder, and the widest departure from God's thoughts. In the epistles to the Ephesians and Corinthians, where we have the fullest teaching with respect to gift, office is not even named. The most complete instruction concerning office is contained in the first epistle to Timothy, where the subject is the proper ordering and administration of the house of God. This harmonises precisely with the character of the truth contained in these various letters, and shows how completely distinct gift and office are from one another. Gift is the provision made by an ascended Christ for the building up, of His body, the Church. Official character and responsibility, on the one hand, are associated with the regular ordering of the Church as administered by man; and as soon as that order ceased to exist, office had no further place.

The only officers named in Scripture are elders (also called overseers or bishops) and deacons. Both these were ordained by apostles, or apostolic delegates, and exercised their office in the assembly of the city to which they belonged. This assembly consisted of all believers in the city, who were gathered together as one body. Since no such assembly is now to be found, or is indeed possible - since the Church, as to its outward order, has become a ruinous heap, no more presenting even a semblance of its divinely-instituted oneness - it is clear that there can no longer be any officers similar to those named in Scripture. Nay, even if there could be a restoration of church unity, and an assembly which could, in the Scripture sense, be styled the assembly of any particular town, it would still be impossible to have officers, inasmuch as there is no longer any scriptural mode of ordaining them. Man may invent substitutes in his sectarian gatherings; but they are not, and cannot be, the officers spoken of in the word of God. They are mere arrangements of human convenience, without any scriptural sanction or authority. The use of the same names as those given to the officers of the apostolic church is simply misleading, and the claim to appoint such officers, in whatever way, is at once a denial of the Church's ruin, and a usurpation, however unintended, of apostolic authority.

This will make it clear that the distinction between gift and office is one of the very deepest importance to the Church's welfare; for had gift been in any way dependent upon office, the gift must have ceased as soon as the Church fell into ruins. But as it is, though office has ceased through the failure and disorder into which the Church has fallen, gift, the grace bestowed by an ascended Christ, is just as free as ever. Amidst the wildest confusion, amidst the grossest corruption, amidst the infinite sub-division of that which ought to have retained and exhibited its divine unity, the Lord can still freely bestow His gifts, and has done so, in matchless grace, through every age of the melancholy history of the Church on earth.

We have seen that office was local in its character, and required the ordination of apostles or apostolic delegates. In both these particulars gift presents an entire contrast. We read of the bishops and deacons of a particular church; but we never read of the evangelist, pastor, or teacher, of any particular church. These were gifts bestowed upon the Church as a whole, and a teacher or evangelist in one place was also a teacher or evangelist in every place to which he went. Moreover, they were the gifts of an ascended Christ, and never required, or could have received, any human sanction. This was clearly the case with apostles; for when, as Paul tells the Galatians, "it pleased God to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the heathen, immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus." (Gal. 1:15-17.) And it was the same with respect to the teacher. As soon as Aquila and Priscilla had taken Apollos, "and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly," without asking any ordination or authorisation he began to proclaim the truth which he had learnt. Nor was this deemed irregular; for "when he was disposed to pass into Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him: who, when he was come, helped them much that had believed through grace." (Acts 18:26-27.)

The gifts of an ascended Christ, then, whether apostles, evangelists, or teachers, received their authority from Him alone, and exercised it in responsibility to Him alone. Of course an apostle's advice as to the place or mode of labour would be received with great respect; but he possessed no authority, nor did his advice take away from the responsibility of the individual workman. Thus when Paul "greatly desired" Apollos to go to Corinth "his will was not at all to come at this time." And as with the exercise, so with the authorisation - it came from Christ only. To accept sanction or ordination from men, or to connect their labours with any local appointment, would have been a departure from God's order, and would have been a marked affront to Christ's authority, by declaring it insufficient unless supported by human approval.

These gifts were bestowed "for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of the ministry, unto the edifying of the body of Christ." (v. 12.) As to standing, the saints are perfected already. All the blessings and privileges recorded in the earlier portion of the epistle belong to the weakest believer, who is sealed by the Spirit of God, no less than to the strongest. But the question here is our practical acquaintance with the truth, and the power it gives us both for maintaining sound doctrine and for pursuing a godly walk. The two prayers in the first and third chapters are directed to these ends, and in the things they ask there is unlimited room for growth. Christ, ascended and triumphant, has therefore bestowed the gifts named in this chapter in order that saints may be perfected. This is always His object. We may be content with a low state, a low walk, a low appreciation of our blessings, a low intelligence of the ways and purposes of God; but Christ is not content. From the height of His glory He is still occupied with the wants of His people, and the first purpose to which He turns His triumph is to send down gifts which shall minister to their growth.

These gifts are provided "unto the work of the ministry." This does not mean, as we have shown, the establishment of any official order of men. It is really Christ's ministry, the work of service He began on earth, now carried on in another form through these gifts which He has bestowed upon the Church. There is another object dear to His heart besides the perfecting of individual saints, and this is "the edifying of His body." Whether this is carried on through the work of the evangelist in bringing sinners to the knowledge of the truth, or whether through that of the teacher and pastor in establishing and strengthening those who are thus brought in, it is equally precious to Him who "loved the Church, and gave Himself for it," and who recognizes in it, notwithstanding all its failures, His own "body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all." How little do we enter into Christ's thoughts as to the preciousness either of the individual believer or of the Church, the "one pearl of great price," which He has purchased at such a cost!

In verse 14 the apostle shows more fully what is meant by "the perfecting of the saints." It is, that "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." Nothing less than this will meet God's thoughts about us. Here it is not a question of filling up the body of Christ, but of individual growth. The point towards which we are to grow, that which constitutes the perfect man or the full stature, is oneness in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God. This will not indeed be fully reached till we see face to face; but meanwhile there is to be growth - growth in "the faith;" that is, in acquaintance with God's revealed mind, and growth of heart in knowledge of Jesus the Son of God Himself. These are in accordance with the two prayers of the first and third chapters. In the first the apostle asks for growth in the faith, "that the eyes of your understanding may be enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of His calling, and what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe." In the second He asks for growth in knowledge of Christ, that He "may dwell in your hearts by faith;" that ye may be "rooted and grounded in love;" and that ye may know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge."

It is not only growth in the faith, however, or even in the knowledge of the Son of God, that is here spoken of. Besides this, we find that the "oneness" elsewhere insisted on is again introduced. The goal towards which the gifts should aid us is, "till we all come unto the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God." In this there should be progress; for thus only do we come "unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ." We are to exhibit a perfect man - a man fully grown up in Christ. But where there are sects and divisions, believers, instead of being full-grown men in Christ, are only babes. They are carnal, not spiritual - walking as men instead of showing forth Christ. These divisions came in, as we have seen, through the eye being taken off Christ and occupied with men. If the eye is fixed on Christ, the maturity. - "the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" - here spoken of will practically display itself in our walk. Thus alone believers, "with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." (2 Cor. 3:18.)

The apostle then shows us the results of this maturity in Christ. The first is, that soundness of judgment in spiritual things which renders even the most unlearned believer proof against the subtleties of the human intellect, drawing away the heart from "the simplicity that is in Christ" into all sorts of false teaching - "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." (v. 14.) It is important to observe how this vantage-ground is gained. It is not by human learning, or by skill in controversy. This verse connects itself with the one immediately preceding it, showing that our stability in the midst of the shifting currents of human opinion and speculation is the result of our being full-grown in the faith, and the knowledge of the Son of God; that is, of our possessing an intelligent acquaintance with the word of God, and a heart acquaintance with the blessed Lord Himself. No safeguards against error and false doctrine are proposed by the Scriptures, or can be of the smallest avail if set up by man, except these two.

But God is never satisfied with negative results, and it is not enough therefore that we should be shielded from error. He desires something more for us, that we, "holding" (not merely "speaking ") "the truth in love, may grow up unto Him in all things, which is the Head, even Christ." (v. 15.) The knowledge of the faith is, as we have seen, the weapon which alone enables us to "hold the truth" amidst the "opposition of science falsely so called." But there must be a corresponding state of soul, showing that the truth is operative in the heart as well as the mind, that it is forming the affections as well as the intellect. Hence the truth must be held in love; for without both of these there can be no "growing up unto Christ in all things." Where, on the other hand, the truth of God is really held, not simply as an intellectual creed, but in love, the believer will grow up unto Christ - will become more and more assimilated in his walk and ways to the blessed Lord.

And it is from Him alone, who is "the truth," and who "is love," that real growth must come. From Him "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." (v. 16.) Here then we have important teaching, not only as to the part which the Head, but also as to that which the members play, in this "increase of the body." Of course all the power for growth, all the supplies, come from the Head. Hence the whole is said to be "from," or "out of" Him. But the "compacting" of the whole is "through (not from) that which every joint supplieth, according to the working in its measure of each part." Though all comes from Christ, yet each believer takes his proper place; and thus through him, in his measure, the cementing and filling up of the body is carried on. This is true through grace in spite of man's failure but surely it is a deeply humbling fact, that this wondrous unity should have no outward manifestation here on earth. Our failure cannot indeed prevent God's grace; but should not His grace make us ashamed of our failure? T. B. Baines.