Different people seem to have different images of Christian maturity, so it is important to look at what the Bible says about it. It is also important to realize that this particular passage is talking about corporate identity, the church, rather than about individual believers.1 Earlier Paul has mentioned that that all should maintain unity and work toward maturity of the whole. Now he is giving some explanation of what maturity means.
Paul describes three purposes of ministries (v. 12), followed by a “threefold description of the goal of the Church’s existence.”2 They are actually one thought but 3 different aspects (or perhaps simply 3 different ways of describing maturity).
Reaching unity in the faith and in the knowledge of Christ
While it is impossible to reach agreement in every detail of everything, believers and the church are expected to have reasonable unity in the knowledge of God, in the trust and commitment to Jesus, and in the outward practice of their faith. Knowledge and faith are essential factors in maturity.3 New believers do not gain knowledge, deep trusting attitude, and obedience to Christ overnight, so such maturity should be believers’s pursuit and church’s goal.
Becoming mature (or literally, becoming a mature man)
Here maturity is related to stability in faith and the ability to discern right teachings from wrong ones. The mature man is contrasted with infants in the next verse, and the immature are described as being “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching.” Again Paul stresses the importance of faith (in the sense of content of faith) and knowledge. Knowledge itself does not mean maturity, but it is hard to imagine real maturity without true knowledge.
Attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (literally to the measure of maturity/age of the fullness of Christ)
The idea here is that believers and the Church should grow to be like Christ. 4 The Church is to “show to the world all the attributes and qualities of Christ.5
Having been given the unity of the Spirit, believers are to maintain unity and serve in unity until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son, becoming like Him and “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
Lest we forget!
1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.
2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called;
5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism;
6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.
8 This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.”
9 (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions?
10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)
11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,
12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up
13 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.
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 people in their deceitful scheming.
15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is, Christ.
16 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.
- That the passage is talking about corporate identity can be seen from the context, the use of plurals like “his people” and “we all” and metaphors like “a mature man” (v. 13, although TNIV does not literally translate it), “the body of Christ” and “the whole body.” ↩
- Andrew T. Lincoln, Ephesians (Dallas: Word Incorporated, 1990), 255. ↩
- In biblical usage, the word ‘faith'(πίστις) could mean our trust in God but could also mean our belief (that is, the content of faith). Likewise, ‘knowledge'(γνῶσις or ἐπίγνωσις) could have 2 meanings: an intellectual understanding, or a deeper appreciation of someone or a relationship. In some passages we need to determine which meaning is under discussion, but since faith and knowledge are both mentioned here, it is less critical to distinguish the exact meaning of each word as each is balanced by the other. ↩
- There are minor differences concerning whether Paul is talking about measure of maturity (ἡλικία) as in age or as in bodily stature and what different stress can be made from the different analogies, but the main idea seems to be clear that the church is expected to grow to be like Christ. ↩
- Max Anders, Galatians – Colossians (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1999), 152. ↩