17 – Ephesians 4:11-16 – Maturation

“He appointed some to be apostles, some to be prophets, and others to be missionaries, pastors, or teachers, in order to fully equip and qualify His people for ministerial work and to edify the body of Christ. This will continue until we all are united by faith by a more complete knowledge of the Son of God and attain full spiritual maturity in Christ. We should not be like children who are easily influenced, blown around by the winds of changing doctrine taught by deceitful men who constantly scheme how to deceive others. We should speak the truth in love, growing to please the Head, who is Christ. Through Him every joint is supplied and the entire Body is closely joined together. Each part is therefore enabled to work together in harmony and love.” (Ephesians 4:11-16, paraphrased)

This passage informs us that ministry exists:

~ to edify the Church in general and its members in particular
~ to promote unity among Believers
~ to impart knowledge concerning God’s Son
~ to mature the Church
~ to protect young Christians from those who would exploit them
~ to encourage Believers in a spirit of love
~ to draw our strength from Christ, the Head of the Body

v. 11

God has adequately provided for the edification, instruction, and continuing success of His Church. Paul does not seek to furnish a complete list of ministries, but rather emphasizes that these individuals are gifts to the Body of Christ. The organization and structure of the early Church was not haphazard. Christ “gives” (edoken) ministers to His people, providing the opportunity for every member to mature.

As it is used here, edoken implies a divine appointment. Those called into ministry are responsible to develop their gifts and utilize them for His glory. Men and women must have a specific mandate from God in order to enjoy a successful ministry. God appoints His ministers and equips them. Paul warns Timothy this is a sacred and “holy calling” (II Tim. 1:9).

This verse lists five types of ministerial gifts:


This group is named first because all the ministries in the body of Christ evolved from their foundational teachings. Distinguishing characteristics of the apostolic office included:

~ a commission directly from Christ (Mt. 10:5)
~ having actually seen Him after the resurrection (Acts 1:21-22 & I Cor. 15:7-8)
~ preaching
~ miracle working
~ the founding of churches
~ possessing authority recognized by the early Christians (Mt. 28:19-20)

Barnabas, James, Silvanus and others are all called “apostles” (I Th. 2:6 & Rom. 16:7). Because of his commission from Christ on the Damascus Road, Paul considered himself to be an apostle (I Cor. 9:1 & I Th. 2:6). The first century apostolic age was an era of “planned obsolescence,” for all who had physically seen and personally known the risen Christ would eventually die. Self-acclaimed “apostles” in the 21st century must answer several questions:

1. Who bestowed this title upon them?
2. How can they presume to have seen Jesus personally?
3. Where is the evidence they have performed miracles?
4. What do they specifically plan to accomplish?
5. Does the Church recognize their “apostleship” worldwide?

When Paul made his final and sorrowful departure from Ephesus, he warned that false teachers would eventually infiltrate their congregation with malicious intentions (Acts 20:17 & 29). When writing to this same church at Ephesus about 30 years later, John the Beloved quotes Jesus who states, “Many who claim to be apostles are really not and when tested are found to be liars” (Rev. 2:2). The original twelve disciples were taught by Jesus to be humble, while contemporary “apostles” are often egotists who have erroneously claimed this title for themselves (Mt. 11:29-30). Paul predicted bogus apostles would surface throughout church history and warns the Corinthians that “false apostles are deceitful workers who transform themselves into the apostles of Christ” (II Cor. 11:13).


The prophetic office in the Old Testament depict persons who heard directly from God regarding future events which they transmitted to the people. In the early days of the Church, prophets went from city to city proclaiming the Gospel message and establishing churches. Paul has earlier alluded to the Church being “built on the foundation of apostles and prophets,” but reminds them that Jesus is the Cornerstone (Eph. 2:20). He tells the Corinthians only Christ could have laid this foundation (I Cor. 3:11).

Some misquote I Corinthians 13:8 and claim prophecy ceased with the apostolic age. But prophecy is a contemporary and active gift of the Holy Spirit (I Cor.14: 18-31). As the gift of prophecy is properly utilized today, God’s people are assured of His direct involvement in their lives (Acts 21:11 & I Cor. 14:31).


This type of minister preached the Gospel as they journeyed, winning new converts. In Paul’s day the term was used when referring to traveling missionaries, such as Philip (Acts 21:8). He instructs Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist” (II Tim. 4:5). 


The word “pastor”(poimenas) means “shepherd.” It is still used today regarding those who oversee local congregations. Jesus refers to Himself as “the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep” (Jn. 10:11). The Writer of Hebrews views Jesus as “the Great Shepherd of the sheep” (Heb. 13:20). Peter exhorts his readers to “feed the flock of God” (I Pet. 5:2). The primary task of a shepherd is to protect and find nourishing food for the sheep under his care.

Some believe poimenas should be joined with “teachers” to form one office. However, all pastors are not teachers and all teachers do not pastor. Every pastor should be able to teach effectively, but apparently not all possess this particular gift. 


The word “teacher” is didaskalous. In this context, didaskalos refers specifically to expository instruction. Apollos, Paul, Pricilla, Aquila, and numerous others are regarded as instructors. Those who teach the Word of God accrue the tremendous responsibility of accurately imparting the vital doctrines of the Church to future generations.

v. 12

Paul states specific reasons why ministers are bestowed by Christ as gifts to His Church. “For the perfecting of the saints” is a phrase found only here in the New Testament. It is better translated, “to furnish and equip the saints. “Perfecting” (katartismon) is frequently found in classical Greek literature in reference to setting a broken bone or refitting a ship. It carries the idea of necessary adjustment, mending, or repair. “For the work of the ministry” is a phrase denoting the spiritual nature of these efforts. Ministers are to equip saints that they may, in turn, equip others.

The Body of Christ is to be “edified” (oikodomen) or built up through mentoring and encouragement. Oikodomen means “to bring to completion via a process.” Christ is glorified globally as His Church develops and matures. Though God has provided good leaders, the Church can expand only through proactive followers.

v. 13

The goal of ministers in every age should be to fully equip the Church. Paul proceeds to state explicit objectives. “Until we all attain unity in the faith” is a phrase proving that true ministry is not simply participating in church activities. One’s personal faith in Jesus is enhanced by knowledge and grows stronger as Biblical truth is apprehended and applied. A more thorough and complete “knowledge of the Son of God” states the divine aspiration and ultimate intent of the five ministerial offices listed in verse eleven.

“Perfect” (teleios) is better translated “full grown.” Mature Christians are determined to apply Christ’s principles in everyday life.  Paul admitted he had not attained perfection, but it was a goal toward which he continued to strive (Phil. 3:13-14).

“Unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” emphasizes the enormous responsibility every Believer has to become increasingly like Him. “Christ’s fullness” is the sum total of the characteristics which belong uniquely to Him. We are destined to “be conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29). His character is the standard by which all spiritual maturity is measured.

v. 14

We are encouraged not to remain “infants” (nepioi ) regarding our knowledge of Jesus. Nepioi is literally “one who cannot talk” and refers to very young children. It is the direct opposite of “mature” (teleios ) as used in the previous verse. For hundreds of years Christ has continuously appointed ministers in order to bring His Church to full maturity.

Having explained the intentions of good men who proclaim sound doctrine, Paul now warns young Believers about evil men who do not. Those who are spiritually immature are often susceptible to manipulators who seek to lead them astray. Paul tells the Romans to “mark those who cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine you have learned and avoid them.” He proceeds to explain why. “For they serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but rather their own bellies. By their flattering words and fair speeches they deceive the hearts of the simple” (Rom. 16:17-18). Those in touch with the Holy Spirit should nurture young Believers, helping them avoid manipulators who would exploit them for monetary gain. 

Paul blends his analogy of immaturity with the nautical metaphor of a ship “tossed to and fro” (kludonizo) by the waves. This term is used to depict those who are mentally agitated or confused. Believers can be blown off course by windy charlatans who “drown unwary souls in destruction and perdition” (I Tim. 6:9). The Apostle encourages his readers to become anchored in sound teachings (didaskalia) and doctrine, rather than drifting from their solid spiritual moorings. The perpetual undercurrent of heresy is especially strong today. Every Believer is responsible to carefully examine Biblical theology and adhere to the truth.

False teachers do not deceive others unintentionally. “Sleight” (kubeia), means “a cube” and is a direct reference to those who throw dice. Kubeia became synonymous with dishonesty and manipulation. A person gambles with their salvation when deceived by those who play religious games. Christians who form opinions by a toss of the dice are likely to seize spurious doctrines just as readily.

Bad character inevitably breeds bad doctrine. The phrase “cunning craftiness” (panourgia) points to clever trickery. Luke refers to the panourgia of the chief priests and scribes and their vain efforts to ensnare Jesus with His own words (Lk. 20:23). Paul uses this same word when admonishing ministers to never “walk in craftiness (panourgia) or handle the Word of God deceitfully” (II Cor. 4:2).

The fact that they “lay in wait to deceive” (methodeian) shows they are methodical and systematic in their efforts to ambush and ensnare the unwary. False teachers deliberately strategize in order to defraud and victimize Believers. For the Church to expand effectively it must purge itself from those who minister for the wrong reasons.

v. 15

To counter those who allure and seduce young Believers with false doctrines, we need to share God’s truth with genuine compassion. “Speaking the truth in love” always trumps deception and cold-heartedness. Christ’s “new commandment” is to love one another (Jn. 13:34). The Pharisees and Sadducees proved that harsh, man-made doctrines had no positive impact upon the people.

The desire for a closer union with Christ prompts spiritual growth. New Christians are encouraged to “exercise their spiritual senses to discern both good and evil” (Heb. 5:14). Believers are in a perpetual process of maturation, drawing energy from the Head of the Church.

v. 16

Paul seeks to denote the importance of harmony, progress, and cohesion within the Church. The apostle struggles to express himself through this elaborate metaphor. Using terms based on human anatomy, he provides a brief analogy regarding Christ and each member of His Church. Every part of the human body has a specific function, being given direction by the Head. The Body of Christ is not an organization but a living organism, evolving properly as its members proactively participate.   

The need for the Church to be “fitly joined together” is one word in Greek (sunarmologeo) and refers to something perfectly united or matched. This term is a present participle and thus denotes a continual process. Every bone, tendon, and muscle ideally works in perfect harmony with each other. The source of supply is the Head, distributing life and energy to the entire Church. As the vessels bring nutrients to every part of the body, so each member contributes to the life to the Body of Christ. In order for sustenance to be properly distributed, the conduits providing them must remain unobstructed by pride and bitterness.

The Church is motivated by love in order to win the lost around the globe. Christians are not edified (okiodome) by impersonal and unimpassioned ministers.  Truth without love will not persuade the lost and love without truth provides no foundation. Even if a Believer would receive the best gifts God can bestow, they must be distributed in agape to be meaningful (I Cor. 13:1). As the gifts of the Spirit flow freely in local churches, they help produce decisive and significant expansion of the Body of Christ.


Points to Ponder

1. What specific ministries are listed in I Corinthians 12:28?

2. What title does Peter give Jesus in I Peter 2:25?


3. What command does Jesus give to Peter in John 21:16?

4. Paraphrase Jude’s description of false teachers (Jude vv. 8-13).


5. What word is used in I Peter 5:2 to describe the wages of false teachers?


6. What persons are deemed “false” in II Peter 2:1, I John 4:1 & Revelation 16:13?

7. What does Peter warn his readers about (II Pet. 2:18 & 3:17)?

8. Using the following verses, describe the character of the false teachers: Rom. 16:17-18, Col. 2:18, Gal. 2:4 & II Cor. 2:17.



9. Paraphrase what the Writer to the Hebrews states regarding “babes  
    in Christ” (Heb. 5:11-14).


Maxim of the Moment

Love is made sweet by compliments; not commands.