Spiritual growth according to Ephesians

In the past few posts I have looked at quotes and discussions related to spiritual growth. Now, let’s go back to Ephesians and take a look at what it says.

“In Christ”

The phrase occurs 37 times (in some variety) in Ephesians; in six short chapters—that’s quite a bit! So, Paul is presenting what it means to be “in Christ.” In chapters 1-3, Paul uses the phrase 27 times in a section dominated by the doctrinal formulation. Thus, in 1:3-14, key concepts have to be understood in light of their relationship to “being in Christ.”

In chapters 4-6, the practical section, he uses it only 10 times. As Paul works out the implications of being “in Christ” he does not have to repeat everything; he assumes the reader/listener has the first three chapters in mind.

One critical text for our understanding of spiritual growth is 4:11-13

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. (Ephesians 4:11-13 NIV)

Me vs. Us

I have much to write about this, but at this point one key idea stands out: spiritual growth is not only individually oriented, but body-of-Christ oriented. If anything in the western church, individualism of spiritual growth is considered the quintessential mark of maturity. But Paul does not let us get away with such a distorted view. Notice how Paul puts it:

“so that the body of Christ may be built”

“until we all reach unity”

This focus on the body of Christ is not limited to Paul’s “practical” section. In Ephesians 1-2 Paul uses the first person plural (“we” and “us” and “our”) to address the doctrinal foundation of our faith. Thus, we have a lopsided, distorted view of the faith, of spiritual growth, of life “in Christ” if we focus either of two sides and not both. We distort when we focus on…

  • my personal growth without concern for the body of Christ
  • the body without personal application

Application?

Here are some questions about spiritual growth, your congregation, and yourself.

  • In Ephesians 1-2, which texts speak to me/us about what it means to be “in Christ”?
  • Am I concerned about the body of Christ in my local congregation, and specifically about the body of Christ growing?
  • Is my pastor fulfilling his role as pastor in Ephesians 4:11-16?
  • Is my congregation concerned about growth of the body of Christ?
  • What dangers do I see about spiritual growth in my congregation and myself?
  • What are some key thoughts about Ephesians 4:11-16 that show where I personally have to change?

You might have more questions or insights to add to this list.

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About exegete77

disciple of Jesus Christ, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, teacher, and theologian
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