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After telling us that God had given the fivefold ministry to the church as gifts, Paul writes in Ephesians 4:14,
14 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;
The fivefold ministry is called to bring believers “to a mature man” (Ephesians 4:13), “no longer to be children.” In Paul’s mind, this meant they would be grounded in the word and in the knowledge of the truth, so that they would not continually change their views with every passing teacher or philosopher.
Of course, we understand that every time a teacher from the fivefold ministry exercises his gift, lives ought to be changed and understandings deepened. But Paul was referring to informed believers who had solid understanding of the word and knew why they believed what they did. This takes time.
Many years ago, I heard it said by a wise preacher that it takes about five years for someone to gain a good grasp of the gospel of the Kingdom. Perhaps that statement was true, but it depends largely on the teacher and the amount of time that the student is willing to spend to gain understanding. Five years can make a huge difference, but I was still learning life-changing things after 50 years, as God built more layers upon my first revelation in 1963. One should never cease to learn new and deeper things.
Truth in Love
Paul asserts a further requirement in Ephesians 4:15, 16,
15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
Because “God is love” (1 John 4:8), and because we are being prepared to be His image, it is clear that love is the ultimate sign of spiritual maturity. Learning the word is not an end in itself. In fact, if it does not lead to an increase in love, we must question the source and validity of those doctrines and teachings being taught. The word is a seed (1 Peter 1:23), and when it sprouts and bears fruit, the fruit must first be made from love.
The characteristics of love are best described in 1 Corinthians 13. I covered that chapter in greater detail in Book 3 of my Commentary entitled, 1 Corinthians, the Epistle of Sanctification.
Paul says that it is by “speaking the truth in love” that “we are to grow up in all aspects into Him.” In other words, if the words coming from our mouths do not manifest love, then we are not growing to maturity. I would go further by saying that if love is not the fruit of our lips, then perhaps we should examine the quality of the seed that was planted in our hearts. Where did we learn that which we believe to be truth? There are whole denominations that were founded on dissention and conflict, sometimes with bitterness and even murder in the name of truth. Psalm 127:1 tells us, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.”
Champions of Truth have not often been Champions of Love. When truth is just a doctrine, it is just grass seed that has a beautiful appearance when it flowers, but in the end, because it is fleshly seed, mortal and corruptible, it fades and turns to dust (1 Peter 1:24, 25). The enduring quality of genuine Truth is that the seed from which it sprang is the word of God, who is Love.
Love and Spiritual Maturity
Spiritual maturity itself can be measured by our ability to love as Christ loved. The Greek language itself had three main words all translated love—but with different implications: eros, phileo, and agape. The first describes physical attraction, the second brotherly love, and the third the love of God. Scripture does not even mention eros, because the word of God calls us to higher forms of love.
There is also a fourth called storge, parental affection for their children. Paul uses this term in the negative, astorgos, “without natural affection” in Romans 1:31 KJV and 2 Timothy 3:3 KJV.
Eros is the most superficial type of love. Those who remain in that way of life are the most immature of all. Phileo is a 50/50 relationship, which siblings know as fairness. This stage of love is where parents teach their children the basic principles of justice and how to respect the property of others. Agape is mature love, where children learn the principles of grace and mercy, not always demanding justice but searching for the best way to benefit others before oneself.
When it ceases to be “all about me,” then it can be said that a child is moving into the love of God. Only when agape becomes the normal manner of life for the church will all the body parts begin to function as a unit, each using its particular calling to support all the other parts. The bottom line is that love “causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”