April/May 2019 - Vol. 103

                  Praise and Worship, photo by give and take
A Study of Ephesians 4
Unity and Growth in the Body of Christ
by Derek Prince

In Chapter 4 of Ephesians, Paul describes the completed body of Christ as having four distinctive marks: It will be united, strong, mature, and complete.

Paul very rightly begins this tremendous church-building chapter by emphasizing Christian character.
"I therefore ... beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."
This matter of character is crucial. You may wish to build a building, and you may be aware that the best architect in the world has drawn up flawless blueprints for it. But you must also have the right materials to build with. If the architect calls for reinforced concrete and steel, you cannot use bricks and wooden beams and build successfully. In the same way, we cannot build the kind of church Paul describes unless we become people with the character of Jesus Christ. To become people of character we need the full power of the Spirit, and we ourselves must decide to change.

Seven basic unities of the church
Paul goes on in this chapter to deal with what I call the seven basic unities of the church (verses 4, 5, and 6): one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one Father. Those are basic, inescapable unities of the true church of Jesus Christ. Then Paul discusses diversity. I find that whenever

Paul tackles the issues of the church he always begins with unity, and then unfolds diversity. After establishing the unity of the church, Paul goes on to say, "But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ's gift. ...And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers...."

Thus the primary diversity in the body is the ministry gifts that the ascended Christ gave. Let us look closely at the words used for "gifts" in this passage. The word translated "gifts" in verse 8 is doma in Greek. But when Paul says, "according to the measure of Christ's gift," he uses the word dorea. Now where the word dorea is used in the New Testament, the "gift" referred to is a person. There are two great dorea: Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. In other words, Paul is saying here that in these ministry gifts, Christ gave himself back to the church through the Holy Spirit: "According to the measure of Christ's dorea."

Christ is the perfect embodiment of everyone of those ministries. He's the perfect apostle, the perfect
prophet, the perfect evangelist, the perfect shepherd, the perfect teacher. Seminary or Bible school training alone does not make a man a shepherd.  A man is a shepherd only because Christ the shepherd lives in him. If I am a teacher, it's not because I spent seven years at Cambridge University. I am a teacher only because Christ the teacher gave himself to me.

In a certain sense, the entire purpose of Jesus Christ for his church flows forth from these ministries. I do not believe that the purpose of Christ for the church could be fulfilled without them.

I want to give you a brief definition of each of these ministries, realizing that my definition will be extremely inadequate.

By definition, an apostle is one who is sent forth. A person who has not been sent forth cannot be an apostle. The first apostles were sent forth by Jesus while he was on earth, but in Ephesians 4, Paul is primarily referring to apostles who came later: "When he ascended on high, he gave gifts to men and his gifts were that some should be apostles …"


An apostle is the architect of the building. It is his responsibility to know every part of the building – from foundation to roof. When his apostleship was challenged, Paul said to the Corinthian church, "If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 9:2). Paul meant that Christ had never been preached when he went to Corinth. When he left after completing his ministry, Corinth had a complete, functioning, local church with all its gifts, offices, ministries, and graces. This complete church was the seal of Paul's apostleship. An apostle does not always build the local church, but he is the one who has the final word on how it should be built.


A prophet is very simply a man who receives a message from God, supernaturally, to be delivered at a certain time and in a certain place. Let me illustrate from Jonah. Jonah walked into Nineveh and told the people that God was going to judge them. If Jonah had been a preacher he could have said that. What made Jonah a prophet? He said, "Forty days is all you've got." He had a direct, supernatural revelation.

An evangelist is one who conveys the good news of Jesus Christ. You might say that the evangelist is God's paratrooper. He drops behind the enemy lines before the devil even knows he's there. Phillip is the only evangelist actually described in the New Testament and he acted as a paratrooper. He did not actually get his converts baptized in the Holy Spirit, but he did get them baptized in water.

The meaning of the word shepherd is lost on many of us today. But in the Lord's time and for many centuries before that, being a shepherd was a quite common occupation. When the writers of the New Testament letters, Paul and Peter especially, used this word to describe a ministry in the church, they expected their readers to understand its meaning immediately. A shepherd in those times (and in some places even today) took a personal, caring interest in each one of his sheep. He made sure the needs of each sheep were met, that none got lost or strayed away, and that they were led to good grazing land. The shepherd personally protected the flock from harm by doing battle with wild animals himself. Each sheep knew the shepherd, knew his voice, and trusted him. He stood in the midst of them and led them.

The ministry of shepherd, then, is to take care of the people of God, making sure the needs of each person are met, spiritually and sometimes even physically. It is his responsibility to make sure that each member of the body of Christ is receiving the kind of care and encouragement he or she needs to grow strong and mature as a Christian. He is the one who leads them and makes sure things go well for them.

Teacher, interestingly enough, is related to many of the other ministries. For instance, Paul said that he was ordained an apostle and a teacher of the Gentiles. There were certain prophets and teachers in Antioch. Teacher went with prophet. In Luke 20, Scripture says that Jesus was evangelizing and teaching. Teaching apparently can go with any of the other ministries. Whether it is a ministry on its own is a matter of discussion. We would probably have to classify Apollos as a teacher. We do not hear of him fulfilling any other role, yet he clearly had a valid ministry of teaching.

After Paul lists the ministries, he describes their three purposes in verses 12 and 13: (1) they exist to equip believers for their tasks. Those who receive the gifts do not do all the work, but train the believers to do what they are called to; (2) they exist to build up the body; (3) and they exist to bring all believers into unity, maturity, and completeness.

In verses 14 and 15 we are presented by Paul with a kind of parenthesis which gives us two stark alternatives:
" ...50 that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness and deceitful wiles. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ."

God gives us this choice: come under discipline, submit to God's appointed ministries in the church for your upbuilding, and grow up; or, if you refuse, you will remain a spiritually retarded child, subject to deception, and carried about with every wind of doctrine.

Paul tells us very fairly and honestly that there are men waiting to deceive us. The only safety from deception is to come under God's appointed authority in ministry, and grow to maturity.

The completed Body of Christ

Verse 16 describes the completed body. Talking about Christ the head, it says: "From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplies according to the effectual working on the measure of every part, makes increase of the body under the edifying of itself in love." This is a complex sentence and I am not going to try here to analyze it grammatically or syntactically. But I'll tell you what I think it means. I see three things in that picture of the completed body. First of all, each member is rightly related to Christ the head. This is the most important point. Secondly, each member its function. Thirdly, each member is rightly related, by joints, to the other members.

To draw practical applications from this image, I want to talk about my interpretation of the parts of human anatomy spoken of in this passage.

Interpersonal relationships
First of all, what are the joints? In my understanding, the joints are interpersonal relationships, the places where the members touch and fit one another. The passage says, "According to that which every joint supplies."The channel of supply is the joint; you can be in the body, but if you're not rightly jointed, you don't get your supply.

Covenant love
Joints are held in place by ligaments. Just as our body's joints and bones are knit together by ligaments, so do ligaments bind together the members of the body of Christ. I believe the ligaments that join the bones are
covenant love.

Covenant love is not an emotion; it is a commitment. The marriage commitment is "for better or for worse, for rich or for poor, in sickness and in health." It doesn't depend on situations, circumstances, or emotions. It is a life commitment. In the same way, covenant love among Christians is a life commitment that does not depend on our feelings, or the weather, or the preacher. I believe that covenant love is the only way we can be joined and still hold up under stress.  Unfortunately, most members of the body of Christ today are not firmly held together, because there is no real covenant love.

Covenants are not simply human contracts. There has to be an element of divine sovereignty in every covenant relationship; I do not believe that we can put the bones together ourselves.

Ministries of the body
To extend our metaphor further, let us consider the body's muscles – that which makes the body move. I believe the muscles are the activities or ministries of the body. Oddly enough, muscles in the body work against each other. In other words, some muscles bend my arm while others extend it. So it is in the body of Christ. The activities of the body work in tension, some bending and some extending as the body moves. For years I missed this point completely. I wanted to be with a group of people who thought, believed, preached and dressed like me. If I had succeeded, I would have constructed a paralyzed body of Christ, incapable of moving at all. The secret of the body's activity is the tensions within it. Properly balanced tensions make the body function. Unbalanced tensions paralyze it.

For instance, you've probably seen a crippled person whose arm is bent up tightly, close to his body. This happens because the muscles that normally straighten the arm have failed, and cannot counterbalance the action of the muscles that bend the arm. Some bodies of Christ walk with their arms like that: only half the muscles are working.

Counterbalancing tensions in the body
Here are six different counterbalancing tensions in the body of Christ. I think most of us in our churches or prayer groups experience these: (1) institutional versus charismatic; (2) what we call "fixed-form" worship versus spontaneous~Which is right? Both; (3) tradition versus immediate truth-Which do we need? Both; (4) evangelism versus pastoral care-the evangelist says, "Brother, all we need to do is tell people about the Lord." The pastor says, "What are you going to do with the ones that are saved already?" That's a natural and proper tension in the body; (6) plurality versus leadership - Many different kinds of people are serving the Lord, but we must have leadership over them all. We've got to make room for both.

Now let me mention some common, personal tensions in the body: the outgoing versus the reflective; the impulsive versus the cautious; the inspirational versus the analytical; the mystical-prophetic versus the practical administrative. Instead of bemoaning the presence of these differences in the body, let us thank God that he has placed them there. Without them, the body of Christ is swiftly on its way to paralysis. But with the creative tension of these differences the whole body and all its parts can work effectively.

In his word, God gives us a vision for the completed body of Christ. He tells us what it should look like and how it should function. If our work is to be fruitful and enduring, we must pay close attention to his plan and set aside our own. We need the sturdy raw material of upright, personal character. We need the seven unities of the body. We must have the diversity of the ministries and their proper functioning. Neither can we do without the ligaments of covenant love that bind the members together nor the muscle-like, counterbalancing action of the various ministries and personalities.

If we do not submit to God's plan and his ministries, God gives us only one choice-spiritual retardation and deception. But if we diligently follow his blueprint for the body of Christ, what we will attain to is nothing less than the glory of Christ on earth.

This article was first published in New Covenant, January 1976, Servant Publications, Ann Arbor, Michigan USA.

Derek Prince (1915–2003) was born in India of British parents. Educated as a scholar of Greek and Latin at Eton College and Cambridge University, England, he held a Fellowship in Ancient and Modern Philosophy at King’s College. He also studied Hebrew and Aramaic, at Cambridge University and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. While serving with the British army in World War II, he began to study the Bible and experienced a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ. Out of this encounter he formed two conclusions: first, that Jesus Christ is alive; second, that the Bible is a true, relevant, up-to-date book. These conclusions altered the whole course of his life, which he then devoted to studying and teaching the Bible.

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