Editors note: The purpose of this series is to help our readers think through what discipleship is and how to embrace the Cross of Christ in all of life.

Discipleship-greenWe Are All Dependent (Ephesians 4:15–16)

For this opus to echo the majesty of Christ’s music, every believer must do his or her part. While we are the same in some ways and different in other ways, in order to fulfill Christ’s purposes we also must remember that we are all dependent.

We Are Dependent on Christ (Ephesians 4:15–16)

Although each believer is differently gifted, we must all depend upon the Savior, seeking our strength in him and seeking our purpose in him. Ephesians 4:15-16 describe a spiritual flow that we cannot miss. First, we are told that as we use our gifts to speak the truth in love, we will “grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ” (Eph. 4:15). The image that comes to mind is of stem, leaves, and branches, each exercising its function so that it grows up into a beautiful flower. In this verse, the flower is the glory of Christ that he intends for us to produce as we exercise our gifts and equip others to do the same. But in the next verse the flow reverses. We are told that “from him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:16a; cf. Col. 2:19). The image is of the human body with all of its parts coordinated and enabled by the head. More than an ancient anatomy lesson, this image is a timely warning of the human reflex that we must always guard against. That reflex is to try to do God’s work in our own strength—to exercise God’s gifts without dependence upon the Savior.

It is easy to work so hard to provide for our families that we neglect to pray, to become so concerned to do well in exams that we forsake biblical integrity, to become so busy in making sure our children perform well that we slight the spouse God sent to support us and to become so accustomed to depending on our gifts that we do not stop to depend upon the One who gives them. I know what it is to hit the ground running at the beginning of a day and to think about a thousand things before I think of the Savior, to attack a crisis with my wisdom before I seek the Lord’s. Over and over I have to be reminded that apart from Christ I can do nothing (John 15:5).

This passage that begins by describing different kinds of leaders in the church and leads us to reflect on the nature of differing gifts for everyone in the church should not be read simply as a manual for tolerating differences and appreciating gifts. This passage should also be read as a list of warnings against the ego sins of leaders that are common in Christ’s church—leaders who, because of their gifts, may forget that Christ is the Lord of all.

  • The first such sin is believing or acting as though we do not have to accept different kinds of persons in our church. For this reason, we are reminded of the unity Christ requires and the fact that we are all one in him (Eph. 4:2–6).
  • The second sin is believing or acting as though everyone has to be like us. For this reason, we are reminded that our Lord has gifted us differently (Eph. 4:7–11).
  • The third sin is believing or acting as though we by ourselves are adequate to do what needs to be done. For this reason, leaders are reminded that our task is to equip others for the work of ministry that we cannot complete on our own (Eph. 4:12–15).
  • The fourth sin is believing or acting as though we can do what Christ needs done without Christ. So we are reminded of our dependence on him (Eph. 4:16a).
  • One more sin remains: the belief that other people have the gifts that Christ needs for his church, so there is nothing for us personally to do. For this reason, Paul reminds us that not only are we dependent on the work of Christ; we have an additional dependency on others.

We Are Dependent on Each Other (Ephesians 4:16)

Paul says that “the whole body [is] joined and held together by every supporting ligament … as each part does its work” (Eph. 4:16b). We have a deep obligation to one another—everyone must do his or her part. Each has a calling to make the body work. This runs against the grain of Western culture with its emphasis on personal autonomy, and even against much of evangelicalism with its emphasis on a personal relationship with Christ. As important as is a personal relationship with Jesus, biblical Christianity never teaches that faith is just about Jesus and me. We are part of the body of Christ. We are his presence now on earth as his Spirit lives within us and among us (Eph. 2:22). I am the expression of Christ’s love to others, and they to me.

It is very important to note that the phrase “in love” in verse 16 hearkens back to the key mention of “in love” at the opening of this section (Eph. 4:2; also repeated in Eph. 4:15). Paul draws on the theme of Christian love throughout the epistle (Eph. 1:15; 3:17; 5:2) because he recognizes that love, as a central characteristic of God and of Christ (Eph. 1:4; 2:4; 3:19; 6:23), is therefore essential for those united to Christ (Eph. 5:2). The church community functions because we are all called to be love contributors, not just love consumers. Every spiritual community to which Christ will ever call us does not exist merely to serve us but to be served by us out of mutual love. We need each other’s love. We are here together because Christ has made us one, so that our gifts will lovingly complement each other, and together we can grow to maturity in Christ both in what we understand and in what we do.

Christ makes us one and obligates us to work together so that we can use our different gifts to build his church. In this task, all gifts are needed and everyone must do his or her part. We must never rule ourselves out of the process of building the church that is Christ’s transforming power for this earth and for the eternity of multitudes that he is drawing to himself. We grow and mature as each one does his or her part.

We must make every effort to keep the unity of Spirit in the bond of peace, and use whatever gifts God has given us to further equip his people for the work of ministry.