In Ephesians 4, the Apostle Paul is preeminently concerned with the unity of the body of Christ––how they function as one unit, how they strive for one mission, how they reach one goal. From the beginning of chapter 4, Paul takes up the task of identifying this “one body” (Ephesians 4:4). He identifies them as those who:
- Walk worthy of their calling (Ephesians 4:1).
- Bear with one another in love (Ephesians 4:2).
- Maintain a unity of the Spirit (Ephesians 4:3).
- Maintain a bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3).
- Equip others for the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:12).
- Build up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12).
- Attain to the unity of the faith (Ephesians 4:13).
- Speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).
These glorious features of the body of Christ should be the identifying characteristics of all mature believers. Mature believers are essential in achieving the purpose and fulfilling the call to which the church has been called. How do we produce mature believers?
In an age when doctrine is chided and dismissed as arcane, Paul reminds us that biblical sound doctrine is the golden chain through which all the above facets are linked. Without sound doctrine, the chain falls apart and is good for nothing. We could put it another way––without sound doctrine, the church falls apart.
In Ephesians 4:13, Paul writes, “So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” As the church is unified and believers are equipped for the work of ministry, they mature and grow from childhood to adulthood. Paul had the same analogy in mind when he wrote 1 Corinthians 13:11, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” Paul is clear that the primary means by which believers are matured and grow up in the faith is through the teaching and practice of sound doctrine. Therefore, the church must not only be concerned with the unity of the body, the abiding fellowship with Christ, and Christ-likeness but also in the knowledge of sound doctrine. In other words, Paul is offering the church a warning. If you are not matured in sound doctrine, you will be dangerously “tossed to and fro.”
Using Paul’s analogy of childhood and adulthood (or maturity), those susceptible to being “tossed to and fro” are children. In their immaturity, children will believe just about anything you tell them. As a boy, if it were up to me, I would have eaten Snickers bars for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Children are undiscerning and have to be carefully taught, educated, and molded. My mother recounts the story of how unafraid of the water I was when I was a young boy. We would vacation to the beach, and I would immediately run into the ocean completely unafraid of the potential dangers of hazards. I had to be instructed that flotation devices were an absolute necessity until I learned to swim. At that point in my maturity, I was unable to discern between the danger of drowning and my desire to have fun.
Paul says, young believers are like children, they are undiscerning, unable to differentiate between what is true and what is false. Therefore, they can be easily deceived and are “carried about by every wind of doctrine.” Pastorally, I have seen this again and again throughout twenty-five years of ministry. Believers who are not properly grounded in the Scripture are easily persuaded to shift doctrinal positions. Every new fad, every flashy new book, every new healer, every new snake oil salesman is able to persuade them of just about anything.
How do we mature beyond this point of gullibility? How do young believers come to the place they can properly discern between the truth of God’s Word and false doctrine? Just as you physically grow by eating and drinking, our Lord wants us to nourish ourselves on the words of sound biblical doctrine. This is how Christians are to be equipped for the work of the ministry––by learning to abide in the Word. You become like John describes in 1 John 2:14, “You are strong because the Word of God abides in you, and you’ve overcome the wicked one.”
We often desire quick fixes or crafty methodology to reach maturity. But, Paul is clear that believers must know the Word of God. Otherwise, we are prone to be deceived by “human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Ephesians 4:14). Paul is talking about here going astray from the truth. You can be sure that Satan uses clever schemes to attack young believers who are not yet able to properly discern between that which is true and that which is false. He desires to trap and ensnare people with his craftiness. John MacArthur comments, “Believers must be strong to be safe from instability, and the only way you’re going to protect them from false doctrine is to give them true doctrine.”
What is the practical implication here? Believers of all maturity levels must remain consistently in the reading and study of God’s Word and under the preaching and teaching of sound doctrine. There are no short-cuts. There are no substitutes.
In my teenage years, while on vacation with my family at the beach, I discovered a sand bar a few hundred feet from the shoreline. The water between the beach and the sand bar was visibly deeper. I had reasoned that I could exert myself in order to get to the sand bar, rest once I arrived, and then swim back. So, I set out in full confidence; there would be no problems. I exhausted myself in swimming to the sand bar only to find the water was much deeper than I had anticipated, and I couldn’t touch the sea floor. Every muscle I had ached, and I was finding it difficult to stay afloat. I held my breath, sank to the bottom to rest my arms and legs, and tried to muster enough strength to make it back to the shallow water. From the beach, my dad noticed I was struggling, grabbed a float, and began paddling after me. When he arrived, my head was barely above the water. My initial confidence was like many young believers, as they are not skilled or trained to withstand the deeper waters of craftiness and immediately sink to the bottom. The Lord Jesus has provided the float of sound doctrine to rescue us from absolute ruin and destruction. Take hold, savor, and delight in God’s truth to mature you into the likeness of our dear Lord, Jesus Christ.