This last weekend in our makeup session for Ephesians we translated and studied Ephesians 4:1-16. The theme of Ephesians is “in Christ,” which permeates each section of the letter. Not only is 4:1-16 the transition from the doctrinal foundation (1:1-3:21) to the practical application (4:1-6:24), it sets the goal for those who are “in Christ.” namely,
…until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.
…but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, (4:13, 15 NAS)
One quote from Eugene Peterson exemplifies why this is such a challenge.
America in the twenty-first century does not offer propitious conditions for growing up. Maturity is not the hallmark of our culture. Our culture is conspicuous for its obsession with “getting and spending.” Instead of becoming more, we either get more or do more. So it is not surprising that many people are offering to sell us maps for living better than we are without having to grow up: maps to financial security, sexual gratification, music appreciation, athletic prowess, a better car, a better job, better education, a better vacation.
As it turns out, the maps never get us to where we wanted to go: the more we get and do, the less we are. We regress to the condition of “children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Eph. 4:14). It is hard to know whether things have gotten worse since Paul wrote, but with the multi-billion dollars spent every year in America to fund “trickery” and “craftiness deceitful scheming” in business and entertainment and government, and, most distressingly, church, it certainly is not getting any better. Paul has something different in mind for us. (Peterson, Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing up in Christ, pp. 179-80, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2010, [emphasis added])
In such an environment, the loudest voices encourage us to develop the skills, the principles of leadership, the best marketing we can find, and then let that be our standard and goal. There isn’t much room for learning and growing in Christ in such an environment.
This isn’t only a problem for pastors and other church leaders. This is a problem for every Christian. If we have accepted and encouraged the outward conformity to success, then we need to start by repenting of changing God’s standard and goal for a business “success” model of the church. Being “in Christ” and growing to maturity is not success in the eyes of the world.
If your pastor is spending sermon time on methods of being a better parent, better spouse, better lover, then “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2) is not the center of the preaching. And that ought to be a warning that your spiritual growth is being stunted, deflected. Listen carefully to what is said, study Scripture, and hold pastors accountable.
Don’t be dazzled by the glitz being offered. As people “in Christ,” we can die on the famine in and from the pulpit. But a heart refreshed, forgiven, renewed, restored in the Word and Lord’s Supper is the foundation of being “in Christ,” and growing “in Christ.”