Reading: Psalm 11:3; Ephesians 4:7,8,11-16.
We shall now proceed with a further aspect of the important matter of foundations. In that eleventh Psalm from which we started our meditation there is one feature which is common to the whole subject of foundations and building in the Word of God. When we considered that Psalm more fully you will remember that David was, at the time of writing the psalm, in the midst of great active treachery, opposition and antagonism. The wicked were drawing their bow in the dark to shoot under cover at the righteous, and in the midst of that hostility the Psalmist refers to the foundations, and then he also says: “Jehovah is in his holy temple”; so that you get two things which comprise one whole, that is, building and battle. The temple, the foundations, the Adversary and the atmosphere of conflict. You will find that throughout the Word of God these two things are always found together.
If it is Nehemiah building the wall of Jerusalem, the sword and the trowel are found accompanying one another; the building and the battle are together. If it is the building of the temple of Solomon, David has reduced all the surrounding enemies to subjection to make that building possible. The building was not possible until the battle had accomplished its work. When you come into the spiritual interpretation of the Old Testament illustrations in the New Testament, you find those things always together. Wherever you have to do with the building you will always have to do with the battle.
When we look into the first letter to the Corinthians there surely is there a very conspicuous example of this truth. The building in that letter is alongside of tremendous battling. The battling is associated with the building. Now, when you come to the letter to the Ephesians you see the same thing again. Here is the House, the “habitation of God through the Spirit”, here is the church which is Christ’s body, and here you have much said about the building up of the body; but you will find in this letter that all that is in the presence of the enemy, principalities and powers, the world rulers of this darkness. The building goes on in battle, in conflict, and this fourth chapter contains in itself those elements. If you were reading those verses just now thoughtfully, you were discerning that the apostle in what he was saying about the building up of the body and all connected therewith was in the presence of antagonisms, perils, dangers, spiritual opposition. What is this about sleight and cunning craftiness, the wiles of error, the winds of doctrine, the waves of falsehood? These are the elements of the battle, the conflict, these are the opposing forces to the church, the body of Christ. These are the things with which the development, perfecting, consummating of God’s purpose in the church are associated, and with which that progress has to contend. And the apostle is saying in more words that the important thing here is that the saints should be well grounded; that the saints should come to a place of being established, and established in fulness where every one of them is a responsible, trustworthy member of the body of Christ. That is the force of this whole paragraph.
Why the Foundations Should be Soundly Laid
Now then, let us immediately bring before our view the end, the object, and then we shall see what goes toward the realisation of that object. What is the object in view here? It is that every one member of Christ’s body shall be a functioning, responsible, effective member, in a position where they are able, with the ability of Christ to stand against the wiles, the craftiness and falsehood of the Evil One, the winds and the waves of error. But, beloved, surely you and I are alive in these days to the necessity for every member of Christ to be in that position. The conditions with which the apostle Paul was contending at that time are conditions which abound today just as much as then. Of course, it came in his day through those who were Gnostics, people who claimed to have wisdom, to be in possession of knowledge. Of the Gnostics, who claimed to have religious knowledge and wisdom, Paul said their gnosticism operated in these ways: craftiness, wiles, winds and waves of error, false doctrine, false teaching. Whoever may be the counterpart of the Gnostics today, gnosticism is widespread. That is, there are waves and winds of error sweeping over the earth, and so subtle that no natural mind can see through, no ordinary judgment or discernment can detect the flaw, the error. It is so wrapped up in biblical forms and scriptural phraseology that the infants, the children to whom Paul speaks, will be easily carried away, those who are spiritually children in a wrong sense. It is not wrong to be a child of God, to be a new-born babe, but it is wrong to be a child when you ought to be a man, and that is what the apostle is speaking about. In the presence of these things, and in the expectation warranted by the Word of God that these things will increase, develop and become more and more subtle, with the very miracles which will accompany them, the necessity the apostle saw then, and which is made clear to us through the Word of the Spirit by him is that every member of Christ should be in the position to stand against those wiles, should have their foundations so soundly laid, and should themselves be so rooted and grounded that they will not be carried away. The ministry that is needed today is ministry in that direction. Give heed to this word, you will need it. If you have not already done so, it will not be long before all of you are confronted with some of these wiles of error, this craftiness of false teaching, these waves and these winds of doctrine, and unless you are grounded and established and know, you will be carried away, you will lose your footing and will be swept off.
Now with the consciousness of so solemn and serious a situation and need, this word is, I believe, given to us by the Lord, and we must lay it to heart. Every member of Christ, without an exception, must be a responsible, intelligent, functioning member, and inasmuch as that is not true of any one member, that member is in a perilous position. But you are not surprised that the coming along of these winds and these waves carry away multitudes of Christians. Sooner or later they are landed high and dry and do not know where they are because, in spite of having the New Testament, and in spite of having the letter to the Ephesians, which itself is enough for this purpose, so many of the Lord’s children are not taught, instructed, and established in Christ, to be able to discern, to understand, judge, and to remain firm in a perilous day.
The Saints as Builders
Now then, let us look at this passage of the Word a little more closely. “He... gave gifts unto men”, that is, “He gave some apostles.” He gave apostles unto men. “...some prophets.” He gave prophets unto men. “...some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers.” These are the gifts which He gave to men. “Men” here, of course, represents the whole company of the elect. The evangelists to bring in the elect, the others mainly to do with those who have been brought in. So that the church which is the body of Christ is in view, and it is in relation to the church as the body of Christ that these gifts were given by the Lord in His ascension. These are the gifts—but note, they were given for an express purpose and with an express object. They were given for “the perfecting of the saints unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ, till we all attain unto the unity of the faith...” Do not break in with punctuation there. There ought not to be a break. “For the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering”, as though the work of the ministry there related to the apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists. It does not relate to that. The work of the ministry there relates to the saints as they are perfected through the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers. The work of these gifts is to result in the saints being in a position to minister, and it is only as the saints are in a position to minister (that is what I mean by functioning) that the saints are safe. It is not alone the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers who are in the ministry, it is all the saints who are called to be in the ministry. All the saints, every member of Christ’s body is a minister according to the divine intention. And only as they are in that position to minister, in a state which qualifies them to minister, is the church safe. The ministries may be as varied, as numerous as there are members of the body of Christ. “For the perfecting of the saints unto the work of ministering.”
Let us be quite clear in our terms. That word “perfecting”. You may say: Well, of course, if we were perfect we could minister. Surely that is a long way ahead, that is something toward which we have got to move, to which we have to come. But that word perfecting there does not mean that. It is used as a medical term very often, and a more literal translation would be “mending”, for the mending of the saints. If you have an accident and get broken and are taken to a hospital you get mended, and that is exactly what this word means. The mending of the saints, making them whole. Sometimes the word is used for the furnishing of a house. You would not like to live in an unfurnished house. We must furnish it before we can live in it. The word is used in Matthew concerning the nets, when the Lord saw certain men mending their nets. This is the same word. There were holes in their nets, and those nets had to be made good so that they were complete, suitable for their work. They might not have been in that higher sense the most perfect nets you could find, but they were whole nets, complete nets. And what the apostle is pointing out here is just that. Not a state of divine perfection in us but a state of completeness in Christ. “For the mending of the saints unto the work of the ministry.” The mending of the nets was unto some hope of catching fish. The trouble with so many, and the reason why so many are carried away with these winds and waves of doctrine, is that there are gaps, gaping gaps in their apprehension of Christ, in their knowledge of Christ, in their understanding of the truth; gaps, breaks, openings through which the error comes, and they want mending. And these gifts are given just to mend the saints that the saints may fulfil the ministry. It is so different from the traditional order to which we are accustomed, that the ministry is something we sit under so many times a week, from a pulpit or platform. And having sat under it, and either enjoyed it or endured it, that is the end so far as we are concerned; we have done what is incumbent upon us, we have done our duty, we have “sat under the ministry”. That is not the ministry here at all. The ministry is the result in your practical functioning of what the pastor, the teacher, or the evangelist does, what you do as the outcome. That is the ministry: the resultant exercise in the heart of every member of Christ. If we really did get that we should be a long way on, we would be much further on than we are. Just think where we would be if that had always been the case. The evangelists, prophets, pastors, teachers, would have fulfilled their function in our midst and we would have gone away and got before the Lord on that and said: Now Lord, that has to be wrought in me, I am going to make that mine, and work in the strength of it.
Supposing we had done that with every message we had received, don’t you think the church would have been in a solid place of establishment? A very different history would have been written in the presence of the wiles of the devil and the cunning craftiness, if that had been the case. We will not look abroad too much, we will look within our own hearts, and say, Now this is for me. We have to look into our hearts and say: Now what is the practical result and abiding value in my life as a functioning member of Christ of that ministry to which I have listened, of that work of the gifts of the Lord, the apostle, prophet, pastor, teacher, evangelist. Where am I as the result? Have I heard it, regarded it as the ministry, left it there and let them get on with their ministry? Or am I as a result, a minister of Christ? That is a distinct question is it not? Oh, for the strength in the people of God, in the church His body, which would be the sure result of our so apprehending the Word of the Lord. We are badly in need of that strength today, that assurance, that establishment.
Individual Responsibility for Building
Now notice: “For the perfecting of the saints unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ.” Then the work of ministering, which is the work of each member of Christ is to result in the building up of the body of Christ. Now let us test it again backwards. How much are you and I contributing toward the building up of the body of Christ? How much are we functioning with that result, the building up of the body? That is our business, every one of us. That is our ministry. Are you prepared to accept that responsibility, to take, by the grace of God, that work on your heart, not to be an adherent, a follower, a passenger, an attendant, but a live, functioning member whose very presence in the body of Christ means its building up?
Later you notice the apostle puts his finger upon this very matter in a specific way. He says: “...through that which every joint supplieth, according to the working in due measure of each several part, maketh the increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love.” Each several part working in measure, resulting in the building up of the body in love. He has the physical body at the back of his mind. How much Paul knew about the physical body as we understand it today I do not know, but the Holy Spirit knew all about it, and when you remember those minute organisms of the human body, the cells of the human body, and how the entire growth of the physical body hangs upon the functioning of each minute cell, and the body is only built up, increased as each minute cell functions and does its work, you have a wonderful illustration and perfectly true one of how the spiritual body of Christ is built up and increased. You say: “I am only a minute part, I do not count.” Well, try and count the cells in your body, how many cells can you pack into a square inch of your physical body?—almost countless. You may be in your own mind like one of those, lost in the crowd, but there is a mighty responsibility for the whole body resting upon you. The point is not how big you are but whether you are contributing your measure. Each several part working in measure. The sense is that every part must do its measure, come up to its measure, toward the building of the body of Christ. That is our function and our ministry.
Oh, beloved, we shall have to regard this as an ordination service, and go out regarding ourselves as in the ministry and responsible for the whole body of Christ in our measure. We cannot understand that; we never shall understand it; we are in the presence of a mystery. Who can understand the physical body to the full? There are mysteries about it which have never yet been fathomed, and I doubt whether they ever will be fathomed. We have often illustrated that mystery of the human body in this way, that the oration of a Demosthenes should be the result of a Demosthenes having had his breakfast. You have read some of those orations which swayed crowds and made men do what they had no intention of doing, the power of reasoning and of human language. If the orator had stopped eating he would have stopped giving orations and therefore his orations were in some way the outcome of his having his food, but how you translate bacon and eggs into orations I don’t know. But it is true! You see what I mean. And how you and I, being the atoms that we are, the cells which may be so small as humanly to be beyond recognition, can affect the whole body of Christ for good or ill I do not know, but there it is. It is a truth definitely and positively in the Word of God: “And whether one member suffereth, all the members suffer with it; or one member is honoured, all the members rejoice with it.” And if you and I are not contributing in our measure then the whole body is suffering, is weak.
Here, then, is the call, the challenge, that every member of Christ should be a responsible functioning and intelligent member, fulfilling the ministry. Yes, but there is something more, “...till we all attain unto the unity of the faith...” Well, now we have got our finger upon something which is very vital. We are very much concerned about unity, oneness. We pray for it, we agonise for the lack of it in manifestation, we long for it. How will it come about? What is the principle of coming to the unity of the faith? Every member fulfilling his ministry, a functioning member. What is the cause of discord, division, schism? Well, look again at our first Corinthian letter: “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, as unto babes in Christ... for ye are yet carnal; for whereas there is among you jealousy and strife, are ye not carnal, and do ye not walk after the manner of men? For when one saith, I am of Paul, and another, I am of Apollos, are ye not men?” There are divisions among you resultant from your being carnal, your carnality means spiritual immaturity, no unity of the faith. When everyone comes into full functioning that is a mighty factor in bringing about the unity of the faith. The enemy is out to split the body of Christ on earth into as many fragments as he can. How does he do it? Very largely by the ignorance of the Lord’s people. Very largely by their delay in spiritual development, very largely because they are in a passive state instead of an active state spiritually. You will find these things lie behind most of the activities of the enemy along the line of schism. The unity of the faith, says the Word quite clearly, is through every member functioning, and making their contribution, livingly, to the whole. There was a day when certain men went to Moses and complained that there were certain people in the camp who were prophesying, and they thought it was a movement toward sectarianism or division or something like that, they thought this was a break in fellowship, but Moses said: “Would to God all the Lord’s people were prophets.” The positive line is the better one. When some are fulfilling the ministry and some are not it is quite impossible to come to the unity of the faith. We have all to be in it.
Then again: “...and of the knowledge of the Son of God.” The Greek there is literally: to the full knowledge of the Son of God: “...unto a full grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” All that is bound up with his active life of all the members of Christ. We will not stay with it in its fragments but read it again more carefully.
The apostle has in view these things which are circling round: “...that we be no longer children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error.” If only we could stop with the apostle’s language it would throw so much light on this matter. “...by the sleight of men.” Literally, in the deceit, but the Greek words refer to the throw of the dice and the element of cheating, it is something like the loaded dice by which there is a fraud, a cheating, and that is what is here in the language. The wiles of error. The throw of the dice which is always so arranged that it comes out to the good of the one who is using it. This error that is going round is to cheat the saints of their advantage in Christ, to cheat them of their place. Is not that the effect of error in the long run?
Yes, believers who are carried away like this wake up to the fact that they have been cheated of the reality by a fraud, they have lost the food by something that pretended to be to their advantage. “...in craftiness”, that is literally, in their clever trickiness. The words are very rich. He uses the word here which is “in every deed, or every work, in craftiness”. Every deed of theirs has some subtle craftiness in it, some trickiness in it. And oh, the trickiness of the devil in his false doctrine. The thing seems so right, so thoroughly good, according to the Word, but there is something hidden in it, a trick, a snare. The Lord’s people need to be alive to that and it is only as we are out on full stretch, active, positive in our spiritual life that we come to the place where our senses are so exercised that we can discern the good from the evil, and discern the trick. What a great thing it would be if every real child of God who ought, by reason of time to be in such a position, was really able to see in these wiles, these waves and these winds of falsehood, an error, just where the flaw is, just where the trick is, and be in a position to warn those who are children in a right sense, who have not yet come to the time when they ought to be mature; to be a safeguard to them. These foundations are very important. This is all foundation work, and we must, without exhausting all that is in these verses, just leave the main emphasis and indication of the apostle to take hold of us, grip us. When everything is said that could be said, however much we might add to it, it is just this, that you and I, every one of us without an exception should be so reaching out and moving on with the Lord in an active and positive way, as over against a passive way, so that our spiritual life and our spiritual senses are being developed, brought to maturity, that no matter what the wiles are, what the winds are, what the waves are which sweep like a hurricane or tornado, or even like gentle summer breezes over the earth, we are never moved, never carried away, we are alive to the subtle secret snare, and we stand. We are in the battle. The building is in the battle. There is no realm in which the battle is more real, more furious, more relentless than in the realm of the perfecting of the saints, the building of the body of Christ. That is why this one letter outstandingly brings those two things together. On the one hand there is the church, His body, to be built and perfected, on the other hand the raging and the subtle working of the enemy. The enemy is out to deceive the saints, to destroy the church, and the only way in which he can be defeated is by you and I being stretched out for the fulness of Christ, to go on in an active way, not being satisfied that we are saved, but wholly given to all that fulness which is possible in Christ. With all the saints in fellowship till we come to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.
The Lord impress His Word upon our hearts.