“Until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
-Ephesians 4:13 (TNIV)
My wife and I have a large living room, but it began to feel progressively smaller as more and more college students filed in the door. There were two-dozen of us that evening, filling every available seat and much of the floor space. We were talking that evening about Ephesians 4:13, discussing unity and what it means to be “The fullness of Christ.” The tightly packed group of warm bodies lent a fresh illustration to the topic.
As I looked around the room at these people my age, it was not hard to feel connected and unified with them. We were all in the same stage of life, had approximately the same tastes and interests, and came from roughly the same church upbringings. If we were a church unto ourselves, we could have walked away from a discussion of oneness that evening and felt successful. But here’s the problem—there are about fifty twentysomethings in our church and our church has several hundred regular attendees. That means the bulk of the people we are supposed to be unified with are from a different social demographic—children, teenagers, people in their thirties or forties or fifties, senior citizens, new believers with little experience and aging believers who often come across as old-fashioned. This is our church, the Body of Christ we are supposed to “be of one mind” with. When this was pointed out that evening in our living room, the discussion became much more poignant, less trite, and harder to carry out.
In Ephesians 4:4-6, we are given a list of truths that unify the Church—one body, one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father. These truths are inherent Christian unities. Two Christians could act like jerks to each other (been there, done that), and these seven things would still intrinsically unify them. Verse 13, however, moves higher to speak of a unity we must attain, and it says this unity comes right along with attaining “The knowledge of the Son of God.” As we grow in our understanding of God and His Word, we come to better understand the properties of our faith that unify us, and begin to allow them to do so more completely. The unity we attain is an active realization of the abstract binding ties in Ephesians 4:4-6.
The church needs to grow together as a mature body. An infant’s body is held together by all the same things as an adult’s body; it has the same muscles, bones, skin, organs, senses, etc., but it has no self-awareness, no strength or coordination. The infant has not learned to use its hands together to accomplish tasks, swing its legs together to walk, or combine its thoughts, breath and mouth to create words. It is unified, but clumsy, lacking understanding and strength. The adult’s body, while no different in structure, is stronger, and has learned to use its limbs and systems together to carry out tasks. As Christians, we are unified whether we like it or not, but we have the choice whether that will be a clumsy, infantile unity, or one of wisdom, strength, coordination and maturity. If Christ is the Head of our church, let’s not stick Him with the body of an infant. He was already there once.
So what does it means to be “The Fullness of Christ”? The word for fullness used here and elsewhere in Ephesians refers to the container or receptacle being filled. Paul is saying the Church is to be a container filled with Christ. What does that look like?
Imagine you are about to drink from a wine glass filled with wine sitting on the table. I’m choosing wine because, for the sake of the illustration, it just sounds more poetic than Pepsi. As you go through the process of taking a drink, everything you come into contact with is the glass—you reach for it, pick it up, raise it to your lips, tilt it to take a sip—but all you taste and leave with is the wine. Everything the world comes into contact with is us—the glass—but hopefully all it tastes and leaves with is Christ. Can people see through us to the Wine inside? Is our glass full? Is it within reach of those who are thirsty? Is it so smudged with our own dirty fingerprints the Wine looks unappealing?
Jesus said to John the Baptist’s disciples in Matthew 9:12 that new wine must be put into new wineskins. Accepting the salvation he was to provide with His own blood was incompatible with remaining in the old system of laws. It could only be accepted with a fresh understanding of God’s grace. As we live our lives out in unity in front of people, let’s show them this fresh grace, this brand new mercy they haven’t seen. May we be clear. May we be full.