In my study of Ephesians lately, I’ve been struck by how much I tend to read it through the lens of my Western individualistic thinking. Paul is emphasizing unity in this letter–union with Christ that plays out in unity with one another. So in chapter 4 when he teaches about maturity in Christ, it’s not an individual maturity he’s thinking of, but a collective maturity…the maturity of the Body of Christ together (made up of many parts).
Here’s what Paul says, along with my own notations to point out this emphasis:
11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints [plural] for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 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. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
If Christians truly are the Body of Christ, then that metaphor says a lot about how we grow and mature. In a physical body, if one part grows at a different rate than the other parts, we don’t call that maturity, we call it deformity! If a one-year-old had a full set of adult teeth, we would think that strange rather than applauding the teeth for being mature. If a toddler girl had one foot that was a women’s size 9, that would be a problem not a source of rejoicing. So it seems that Paul is saying here that maturity in Christ is not just an individual matter but a corporate matter. Our goal is not to aim for individual maturity, but maturity together as the Body of Christ.
This is not to put all Christians on the same level and deny that someone like John Piper has a greater maturity in Christ than me. But rather the point is to shift our focus from an individualistic “All I’m concerned about is my own maturity in Christ” to a corporate recognition that if my brother or sister in Christ is struggling to grow, and my maturing process is intimately linked to their process of maturity, then I cannot just ignore their struggle but instead I have a part to play in their growth toward maturity.
If maturity is defined by the Body not by the individual, then there is no such thing as merely a mature Christian–there are only mature Christians connected and growing together in Christ.