Monday, 21 July 2014

Love at Ephesus (2): Truth in Love

I contributed this week’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love... Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Ephesians 4:2, 15-16

What are you going to be when you grow up? For many of us, it was a dreaded adult question; for some of us, perhaps, it still is! At heart, though, it presupposes the significance of ongoing development, maturity, direction, intention, purpose. As such, it’s a good question for Christian communities to ask of themselves. Paul provides an answer in Ephesians, which is that when the church reaches maturity, it will attain to ‘the whole measure of the fulness of Christ’ (4:13). It assumes we still have growing to do.

By this point, Paul has outlined the great plan of God to bring all things together in Christ, a scheme which has already had its beginning in the church, the creation of a new humanity in Christ, in whom God dwells by the Spirit. It’s on the basis of this new identity that Paul brings a series of exhortations to the church, the first of which is to guard the unity entrusted to them.

Those who have been ‘rooted and established in love’ (3:17) are now asked to live accordingly, ‘bearing with one another in love’ (4:2), being willing to endure discomfort for the sake of others rather than asserting their own rights.

And we need love, Paul says, in order to become mature. We grow out of infancy into adulthood by ‘speaking the truth in love’ (4:15). Crucially, this is not in the first place about speaking honestly to one another; it’s better understood as confessing the truth to one another. Where the church is at risk of falsehood being spread in a deceptive manner (4:14), truth needs to be confessed in a loving manner. I am less likely to be unstable and immature if my fellow believers are constantly reminding me of the message of truth, particularly if they are doing so from a loving heart, concerned about the growth of the body. Truth embodied in love.

Here, then, is a vision of a church where each member lives for the wellbeing of the whole body as we grow and build one another up in love. So it is that the ‘in love’ of 4:2 is repeated in 4:15 and then again in 4:16, describing the sphere in which Christian living takes place, the atmosphere in which all-member ministry happens, the most conducive climate in which church growth occurs – and the direction in every case is towards Christ.

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