When we walk in and with the Spirit, we can be sure that he will lead us on to the Church’s glorious destiny which is set out in Ephesians 4. And this destiny is the fullness of Christ. To understand this phrase we need to go to Ephesians 1, where Paul links fullness with Christ’s headship in Ephesians 1:22-23. At the end of a long passage in which he lists truths he wants the Ephesians to know and experience, Paul says that God the Father, ‘put all things under Christ’s feet and gave him to be head over all things for the Church’.
This is an outstanding revelation and it is no wonder that Paul wanted his readers to grasp its significance. In effect, he says that Christ who was raised from the dead has been exalted high above all things and been given headship and authority over everything that is, both in this age and in the age to come. But then he adds that God has taken the headship of Christ and given it as a gift to the Church.
This means that the first sphere in which Christ’s headship will be seen and acknowledged is the Church. One day the whole universe will see and acknowledge the headship and authority of Christ but we can experience it now, and more than that, we are called to manifest it to the world, so that the world may see it also and bow before him. But the next question is, how? And Paul answers that in verse 23.
Paul links headship with fullness, and says, that the Church over which Christ is the head, ‘is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all’. Just as Christ is now head over all things, but the first visible sphere of that headship is the Church, so Christ’s presence which fills the universe, will first be manifested in his body, the Church.
The fullness, or glorious presence of Christ, can only be seen and manifested where his authority is recognised and acknowledged. The teaching in Ephesians 1 is taken further in Ephesians 4. But to understand the significance of that you must first understand how Paul’s letter is structured. Ephesians, as many of Paul’s letters, is divided into two main parts. First, Ephesians 1 to Ephesians 3, deals with spiritual truth, namely our position and possessions in Christ. Then, from Chapter 4 onwards, Paul turns to the practical section of his letter and calls us to walk in accordance with these spiritual truths.
The second section of Ephesians begins at Ephesians 4:1 with these words, ‘I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called’. Paul is telling us that we must work out in practice our spiritual calling and live out these truths practically.
This means that his teaching in Ephesians 4:11-16 is a picture of what the Church is meant to look like, on earth, and it carries within it the promise that the plan of God for the Church will be fulfilled. This is what the end-time church will look like, and it will happen before the return of Christ. Jesus is not coming back for a tired, worn out, sinful, dead and useless Church. He is coming back for a glorious Church in which his headship is fully acknowledged and in which his presence is fully manifested.
This is the vision of the Church that every believer, every leader and every worker in the body of Christ should have in mind. It is a vision of the finished product, the glorious destiny of God’s precious Church. Jesus said he was going to build his Church and he meant it. He is not going to leave the job half-done, but is going to bring his body to complete maturity before the end of the age. And this means we are going to fulfil the work that God has given us to do. We are going to successfully evangelise the world and disciple the nations.
The Spirit will complete what he began at Pentecost. He will establish an effective, functioning church so that a mature bride is ready when Jesus returns. Jesus promised that he would build his Church, and Ephesians 4 shows that the building will be completed.
As Christ’s body, the Church is God’s representative in the world. Christ’s work on earth can only be carried out through his body. When it is not a mature, strong and healthy body, the work of Christ is not done. But when the body is strong, and growing towards maturity, God’s work on earth can be accomplished.
As we have seen, Ephesians 4:11-16 describes the Church attaining the fullness of Christ. This means that, one day, the Church will perfectly reveal Christ in all his fullness on earth. As we have also seen, this underlines Ephesians 1:23, where the Church is described as ‘the fullness of him’.
Jesus has given apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to his Church to knit God’s people together for the work of service. It is this which builds up Christ’s body, and these leaders are meant to go on with their work, building up the Church, until four things occur.
The Church will reach the unity of the faith. This is not the unity of the Spirit which began at the cross and already exists, but unity in the essential doctrines of the faith and a mature understanding of Christ.
This does not mean that all Christians will believe exactly the same things about everything, but rather that there will be strong unity in all the essentials of the faith throughout the whole Church.
2. Full knowledge
The mature Church will reach a full knowledge of the Son of God. This is not an improved version of our knowledge; it is full knowledge. And this full knowledge will mean that we will know Christ and experience him fully in our lives.
In Philippians 3:8-16, Paul longs to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection, and the depth of his sufferings. And in Philippians 2:5-11, he urges us to make the mind of Christ our own. He offers a roller-coaster description of the Son of God who emptied himself, took the form of a slave, accepted death, and was raised so high that all beings everywhere should bend the knee to him.
The Church begins to rise towards this full knowledge of the Son when it moves beyond wanting power for its own sake, and longs to think and be like Jesus – when we yearn to share his power and his suffering. We can be sure that, sometime soon, we will experience this full reality in every area of church life.
3. Full stature
The mature, end-time church will form the perfect human; we will be of full stature, fully mature. We will no longer be children, tossed one way or another; instead we will be strong and mature in Christ. Despite what some people say, the Church is not dying out; it is not fading away – it is coming of age!
The Church we read about in the New Testament is the infant Church. The end-time Church will be a mature, adult, vigorous Church. If the early church was able to achieve so much, what will the end-time church accomplish?
If the biblical promises mean anything, we can surely expect that the coming biblical Church will experience a massive outpouring of the Spirit which will lead to effective world-wide evangelism. We will take the gospel to all nations. God’s glory will be seen throughout the earth. There will be glory in the Church by Christ Jesus.
4. Christ’s fullness
As we have seen, Ephesians 4:13 follows on from Ephesians 1:22-23 to show that the mature Church will be filled with the fullness of Christ himself. This means we will be so full of Jesus and his Spirit that we can accurately represent him in the world – genuinely reveal his glory – and achieve everything he has asked. He will manifest himself fully in the Church, so much so that it will be as if he was actually on this earth, living in his body. Without exaggerating the point, I believe that Jesus is coming first in his Church before he comes back for his Church. I don’t mean that there are two second comings! But simply that the Spirit will so manifest Christ’s presence in the end-time church that it will be as if Christ was already here. Surely that is what it means to be his body on the earth.
This biblical, mature Church will be full of his power, his wisdom, his love and his authority. It will show the world the fullness of his grace and holiness. The glory of God will be fully manifest both in us and though us.
The Christ-full Church of the end-time will be a body of credible, active witnesses throughout the entire world, in every nation and culture. This does not mean that we have to wait until then before we become effective witnesses of Christ. We can and must begin to work for this now, in our lives and in our churches, as we prepare for and look forward to the manifestation of the end-time church. This is surely a vision worth working and praying towards, a dream worth living and dying for. Even the smallest step towards it will be extremely valuable.
As we live by the truth and in love, we will grow completely into Christ – who is the head by whom the whole body is fitted and joined together. Every joint will add its own strength for each individual part to work according to its function. So the Church will keep on growing, until it has been fully and finally built in love.