And he gave apostles and prophets and evangelists and pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ, until we all have attained unto the oneness of the faith and the full knowledge of the Son of God, unto a mature man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ… Ephesians 4:11-14 (JHL)
I am writing this on the evening of 9/11, the 18th anniversary of the attacks by Al Qaeda on the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon, and what would have been an attack on the White House if not for the brave passengers onboard Flight 93. As I think back to that time, as I consider the days, months, and years leading up to that fateful day, I remember a country that was divided and fractured in various ways, whether by politics, faith practice, socio-economic status, etc.
In the aftermath of that fateful day, that disunity disappeared and unity among the American people replaced it. None of those things that divided us no longer mattered. The only thing that mattered was being an American. That cowardly attack on this country, designed to divide us and cripple us, had actually served to unite us as a people in such a way that probably had not been seen since World War II.
But unfortunately, that unity has now all but disappeared. Once again, this country is divided in many ways. But for a brief moment, this country was united because we were all Americans and that’s what mattered.
In the same way, the people of God are a divided people and have been for a very long time. Oh, I’m not talking about individual congregations where unity may be more commonplace, but not always. No, I’m talking about the people of God across a local community or region being a divided people.
Just as a fateful event was able to bring together a divided country at least for a short time, Christ and the Spirit of God are “events” that should unite the people of God across the centuries.
Did you see what Paul wrote to the believers in the city of Ephesus? He made a direct connection between their unity, the “oneness of the faith,” and being mature in the faith. And the level of our unity beyond individual congregations and our knowledge of Christ are the two main factors that demonstrate our level of maturity as followers of Christ.
Paul even says that this is measured against the stature of the fullness of Christ. In other words, how much we know Christ is actually revealed by the level of our unity as the people of God, not just as individual congregations. If the level of unity beyond individual congregations is non-existent, as demonstrated by the lack of any tangible evidence otherwise, then we are demonstrating that we don’t know Christ very well.
But unity is possible because of the presence of Christ and the Holy Spirit in and among the people of God. Just as being an American was the only thing that mattered in the days after 9/11, the only thing that matters is the presence of Christ and the Holy Spirit both. It is in and through them that unity is possible, but we as followers must be intentional in growing that unity so that maturity follows and we, thereby, become closer to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.
We must get out of our congregational “bubbles” and start thinking holistically. We must stop thinking of only the specific congregation to which we belong and begin to think as the people of God in a specific community and/or region. To do anything less is to demonstrate our lack of maturity.
What is a defining characteristic of a mature person? How egocentric is the person. A young child typically can have trouble sharing his/her toys because the toys are his/hers. “Mine!” they often scream as they take a toy away from another child. They are egocentric and therefore deemed immature. A mature person takes the other person into account when deciding on actions and words and behaviors. They are other-focused.
When followers of Christ are only focused on their specific individual congregation to which they belong, they are egocentric. They are only thinking about their own group, and not the other congregations. And they are definitely not thinking about the Kingdom of God or as the people of God. In other words, they are being immature.
The mature believer seeks ways to unite individual congregations in a local community and/or region with a view toward the Kingdom of God because s/he realizes that the Kingdom of God isn’t their individual congregation; it is much much larger than that. The mature believer only has the Kingdom of God and being the people of God in mind, not his/her individual congregation.
And it is when our focus is solely on the Kingdom of God and being the people of God that we, as the people of God, will truly become united. And that unity will destroy those things that divide us and will unite us based on the only thing that matters: the presence of Christ and the Holy Spirit.
It’s way past time for us to grow up.