Ephesians 4:16
The apostle sees the conditions of Christian stability in a faith that worketh by love - the love being at once the sphere and the means of our spiritual growth. The expressive figure used by the apostle sets forth several important truths concerning the Church and its development.

I. THE SOURCE OF ITS GROWTH - CHRIST THE HEAD. As the Church is a spiritual body, so the characteristics of the natural body are found in it. It is a body divinely framed as truly as the natural body, and designed to bring greater glory to God than the body which types it. Its Head is the Lord himself. It has its being and form in him, as well as all its nurture, such as its life and light, grace and joy, strength and fruitfulness; it depends upon the Head for subsistence and for safety; it is united to the Head by a bond that is both close and indissoluble.

II. THE AGENT OF ITS GROWTH - THE HOLY SPIRIT. For "by one Spirit were we all baptized into one body" (1 Corinthians 12:12). As the one spirit of man wields at will all the functions of the body, and concentrates the various members upon its purposes as they arise, so the Holy Spirit gives each member of the mystic body its peculiar action and power in the divinely appointed diversity which contributes to its eventual unity.

III. THE RELATION OF THE MEMBERS TO EACH OTHER. "The whole body is fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth." Each member is in relation with all other members as well as with the Head. Each is dependent upon the other. No member can dismiss another as useless; none is so great as not to be indebted to the least. "God has tempered the body together." Now, just as the parts of the human frame are necessarily of different functions, and set, some in superior, some in inferior, places, yet all act together in the fullest sympathy; so all the members of Christ's body must keep rank and order, acting within their own sphere with due wisdom, harmony, and love, the eye not doing the work of the hand, nor the hand the work of the foot, but abiding each in his own calling.

IV. THERE IS AN INDIVIDUAL ACTION OF EACH MEMBER, "According to the effectual working in the measure of every part." Each must do its own proper work, according to its position. Just as a man is strong in the faculty which he most exercises, so the member who is strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus becomes individually efficient according to the operation of that grace. One member is thus apt to teach, another to convince, another to counsel, another to stimulate.

V. THE CHANNELS OF SUPPLY - "THE JOINTS AND BANDS" -ARE THE WORD AND ORDINANCES. They convey grace from the Head to the members. The Word of God is the grand means, in connection with baptism and the Lord's Supper. These two ordinances are, indeed, the two appointed symbols of the Church's unity - baptism representing the first action of the Holy Spirit in fitting the members for the body; the Lord's Supper, the drinking into one Spirit, who makes the table a visible center of union to these brought out of the world.

VI. THE ELEMENT OR SPHERE IN WHICH THE GROWTH OF THE BODY IS EFFECTED. "Love." It is not asserted that we are to grow in love, but that in love, as the sphere of growth, we are to grow in all the elements of perfection. That love which follows the things which make for peace and edification, and bears the infirmities of others, has peculiar faculties for edifying the body of Christ.

VII. THE RESULT OF GROWTH. "It maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself." The increase is twofold - in the addition of members to the Church, and in the growth of the members in all the elements of spiritual perfection. - T.C.

From whom the whole body, fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.
I. THE CHURCH IS A UNIT BODY. It is not meant to convey the idea that the Church is in any way a material and tangible body, presented to the senses like material substance generally. It is not a body of any earthly form and figure. Our common conception of a body is a combination of particles constituting certain qualities and forces. We understand the spiritual through the analogies and symbols of the material and earthly. The Church is a holy combination of all spiritual powers and sympathies meeting in one centre and end, proceeding from the nature of Divine law and order, the relation of moral beings to one another, and the relation in which all stand to God, the spiritual Father and wise Ruler of the universe. This is the Church in its highest and purest form; it is the Church in the body of its principles, and the sympathies of its heart.

1. The unity of the Church consists in its design and service.

2. It is a unity of sympathy.

3. It is a unity of privilege.

4. It is one in relation. The Church stands related to its source and Head, to Divine order, to all intelligent beings, to itself and all belonging to its laws and blessings, to this world and the next. These are relations of privilege and responsibility, of honour and duty.

5. It is one in life and spirit.

6. It is one in likeness. The Church, as the product of one mind, carries the same Divine image everywhere, both in its laws and members. It is intended to mould the human family into the Divine likeness.

II. The Church, as one body, POSSESSES VARIOUS PARTS AND FIT ORGANS TO PERFORM ITS WORK AND CONSERVE ITS EXISTENCE. It is not one clumsy mechanical piece, without either parts or joints, but a body of numerous organs for the accomplishment of different services. In its spiritual constitution it is a body of various elements, for the performance of high and gracious designs. In order that these various elements may have mediums of expression to reach their intended and fit end, there must be a befitting organization of parts and suitable quality.

1. The members of the body are intended to perform the required functions for the service of the body itself. The body has to serve itself before it can be useful to others. It is, in a sense, its own saviour or destroyer. The right use of its own functions and resources is its salvation; the rejection of this is its sure death and decay. There are some powers given for its protection, there are others for its growth and vigour; there are others for its comfort and happiness, and others, again, intended for its beauty and attraction. To have a perfect body, all these must do their own work, and cooperate for a common end; and to have a healthy and happy Church, all its functions must be active in doing their own work, and united together for one holy and high end.

2. The body has relations and duties to things besides itself. The body stands related, some way or other, to all the things of earth. All the works of this world depend upon the fitness of the members of the human body to do them; so that if these were to fail, all would stop. There could be no art without the mind and the senses; neither would there be commerce, building of houses, cultivation of the field, or any other work of any kind whatever. Such is the vast importance of the members of this small body, that all in life and society depend upon their order and efficiency. So is it in analogy with the Church; all in society morally depends upon the efficiency and the right use of its means and organs. All have their work. Unity of likeness and variety of work are the two things which demand and consume the service of the one and the whole. The head, the heart, and the hand of all have work, and that as much for their own sake as that of others; and all this diversity and force are for the needful and common service of the whole. To make these different organs complete and effective, you will see at once that there are other conditions required, which may be suggested as worthy of your respect and belief.(1) It is needful that these organs should be in their proper position.(2) Each organ must have its particular and proper work assigned to it.(3) It is required that they are all regularly and faithfully exercised. Exercise is the soul of power; it is both the condition of health and usefulness.(4) It is expected that there is a common sympathy between all the members of the body. They are coupled together. Harmony of parts in a machine, of members in the human body, of functions in society, of powers in the mind, and of graces in the soul, are analogous one to another, and are equally necessary for happy working and successful results. Sympathy in the members of the body is expressed by mutual cooperation and assistance, by subordination to and respect for one another, and constant assisting and forbearing with one another. As with the body corporeal, so is it intended to be in the body spiritual. The strongest must sympathize with the weak. Extremes are intended to meet, and do meet, in harmony here.(5) The body must have elasticity, to act with ease, comfort, and effect. The body is not made in one piece, but of different parts. Between these there is unity, and yet there is elasticity, so that everyone can play its own part without inconvenience to itself or encumbrance to its neighbour.(6) All are governed by one will and intelligence. The members of the body, though various and numerous, are governed by one rational will, hence their unity in operation and subject. The Church, in all its members and functions, is governed by one constant and unfailing will, and this is one source of its power and unity. Only one will governing all, through all time and in all places, and that the one and the whole! What a thought! — what a comfort!(7) It is requisite that there should be life underlying the whole.


1. It is to be a general and complete increase of the whole body. In order to have a well-developed and equally proportionate Church, all means must be used, all functions must be exercised; thus every part is developed, so that it becomes a true counterpart of real existence, and fit for all intended for it, and demanded of it.

2. It is a conditional increase, produced by the use of means. To secure the increase of the whole body, the law of the conditions demands that all means should be used, all powers exercised, the spirit one of faith and love, the motive true and unselfish, and the activity constant and unyielding. God gives increase according to law and order; and when these things are united, never does it fail. When our life unites with Divine order, happy results always follow, and never disappoint us.

3. It is an indefinite increase. There is neither limit nor end prescribed to it. It runs down through time and eternity; it pervades the universe of rational and responsible existence.

4. The soil and quality of the increase is love. Increase in love is one towards ourselves stud the object or objects of our desire and delight at the same time. As love is the refining power of the soul, to increase in it is to advance in all that is morally pure and beautiful. It is the sweet element of happiness, and he who grows in it increases in the thing all wish and all seek. It is one of the chief elements in which we become like God, for He is love.


1. Its laws and resources are from Him. The laws given by the Head to the Church are few and natural, proceeding from the unchangeable relations of man to man, and man to God. Love to God and love to man are the great moral laws which remain in the Church forever, without declension or change, because they are essential to the relations of moral beings, and the moral universe could not exist without them.

2. From Him it receives its symmetrical proportion and harmony. The symmetry of the Church is the harmony of all its parts with themselves, with the Divine economy of the universe, and with itself, in all times and places. This three-fold symmetry it receives from its glorious Head, who is one and unchangeable.

3. From Him it receives its oneness. This gives the Church, through all times and places, unity of purpose and character. Its oneness is not in its feet, but in its Head.

4. From Him it receives light and life. As life and light are elements in importance and value above all others, so is Christ to the Church. As He is made by God the representative Head, He is made its light and life.

5. From Him it receives its beauty and attraction. A deformed head would destroy every possible beauty and attraction of the whole body. A noble head gives beauty and nobility to the whole. We look first at the head; we form our opinion of the whole from the character of the head. In its outward form the Church may appear mean and unattractive in some of its members, but the Head makes up for the whole. The Head is never out of sight; it is visible to all from all its members.

6. Its magnitude and universality are received from the Head. His greatness becomes that of the Church, by virtue of the relation existing between them. Where the Head is, the Church is represented. In the Head, the Church of earth and heaven are united; the spirit of the Head unites the present with the future, and thus gives to the Church universality in time and space.

7. The Church is indebted for its hope and high destiny to its Head. The Head lives for the body. The exaltation of the Head will be that of the body also. The Head is above all human reach; and, in connection with its Head, the body will triumph over all foes and opposition.

(T. Hughes.)

I. Observe, in the first place, THAT ALL THE TRUE MEMBERS OF CHRIST ARE ENTIRELY DEPENDENT ON CHRIST. Independence is the great principle of our corrupt nature — that sinful independence, that would lead the creature not to acknowledge its entire dependence on God. But let me say to such that hear me, be assured of this; the soul in that state Never can enter the kingdom of heaven.

II. But observe now, that the members of Christ are not only dependent on Christ, BUT THEY ARE DEPENDENT UPON EACH OTHER. Look at a tree; is it not so? I see the branch dependent upon its stem, as the stem is dependent upon its root; but I see little branches dependent upon the other branches, and still smaller fibres dependent upon the smallest branches. And so is it in this figure before us: "from whom the whole body," in its parts "fitly joined together, and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part."

III. And now consider THE GREAT OBJECT AND END, FOR WHICH ALL THIS TAKES PLACE. It "maketh increase of the body." That is, "the whole body" in its parts "maketh increase of the body" as a whole.

(J. H. Evans, M. A.)

Christian life in the truest sense is impossible apart from Christian activity. In other words, in the Church everyone has something to do.

I. There must be a hearty conviction that BECAUSE WE CAN THEREFORE WE OUGHT TO DO SO. Power, you know, is a talent down to its uttermost limit, and as long as there is something which "every joint" can supply, alas for that joint's health and life, if it fails of its function. A Christian that does no Christian work, is an anomaly. Analogy teaches this. Nature is not receptive only: nature is a bountiful giver; rendering back again, thirty, sixty, and a hundred fold, that which man entrusts to her keeping. Social life teaches the same doctrine. We cannot, if we would, do without one another.

II. ALL CHRISTIANS HAVE NOT THE SAME WORK TO DO. Every joint is to supply something, but every joint is not to supply the same thing. It is to be according to "the measure of every part." There is something to be done by all of us; but our work varies with our position in life.

(W. G. Barrett.)

Very little are some of the joints and fibres; but every little helps. Who shall despise the day of small things? But for the accumulated atoms, the aggregated littles, where were the body? As the author of "Felix Holt" says, we see human heroism broken into units, and are apt to imagine, this unit did little — might as well not have been. But in this way we might break up a great army into units; in this way we might break the sunlight into fragments, and think that this and the other might be cheaply parted with. There is a latter day apologue of a gimlet that grew exceedingly discontented with its vocation, envying all the ether tools in the carpenter's basket, and thinking scorn of its own mean duty of perpetually boring and picking holes everywhere. "The saw and the axe had grand work to do; and the plane got praise always; so did the chisel for its carving; and the happy hammer was always ringing merrily upon the clenching nail." But for it, a wretched, poking, paltry, gimlet its work was hidden away, and very little seemed its recognized use. But the gimlet is assured, on the best authority, that nothing could compensate for its absence, and is therefore bidden be content, nay happy; for though its work seems mean and secret, it is indispensable. To its good offices, the workman is said to look chiefly for coherence without splitting; and to its quiet influences, the neatness, the solidity, the comfort of his structure may greatly be ascribed. The apologue has, of course, its practical application. "Are there not many pining gimlets in society, ambitious of the honour given to the greater-seeming tools of our Architect, but unconscious that in His hands they are quite as useful? The loving little child, the gentle woman, the patience of many a moral martyr, the diligence of many a duteous drudge, though their works may be unseen and their virtues operate in obscurity, yet are these main helpers to the very joints and bands of our body corporate, the quiet home influences whereby the great edifice, Society, is so nicely wainscoted and floored without split boards..." John Newton said that if two angels came down from heaven to execute a Divine command, and one was appointed to conduct an empire, and the other to sweep street in it, they would feel no inclination to change employments. So again, the same robust divine affirmed that a Christian should never plead spirituality for being a sloven; "if he be but a shoe cleaner, he should be the best in the parish." As the old servant tells Ruth in Mrs. Gaskell's story, "There's a right and a wrong way of setting about everything — and to my thinking, the right way is to take a thing up heartily, if it is only making a bed. Why, dear, ah me! making a bed may be done after a Christian fashion, I take it, or else what's to come of such as we in heaven, who've had little enough time on earth for clapping ourselves down on our knees for set prayers?" This quaint speaker had laid to heart the lesson once for all enforced upon her, to do her duty in that state of life to which it had pleased God to call her; her station was that of a servant, and, looked at aright, as honourable as a king's: she was to help and serve others in one way, just as a king is in another. Her parting counsel to Ruth runs thus: "Just try for a day to think of all the odd jobs as to be done well and truly in God's sight, not just slurred over anyhow, and you'll go through them twice as cheerfully," besides doing them more efficiently. John Brown, of Haddingten, being waited on by a lad of excitable temperament, who informed him of his desire to become a preacher, and whom the shrewd pastor saw to be as weak in intellect as he was strong in conceit, advised him to continue in his present vocation. The young man said, "But I wish to preach and glorify God." The old commentator replied, "My young friend, a man may glorify God making broom besoms; stick to your trade, and glorify God by your life and conversation." As it was said of Bossuet, in the seventeenth century, that he could not walk, or sit down, or even pluck a currant, without your recognizing in him the great bishop (so asserts a modern French divine, not of Bossuet's Church), just so the workman and the domestic servant who are animated by their Master's spirit, distinguish themselves among their fellows by a certain air of nobility; under their blouse or their livery may be seen to shine the signal light of their aristocratic spirituelle, the image of the Most High Himself. However mean their employment, they go about it with neither disgust nor indifference; but with an intelligent interest, because, in the sight of God, and indeed in their own eyes, their occupation is on a level with that of king or emperor.

(Francis Jacox.)


1. The life of a body.

2. Its head.

3. The members.

4. Their unity.

5. Its nourishment.

6. The soul.


1. Its numbers.

2. Its graces.



1. Enlarges supplication.

2. Inclines to peace.

3. Produces condescension.

4. Promotes activity.

(N. Vincent, M. A.)

Concerning this growth, the apostle says —

I. It is from Christ. He is the causal source from which all life and power is derived.

II. It depends on the intimate union of all the parts of the body with the head, by means of appropriate bands.

III. It is symmetrical.

IV. It is a growth in love.

(Dr. Hodge.)

The figure in the mind of the apostle is that of a human body, in its unity, in its symmetry, in its structural completeness, its framework of bones shielding the brain, shielding the eye, sheathing the life marrow in the spinal column; in the legs supporting the frame as pillars of marble set upon sockets of fine gold, the whole wrapped in an enswathement of closely-knit, cunningly-knit muscles, ramified with countless nerves, furnished with eyes, ears, hands, feet, and all the rest: — "The whole body fitly," etc. This is the object before the eye of the apostle as he writes of the body that grows out of Christ.

I. As a body the Church possesses VISIBILITY. For about thirty-three years, more or less, God manifest in the flesh was visible to the eyes of the world. Indeed, for that last twelvemonth of His life on earth it may be said that Palestine saw little else. Tabor in its bold isolation, Hermon with his glittering crown of snow, even Jerusalem itself, was hardly so obtrusively visible as this great, strange personage. And louder, gladder doxology never rolled up from earth to heaven than that of the whole orchestra of priests, Levites, scribes, and Pharisees, Sanhedrim, and synagogue when the body of Jesus disappeared from human view. They never for a moment questioned that this was the "end all" of the whole perplexity. Little did they dream that the withdrawal of this body only made way for another a thousand times more visible. It is time long ago that men understood and recognized this truth. They suppose that Christ is a purely historic Christ, while in fact He is a contemporary Christ. They fancy that the Body of the great Nazarene Reformer is gone forever from sight and time; while, in fact, the Church is His Body now visible to the eyes of millions. As a body, the Church of Christ is visible. Should the thought arise that the Church as a whole includes vast numbers of members who are not visible — that here and there in the world are members of the Body of whom the world knows nothing — we answer, Yes, and only part of the human body is visible. We do not see the lungs and the heart and the nerves and the blood, and yet the body is visible, and so is the Church, which is the Body of Christ.

II. As a body, the Church consists of a great VARIETY OF COMPONENT PARTS. The constituents of a human body are very numerous, very various; and these constituents find their way to the body from every quarter of the globe. The whole round world has been laid under contribution to make up the body in which you live, move, and have your being. And is not this true of the Church which is the Body of Christ? Not a variety of temperament, not a grade of intellect, not a style of social life but has contributed to the building up of this Body of Christ. In that Body we find the learned professor, and by his side the child of illiteracy; the scientist discoursing of the plants, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that groweth out of the wall, of beasts, birds, and fishes, of meteors and stars, of Orion and Pleiades, and by his side one who hardly knows that the earth is round, and is right sure of very little else than that he is a poor lost sinner, and that Christ died to save him. One member of this Body dwells among Greenland's icy mountains, another on India's coral strand; one wears the black skin of the African, another the red skin of the American Indian; one the yellow skin of the Chinese, and another the tawny skin of the Malay; another still the white skin of the Caucasian; but all alike are members of the Body of Christ.

III. As a body, the Church is also characterized by a COMPACT ORGANIC UNITY. It is a body "fitly framed together," etc. This unity is a unity of Life and Spirit. The vital force that gives life to, warms, propels, acts in each believer, issues from Christ. "From whom," etc. In a vine, however large, the same life is in every leaf and every branch, every tendril and every grape. In the whole vine there is perfect unity of life, and that life is the one vine life. This is seen in the similarity of fruit the vine produces. On the same vine you do not find here the Malaga grape, there the Catawba, and here the Isabella; but on every branch the same fruit; for they are all the product of one life. But Jesus said, "I am the vine," etc. If any leaf on the vine can say "such a life dwells in me," every other leaf can say the same.

1. The Church is the Body of Christ — it is His head, His brain — an organ of thought to Him. Whatever is lofty, pure, noble in the conception of the Church, in the conceptions of the believer, is due to the Spirit of Christ acting through the mind of the Church.

2. The Church is the eyes of Christ (Matthew 9:36). The Jews thought that on Calvary those pitying eyes forever closed in death. Today, after so many centuries, Jesus looks abroad through a hundred millions of compassionate eyes upon the children of men scattered abroad as sheep having no shepherd.

3. The Church is the feet of Jesus. How restless were those feet (Matthew 9:35). And today the Church, His Body, is going about "all the cities and villages," etc.

4. And the Church is the hands of Jesus. How blessed the relation of membership in this Body of Christ, His work employing our thought, our eyes, our hands, our feet, our lips!This being so, two consequences follow.

1. No member of this Body must do anything that Jesus would not have done when He was on the earth.

2. Every member of this Body of Christ must be ready, willing, anxious to do what Jesus would do in his, in her place.

(William P. Breed, D. D.)

The figure is a striking one. The body derives its vitality and power of development from the head. The Church has a living connection with its living Head, and were such a union dissolved, spiritual death would be the immediate result. The body is fitly framed together, and compacted by the functional assistance of the joints. Its various members are not in isolation, like the several pieces of a marble statue. No portion is superfluous; each is in its fittest place, and the position and relations of none could be altered without positive injury. "Fearfully and wonderfully made," it has its hard framework of bone so formed as to protect its vital organs in the thorax and skull, and yet so united by "curiously wrought" joints, as to possess freedom of motion both in its vertebral column and limbs. But it is no ghastly and repulsive skeleton, for it is clothed with flesh and fibre, which are fed from ubiquitous vessels, and interpenetrated with nerves — the spirit's own sensational agents and messengers. It is a mechanism in which all is so finely adjusted, that every part helps and is helped, strengthens and is strengthened, the invisible action of the pores being as indispensable as the mass of the brain and the pulsations of the heart. When the commissioned nerve moves the muscle, the hand and foot need the vision to guide them, and the eye, therefore, occupies the elevated position of a sentinel. How this figure is applicable to the Church may be seen under a different image at 2:21. The Church enjoys a similar compacted organization — all about her, in doctrine, discipline, ordinance, and enterprize, possessing mutual adaptation, and showing harmony of structure.

(J. Eadie, D. D.)

"The body maketh increase of itself" according to the energy which is distributed, not only through it, but to "every part" in its own proportion. Corporeal growth is not effected by additions from without. The body itself elaborates the materials of its own development. Its stomach digests the food, and the numerous absorbents extract and assimilate its nourishment. It grows, each part according to its nature and uses. The head does not swell into the dimensions of the trunk, nor does the "little finger" become "thicker than the loins." Each has the size that adapts it to its uses, and brings it into symmetry with the entire living organism. And every part grows. The sculptor works upon a portion only of the block at a time, and, with laborious efforts, brings out in slow succession the likeness of a feature or a limb, till the statue assume its intended aspect and attitude. But the plastic energy of nature presents no such graduated forms of operation, and needs no supplement of previous defects. Even in embryo the organization is perfect, though it is in miniature, and development only is required. For the "energy" is in every part at once, but in every part in due apportionment. So the Church universal has in it a Divine energy, and that in all its parts, by which its spiritual development is secured. In pastors and people, in missionaries and catechists, in instructors of youth and in the youth themselves, this Divine principle has diffused itself, and produces everywhere proportionate advancement. And no member or ordinance is superfluous. The widow's mite was commended by Him who sat over against the treasury. Solomon built a temple. Joseph provided a tomb. Mary the mother gave birth to the Child, and the other Marys wrapt the Corpse in spices. Lydia entertained the apostle, and Phoebe carried an Epistle. Of old the princes and heroes went to the field, and "wise-hearted women did spin." While Joshua fought, Moses prayed. The snuffers and trays were as necessary as the magnificent lamp stand. The rustic style of Amos, the herdsman, has its place in Scripture as well as the graceful paragraphs of the royal preacher. A basket was as necessary for Paul's safety at one time as his burgess ticket, and a squadron of cavalry at another. And the result is, that the Church is built up, for love is the element of spiritual progress. That love fills the renewed nature, and possesses peculiar facilities of action in "edifying" the mystical Body of Christ. And, lastly, the figure is intimately connected with the leading idea of the preceding paragraph, and presents a final argument on behalf of the unity of the Church. The apostle speaks of but one Body — "the whole Body." Whatever parts it may have, whatever their form, uses, and position, whatever the amount of energy resident in them, still, from their connection with the one living Head, and from their own compacted union and mutual adjustment, they compose but one structure "in love."

(J. Eadie, D. D.)

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