The word of the day is “fullness.” Most of us would admit that our relationship with the Lord is still maturing. Yet, in our reading of Acts 19:1-18, we find a faith that is not only immature but incomplete in its basic understandings. We find that in Ephesus, Paul encounters a group of disciples. But he finds their belief incomplete. He asks, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed” (vs. 2)? They reply, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit” (OSB vs. 2). Today, from the example of these followers and Paul’s teaching, we learn that our goal should be the maturity of the “fullness” of the Body of Christ of which we are members.
John the Baptist’s Teaching Lacked Fullness
In the preceding chapter, we met Apollos, who taught the way of the Lord correctly except that he “knew only the baptism of John” (OSB Acts 18:25). Two laypersons had to take him aside to complete the preacher’s understanding of the faith. Now we hear of a group of twelve men whose faith was likewise incomplete because they lacked the knowledge of the Holy Spirit.
Lest we charge that Paul is too critical of these believers, think what the faith would be without knowing the Holy Spirit. We would lack all that the Spirit does in our spiritual lives. The Holy Spirit is God dwelling in us. The Spirit reminds us of the teaching of the Lord, testifies to the truth of the Gospel, sanctifies, empowers, inspires and gives us spiritual gifts for ministry and service.
There were many parallels between John the Baptist’s preaching of repentance and the Lord’s message, “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand” (OSB Mark 1:14-15). But John’s message only prepared for the coming of the Lord. And His baptism only signified the turning away from sin. Therefore, John’s teachings were incomplete. They lacked “fullness.” Thus Paul had to correct the twelve men, baptize them in the Lord’s name, and lay hands on them for the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The Goal of the Fullness of Christ
Thus this episode in Ephesus teaches us that we should reject the teaching that is incomplete. Instead of following such insufficient instruction, we should strive for the fullness of the faith of the church. This is what Paul teaches in Ephesians. Paul proclaims that the gifts of the Spirit are given “for the edifying of the body of Christ” (OSB Ephesians 4:12). And then he writes that the edification of the church is given by the Spirit “till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the fullness of Christ” (OSB Ephesians 4:13).
The Body of Christ Should Become the “Perfect Man”
Note that the gifts of the Spirit build up the Body of Christ. Paul says that we should become “a perfect man, stressing the unity of the church.” What is the “perfect man”? The apostle does not mean that we should become “perfect individuals.” But he is speaking of what the whole Body of Christ, the church, should become.
The word “perfect” means to be brought to completion, to reach its proper end (Strong’s #5046, 248). That fulfillment is measured by the stature, that is, the maturity (Strong’s #2244, 111) of the “fullness of Christ” (OSB Ephesians 4:13). The all-important word “fullness” in Greek means to be “filled up” or to reach completion so that no more can be added (Strong #4138, 204). Thus, the apostle writes, “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (OSB Colossians 2:9). The Son of God is everything that God is.
Yet this fullness of Christ is given to us in the church. Thus, the apostle says, “You are complete in Him who is the head of all principality and power” (OSB Colossians 2:9). If we are in union with Christ, He shares His fullness with us. We are “conformed to the image of His [God’s] Son,” becoming like Him in all things (Romans 8:29).
But how do we reach the state of “union with Christ”? We cannot realize our union with Christ if we are not in union with the church, His Body. The limbs, muscles, and organs of the physical body have no life except as part of the body. So the members of the Body of Christ do not have the New Life of Christ except as part of His Body. However, when we are one in Christ, we share in the fullness of Christ.
The fullness of Christ is the church’s goal, end, and completion. When the church achieves the perfect unity in Christ, there is nothing lacking–nothing in faith, love, and hope; nothing in the inspiration, power, and gifts of the Spirit; nothing in doctrine and leadership, nothing in worship, praise, and thanksgiving. Together in the church, we become the one “perfect man,” and together, we reach the maturity in Christ to which we as the Body of Christ are called.