The word of the day is “measure.” The Body of Christ is one and yet its members are many. The church is a community of faith that is united in love and yet it is composed of a diversity of people with different talents, roles, and callings.
Why are some given impressive talents while others seem to have little ability at all? Why are some called to important roles while others seem to be unimportant and unnoticed? Why are some endowed with exceptional authority while the rest are expected to follow them. Doesn’t such diversity divide the church’s membership and cause jealousy and resentment? Why can’t all of us be the same not only in faith but in God’s gifts, that is the talents, and roles, and places that God allocates the members of the Body of Christ?
Today in our reading of Ephesians 4:7-13, the apostle answers. He speaks about each one of us and all of us. On the one hand, he writes, “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift (OSB vs. 7). On the other hand, he says, “till we all come to the unity of the faith.”
What Is Given to All
St. John Chrysostom elaborates on what God gives to all and to each. He states, “Baptism, the being saved by faith, the having God for our Father, our all partaking of the same Spirit, — these are common to all” (NfPf1: 13 on Ephesians 4). In these there is perfect unity as “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). Without this unity, the church is merely an assorted group of people whose motives, beliefs, and lives are separate from one another though they might claim to be members of the same church.
Yet within this unity there is striking diversity. Today’s passage teaches that God distributes gifts among the members of the church “according to the “measure of Christ’s gift.” The Greek term “measure” means the amount of what is sufficient (Strong’s #3358). God’s love is unlimited. Yet the gifts He allocates to each member is limited to what is sufficient and proper for that member.
What Is Given to Each
Chrysostom notes that the apostle does not say “‘according to the faith of each’ lest he should throw those who have no large attainments into despondency” (NfPf1:13). If the Spirit would distribute gifts according to the amount of faith of each member, then believers might compare their faith with another. Those with less honored gifts might be discouraged that they did not have enough faith.
No, the difference in talents, roles, and places in the church is “according to the measure of the gift of Christ” not according to the amount of faith (NfPf1:13). Note that the New King James Version translates this phrase as “the measure of Christ’s gift.” But Chrysostom refers to “the gift” because the emphasis is not on the quantity of grace, It is on the appropriateness of the gift. That is, the allocation of the gift is by grace, but it depends on what is proper and suitable to the individual. The Lord knows the heart and the personality of each of us and so he knows whom to choose for the various callings in the church. For example, He knows who is qualified to become apostles, prophets, evangelists, or pastors and teachers (OSB vs. 4-11). The same principle goes for other gifts of the Spirit such as prophecy, caring for others, teaching, encouraging, giving, and leading, etc. (Romans 12:6-8).
Why the Spirit Distributes Different Gifts in the One Body of Christ
These gifts, therefore, are not given to honor those who receive them or to distinguish one member from another. They confer responsibility as the Lord said, “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more” (OSB Luke 12:48).
Accordingly, Chrysostom notes that the gifts are distributed “for the work of the church” (NfPF1: 13). As the apostle puts it, “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (OSB vs. 12). Thus, the distribution of the variety of spiritual gifts in the church serves to foster the unity of the Body of Christ. Diversity is not the goal. Rather, the Spirit supplies this profusion of gifts so that “we all come in the unity of the faith” and the [common] knowledge of the Son of God” (OSB vs. 13).
Reaching the Measure of the Fullness of Christ
When the church achieves this end, another measure is fulfilled. Together we become “ a perfect man “ (OSB vs 13). We reach “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (OSB vs. 13). We must clarify that “a perfect man” is not an ideal individual. When we reach the “stature,” that is the maturity of Christ (Strong’s #2244), we don’t do it as individuals. This completion of spiritual growth does not refer to our own development in faith and life. It refers to the edification of a living being, the building up of the church as a living Body. Its head is Christ (OSB Ephesians 4:15) and its organs, limbs, bones, ligaments, and muscles are the members of the whole yet each having it own function, role, and place (1 Corinthians 12:4-27). Through the diversity of gifts, the church is joined and knit together into one holy organism (Ephesians 4:16), that is, into the complete person, “a perfect man” who is one in Christ.
“Inclusiveness” is often promoted as the goal of the church. This term suggests that if only our churches had the right mix of types of persons, however that is defined, then it would achieve its purpose, its basic nature as “diverse.” However, today we have found that diversity is not the end but a means to an end. Diversity must serve the unity of the Body of Christ. The church consists of those who are “called out” of the nations and peoples of the world into a new and holy communion, a unified organism in which “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus (OSB Galatians 3:28).