New Testament Words and Verses
Ephesians 4:12-14, The Power of the Gifts
The energy behind these verses is palpable. In the earlier verses of the chapter the author has been building an argument that puts the Gifts of the Spirit in the center of the formation of the Church. We could just list the Gifts (4:11) or reflect on their meaning but to me the more interesting task is to recognize the way that prepositions and temporal clauses function here to lend energy to the flow of these verses. They are the literary jewels by which the great gifts of the Spirit become actualized in service.
πρὸς means “to” or “toward.” It is a directional preposition and, as such, it communicates the energy of direction to us in v. 12. God has given the gifts πρὸς the καταρτισμὸν, or “to/toward” the “perfection” or “equipment” or “making things fitting” (the word καταρτισμὸν is quite plastic in meaning) of the saints. The gifts therefore have an immediate purpose. But there is more:
εἰς then follows and means “to” or “into,” and in this case it is purposive: “into the “work of service.” They are gifts to equip not simply for the sake of the equipment or perfection itself but for the sake of service.
εἰς then begins the next clause. It is almost as if our author is breathlessly writing, wanting to get all the purposive activity of the Spirit laid out for us. The next purpose clause is “to/for the building up of the body of Christ.” The metaphor of a building (οἰκοδομὴν) can be used both to describe the community that is being built (the church) but also the process of building up/edifying each other. Note that all of these things so far come because of the energetic directional prepositions.
μέχρι is temporal, meaning “until.” In the course of the argument in these verses it functions as a sort of mini “rest-stop” in the steep climb of the directional prepositions. That is, one goes and goes and goes until. . . In this case the “until” is only the briefest of pauses. “Until we attain” (verb is καταντάω). The verb καταντάω suggests the attainment of a goal. It is best rendered “attain” or “reach.” So, the μέχρι is crucial because it never lets us forget there is a goal, and a goal which will be reached. Now that we know that, we have a description of this goal, using more prepositions!
εἰς again. . .But now we are getting to what you might call the ultimate goal, the consummation of the quest. We paused briefly, but now we attain that place, that is very pleonastically described as “the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God.” It is a theological and verbal mouthful, to be sure, and its precise contours aren’t delineated here, but it is held out as a kind of alluring promise to the believer. But there is more:
εἰς once more. This knowledge of the Son of God leads to the most amazing three word description I have seen in a long time: εἰς ἄνδρα τέλειον, “to a complete man” or “to a perfect person.” The goal of all of this is, to use a word that Jesus used at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, “perfection.” Well, I tend to shy away from that term, because every time we humans think we are approaching perfection we probably are on the brink of perverting something crucial in life and faith. But some kind of completeness is in view. And, there is yet one more:
εἰς, as we are now brought to the most abstract of all of the clauses (v 13b): “into the measure of the stature of Christ’s fulness.” It is what you might call slightly over-the-top in its hopefulness, for it goes much further than a statement such as “sharing Christ’s glory” because this suggests, though it is obscure, that somehow the fulness of Christ, which is how he occupies and dominates the universe, becomes attained by us. I dare say that someone may have words to try to describe it, but I really don’t. I look at this phrase as rhetorical hyperbole, suggested by the author because his own energetic and vigorous words have led him to this amazing affirmation. We might see it as the culmination of an energy-driven series of statements that become a little unrealistic, though the very unrealism at the end makes it even more endearing. But all of this is in service to one last connecting word:
ἵνα or “so that.” In this case it is “so that we no longer may be infants.” The striking word for “infants” in Greek is νήπιοι, and Google Translate for once gives us an even more helpful translation: “toddlers.” Just as all of these prepositions have a “direction” to them, so the Christian who is equipped by the gifts of the spirit likewise has a direction—no longer being a toddler. This is especially powerful when it is contrasted with the preceding words about attaining the “measure” of the “stature” of “Christ’s fulness.” It is almost as if the author is challenging the hearers of his message with a question: do you want to try to attain to the vast stature of Christ, or do you want to choose the way of the toddler? The energy behind the prepositions tells us that the entire direction of the Christian faith is to come to maturity, even perfection, though I prefer the word “completeness’ or “wholeness.”
Talks and sermons are legion that describe the Gifts of the Spirit and give you advice as to how to discern what yours might be and how best to use them. But what is most powerful to me about these verses is not the list or the possible “choice” of a gift, but the purpose of the gifts. And the purpose is perfectly captured through an interlocking series of prepositions that give direction, energy and flow to the life of faith.
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