The Church's Collective Purpose: Oneness with Jesus, Ephesians 4:11-16

What is the purpose of our lives, together as the entire church? Yes, we are to “love God and people” (Matt 22:37-39) and to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19), but these are commands for Christians, not purpose statements. These are the actions by which we live out our purpose on earth but are not the same as our eternal purpose in itself (directly).

The end goal of all Christians is to be “one with God”, or to have “union with Christ.” This is a major motif throughout Paul’s writing and is made the “clearest” in Ephesians. While reading the whole of Ephesians is the best way to grasp God’s vision of “oneness” with him, Ephesians 4:11-16 is one of the clearest passages on this as applied to the church,

"[Jesus gave] [church leaders] towards the fitness of the saints for the work of ministry for the building of the body of Christ, until we all may arrive at unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the son of God, into mature manhood [and] to the measure of the stature  of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children…being sea-tossed by every wind of teaching . . .rather, speaking the truth in love we should grow into him, in all things, who is the head – Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, the body grows so that it builds itself up  in love." – Ephesians 4:11-16

A Collective Purpose

At the ascension (and Pentecost) Jesus set the work of the church into motion through spiritual gifts to make us capable for the manufacture of his church. The building of Christ’s body is ongoing but it is not indefinite; ministry goes on,

“Until we all may arrive at [1.] unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the son of God, [2.] into mature manhood, [3.] and to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…” – 4:13

The church’s work ceases when the end goal is met, whether ministry work leads to the goal being met or the goal is arrived at regardless. The Greek syntax of “until” indicates certainty 1. While an ideal is expressed (‘all may arrive”), the ideal will be fulfilled (and isn’t presently); it is a matter of when the goal will be met.

 The church’s end goal is one arrived at collectively. Like most statements in New Testament epistles, this is not addressed to individuals but to the church collectively. Arrival at the end goal happens together with all Christians, not as a separate event for each believer.

 The destination for collective arrival is: unity and complete maturity (two parts of one goal). 

Collective unity is manifested through a faith and a knowledge, both of which are “of the son of God.” When a trust-commitment and full understanding of who Jesus is are expressed together by all believers together, then we have met our goal. No individual will have a greater or lesser faith or knowledge of Christ than another; in fact, we will share in these things with Jesus himself, not just about him.

Oneness with God also means we will have complete maturity, “into complete/perfect manhood” and into the “stature of the fullness” of Christ; just like Jesus was a perfect man needing no self-improvement so we will not need any more growth. We will also have the same “build” and “height” that Jesus has —figuratively speaking, this means we will look just like him. All of these things are not just future states for individuals but is the future state of Christianity as a whole

Fullness of Christ

“We should grow up into him in all things who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” – 15-16 

Verses 15 and 16 repeat the same idea as verses 11 through 13 with a deeper picture of oneness in Christ. It is clear that the church does consist of individual Christians; “every joint” and “each part.”  We are only progressing towards oneness when every Christian is participating in ministry work. The main thrust of this passage is not about individuals but about all Christians together in Jesus.

Christ is called the “head” of all things, in which the “whole body” builds itself up in and through. We strive to arrive at the “fullness” of Christ and as verse 10 says,

“[he] ascended above all the heavens, in order to fill all things.” 

When Ephesians (and the rest of Scripture) talks about union with Christ, it is talking about the intimate relationship with God we will have forever. How exactly this manifests itself is a mystery. Everything in existence will be as it is meant to be, as it is “filled” by Christ’s nature. Scripture does not say that we become God himself but rather become like him in his nature; able to relate and submit to him fully without any barrier. 

What Now….? Benefits for Today

While the church progresses closer to this reality everyday, the goal has not and will not be met until Christ returns2. That being said, our movement towards this state does have a practical impact today (sanctification).

In this passage, there are two results (but it is nuanced in other ways thorough Scripture)


So that we may no longer be infants, being tossed by the waves and being carried about by every wind of teaching in the cunning of men, in craftiness, with a view to the scheming of deceit.” – 14

As we all work towards unity with and maturity in Christ, false doctrine will have less of an impact on us. While the false teaching will continue to impact the body until “we all arrive”, there is a hope of present transformation. This verse implies that the Ephesians then were led astray by false teaching as many Christians are today. However, this verse is not about rebuke, it is about hope — while we must continue to deal with the harm of humans’ schemes upon the church, we can always work towards freedom from them.


“Speaking the truth in love, however, we should grow up into him in all things….” – 15

The result of collectively growing in Christlikeness, is that we will share the truth with others (active) rather than allowing ourselves to be affected by others’ lies (passive). If the church is growing into the fullness of Jesus, it will be a source of influence rather than being influenced by the world. 

In verse 15, sharing the truth in love is in the present tense — Paul expected the Ephesians to be truth-sharing in the present moment as they work towards the ideal of consummation with Christ (subjunctive).


 Our journey to become one with God is one that requires the individuals to participate as seen in verse 16. Yet, the primary emphasis of this passage is that it is a collective journey. This extends beyond the “church” of any nationality but applies to the entire global church. This end is achieved mainly through obedience to God in “ministry work.” Christ enables this work everyday through church leadership, but the work is done by the body and not mainly by the leaders. 

This passage should not be taken too literally — it is not saying that one Christian’s disobedience stops God’s plan, but it is saying that Christian’s should approach their lives as if their disobedience will prevent this. It is all about the ideal; the goal that we strive for, happens by means of each Christian obeying God in the world. As we do this to the best of our ability, in whatever amount of us are at a given time, we will influence the world instead of the world influencing us, we will share common commitment and understanding of God, and we will all be even more mature. 


  1. While loving people and spreading the Gospel is our task on earth, these things will cease when we reach unity with Christ
  2. The ministry of work of every Christian, tooled by church leaders, is the means by which we seek unity with Christ
  3. We arrive at unity collectively, not individually. Unity consists of, sharing with Christ, a knowledge and faith-commitment of who he is, and resembling his perfection
  4. Jesus Christ completes existence – our intimacy with him will be close we are said to be "as one" with him
  5. As we collectively seek unity, false teaching will inhibit the church less
  6. As we collectively seek unity, we will influence others with the truth rather than allowing lies to influence us
1. Meyer’s NT Commentary and Expositor’s Greek New Testament suggest that the lack of untranslated ἄν before μέχρι indicate “the thought of conditioning circumstances is remote front he apostle’s mind,” (Meyer) and (less strongly), “it doubtful whether much may be made of the unconditioned μέχρι here. The absence of ἄν, however, and the use of the subj., seem to point to the event as expected, and not as a mere hypothetical possibility” (Expositor’s). 
2. This is a theological parallel: Christ initiated the process towards unity with him via his ascension, as presented in Ephesians. Likewise, Christ completes the process towards unity via his return, the second descension.


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