PERFECTING THE SAINTS TO EXERCISE THEIR OWN FUNCTION
If we want to understand Ephesians 4:13, we must begin reading at 4:11. From 4:11 through 4:16 there are altogether six verses. In these six verses, we see first that after the Lord ascended into the heavens, He gave to the church some specially gifted persons, such as apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherds and teachers. But these specially gifted persons do not build up the church directly; instead, they perfect the saints to build up the church. What does it mean to perfect the saints? It means to feed the saints one by one until they grow up. You might ask me how I know that perfecting the saints here refers to feeding. It is because according to the context, to be perfected is to grow. All mothers know that the most important thing in perfecting a small child is not education but nourishment. When a child is a newborn, the first thing we do is to feed him with milk and give him water to drink. As he gradually grows, we still need to keep giving him nourishment, and that is what we do until he grows up.
Therefore, the first thing in perfecting the saints is to feed them that they may grow, and the second thing is to teach them. We all know that mothers have to teach small children even how to eat. Therefore, I am not saying that doctrines and teachings are useless. What I am saying is that it is wrong to keep teaching your children, yet you do not know how to feed them. It is after they are nourished that you teach them.
Furthermore, as the child gradually grows, you must equip him according to the level of his growth. If you want to teach him to write, then you have to prepare for him a good pencil, a good writing brush, or a good fountain pen; this is to equip him. Thus, perfecting the saints includes three matters: feeding, teaching, and equipping them to be useful.
When I visited the different localities in America, I stayed mostly in the homes of the saints. In the American homes there is one thing that very much impresses me, and even though it is a small thing, it is very practical when applied to the church life. It is that they know how to perfect their children. For example, in one family, one child was only two or three years old, but the father perfected him to do one thing: every morning after the child rose and washed up, the first thing he did was to open the front door, bring in the newspaper, and put it into the newspaper box. This two- or three-year-old boy had been perfected to do this one thing. For six months nothing changed; he did only this one chore. This family had another boy who was assigned to watch over the family’s pet dog. Every day the boy watched what the dog ate and how much it ate. The parents fed the boy, and he fed the dog. They also had another boy who was a little older. Every Monday morning he vacuumed the carpet in one room, then on the next day he vacuumed the carpet in another room, and on the following day he vacuumed the carpet in the third room. The oldest child had to cut the grass in the front and back yards. When I stayed with that family and saw the situation, I was very touched. Those saints really knew how to perfect their children. They not only fed them and taught them, but they also equipped them. The result is that the children of that household, whether big or small, all exercised their own function. I feel that a local church should be like this family, with the gifted members perfecting the saints one by one until they all exercise their own function.
ARRIVING AT A FULL-GROWN MAN, AT THE MEASURE OF THE STATURE OF THE FULLNESS OF CHRIST
This does not mean, however, that we will arrive at the goal instantly, because verse 13 says, “Until we all arrive at the oneness of the faith and of the full knowledge of the Son of God, at a full-grown man.” We thank the Lord that the young people are progressing, but according to my feeling, you are still very immature and have not yet become grown-up. You have stepped on the right track for growth, but you have not yet grown very much. You still need to grow until all arrive at a full-grown man.
However, we know that the higher a life is, the longer it takes to grow; and the lower the life is, the less time it takes to grow. The lowest life grows the fastest; the higher the life is, the slower it grows. A dog does not need seven years to mature; at most it takes three years. A human child, however, needs twenty-one years to grow to maturity. How long will it take for the new man to become full-grown? I cannot tell, but I want you to know that the life of the new man is higher than the life of our old man. The higher the life, the longer it takes to mature. You young people have risen up to pursue the growth in life today, and that makes me very happy, but you should not have a certain expectation, saying, “Brother Lee has come to give us a training, so we are going to grow up instantly.” There is no such thing. Growth requires time because life has a law. However, you should not be disappointed. In any case, you must keep growing.
At the time the church arrives at a full-grown man, it arrives at the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. A full-grown person certainly has the proper measure of the stature of his fullness; these two things are equivalent. There are some particular points here. In this passage the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ is not mentioned first; rather, it speaks first of the full-grown man. Why is this? For anyone who wants to pursue the growth in life, the first requirement is to take Christ as your person and the second is to take Christ as your life. A full-grown man needs Christ as his person, and a stature with its proper measure needs Christ as life. Taking Christ as our person is the first thing, and taking Christ as life is the second. We all need to learn to go to the Lord and say, “Lord, today I have received mercy and grace to learn to take You as my person. Furthermore, I want to learn to receive grace and mercy with all the brothers and sisters as the one new man, taking You as the person in all of us.” This is the highest requirement.
(One Body, One Spirit, and One New Man, Chapter 6, by Witness Lee)