I believe that a careful and prayerful reading of Ephesians 4 will reveal that the growth that God and we are looking for will take place together with our brothers and sisters. As we have already mentioned, there are many reasons for this. One primary reason is that this is the nature of God. "Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are." (John 17:11) The oneness that is true of the Godhead is now to be expressed through a many-membered body. The calling of the body of Christ is to express the nature of God. God's nature is love, and it is expressed as members are joined to each other by the Spirit and function together in one body.
The plan of God is perfect for bringing this about. The full expression of sin in the "old man" took us down a path of independence and self-sufficiency. We did not need God, nor did we need each other. We certainly were not "our brother's keeper." But in the "new man," created according to Christ Jesus, all that has been reversed. We are now dependent on God and on the grace of God that comes to us through the other members. We now are our brother's keeper, and God will reveal through us His great care and love for every other member. In so doing, together we become an expression of the nature of God, and God will use this witness to draw others to Himself.
If we see this truth clearly, it will direct our focus and put the proper importance on our functioning in the body. This is so important as we consider the subject of maturity. So often we earnestly desire to grow up in God but we do not clearly see the way. The body of Christ is God's plan for the growth of every member. There is no other plan revealed in scripture. A perfect God always does things perfectly, so let us not look for another way. Instead let us diligently look to God for a clear revelation of His plan, and then let us walk in that plan in faith before God. Results are guaranteed, for it is God who works all things in the church.
Another reason that our brothers and sisters are so important in our growth is that it is often very difficult to see ourselves as God (and others) are able to see. We get used to living with ourselves. We often make excuses for our weaknesses, and even if our reasoning is faulty, we convince ourselves that it makes sense. To change the way we see ourselves takes the power of God, and that power often comes through another member who is more objective or who sees more clearly than we can.
A familiar example of this is the account of Peter and Paul (See Galatians 2:11-16). Both were men of God, filled with the Holy Spirit, and well exercised in the things of God. Their devotion to the Lord was perhaps beyond anything we have ever known. God had dramatically revealed to Peter that He had broken down the wall between Jew and Gentile, and Peter had walked in that truth in many ways. Yet when the test came in another way, for some reason Peter's vision became clouded, and he pulled back and allowed a separation that was not of God. It took a strong rebuke from Paul for him to see the error of his way. We may think the Holy Spirit could have done this without using Paul, and that may be true, but the Holy Spirit chose to use Paul. Can this account speak to us?
No believer, no matter how spiritual he or she may be, is above correction through another member. Any of us can become blind. A whole gathering of God's people can become blind in some area of truth. The churches mentioned in the first three chapters of Revelation are examples of this. The Corinthians were blind to many things and needed instruction, and they had difficulty recognizing the instrument of God's choice for correcting this blindness. Paul strongly appealed to them to recognize the grace of God that was coming through him for their good (see 2 Corinthians 10,11). To recognize this possibility and to see God's provision in the body for this danger is to keep ourselves open to God and His mercy and grace.
As we dwell together in unity and interact with each other under the authority of Christ, a deep humility will be worked in each member. "Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for 'God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.' Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you." (1 Peter 5:5-7) There is no substitute for this working. As we submit to the Lord in this matter, God will affect every strand of self-sufficiency and pride. "But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you'; nor again the head to the feet, 'I have no need of you.' No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another." (1 Corinthians 12:20-25)
I believe that another reason we pull back from this intimate working is that it is very demanding. It requires commitment with no reservation. It requires labor, bearing with one another, forgiving one another, laying down our lives for one another, and being willing to receive from one another. It can be draining at times, and unless we are drawing on the grace of God we will faint and give up. What do we often substitute for this challenging work? We have the Bible and the Holy Spirit within, and we think that is sufficient. We do need the scriptures for the purpose they were given, and we must be alive to God by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. But can we read these scriptures and honestly say that is enough? The scriptures point us to Jesus and tell of His plan for us in the body. Are we willing to give ourselves to Jesus and what He is doing? What God is doing, He is doing in the church. Real growth takes place in the body of Christ as we get involved according to the direction of the Holy Spirit.