Paul says that ministry is given "till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." What is this "unity of the faith"? What is the "fullness of Christ"? These questions may have puzzled us, but can God give us answers?
Perhaps it will help if we contrast what is not unity of the faith. I believe we all agree that no person or gathering of God's people will ever come to a point of having "arrived," with no more need of maturity in the expression of God's life and love. At the end of his life, Paul said, "Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind." (Philippians 3:12-16)
Can we also agree that unity of the faith cannot mean that every member of the body will come to the same level of maturity at the same time? There will always be new members coming in and children that are growing up. The very nature of life is that it is always reproducing. We would never expect a child to be more than he can be for his age. There is only one time when this process of growth will end, and that is when the trumpet sounds on the final day and we are caught up to be with Christ for eternity.
If the "perfect man" does not mean some state of maturity at which we arrive and never need to go beyond, what does it mean? The word "perfect" sometimes scares us, but Jesus said, "Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect." (Matthew 5:48) Is this possible, or is it just an ideal that we aim at but never attain? Consider also this scripture: "I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me." (John 17:23) Again, is this possible here on this earth, dwelling as we do in "vessels of clay"?
Let us carefully consider Paul's statement as a whole: "...till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting." (Ephesians 4:13-14) Is he not saying that all these things will exist together at the same time? In other words, when the body is brought to the "unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son of God," it will also be "a perfect man," with Christ filling the whole body. In this condition we will not waver in our faith, but be solid in our relationship with Christ and with one another, unmoved by strange doctrines or unspiritual men that do not hold Christ in His proper place.
Therefore, in order to come to unity of the faith, we need a controlling revelation of Christ as God's full purpose and provision. With "the knowledge of the Son of God" laid as the solid foundation in a gathering of God's people, and the gathering walking in that revelation, there will be an expression of "the fullness of Christ." God is looking for a pure testimony of Himself. He is to be experienced and expressed in a many-membered body. What man brings into the church always confuses, defiles, and destroys the testimony of God, but when this revelation of Christ controls the church, the expression of man will no longer defile and take away from the glory of God. God's blessing will rest on such a testimony, one that declares only who He is, and that testimony will have power to draw men to God.
Unity of the faith does require some spiritual understanding. I believe that basic spiritual understanding brings us into and keeps us in a right relationship with Jesus. We need both a beginning and an expanding revelation of who Christ is, what He has done, who we are in Him, and who He is in us. By faith we must walk in that revelation, and as we do, Christ will be expressed. Where does the revelation come from? Ministry is God's provision to serve Christ to us, to bring the body to this unity of faith. Those who have a revelation (from God) minister (serve) the revelation until every member sees. When we each see for ourselves and are walking in that revelation by faith, we will no longer be "tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting." We will not be shaken if someone brings a "new doctrine" that sounds good. We will recognize it immediately for what it is because it does not fit into what God has revealed to us and what we are experiencing as we walk by faith.
That was how Paul labored, both in person and in his writing. He says of his ministry: "I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God, the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily." (Colossians 1:24-29)
This teaching Paul refers to is not an intellectual understanding of the historical Christ, but a "revelation understanding" of an indwelling Christ. "That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith" was his heart-cry to God in prayer. Ministry holds the revelation of Christ before the body until every member is "eating and drinking" and being nourished by the word of faith. As each member responds in faith, abiding in Him, does not Christ bring the unity of the faith which cannot be accomplished in any other way?
We have already noted that in the beginning of Ephesians 4 Paul sounds a strong appeal to "keep the unity of the Spirit." That is the beginning place. As we are brought into the life of God by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we are one with Him. Paul then states that there is "one faith." Of course there can only be one faith, because there is only one God. It is because there is one faith that we can be brought into that experience of the one faith together. When our hearts are united in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, there is perfect unity. In that condition, we do not shrink from the word "perfect" because we realize that the perfection is of God, not us. We can never be perfect separate from Him, but as we abide in Christ we are "perfect in one" because He is perfect.
So then, if the church is in this condition, have we arrived? Are we further along than Paul who wrote these words? My answer is no, but that now we are in a proper condition to grow up into Christ. With proper spiritual relationships, we can partake of all the grace that God wants to bring to us through each vessel. Together we can experience all that God has for us. When the body is in this condition we are in a healthy place, able to grow and bear responsibility in God. We can now function as one man, as one body, underneath Christ our Head. We are available to God to do His will in all things, and He can use us as He likes. As we continue to do His will, we will mature in Christ. God will not put more on us than we can bear, but as we mature we can bear more responsibility in the work and purpose of God here on this earth. Every member has a part, and none is left out.
To summarize, what I see Paul saying is that God requires a perfection of relationship with Himself and with each member as He brings us to a maturity of expression of His life through the body as a whole. Is this perfection possible? Can we know a pureness of heart and attitude toward every member? I believe it is possible, and not only possible, but God's norm. It puts the responsibility properly on each member to abide in Christ--the command of Jesus to every believer. Can we do this, no matter what level of maturity we are at? I believe we can. As we do, we will be "perfect in one" as God is one, and reveal to the world who God is through an increasing expression of love.