In Ephesians 4:11, the apostle Paul presents five types of “office gifts,” or gifted persons, given to the church by God: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Their purpose is “to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ” so that individual believers and Christ’s body can all grow spiritually and in the unity of faith (Ephesians 4:12–13). The goal, Paul states, is “that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes,” and that we may “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:14–15, ESV).
The phrase tossed to and fro is rendered from a nautical term in Greek meaning “to be waved-pitched; to move abruptly here and there due to the violence of waves.” God has given ministry gifts to His church to form a stabilizing anchor that will keep us from being tossed to and fro like immature, gullible infants, susceptible to every flashy new human teaching and clever trick of the enemy. We can avoid being thrashed about and shipwrecked in our faith like tiny, untethered boats if we stay plugged into the body of Christ, receiving encouragement and strength from fellow saints gifted to equip us and build us up in Jesus Christ.
For growth to happen, we must remain involved in the process by which the whole body is “fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love” (Ephesians 4:16, NLT). Loner Christians cannot minister to others or be ministered to by others. God’s gifts of equipping and building up cannot be exercised in isolation.
Paul taught the Colossians to stay rooted and established in the faith so that no one would deceive them with “well-crafted arguments” (Colossians 2:4, NLT). Mature believers understand that, to follow Christ, they must continually feast on God’s Word as they remain in fellowship with other believers: “Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ” (Colossians 2:4,6–8, NLT).
Only when we are secure in God’s truth and committed to the body of Christ can we learn to recognize false teachers and steer clear of their dishonest doctrines. James said, “Be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6, NLT). Jude warned of the false teachers’ cunning: “When these people eat with you in your fellowship meals commemorating the Lord’s love, they are like dangerous reefs that can shipwreck you. They are like shameless shepherds who care only for themselves. They are like clouds blowing over the land without giving any rain. They are like trees in autumn that are doubly dead, for they bear no fruit and have been pulled up by the roots” (Jude 1:12, NLT; see also Acts 20:29–31; Romans 16:17–18; Hebrews 13:9; 2 Corinthians 11:3–4).
Members of Christ’s body grow strong and stable—no longer tossed to and fro—when they stay rooted and grounded in God’s Word and minister to one another through loving, cooperative involvement in the church. We belong to one another and need each other to grow (1 Corinthians 12:12–31). Each one of us serves a purpose in the corporate whole. As the body grows up together, each member grows stronger individually. Warren Wiersbe notes Paul’s emphasis on love in the process (see Ephesians 4:2, 15, 16): “The body grows as the individual members grow, and they grow as they feed on the Word and minister to each other. . . . Love is the circulatory system of the body. It has been discovered that isolated, unloved babies do not grow properly and are especially susceptible to disease, while babies who are loved and handled grow normally and are stronger. So it is with the children of God” (The Bible Exposition Commentary, Vol. 2, Victor Books, 1996, pp. 38–39).