This chapter gets to the heart of Christian living. We are reminded that Christ followers are called to a life of unity (1-6). This unity is expressed in the common elements of One body, One Spirit, we are called to One hope of our calling: One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism and One God and Father of all (3-4). We are able to live into this unity because we are able to "lead the life to which we have been called (2)" and because we are able to do this with a humility and patience and gentleness "bearing with one another in love (2)". Christian unity does not mean we are all in lock step agreement on everything. Christian unity exists because we approach what we believe with humility and because we are willing to bear with one another in love.
The discussion of spiritual gifts, in this case the leadership gifts of Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor and Teacher, is essential to the life and growth of the Church. 1600 years ago under the leadership of Emperor Constantine the concept of "Christendom" was born. In Christendom the role of the Pastor and other leadership was to care for the flock and to provide spiritual services to the "christian" community. This model is dreadfully far from the original purpose of the leadership gifts. In 4:12 is the leadership job description: Apostles etc. exist "to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ." In short, the Pastor's role is to equip the congregation to do the work of ministry -- not to do it for them. Martin Luther in the 1500's tried to reclaim this biblical concept with his insistence on the priesthood of all believers but, in a Christendom world view, this concept was doomed to failure. Even in the more egalitarian United States (as it came to be) the churches continued to be pastor as doer of ministry model rather than Pastor as equiper of ministers biblical model.
The purpose of leadership and the spiritual gifts (listed here and in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12) is to build up the church and to raise Christian Disciples. The bottom line is always going to be maturity. I have seen way too many long term Christians who have no spiritual depth and I have been around way too many congregations who are wide but shallow in their faith. This Sunday (8/19) I am going to speak about this matter of Christian maturity and how we can more faithfully and effectively grow up in our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Some of the hallmarks of this maturity can be seen in verses 25 - 32. We learn to speak the truth, we encourage, we watch our language, we put aside anger and wrangling and slander and malice and learn to practice kindness in our dealings with one another. We practice forgiveness.