The New Revised Standard Version offers my favorite translation of this entire passage.
It reads: "The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people's trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming" (Ephesians 4:11-14).
Between Now and Not-Yet
Two words in particular leap off the page as I read this passage: gifts and grow. The reader is challenged to discern his or her gifts and to grow in an awareness of the obligations and responsibilities attendant upon those gifts.
"Grow up," says Paul (or whoever wrote in his name). While that's a perfectly reasonable demand, we know well that the process of growing up is neither quick nor easy. Tremendous tension exists between the predictable and the unpredictable, between the comfort of the familiar now and the apprehension of the impenetrable not-yet. The great temptation is to snuggle down into our perhaps immature comfort zone and stay there, impervious to what's happening around us and fostering the false hope that the faith of childhood will carry us through the complexities of modern life.
An equally serious temptation is to skip past the author's words concerning gifts by telling ourselves that they're not meant for us. They're only for people who are expected to be holy: priests and bishops, religious sisters and brothers. Letting the vast majority of us off the hook was never the intent of the author. If we ever harbored that opinion, it was uprooted by Vatican II's Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity: "Every single member of the Body has a role, each according to his or her place, and fulfilling it is very important both to that person and to the Church itself" (see Vatican II in Plain English).
The challenge lies in determining our role in light of the
gifts we have been given, and we have been given gifts.
They're usually fairly apparent in those around us but may
be all but invisible in ourselves. It makes sense to seek
the counsel of others who know us well. Their evaluation of
our gifts is almost certain to be illuminating and can sometimes
Acknowledging our gifts doesn't make us prideful, merely honest. They're gifts, after all, and we can no more take credit for them than we can credit ourselves for our genetically endowed pearly white teeth.
Having conceded that we are gifted and are called to utilize those gifts for the good of the community, how do we go about it? The Letter to the Ephesians advises, indeed insists: Grow up! Move toward that which lies beyond the spiritual horizon. Probe. Question. Delve deeper. Soar higher. Read. Pray (which includes at least as much listening as talking). Discuss. And yes, even doubt. The more we seek the awesome God we serve, the better we will serve the awesome God we seek.
To be childlike means to possess a child's willingness to grow and learn. To be childish is quite the opposite. Like the Ephesians, we are challenged to grow up.