Ephesians 4:14 presents an interesting idea.
. . . so 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. (underlining added) (ESV; English Standard Version)
Paul speaks of a phenomenon he calls “every wind of doctrine.” That phrasing is used consistently in well-known translations. I say that because I intend to examine the phenomenon a bit with you. There are two main terms in use here: wind (anemos) and doctrine (didaskalia). It is interesting to me that the first term is a concrete, natural term. The second term is quite abstract until a meaning is agreed to. It’s good to know in starting that the translations are consistent. These Greek terms are not translated in a wide variety of ways. So, agreement as to basic meaning looks straightforward. Let’s proceed.
What is wind? In fairly simple terms, wind is air moving of its own accord and on a fairly large scale. That happens because there is “too much” air in one locale relative to the amount of air in a nearby locale. That’s all a matter of physics, but it is fairly simple to understand. Temperature changes can cause one area to build up a lot of air pressure (too much air at that temperature). If the air that has been warmed is near air that does not have as much pressure, the air mass with the higher pressure will bleed over into the air mass that has less pressure. When the air moves to equalize the pressure you have wind. All that said, wind is a phenomenon that results in change – it is a natural phenomenon for equalizing air pressure. That is all fairly simplified, but there it is. That’s fairly concrete, even though we can’t see it happen.
Doctrine is a bit harder to get at in that our ordinary senses can’t be relied on for perceiving it. The basic idea behind doctrine is instruction or teaching. That works fairly well, so let’s use it for the moment. Teaching requires three essential elements: content, a teacher, and persons to be taught (students). In that sense, teaching is a transmission of content from the teacher to the persons to be taught. The content is intangible per se.
Let’s consider a real simple example to begin our examination. Imagine a dandelion seed at large in the air. If there is much air movement at all, the seed will be borne along by the air. If the direction of the air changes, the seed will change direction to match the change in direction of the air. The seed will also change its rate of movement (speed) as the rate of the air movement changes. When the air movement ceases, the seed will fall to the ground wherever it is, unless and until it encounters another current of air. If the air movement (wind) is fairly rapid, the seed will move along at quite a clip. If the wind is variable in its direction, then the “flight” of the seed will appear to be erratic. It may even look chaotic if we watch it a bit. We may say the seed isn’t chaotic, it just changes position with changes in the direction and velocity of the air movement where the seed is. But, its flight may appear to be chaotic. We leave open for now whether the air movement is chaotic.
In the metaphor, Paul likens us to something which is “carried about” by every wind of doctrine. In the previous paragraph, I sought to consider what that might look like. The mental image of the dandelion seed just bumping along, changing direction, now hurrying, now dawdling, should be a mechanism to enable us to understand being “carried about by every wind” of doctrine if we can understand how a doctrine can be a wind.
The passage of interest to us includes another natural picture to accompany the wind movement idea. That is presented to us as being “tossed to and fro by the waves.” The two pictures are quite similar in that the movement of air and the movement of water often seem quite tumultuous and unpredictable. Even when we understand the underlying natural physics, the actual observation can be quite a thing. If we liken waves “tossing” things and wind “carrying” things, which is easy to infer from Paul’s language, then we may believe that the wind carrying things in this metaphor is not intended to be a positive image. Being “tossed to and fro” (ESV) by waves implies danger. When we carry that sense of danger over into the “carried about” (ESV) by wind, a clear warning of danger is implied. Of course, anyone may take issue with that statement, but it seems clear to me.
Furthermore, in the earlier portion of the verse, Paul seems to desire that we “no longer be children,” for it is children who are dangerously thrown by waves or wind. In his discussion of the ministries just preceding this verse, he is clear in telling us we have God-given resources to prevent just such a thing. It is not left entirely to our own reasoning. Let’s get back to that later.
Let’s turn our attention to “doctrine” for a few moments. In the ESV translation, nine occurrences of the English word “doctrine” occur in Paul’s letters. In every case, the root Greek word is dao, which is verb meaning to learn. A particular extension of that verb is didasko, which basically means to cause to learn. In other words, didasko means to teach. That which is taught is, then, doctrine. In some places these various forms of didaskalia, are translated as “teaching,” by the way. In Acts 2:42 this is the usage. That passage speaks of the “apostles’ teachings” (ESV). We could say the “apostles’ doctrines.” (Oi, there he goes again, getting all bogged down in details.)
Doctrine is a neutral term. It is neither good nor bad per se. That depends on the content of the doctrine. There is such a thing as “doctrines (teachings) of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1). There are doctrines that are contrasted to “sound” doctrines (Titus 1:9). A thing that stands in contrast to sound doctrine must be, by definition, unsound doctrine. There is “good” doctrine (1 Timothy 4:6). In contrast, there must be “bad” doctrine. There are “different” doctrines (1 Timothy 1:3) which Paul seems to be saying are at variance with his sound doctrines. You get the point no doubt.
In our focal passage, I interpret Paul to say that some doctrines are not good for us. They are not sound or good doctrines. In fact, they are derived from “human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” Those are, perhaps doctrines we need to be trained to avoid (Ephesians 4:11-13). This is a word for the maturing.
We live in a time where there is much turbulence in the world. There is much wave tossing and being carried along by winds. In these times there is the potential for much confusion. Some feel that God has lost control. Not so. He is letting us have our way. In that is the turmoil. We are not to be caught up in all of that, even when it looks good to us. Our ways are not God’s ways unless and until we make His ways to be our ways. He just doesn’t get tossed about nor is His trajectory ever chaotic, even in appearance.