Do you know why you are here this evening? As you were preparing your schedule of the day, what crossed your mind as to why you would set aside this time slot tonight to come together with other church members to sing spiritual songs, intercede for one another, and hear this message? In your planning next week, what will go into your thought process for allotting certain time for church activities, whether corporate worship, home group fellowships, hospitality, encouragement, correction?
I’m afraid that in many of our minds, church is a place we’ve grown accustomed to coming to be served. We don’t consider how we will use our time together to serve others, because what matters more is how other people are going to use their time to serve us. What matters more than my planning on saying specific, well-thought encouraging words to specific people, is that someone should do that for me. And more than that, the preaching had better be good. The teaching had better have been well prepared and funny, and not too long.
We’ve come to expect, to an extent, that there are certain people in the church who will do things for us. And this is right. As we will see today, there are certain jobs in the church that are given as a gift to you by Christ (those of pastors-teachers, evangelists, apostles, and prophets), and it is right for us to take advantage of those gifts. But, is that the extent of your willingness to recognize gifts in the church? What you get from them? In our passage tonight in Eph. 4, we will see that while these gifts just mentioned are important, they are important for a reason. These gifts push us to use our own gifts for the building up of the body of Christ.
It is very interesting at the turn of events in the context of this passage. At the beginning of ch. 4, Paul urges us all to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” He lists five characteristics of those who walk in that manner, “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Paul takes that last phrase, “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” and begins to speak to that unity. If we are to be united as one in the Spirit, there is good reason for that. “There is one body and one Spirit.” There cannot be a divided church because we are not indwelled by a divided Spirit. The same unity that the Father, Son, and Spirit share is the same unity that the church not should have, but actually has. Paul emphasizes this unity in vs. 4-6: “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” If Paul can say anything about the church, it is that it is united as one.
But, a question may be in your mind at this point. “If the church is to be one and united, then does that mean I have to be like everyone else? Phil preaches every Sunday, do I have to preach, too? Kevin Millard has been serving as a missionary for sixteen years, so should I go do that, too? If the church is to be One, should we not all do the same thing?”
Paul very quickly moves from focusing on the unity of the church that is based on the unity of the Godhead, and examines in vs. 7 the diversity that must be present in the church. “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” This may seem odd, that a tretise on diversity is planted right next to one on unity, but this is not odd to Paul. In Romans 12:4-6, Paul deals with the same issues: “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them...” Or in 1 Cor. 12:4-6, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.”
In Paul’s mind, to have unity in God demands that there be a diversity of gifts present, because that one God gave these gifts to His Church. Here in Ephesians, Paul calls this “grace that accords to the measure of Christ’s gift.” And it is given “to each one of us.” When you follow after Christ, when the HS has drawn you and converted you, you are given grace, grace not only to repent and believe, but grace to serve and to love. So, if you are a believer, you have been gifted by Christ. And your gift may not be like your neighbor’s gift. Not all will be pastors. Not all will be evangelists. Not all will be administrators. Not all will be deacons/servers. But all will have a gift.
And Paul doesn’t just make this up. Running in the background of Paul’s thoughts on unity and diversity is Psalm 68:18. Paul takes this as his text from which he is about to exegete for us: “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” What in the world is he talking about? It strikes us as disrupting the flow of text here. But, you must recognize the importance for Paul that this text has for his argument.
Psalm 68 is a triumphal psalm. God is shown as marching before Israel in triumph after the Exodus, coming to Mt. Sinai, causing the earth to tremble and storms to rumble. He then descends Sinai and leads Israel to their new home, the land of promise, leading the people as a general to war, clearing armies from before them. God then climbs a different mountain, Mt. Zion in Jerusalem. In reflecting on this historical event, the Psalmist speaks of God in vs. 18: “You ascended on high, leading a host of captives in your train, and receiving gifts among men, even among the rebellious, that the LORD God may dwell there.”
Paul picks up two words from this Psalm quoted in our text, and exegetes them for us: “He ascended” and “He gave.”
This psalm speaks of the ascent of God’s presence with the ark into the tabernacle in Jerusalem. God ruling over His people from the land He promised them. This was the pinnacle of power for the Israelites. But Paul takes a different approach, and finds the fulfillment of this not as being the ascent of the OT tabernacle, but the ascent of what the tabernacle pointed to, Jesus the Messiah. The tabernacle was replaced by the temple, and the temple was torn down, and if you go there today, there is a mosque sitting on top of the hill. But when Jesus ascended “far above all the heavens,” Paul lets us known that this is irrevocable. There will never be a time when Jesus is not sovereignly ruling with power over His creation.
Paul takes a moment to clue us in to the divinity of Jesus. A quick glance at the fact that Christ not only ascended, but also descended into the lower regions of the earth. This is not talking about a speculated time spent by Jesus in Hades, but to the fact that Jesus came down to earth from heaven in the first place. Jesus tells us in John 3:13, “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” And Paul in Phillipians 2 says, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name...” Christ was God, but humbled Himself to serve you, even to death. This is why the ESV translates this phrase, “into the lower regions, the earth.”
And in saying that He ascended far above all the heavens, we see that the Son is above all other power, on earth and in the heavenlies. The “rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named in this age and the one to come” from 1:21 is in view here. There is nothing over which Christ is not King. Nothing. Not your job difficulties, or your seemingly demonic neighbors, nor your tense life with your children, nor your difficult marriage. All is subjected to Christ’s rule, and He is a good King!
Back to the psalm, as God ascends Mt. Zion as King of Israel, He is said to have “lead a host of captives in your train and receiving gifts among men, even among the rebellious.” This differs a bit from our text. Paul says that God “gave gifts to men.” Is Paul changing the text? No. The original Psalm speaks of God’s receiving the Levites from among Israel, and then giving them back to Israel as gifts. Paul has Numbers 8 and 18 in mind here. We see that God had the right to all of Israel’s first born, but in grace, He did not kill them all as He did the first born of the Egyptians, nor did He take them from their families. Instead, He took the Levites as His possession among the people, even the rebellious. And in doing so, He gave them back as the mediators of Israel. They served the people on behalf of the people, and served God as His chosen workers.
So, in Paul’s mind, the receiving of gifts and the giving of gifts are the same thing, and it is the giving of gifts that is the focus of what Paul is about to tell us. In fact, the whole context of the Levitical gifts helps us understand the gifts that we are given. We see in vs. 11 that: “He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” Now, these are not the only gifts that are given, but these are the ones Paul focuses on here. We see other lists in Rom. 12:6-8 (Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.), 1 Cor. 12:8-11 (For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.), 28-30 (And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?), and 1 Peter 4:10-11 (As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.)
But here in Eph. 4, Paul doesn’t speak of the gifting apart from the person to whom they are given. In fact, it is the person who has been given the gifting that is called the gift! God gave the Levites to Israel, but Christ has given the apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers to the Church, and it is from them that the church draws its blessing for the work of ministry.
What are these gifts? We’ve already seen “apostles and prophets” in 2:20 and 3:5. These are two offices that are no longer given, but we have the product of these gifts in front of us as the Word of God. Paul tells us in 3:5 that the mystery of Christ has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. It is that mystery of which we read in these pages that were divinely inspired, inspiration that breathed out these very words through the apostles and prophets. As we’ve seen when we looked at these other texts, the apostles, strictly speaking, are those sent out by Christ, to whom He promised would be the bearers of the truth when the HS came on them. Also, the prophets, while a technical term in the OT referring to those called out to speak for God, in the NT seem to have a special place of receiving God’s truth and speaking it to the church before the writings of the NT came together as the normative truth of the church.
Evangelists are a special gift to the church, and as Kent Hughes has said, they are the obstetricians of the church - they are there for many new births. They are particularly gifted in sharing the gospel with non-believers. This doesn’t mean that we all don’t have responsibility and a call to share the gospel, but we all recognize that it comes easier for some than others. And while Evangelists may take the Gospel to those who have not heard, Pastors-teachers are the gift to those who already believe. They teach the truths that the apostles and prophets have written down. “Pastor” and “teacher” are joined together here into one gift, as they are seen to be the same office. Those who are pastors, or shepherds, are teachers.
Paul begins this passage by emphasizing the grace that was given to each one of us by Christ, but then He focuses, based on Psalm 86, on the specific gifts of Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, and Pastor-teachers. He will get back to our specific giftings in a few verses, but for now he begins to examine what the purpose is behind the gifts of these men appointed by God, all of which have something to do with writing and teaching the Word of God.
Paul tells us that Jesus gave us apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers for the purpose of “equipping the saints.” And that makes sense. If we are the saints, those set apart for God, we are given and taught the Word of God to equip us, to prepare us for battle with weapons that we don’t currently have, to make us ready for life in the body, to draw us to being more like Christ. And we are equipped for the “work of ministry.” God’s Word, both in its written and preached form, equips us to work, and the work we are made ready to do is to serve. Our pastor does not stand up here for his own good and for his own ethical and practical betterment. It is for you that he does this, to better equip you for your work of service.
And we see that this work of service is for the “building up of the body of Christ.” Now, we usually think of this passage in a different way. We often think that Jesus gave Pastors for the work of ministry to build up the body of Christ. But do note that is not what Paul says. He says that Pastor-teachers are given to equip you for the work of service for the building up of the body of Christ. That is YOUR job. That is why God gave these gifts of men, for your service and your ministry, and it is by your serving that the body is built up into one dwelling place for God (2:22).
So, there are a few things that we should then do based on this text. One, we must avail ourselves of the Word of God! Read what the apostles and prophets wrote! Consume their words! Taste and see that the Lord is good through this book! But don’t stop at reading, know it! Learn it! Memorize it! Meditate on it! So that you can say with the Psalmist, “his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Second, if you know the will of the Lord written in His Word, then do it! Are you serving others? By your words? Your actions? Do you encourage? Do you build up? Do you pray for others? Do you give when others are in need? Do you consider how you can go without for the sake of others? Do you gather together with others? It is by this work of ministry that the church is built up. Do not take what goes on here lightly.
But is there a point at which we stop building up the body by our work of service for which we are equipped by these gifts of men? Yes. We are to do this work of ministry “until we all attain to the unity of the faith.” Oh, is that it? No, also, we must all attain to the unity “of the knowledge of the Son of God.” Otherwise said, that we would have “mature manhood,” thus we would “measure up to the stature of the fullness of Christ.” So, when you get there, you let me know. When you look like Jesus, give me a call, day or night. We’ll be sure never to encourage you again to study the Word, or to listen to the preaching of your pastor, and we’ll never ask you to serve again. Because at that point you’ll be dead and be made like Him! Until then, do the work of ministry and strain to be evermore remade in His image!
Paul now tells us the purpose that we are to do this work of ministry to build up the body of Christ until we are in His image, and he does so both negatively and positively: “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. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,”
We are to be mature men that we would no longer be children. Children are fanciful. They have wild imaginations. My son writes a new song or story off the top of his head every five minutes. It is amazing. But, if that is what he was building his life around, his own made up thoughts, then that would be dangerous. Children are usually pretty unpredictable. One minute you can ask them one thing, and you’ll get a respectful, concise answer. The next minute, you ask the same thing, and you get ranting and raving instead. They’re all over the place. They are “tossed to and fro by the waves.” More than that, they don’t have a broad, firm foundation for knowing reality. They are “carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” I see this all the time in working with teenagers. Their concept of reality is what they have experienced up to this point, and that is usually not that much. But with the use of TV, movies, music, and internet, they have an ever-widening concept of reality, a concept that is not always truthful. And Paul tells us that we are not to be like that. We are to be mature men, measured up to the stature of Christ.
Put positively, Paul says: “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” One part of being in the image of Christ is to always speak the truth. Those who know the truth have no reason to speak untruths. But more than that, speaking the truth should be done always “in love.” We do not use truth as a sledgehammer, unless a sledgehammer is needed. Usually, though, it is not a sledgehammer that an artist uses to craft a sculpture, but a sharp chisel and a slight tap of a small hammer, and always at the point that needs to be shaved off. And by using the truth in this manner, the image of Christ is formed in the body. By speaking the truth in love, we grow from being children into mature manhood, in every way we become like He who is the head, Christ Himself.
And if we as individual members grow up into the head of the body, Christ, then we will function well and reflect the unity of the image of God. Remember, as the Godhead is united and yet diverse in their purposes, so is the Church, who is God’s image. The metaphor of the body is used by Paul to explain the many diverse kinds of people and gifts that were given. We may say to ourselves, self, you are of no purpose. But God says you are wrong. You may not recognize yet what your purpose is, but if you are in the body of Christ, you are useful for something, and the big picture is that you are useful, when you do your job, to make the body grow. Now, this is not necessarily numerical growth, though that is to be expected where the Spirit is working. This is the body growing into the image of Christ. While we each are being remade in the image of God (Col. 3: 10), the whole body (the Church), too, is growing up into Christ, when each part is working properly.
You are not verbose like our pastor. That’s alright. You are not whimsical like your SS teacher. Good, we have one of him. You do not have the voice of the men and women singing in the choir. Neither do I. But you have been given grace by Christ to make the Body become more like Him. It is, then, not a question of if, but how. How has Christ given grace to you? What are you gifted to do in the body?
There are certain things we are all gifted to do because of the presence of the HS in us. The Spiritual gifts known as fruits of the Spirit from Galatians 5 - those should be present in you. There is never a question of “Should I be patient?” “Should I have self-control?” But when it comes to “Should I serve as an elder?” “Should I move overseas as a missionary?” then there is more necessity to consider your calling.
But do consider it. Don’t always assume that it is for someone else to do! And do consider that we are all called to serve one another in love. Consider how you can lift up others by your stewardship of the gifts God has given you. Consider how you can join with one another and build up the body of Christ. Consider how you can “admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thess. 5:14).
In short, listen well and do what Paul commands at the beginning of this section: “Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Think of ways that this works out in your life. In doing so, you will likely figure out the role you have in the Body.
But for that to happen, you have to be with the body. Interact with one another. Pray for one another. Be there for one another, not only when things are obviously bad for grieving, but when things are good for encouragement, as well. Show God’s love in all places and all ways, so that the Body might grow up into Him who is the head, speaking the truth in love, and that we might be mature as Christ. This is the way you are to walk worthily, and it is the way that your diversity works towards unity.
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