Ephesians 4. 7-12: The Gifts
August 21, 2011 Series: How to be the Church
Topic: New Testament Passage: Ephesians 4:7–4:12
But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore it says,
“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.”
(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And 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. Ephesians 4.7-10
For those keeping score at home, we have 3 weeks until the launch ofCommunionChurch. For anyone who has ever had a baby (especially a first child), you know that when you first start out, it is all excitement, by the halfway point fear starts to creep up, and by the 3 week point you are doing everything you can to avoid soiling yourself.
One of the things that I have been praying about is that God help to create within our new church, a love for God’s Word. I mean more than some God said it, I believe it, that settles it pragmatism…I mean a very real love for the Word. A desire to see it come alive. To discover things that shock your worldview and change your life.
HOW GOD WORKS
One of the things that I love about the Bible is the way that it is put together from a literary perspective. What I mean is, that this is a book that has been written by specific individuals, each with their own:
We have 66 books from 40 different authors, all of which come together to form a single volume. A work that is unmatched in its complexity and consistency. This is possible because the words were inspired by God, or God-breathed. This means that God was present in the mind of the writers as they wrote, revealing His words in their voice.
So God inspires numerous human authors to write His revelation to the world. God could have:
1. Written it all down and just made the work appear
2. He could have revealed the whole Bible to a single, special man.
He could have, but He didn’t. Instead, He chose to bring His Word to His people through numerous different people, in different contexts. So God did not bypass people (in all of their sinful awkwardness) when He was revealing Himself through His Word.
Like the inspired Word, God’s people are a bunch of individuals filled with the power of God, working in their uniqueness to fulfill God’s unified plan. It is a mess, but it is a mess that God keeps watch over and holds together.
Over the last two weeks we have been alluding to the fact that God uses us to reveal His glory, today we are going to look very practically at how He does this.
THE DISTRIBUTION OF GIFTS
But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift. (7)
So after spending a great deal of time talking about the things that unify us, we now move on to the things that make us unique. We go from ONE to EACH ONE. God makes it clear, that He has specifically created people differently. We are not a blank slate with no purpose or direction. God creates with purpose.
God wants us to be who He created us to be, not what we think we are supposed to be, or who someone else keeps telling us we are supposed to be. God does not have a perfect model human being in heaven that He keeps trying to copy or match and keeps failing at. But that is how we think of it sometimes.
The idea that the material world, that which we can see and feel, is actually made up of flawed versions of perfect forms, stems from the teaching of Plato. If we buy into this, what we do is measure ourselves against this supposed perfect version of humanity. We view our bodies, personalities, and gifts through the lens of the perfect form: I’m too tall, I’m not outgoing enough, not smart enough, not charismatic enough, my head is too small for my body…whatever. And we have a host of magazines and friends to help this along, creating a prototypical human being that no person can ever live up to…and no human was ever supposed to. Even Jesus, the Son of God, is referred to as having:
no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
I am not implying that Jesus was not perfect, its just that He wasn’t perfect in the way that we view perfection. He was perfect because He relied entirely on God’s power, submitted perfectly to God’s guidance, and worked perfectly toward God’s mission (and by the way was fully God). Jesus perfection does not mean that He had perfect pectorals, perfect humor, a perfect jump shot, or a personality that commanded a room.
What does this mean for us? Rather than spending every waking moment trying to figure out how we are failed versions of God’s original design, degrading ourselves because we lack this or that, we should spend some time seeking out the unique differences that He has placed in us. The unique fingerprints of the Creator that we all carry around with us. As we see in Ephesians 4 our differences are not called flaws, but are referred to as grace and gifts.
The gift being spoken here is the spiritual gift given to us in conjunction with the new life that we have in Christ. You entrust your life to Jesus, and you get in return, His perfect life PLUS a gift. Each member of God’s family has been blessed with a specific piece in the puzzle of God. Every person plays a part. There are no useless members. And so when we become one of God’s people, we are given much more than a diploma to gather dust in the closet, we are given the power of the Spirit to go and do!
But we also see here that God’s idea of gift-giving is not socialistic. Not only does everyone not get the same thing, but not everyone gets the same amount. God is not like the grandmother who has to make sure she spends the exact same amount, down to the penny, on each one of her grandchildren, so as not to show favoritism. Instead, God gives according to His own measure, in accordance with His sovereign plan. And this seems wrong. It seems like not everyone gets a fair shake. Like grandma giving one grandchild a sweater while the other one gets a new car.
It seems unfair because we do not understand two things: what we actually deserve, and what the cost of this gift was. So Paul explains it to us:
THE COST OF THE GIFTS
Therefore it says,
“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.”
(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)
This is one of those verses that when reading your Bible you most likely skip past to get to the applicable parts (I know I do). This verse will never be on a bumpersticker or coffee mug. It is odd and difficult and seems out of place in the larger context of what is being said here (it’s a quote and a large section in parentheses). But it is very necessary to the discussion of the gifts, because it reminds us of the cost of the gift.
This quote comes from Psalm 68.18. By quoting it, Paul is playing off of the meaning that was already contained within it in its original use. Psalm 68 is a powerful Psalm that proclaims the past power of God and the faithfulness of His continued blessings. The portion that is quoted speaks specifically of a victorious king returning from battle with a host of captives and the bounty associated with it. The king has rightful claim to that treasure. As king, it is His. And yet when Paul quotes this Psalm, we see that the king is not the recipient of the gifts, but the giver. He actually changes the words from receiving gifts among men, to giving gifts to men. Why would he make this change?
This is because our king is no ordinary king. He does not just sit on His throne and demand that we meet impossible expectations. Instead, we have a king who came down off of His throne and descended to earth. Knowing that we would see nothing but defeat, He came to fight for us. Contrary to popular opinion, Jesus Christ did not JUST come to earth to be meek and mild and get beaten, and die. He came for victory. And He has been victorious. The craziest part of this whole story is that we get to share in this victory. We get to share in the spoils of war.
To those who witnessed His death firsthand, the life of Jesus may not have seemed victorious. Yet:
1. Jesus lived the perfect life on earth, conquering Satan.
2. He offered himself as the perfect sacrifice, conquering sin.
3. He got up from the grave, he showed that he was more powerful than death.
The victory was won, but it was not the end of the story. He conquered all, once and for all, and he ascended to His rightful place at the right hand of the Father. And He left His disciples with the task of bringing His truth to the end of the earth, not through their own power, but through the gift of the Holy Spirit that He promised to them.
What Paul is pointing to here is the fact that the gifts that were given to us are not mere perishable items wrapped in paper and ribbons, but THE POWER OF THE SPIRIT. In order for us to have the ability to serve the church that we do, Christ had to die. Your service to the church is A GIFT OF GOD, paid for by the blood of Jesus. The gift that you have received (if you are a Christian) was not cheap. This must build into us a sense of weight and humility. Our usefulness is important because Jesus was willing to die to give it to us, but we are not important in ourselves because we are nothing without His work. Our value is fully dependent on HIM.
Our dependence on Christ is wrapped up in a phrase that Paul uses here in chapter 4 , FILL ALL THINGS. Jesus’ filling all things, refers to His rule over all things. He is in control of and present in all things. Now this does not mean that He is a life force that flows through everything, but that He is at work in every situation at all times. The connection with the church shows that Jesus shows His power and displays His spiritual presence through His people. How does the spiritual presence of God come into the church? Through the distribution of spiritual gifts. It is through the giving of gifts that Jesus makes His presence known to the world. Paul goes on to explain to us how the gifts work together to display God’s presence.
THE PURPOSE OF THE GIFTS
And 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.
And so Paul begins His definition of gifts by listing out some specific gifts. There are a few different places in the Bible that have lists of gifts (1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12). I don’t believe that they are given so that we have a chart to measure ourselves by. When we see the gifts listed, it is not for the purpose of trying to align yourself specifically with one of them, but to show us that ALL of these ‘important’ roles are filled by normal people who have been given their power by God. To show that no matter what circumstance God puts you in, that He can gift you the power to accomplish it. If He is the giver, then there is nothing that we can not do. You are not limited by lack of power. But this list is given to us for a reason.
So here we see four gifts listed specifically. This is not a potpourri list of a lot of different types of gifts. These gifts are all gifts of leadership. They are the people that we often think of as professional Christians.
1. Apostles: these were the guys specifically trained and taught by Jesus (the 12 + Paul)
2. Prophets: these are the guys who gave us the Bible
3. Evangelists: missionaries
4. Shepherd/teachers: Shepherd/teacher being a term used interchangeably with elder, pastor, overseer, to describe the men tasked with leading the local church
By listing these four roles, we see that God not only provides the strength to do what needs to be done, but He has a plan for how all of these parts work together. He takes the superstars of the Christian faith, and by drawing their power back to Himself, shows that He is orchestrating all parts of His church to ultimately display His glory. These gifts are given to point back to the giver.
He did not:
1. give the Apostles a front row seat to the life of Jesus so that they could argue over who got the best seat in heaven (though they did).
2. open the mouths of the prophets so that they could feel superior (though that must have been a temptation).
3. give Evangelists the ability to melt hearts so that they could win people to themselves (though many have).
4. call and equip pastors so that they could use their position to lord over a congregation (though I have met a few).
Instead, he GAVE:
1. the Apostles (the authoritative witnesses of Jesus),
2. the Prophets (those given the WORD of God directly)
3. the Evangelists (who take the WORD to areas where it is not),
4. the pastors (who take the WORD and use it to feed and protect the flock of God)
TO BUILD UP THE BODY OF CHRIST.
So the spiritual gifts are wholly dependent on the WORD, and all of these roles exist to bring clarity, precision, and understanding to the WORD. These are the men who bring the Word of God to the church, either by being the original source (Apostles/Prophets) or the means by which it is proclaimed (Evangelists/Pastors).
This is important to recognize, because there seems to be a divide in the church today between the Spirit filled churches, and the Bible centered churches. DR and Jesus is Lord Life Tabernacle. And people feel like they need to take sides with either the Spirit, or the Bible. Like the Spirit and the Bible have some sort of division. I sometimes think that people have this idea that the Spirit is sitting there just waiting for all of the Bible reading to get done so that we can bring this party back to life. Or that Jesus, the Word as He is referred to in John 1, looks down His nose at the Spirit for always impulsively. In reality, I am pretty sure they are on the same team. So maybe this division is made up by us, rather than being a real separation.
The reason that this becomes so difficult, is because both sides have truth. The spirit really is active and living. But it acts through the Word. The Word really is the foundational truth, but we are illuminated to this truth by the Spirit. The spiritual gifts are not some mystical manifestation in addition to or separate from the word of God, but exist fully to bring strength to the scripture. They work together, not against or separate from one another. And what do they work together to do?
THE USE OF THE GIFTS
They work together to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. The spiritual gifts are specifically given for the building up of the church. And once again, God has a very specific plan for how this is going to work. In this verse He addresses two groups with how they should use their gifts.
First to the leaders: leaders equip. After listing out all of these leadership gifts, it simply states that these leadership gifts exist to equip the saints. So the aim of all Evangelists, Pastors, and really anyone with leadership giftings and role in the church should simply be to faithfully work to equip others in the church for the tasks that God is calling them to. But this isn’t most of you. Most of you are part of the second group: the church members.
Church members do the work of the ministry. Now when I say members, I am not just talking about those who have signed the pledge and become a covenanted member of the church. The hope is that everyone who is here and seriously concerned with the mission of the church would commit on that level, but I know that some of you keep that level of dedication at arms length, afraid that if you actually put your name down on paper, you will be expected to pull your weight.
1. So you show up, when the seahawks aren’t playing.
2. You serve, when it is not too much of a hastle.
3. You join a ROAD group, as long as you like the people there.
4. You live a life half-heartedly going through the motions of Christian living.
How do I know…because I am one of those guys. I lived for many years with a low risk/low yield relationship with Jesus Christ. Not truly committed to Him or anyone else, because I always wanted to make sure I had a back door to sneak out of if it got a little too serious, challenging, or dare I say, uncomfortable. What looks like semi-commitment, really isn’t commitment at all.
It is like the young couple who move in together under the guise of ‘being married in their hearts.’ There are probably couples in this church that have done that, there is a good chance that there are couples here who are dabbling in that right now. But here is the delusion: being married in your hearts does not excuse you from the responsibilities of marriage as the Bible and the church have defined them. So bypassing the church, cutting out all of the witnesses, removing the vows, none of this makes your relationship any less binding, any less real. The only true difference is that you are unfaithfully living out the responsibilities. You may be married in your hearts, but it is at the expense of submission to God. It’s a way to get the perks, without feeling the burden of the role. It is an act that says, God, I know better. Your plan, enacted through the church is fundamentally flawed and I have found a better way. I can handle it. And there is a reason why the majority of heart marriages end in heart divorce. Because they don’t have the root system that accompanies a marriage in the presence of God and many witnesses. It does not have the necessary earthly support that we all need: the encouragement when things aren’t great, the correction when you are being a jerk, and the guidance when you just don’t know what to do. God always backs up spiritual truth with REAL TANGIBLE evidence and action.
The same goes with the church. Now if you are not a Christian, then you are here to hear about who God is and the truth that He has given us in His Word. But if you are a Christian, then you are to do the work of the ministry. You are to employ the gifts given to you in works of service for the kingdomof God. This is who you now are. People are called to different levels of service; different aspects of service, but EVERY person has been given a gift to do the work of the ministry. John 12.24, says:
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a seed falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.
It is time for some of your to die. To quit pretending like you can serve God with the little bit of time, money, and effort that you have left after all your other needs have been met. Time to put God’s ministry first and foremost in your life. Time to stop having a relationship with Jesus Christ in your heart only. And to start following Him in real life. With real people. Doing real things. BEING A REAL CHRISTIAN.
Because we can talk all day long about working to the glory of God, and actually believe that we are doing this in our hearts. But God calls us to something much more practical. He says that through the proper use of the gifts: Leaders equipping, and church members doing the work of the ministry, that the Body of Christ will be built up. This means on a spiritual level certainly, but also on a very practical earthly level. Can you imagine how differently the world would look at the church if we had every person who claims to have the Spirit of God living in them actually living lives that proclaimed the presence of God.
1. Doing acts of service with unrivalled joy, as people who know that Jesus served them with His whole life.
2. Loving each other with a love that is reserved for those who know that they have been undeservingly loved by the God of the Universe.
3. Acting in a confidence reserved for those who have been gifted and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Can you imagine the impact that would have? Can you imagine how the church might be built up? But it takes every member deciding that they are going to do their part. This is not a nudge your neighbor sermon. They say a chain is as weak as its weakest link, and in the 21st century American church we have some pathetically weak parts. We are a body walking around with dislocated shoulders and dead arms. No wonder we aren’t expressing the glory of the creator.
If this is the picture of the healthy body that is given to us, why do we not see many churches where every member is employed in the work of the church? I believe that the reason is because we misunderstand the three aspects of gifts that we have looked at today: the cost, the purpose, and the use of the gifts.
The first thing we looked at was the cost of the gifts, that Jesus had to die in order that we might share in his bounty. When we misunderstand the cost of the gifts, we don’t value them. When we forget this, we don’t give them enough attention. There is no reason to get involved in the church, we’ll just let the pastors handle it, they went to school for this stuff anyways. And so the church becomes a service institution. This is evident in many Bible-thumping congregations, where the intellect of the leader is the only gift recognized. The congregation receives from the gifted person or people. Part of this stems from the ego of those in power, but much of it also comes from the fact that most of the people don’t really want to do anything. Let’s be honest, if we convince ourselves that we are fulfilling our part as the church by giving up an hour to listen on Sunday mornings, great. Checked that box, let’s move on.
The problem is not that the gifts don’t exist, it is just that we don’t see them the way that God sees them.
The second thing we looked at was the purpose of the gifts. When we misunderstand the purpose of the gifts, we give the gifts too much focus. The gifts become the end. The gifts are not used for the building up and edification of the whole church, but for the individuals who have them. There are churches that measure your faith by the strength of your gifts. And rather than having a healthy respect for the variety of gifts, certain gifts are elevated, to the detriment of others. You can see this alive and well in the Spirit filled movement, where the expectation and practice of the gifts has trumped the purpose behind them. The desire to witness and experience the filling of the Spirit, has taken on a life of its own. And I say a life of its own because if the gifts are being used for purposes outside of the equipping and attaining that we referenced, than they are not coming from the Spirit of God.
The problem is not that the gifts don’t have power, but they don’t have the power that we desire them to have.
The third thing we looked at was the use of the gifts…to build up the Body of Christ. When we misunderstand the use the gifts, we use the gifts for the wrong ends. The gifts are valued, but they are not used to accomplish the strengthening of the body. The church is doing lots of things, some of them good, but they are pulled in so many different directions, that the gifts are not creating a unity and well functioning body, but a chaotic mess of stuff. There are so many programs, and missions, and ministries that the church becomes a place where each person exists distinct from every other person. What I mean is, the gifts are not used to bring about a love for Christ and His church as much as they exist to simply be used to complete an agenda. And this is where I think most evangelical churches are today. We value the individual so much that we never really figure out how that individuality fits into the larger body. We have men’s groups and womens groups, and kids groups, and purity groups, and mission trips, and MOPS and VBS, and prayer groups, and potlucks, and community groups, but when it comes down to it, the members of the body exist parallel to each other, because it is too difficult to actually get together as a functional body.
The problem is not that things are not happening; it is that no one really knows why they are.
God gives to us for a purpose. We began by looking at how He brought together many different authors to bring His Word to His people. He is no less ordered in the way that He organizes His church. God did not accidentally bring you here. He did not make a mistake when He created you, when He redeemed you, or when He gave you the gifts that He did. If He is truly filling all things, than you can be confident that you are where He wants you. If He has really given us the power of the Spirit, it means we are able to do the work that He has called us to.
So I leave you with a question: Are you using your gifts? Are you part of building up the body of Christ? If not, why not?
I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God's gift to man. I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him.