Intro: Review Our Sermon Theme for 2016 so far…
- January Walk Worthy of the Calling (v. 1)
Character of the Calling
- February in Lowliness and Gentleness, In Patience, Bearing with One Another in Love (v. 2-3)
Unity of the Calling (v. 4-6)
- March Endeavoring to Keep the Unity of the Spirit
- April One Body
- May One Spirit
- June One Hope
- July One Lord
- August One Faith
- September One Baptism
- October One God and Father
Entering the last two months of the year brings us to the final section of our study – the purpose of our calling. In the two months remaining we will consider both the how and why of our walking worthy – endeavoring to keep the unity.
1) The how: Beginning in v. 11, the apostle teaches us how this unity is accomplished in the Lord’s body. It is through the equipping of the saints. Every Christian is involved, and every Christian to be made ready to do the work.
2) The why: There is more at stake than just organizational unanimity. It is more than just getting along with each other, or even teaching the same doctrine. God has provided the singular elements of our unity (the “ones” we have considered). He has also provided the spiritual power and human functions that are to be used. Paul calls these “grace” and” gifts” in Ephesians 4. The ultimate purpose is so that we might attain to the stature of Christ. In December, we will look at what Paul means when he says we must grow up in all things into Him who is the head — Christ.
Today’s lesson is an introduction of sorts to our subject… the Equipping of the Saints
Read Eph 4:7-13 – But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore He says: “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men.” 9 (Now this, “He ascended” — what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) 11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;
I. Jesus Gives Grace: In v. 7 Paul states the obvious for every Christian. Jesus gives grace. Certainly, this is true in the nominal way in which we understand the word grace (Charis). The word is used to speak about the glorious gift of redemption and forgiveness provided through the sacrifice of Jesus. Paul said earlier in chapter 2 that each one of us is “saved by grace”.
A. But the word grace is here used to describe another gift. He more specifically describes the gift that is called “grace” later in the text. This is not the first time Paul uses the word “grace” to identify something other than the grace that brought our salvation. In Eph. 3:2 he spoke of the dispensation (dispensing) of grace that was given to him in the revelation of the mystery of the gospel; In 2 Cor. 8:1 He also spoke of the opportunity that was afforded the churches of Macedonia to give to their fellow Jewish brothers as the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia: and told the Corinthians that God could “complete this grace in you as well” (v. 6) In v. 7 we can immediately recognize a couple of things about this “grace” that was given:
1. This grace was given to each one of us. This is not for just a select few.
2. This grace is given “according to the measure of Christ’s gift”. The term “measure” points to an amount, usually implying a limited amount. Something is measured out.
a. The most common interpretation of this phrase here is similar to what Paul says about the spiritual gifts in 1 Cor. 12 – same Spirit, diversity of gifts; and Romans 12:6 – Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: Jesus has given each person an ability or gift as He chooses – not all the same. This may be the though here, but keep in mind that the gifts Paul is speaking of are not the same as these other passages.
b. Another view is see the measure as, not what is measured out by Jesus, but what was measured out to Him. It is according to the measure of the gift given to Jesus. As Jesus has received, so He has given to men. Lenski says it this way: “In v. 7 the gift made to each one of us is in accord with the measure of the gift received by Christ… since what Christ received he was to distribute to us. Many other passages state this same truth. Therefore, because all power was given to Christ, he gives to the disciples their mission and their gifts for this mission on earth (Matt 28:19, 20). The words the Father gave to Jesus the latter gave to the apostles (John 17:8); the mission he had received from the Father he bestows on the apostles (v. 18); the glory the Father gave him he gave to them (v. 22); where he is they, too, are to be (v. 24). So it is throughout: what Christ in his human nature by which he ascended on high received he was to give to us who are his own.” (from New Testament Commentaries, by R. C. H. Lenski,)
II. Jesus Ascended on High…To establish His point that Jesus is One who gives to His church what He has received, Paul quotes from the 68th Psalm. (“When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.”- Eph 4:8) This OT quotation is a difficult portion of the text for many. The 68th Psalm is one of the most difficult Psalms to interpret. It is often associated with the ascension of the ark of the Covenant from the house of Obed-Edom to Mt. Zion. But it may more generally point to God’s victory over Israel’s enemies from Egypt to Canaan, and the ascension of the ark to Jerusalem as emblematic of His triumph. Some view Paul’s use of this Psalm here as a stretch of the original Psalm’s meaning, or simply an accommodation of the text. But the Psalm of David pictured the complete triumph of Jehovah over His enemies, and His sharing of the spoils with His people. Just as God prepared Israel to face their enemies through the giving of gifts at Sinai, so Jesus prepared His church as well. Thus Paul utilizes the 68th Psalm to paint a glorious picture of Christ’s triumph in this resurrection and ascension. He tells us Christ did 3 things:
A. He ascended on high – He rose in the clouds far above all the heavens and entered heaven as the victorious King who had conquered His enemies.
B. He led captivity captive– The captivity may refer to those who had previously held others captive in sin: Satan, his demons, and death. Or it may point to those who were held captive, as slaves, by Satan, who are not serving Him.
1. Notice the parenthetical though of v. 9-10 – (Now this, “He ascended” — what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) Paul affirms that the One who has ascended to heaven is the same One who first descended to the grave, (lowest parts of the earth) – thus connecting the fact of the resurrection to the victory of Jesus. He ascended “that He might fill all things” – He might bring everything to a conclusion.
C. He gave gifts to men– The original Psalm speaks of God “receiving gifts among men”, and some voice concern over Paul change in the words. But, again, the picture is simple. God has received the bounty of His victory, and He graciously gives according to what He has received. The term “men” is not gender-based, but rather refers to mankind in general, and more specially to God’s people, the church. These gifts are identified in verses 11 – And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers…
III. Jesus’ Gifts to the Church: We do not usually think of these special servants, when mentioned in reference to the church, as being gifts given to us by Christ. But these functions are typified as such here. This helps us to recognize that the work and function of God’s church is His doing alone. Even those who are foundational leaders of the church were not, and are not the reason for its unity or growth. Just as salvation itself is referred to as grace and a gift, so the unity and successful work of God’s church is grace, and is made possible only through His gifts.
A. The gifts are servants, not Lords. The kingdom of Christ has no lords but one, and that is Christ himself. Christ has provided his church with servants, not lords. Jesus’ Lordship is rooted in servanthood. He calls others to lead through serving Matthew 20:25-28 – 25 But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. 26 Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. 27 And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave — 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
B. The gifts are functionaries of the revealed truth. One common trait of each of these special servants is their relationship and dependency on the revealed truth of God. It is fitting that Paul would characterize the revelation of truth given to him as a grace, and then point to these as gifts of grace as well.
1. Apostles The apostles include the original twelve chosen by Jesus before His ascension (Matthias taking the place of Judas), and Paul as one called out of due time (1 Cor. 15:8) These men were God’s voice as they functioned as ambassadors of His revelation.
2. Prophets: The prophets were the voice of God. Those who spoke by inspiration of God’s Spirit, both in the OT and the NT.
a. As to the nature of God’s once for all revealed word in the N.T., these men’s work was foundational. Paul said earlier in Eph. 2:19-20 – Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone,
b. There are no living apostles and prophets in the church today. But work of these gifts continues in the church today through the message they have left us in the New Testament. None of us could be saved or keep saved without the continuing gift of the apostles and prophets. Acts 2:42– And they continued steadfastly in the apostles ‘ doctrine…
3. Evangelists: The term “evangelist” refers to one who proclaims the gospel to others. In fact, the English word “gospel” is translated from the Greek word “evangelion” which means good news. So an evangelist is one who tells others the good news.
a. In a general sense, all Christians are to be evangelists, in that they are to spread the gospel to others. (Acts 8:4 – Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word [evangelizing]. But the N.T. speaks of evangelists as a special class of servants.
b. The traditional interpretation of the use of this term is that it referred to those who were first tellers. Ungers Dictionary says… “This passage (Eph. 4:11)…would lead us to think of them as standing between the two other groups[apostles & pastors]-sent forth as missionary preachers of the gospel by the first, and as such preparing the way for the labors of the second… It follows from what has been said that the calling of the evangelist is the proclamation of the glad tidings to those who have not known them, rather than the instruction and pastoral care of those who have believed and been baptized. It follows also that the name denotes a work rather than an order.”
4. Pastors and teachers: The last two are listed together. The pastor is a shepherd (as the original word denotes). The verb form of the word is used in Acts 20:28 where Paul is speaking to the elders of Ephesus. “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd (poimen) the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.”
a. It is unfortunate that the religious world has misidentified the pastor as a local preacher. Acts 20:28 shows us that the designations ‘pastor”, “elder”, and “bishop” (overseer) all refer to the same person or work. Paul uses the term bishop (overseer) in 1 Tim. 3 & Titus 1, where he lists the qualifications that the elder must meet before serving the church. These qualifications help define the man and the work he is called to do.
1) He must be able to teach and be able to refute those who contradict sound doctrine.
2) Titus 1:6-8 – 6 An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. 7 Since an overseer is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless — not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. 8 Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.
b. Teachers: this is a general term that refers to an instructor. It occurs 58 times in the N.T. Both men and women are said to be teachers, and in a sense all Christians should aspire to this work.
1) Commit the word to faithful men who would be able to teach others also (2 Tim 2:2).
2) The Jewish Christians should have matured enough to be teachers, but needed someone to teach them the first principles again ( 5:12)
Conclusion: Is it not clear that the special ministers with which the church is equipped are gifts of God intended to strengthen the bond between God and his people? They share a common function in the revelation and declaration of the truth. That truth today – the apostles’ doctrine – is found in the N.T. God’s people are united on it, and the practice it mandates. How does this truth impact you?
If you are one of these special servants of the church—an elder, a preacher, a teacher—you must constantly remember that you are a gift of God to the church. You must do all you can to have something to give to the church. You have not been given a special position to feed your vanity.
If you are a saint, God’s purpose for you cannot be served if you care nothing for what the special ministers can provide, or you dismiss the truth being taught. God has provided abundant means to keep us saved. But what is to be thought of one who does not want and will not accept the gifts he offers?