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Faith Bible Church, NY
September 22, 1996
And God Gave Gifts to Men
This morning we will continue in our study of Eph. 4. The book of Ephesians is about ecclesiology – that is a fancy word for saying “the study of the church”. This epistle tells Christians how they were saved and what they are to do now that they are saved – Christian position and practice!
We are placed into the body of Christ, the church, by God’s gracious choosing of us. We are saved by His grace and not by anything in us. We do not deserve salvation, we cannot earn it. He only requires simple faith in what He has done in paying for out sins in Jesus Christ’s sacrificial and atoning death on the cross.
For the last two weeks we have examined the basis of unity within the church. The ecumenical movement strives to find unity in a false love, but real unity must have a basis in truth, not in overlooking lies. A physical body is joined together and has the same life blood flowing through it, those who make up the body of Christ, the church, are joined together by having the same spirit, the Holy Spirit, giving life to them. If someone does not have the Holy Spirit, they are not part of the family of God, and there can be no basis for unity with them.
The movement to try and unify churches tries to play down doctrine, but that in itself becomes a doctrine. You cannot have unity between those that believe opposite ideas. True Christianity is loving, kind, merciful and gracious, but there is and must be a certain intolerance. Jesus said He was the way, the truth and the life and that no man could come to the heavenly Father except through Him. That excludes all non-Christian religions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism, Islam, paganism in all its various forms and metaphysical philosophies. It also excludes all “Christian” cults that distort who Jesus is and how you access God through Him. There is only one Lord and one Faith. Cults like Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Unitarians, Sun Myung Moon (The Unification Church) and what is being taught by Kenneth Copeland and others like him do not have the Jesus of the Scriptures. Other groups no longer teach salvation by God’s grace through faith and that includes most of the main line churches as well as Catholicism.
One body, one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father. Without these things there cannot be unity. And in the practical sense, the elements Paul mentions in verse 2 and 3 must also exist for there to be true peace among humans – Humility, gentleness, patience and forbearance in love. But all of these are fruits of the Holy Spirit working in the lives of the individuals.
Starting in verse 7, Paul now makes a contrast because unity is not uniformity. The body is one, but it is made up of many members and Paul is going to explain that in the next section of this passage.
“7 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says, “When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, And He gave gifts to men.” 9 (Now this [expression,] “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) 11 And He gave some [as] apostles, and some [as] prophets, and some [as] evangelists, and some [as] pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.”
There is diversity within the unity of the church. God has so constructed the church that all the various individuals within it are to complement one another so that the whole thing is built up and matures.
Look at verse 7. Paul starts off with “but” to make the contrast. There is great unity within the church, but there is also diversity according to God’s gracious plan. Note that the diversity within the body is not according to our will, but according to His will. Each one is given grace by God and then given a measure of a gift by Christ.
There are three primary passages that speak about the gifts of God to the church. This one, 1 Cor. 12 and Romans 12. In each passage Paul mentions different gifts so we no that no list is comprehensive, and I do not believe that even adding them all together would produce a comprehensive list. Each list is representative and is used for Paul to make his point. In each passage Paul stresses a slightly different theme. In 1 Cor. 12 the word Paul is dealing with pneumatikoV / pneumatikos (spiritual things) and explains the carismata / charismata (grace gifts) given to the each member of the body of Christ and then how they are all to work together. In Romans 12 Paul deals with same issue of the carismata / charismata (grace gifts) but the stress is more on use the gifts given in serving Christ. In this passage Paul does not talk about the carismata / charismata , but rather the ejdovqh hJ cavriV kata; to; mevtron th:V dwrea:V tou: Cristou or literally – you have received the grace according to the gift of Christ. Paul’s emphasis here is freedom with which you have received this gift and not on the gift itself.
That may not seem much at first glance, but it is important to the concept of diversity within a great unity. You had nothing to do with your salvation except to respond as God enabled you to believe. You have nothing to do with your service to God except to use what He has given you. Again we find there is no room in the church for pride or prejudice. You do not attain anything within the church because you are somehow superior or better than others. You are placed in positions of service within the church by God’s gracious choice. It is when people try to function in a position that God has not gifted them for that troubles arise, especially in positions of leadership as we shall see later this morning.
I want to stress this theme of diversity within unity and there is no better passage for that than 1 Cor. 12. Turn there for a moment. In Romans 12 Paul simply says, For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. In 1 Cor. 12 Paul describes this in detail.
Paul begins this chapter explaining that what gift you receive, how that gift is used and the power of it are up to Him – the “spirit distributing to each one individually just as He wills” – vs. 11). The body is one with many members, then starting in verse 14 –
For the body is not one member, but many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not [a part] of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less [a part] of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not [a part] of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less [a part] of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. 19 And if they were all one member, where would the body be? 20 But now there are many members, but one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand , “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; 23 and those [members] of the body, which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our unseemly [members come to] have more abundant seemliness, 24 whereas our seemly [members] have no need [of it.] But God has [so] composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that [member] which lacked, 25 that there should be no division in the body, but [that] the members should have the same care for one another. 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if [one] member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. 27 Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.
The point of all this is very simple and really needs no further explanation. Every gift and everyone in the body is important! How again did we get these gifts? The same way we got into the body: by God’s gracious choice.
In verses 8-10 describes how Christ gained the right to give these gifts. Paul is quoting from Psalm 68:18 as an analogy of what Jesus has done, so in order to understand this passage, we need to have an understanding of the Psalm.
Psalm 68 was written by King David as a Psalm of praise and thanksgiving after he had conquered some of his enemies. Throughout the Psalm are descriptions of God’s power and mighty acts as well as scenes of praise, worship and celebration for what God has done and will do. In the section Paul quotes from, David is describing what the conquering king does upon his return from a victory. He “ascends on high” – going up to the city of Jerusalem and leading a victory parade. The leading “captive a host of captives” refers to those that had once been held prisoner by the enemy but are no subject again to the rightful king. As part of the celebration the king would distribute the spoils of war among his people – giving gifts to men.
The analogy here is that Jesus Christ has conquered Satan and is proclaiming the victory. Men and women who had been created by God for His glory, but who had been held captive as slaves of sin have been freed and are now slaves of righteousness (Rom. 6). To the victor go the spoils, and Christ has given gifts to men. Satan has power, but not over those who are in Christ for we are now empowered by Him for His service. With the coming of the Holy Spirit also came all the gifts needed for serving Christ – a new heart, a new mind, and new abilities live in righteousness and to bring glory to God.
Verses 9 and 10 are parenthetical, so I do not want to spend a lot of time with them since they are not Paul’s emphasis, however I do want to explain them at least briefly so that you will not be confused by them.
Again, Paul’s point from Psalm 66:18 is to make an analogy of Christ’s triumph by which He has gained the right to give these gifts to men. In these verses Paul explains the analogy by showing how Jesus Christ won the victory.
Jesus did not start off in a low position, but in an exalted position, so for Him to “ascend”, He had to first “descend” (vs. 9). As Paul points out in Phil. 2, Jesus Christ left the glory of heaven to become a man. He willingly set aside the full expression of His attributes that are His and displayed fully in heaven in order to descend to the earth and become a man. The phrase, “the lower parts of the earth,” is used to most often used to convey the contrast between the earth and the highest heavens. But Jesus’ humiliation was not just that He became a man or that He came as a poor man, but that He took on man’s sin and died for us. The phrase is also often used to describe death (Psalm 63:9). It is point is not on a specific location that Jesus went too, but depth of the incarnation. Jesus, God in human flesh, died for our sins. He who was and now is again exalted in the highest heaven at a point in time took on humanity and died in our place. Jesus, by His victory over sin and death gave Him the right to be exalted above the highest heaven – i.e. the throne of God – from which He as the authority to give gifts to His followers and equip His body, the church to accomplish His will on earth. To “fill all things” has to do with His divine presence and influence into every aspect of the universe. It will be complete in the future, but is present in part in His church.
What are some of the gifts that Christ has given to the church by His grace? Vs. 11 tells us: And He have some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers. It is important to note that the gifts mentioned here are not gifts to individuals as in 1 Cor. 12 and Rom. 12, but rather these are people whom God has equipped for fulfilling certain offices who are then given as a gift to the church. The gifts here are people, not things. These are positions of leadership within the church. Certainly the individuals involved must have certain spiritual gifts given to them in order to function. A Teacher must have the gift of teaching, but the emphasis here is on the individual who is divinely enabled being a gift to the church.
What is the reason for these individuals who are gifts? Vs. 12 – for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ. In order for the church to fulfill its God given purposes, there must be those who lead and train every member of the church to do their individual part. In order for your body to work there must be a brain to give direction to all the various organs to work in harmony. In a sense you might call these gifts the DNA of the church, because they are to set the pattern after which the church develops and grows.
The first gift mentioned are apostles. An apostle is someone that is sent with authority to speak for and accomplish the will of the one sending him. There is a sense in which every Christian is an apostle in that we are all sent by Jesus Christ to use our individual gifts in building up His body through evangelism and ministry to one another. However, the usage here is in the formal sense. These are not just any apostles, but the apostles. 1 Cor. 12:28 states that God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers…. The apostles talked about here who had to meet certain criteria that are no longer possible to fulfill. That is why those who argue that there are still apostles in the church are in error.
An apostle had to be a witness of the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 2:22) and to be chosen by Him. The term primarily refers to the twelve and to Paul who was the last one to meet those qualifications (Romans 1:1, etc.). Even those who had the term applied to them in a more generic sense such as Barnabas (Acts 14:4), Silas and Timothy (1 Thess 2:6), Titus (2 Cor. 8:23) and some lesser known individuals (Rom. 16:7) had to perform the signs of a true apostle (2 Cor. 12:12). There apparently were many who claimed to be apostles that were not so Paul specifically points out that true apostles can perform signs, wonders and miracles. When those who claim to be apostles can meet these criteria, then I might pay them some mind, but since they cannot, they are false. The term “apostle” is not used in the book of Acts after 16:4 and there is no New Testament evidence of any apostle every being replaced after death except Judas who had turned away from the Lord.
The primary task of the apostle was to lay the foundation and establish the doctrine of the church – what she would believe and teach. As early as Acts 2:42 we find the church “devoting themselves to the apostle’s teaching.” Paul already said in Eph. 2:20 that the apostles and prophets were the foundation of God’s household. The accomplished this task by receiving and declaring the revelation of God’s Word (Eph. 3:5; 2 Pet. 3:2; Jude 1:17), and by confirming it by signs, wonders and miracles (2 Cor. 12:12; Heb. 2:3,4).
One writer had a good analogy when He sa id that the apostles were like delegates to a constitutional convention. When the convention is over, the position ceases. When the New Testament was completed, the office of apostle ceased.
The prophets had a similar function to the apostles, but they were not necessarily eye witnesses of the risen Christ. There is really no difference between the New Testament and the Old Testament office of prophet. They were those that could and would foretell and tell forth the Word of God. That is they could predict with 100% accuracy the future and they were strong preachers as they declared what God had already revealed. Before the New Testament was completed there was a need within local churches for someone to authoritatively declare God’s will. After the completion of the New Testament their office ceased the same way as the apostles office ceased.
Many, especially those within the charismatic movement, still claim that this gift is operative within the church. There are two strong reasons demonstrate it is not. First, as I said before, there are really no differences between the Old Testament office and the New Testament one. The office of prophets ceased after the completion of the Old Testament and it was 400 years until John the Baptist appeared on the scene with the beginning of the New Testament era. The next prophets to come will be the two witnesses of Revelation 12. Second, none of those who claim to be prophets today are willing to take on the test of a prophet from Deut. 18:22 of being 100% accurate – “20 ‘But the prophet who shall speak a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he shall speak in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’ 21 “And you may say in your heart, ‘How shall we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?’ 22 “When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.” The difference between a pompous fool and a true prophet is 100% accuracy. Less than perfect predictions come from the devil, not from God.
The third gift to the church are evangelists. This particular term is only used three times in the New Testament. Here, where it describes an office in the church. Acts 21:8 where Philip is called an “evangelist.” And 2 Tim. 4:5 where Paul tells Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist.” While the references may be few, the ministry of such a God equipped person is far reaching.
To evangelize is simply to declare to someone the good news of Jesus Christ. Every Christian is responsible to do this. It is part of the great commission because you cannot make a disciple of Jesus Christ without first telling them who He is and what He has done for them. It is the command of Mark 16:15 to “go into all the world and preach the gospel…”. We are to do this locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.
What then is the evangelist and how is that different from anyone else in the church? Specifically they are especially equipped by God to reach the lost with the gospel of Jesus Christ. In several of the Pastor’s groups I am a part of we have had a lot of discussion on this issue. We preach and labor to tell the gospel with little response, then along comes an evangelist and he says the same thing, but there is response and people are saved.
The fact that God has given evangelists to the church does not remove the responsibility to evangelize from anyone, but it does bring up the importance of evangelism that God would specifically give to the church someone especially empowered to do this work. One blind spot that exists with American churches is that we easily see the need for an evangelist in “missions” work somewhere else, but we seem to be blind to need for an evangelist within the local church. Our tendency is to think the pastor can do it all, but the gift of pastor-teacher is different from an evangelist.
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