Spiritual Gifts for the Building of the Body (Ephesians Sermon 23 of 54)
January 03, 2016 | Andrew Davis
Grace, Good Works, Spiritual Gifts
Turn in your Bibles, if you would, to Ephesians 4, we'll be looking at verses 7-16. We're going to have, God willing, three weeks to consider the subjects of spiritual gifts and spiritual gift ministry. That's what we're looking at today. Now, last night, my son Calvin and I, 14-year-old son Calvin and I, we were out in our driveway, Calvin received, from some very dear friends, a telescope. And a number of years ago I got a telescope from my dad, and I broke that out of our storage, and we were looking at the stars, and it was the first clear night we've had in a while. He's been asking many, many nights to go out and I just said, "It's not going to work well on an overcast drizzly night, so let's wait until we can actually see some stars." And it's just amazing, isn't it? When you look up at the night sky, and you just see the evidence there of the greatness of God, the wisdom of God, and the power of God. And when you can see that radiantly displayed in a starry night sky, think about what the Psalmist said in Psalm 8, "When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have created, I have this thought, 'What is man that you are mindful of him?'" We know the same Psalmist also wrote, "I will praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made." So actually, in all honesty, Calvin and I are a greater display of the wisdom and power and glory of God than the night sky ever will be.
The human body is astonishingly complex. All of its systems, like the eyes that we were using to look through the telescopes and be able to see, and the mind to understand what we were looking at, fearfully and wonderfully made. And all of the bodily systems that are in our skeletal system, with its strength and its flexibility, and the fact that our bones have at the core a soft factory where red blood cells are being crafted constantly, continually, and then the body's circulatory system taking those red blood cells all around the body and delivering nutrients and oxygen, and receiving waste products back, and the whole thing just amazingly, fearfully, wonderfully made. And the more you meditate on the body, the more astonishing it is. And the body itself is a clear display of the wisdom and the power and the glory of God, isn't it? The more you understand it scripturally.
But I would say that the Body of Christ, the Church, is even more so. If you actually know what to look at, how God has assembled Christians, that He has redeemed from “every tribe, and language, and people, and nation,” assembled them into this mystical union called the church, the Body of Christ, and that's the analogy that Paul uses in these verses. That is an amazing display of the wisdom and power of God, isn't it? We're going to contemplate that over the next number of weeks. The issue of the Body of Christ and its various members. We are all members of the Body of Christ, the Scripture teaches. Look at verses 15 and 16, it says, "Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the head, that is Christ." Verse 16, "From Him," that is Christ, "The whole body joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love as each part does its work." So Paul portrays the Body of Christ, the Church, as a unity, but that is also in some sense immature, in some sense incomplete, needing growth, that we need to grow up to full maturity in Christ, total perfection in Christ, that's how he presents the Church, the Body of Christ here. And that this will happen only as each member, each part does its work as the Lord has ordained.
Now, this work is assigned in an amazingly complex way by the triune God, apportioning to each member that role that God has figured out for each one of us. And as we do our role, the Body will keep growing and making progress toward full maturity in Christ. And that's awesome. So over the next few weeks, this week and two more weeks beyond it, God willing, we're going to be looking at the issue of spiritual gifts. Now, my desire is that each member of First Durham, each member of this church, will have an identifiable spiritual gift ministry, and that you'll be doing it. So that if a pastor, or a fellow member, or somebody in your home fellowship said, "What is your ministry?", you would be able to say what it is, and you would be able to talk about your ministry, and what it is you're investing your time and your energy and your money in doing.
So my desire is multiple steps, that you will understand spiritual gifts by clear teaching from the Word of God, and that you'll delight in the idea of spiritual gifts, you'll see the wonder and amazement of all of that, you'll be drawn into the sense of grace that there is, that you'll be able to discern your gifts particularly. You'll have a sense of how God has equipped you and prepared you to serve Him. That you will also learn how to develop your gifts maximally, and then deploy your gifts fruitfully. So that's what we're going to be looking at over the next number of weeks, not doing all that today. So our goal is simple, every member ministry, we want all of you to be rich in good works along the pattern of your spiritual gifts on Judgment Day, so that the Body of Christ can grow to full maturity, that's what we're talking about.
Context: Unity and Diversity (vs. 1-7)
Overwhelming Assertion of Unity
So, let's look at the context here, and the context here in verses 1-7 is the idea of unity and diversity, unity and diversity of the Body of Christ. So, we have in verses 3-6 an overwhelming assertion of unity, don't we? We saw this last time, look at verse 3-6, it says that we should “make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit just as you are called to one hope when you were called, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all, and through all, and in all.” It's an overwhelming assertion of the unity of the Body of Christ. Now, this is a subset of God's eternal purpose in the universe that we already saw. If you look back at Ephesians 1:10, what is God doing in the universe? What is He doing through Christ and His redemption? His purpose there in Ephesians 1:10, He said is to, “bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.” That's His ultimate purpose, and the Body of Christ is the centerpiece of all that. So, there is a stunning supernatural, perfect unity that God is working in us, in the Church, after the pattern of the Trinity, the Father, the Son, and Spirit, so that all of us will be one as the Father and the Son are one. So there's this overwhelming assertion of unity in Ephesians 4:3-6.
Key Word: “But” (vs. 7)
But then in verse 7, we have a key transitional word. Do you see it right there at the beginning of verse 7? "But," do you see that word "but"? "But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it." That's the NIV's translation. All of the translations though, begin verse 7 with the word "But". That's what we call a disjunction, we've been moving in a certain direction, we've been talking about one theme, but now we're going to talk about something different, we're going in a different direction. If we're going to go in the same direction and add more information along the same vein, we would use the word "and". But we're going in a different direction now, so we're going to talk about something different. We have been talking about unity, now we're going to talk about diversity within that unity. That's the purpose of the word "but" at the beginning of verse 7. So we have this body analogy of unity and diversity, diversity of function within an overwhelming unity that we have spiritually in Christ. And so he uses this analogy in Ephesians 4, which he also does in Romans 12, and 1 Corinthians 12, of the body, the human body.
The Body Analogy: Unity and Diversity
So the church is like the human body. Something we can understand in this way, we can't see the Church in this way, it's not this building that we come to, we know that. In terms of the work that He's doing with people, we can't see it with our own eyes, we have to understand it spiritually. We have to understand it in terms of its truth, and we can't see it except by faith. And so he uses an analogy to help us understand what's going on, and it's the analogy of the body. So he uses this in Romans 12, listen to Romans 12:4-8, it says, "Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts according to the grace given us." So the diversity Paul's talking about there in Romans 12, is spiritual gifts. We have a different function, we have a different role to play in the body, but there's just one body. We have different gifts. And then he says, "If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith, if it is serving, let him serve, if it is teaching, let him teach, if it is encouraging, let him encourage, if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously, if it is leadership, let him govern diligently, if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.”
So there's the whole array of spiritual gift teaching in the Romans 12. He does the exact same thing in 1 Corinthians 12:12-14, he says this, "The body is a unit though it is made up of many parts, and though all its parts are many, they form one body, so it is with Christ." So it is with Christ. "For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free, and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Now, the body is not made up of one part but of many.” So we have the same image there in 1 Corinthians 12 that we do in Romans 12. And friends, we have the exact same image here in Ephesians 4. Look again at verses 15 and 16, there it says, "Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the head, that is Christ.” Verse 16, "From Him, the whole body." So there's that word again, "From Him the whole body joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love as each part does its work." So in all three of these key passages, and these are the key passage in the spiritual gifts in the New Testament, we have the same illustration, the same image.
This is a beautiful picture then of specialization or diversity within unity. We need to understand both, unity and diversity when it comes to the Body of Christ. We have one body, but diverse members, or cells, or organs, or systems within that one body. So the unity of the body down to the cellular level is something that we understand perhaps better than any previous generation, especially with the emergence of the understanding of DNA, and how a crime scene investigator just needs a small sample of human tissue left at the crime scene to link a person, a specific person to that crime scene, that they were there. And that's because every cell in your body has, it seems, the blueprint for your entire body. And it means that down at the cellular level, through DNA, it's clear that this cell belongs to the whole body. And we have that same idea here spiritually. By believing in Christ, by having the indwelling Spirit, we are all members, one and the same, of the same body, that's the unity. But then we have different functions. So, all of my liver cells, and my skin cells, bone cells, blood cells, all of those nerve cells, they all are part of my body, and they can be identified through the DNA signature, but they have different functions in my body. That's the analogy that Paul's using here.
Definition of “Spiritual Gift”
So what are spiritual gifts? What do we mean by spiritual gifts? This is very plain in Romans 12, that's what he's talking about, and he doesn't use the same language here, but similar language here, what do we mean by spiritual gifts? I know you've heard about spiritual gifts before, how would I define them? Well, I give this definition: Spiritual gifts are special abilities given by the sovereign grace of God to individual Christians for the purpose of bringing the Church of Christ to final maturity by the power of the Holy Spirit. Special abilities given by God to individual Christians for the purpose of bringing the Church to maturity. So, if you just boil it down, special abilities, you could call it talents, but they're spiritual, and they have a role to play in building the body up, they're spiritual talents, individual talents or abilities given by God. Wayne Grudem, a theologian, puts it this way, "Spiritual gift is an ability that is empowered by the Holy Spirit and used in any ministry in the Church." So a special ability that the Holy Spirit empowers to enable that ministry to be done.
So what are examples of spiritual gifts? Well, 1 Corinthians 12, gives a list of spiritual gifts, Romans 12 gives a list, you just heard it in Romans 12. Ephesians 4 gives a list, there's a very abbreviated list of two types of speaking and serving gifts in 1 Peter 4. So in 1 Corinthians 12 it lists, in verse 28, “apostle, prophet, teacher, workers of miracles, kinds of healings, helps, administrations, tongues, etcetera.” Also in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, “words of wisdom, words of knowledge, faith, distinguishing between spirits, interpretation of tongues,” that's the list given in 1 Corinthians 12. Romans 12 adds, “serving, encouraging, contributing, leadership and mercy.” Ephesians 4 adds, evangelists, pastors, teachers. There are other verses that people look to in terms of musical or artistic gifts, and I think it's valid to bring that in. The fact that there are different lists in every case shows that no one list is meant to be exhaustive, but rather suggestive. So you can compile that list and still know that there are probably others besides. You'll have a sense of what we're talking about as you look at the list in other examples.
Now, you may want to know what about that list in 1 Corinthians 12, that's a little bit interesting. He's got all kinds of stuff in there that's controversial, if you know anything about church history, they're called the sign gifts, things like speaking in tongues, prophecy, miracles, those kinds of things, healings, the gift of healing. Do those gifts still function today? Well, you'll notice in Ephesians 4, that's not even addressed, so I'm not going to talk about it, so I'm just going to move on. Oh now some of you are hissing me, that's unkind. We're getting off to a bad start here in 2016. Alright, if you want to know, those that believe that sign gifts do not function any longer, but were only for the apostolic age, are called cessationist, I am not a cessationist. I think it's hard to be a cessationist scripturally, it's hard to find scriptural evidence for the ceasing of the sign gifts. However, I do see a very strong linking of some of these gifts to the apostolic role, and therefore I do see a very strong linking to the apostolic era.
And so when the Apostle Paul says, "The evidence of my apostleship are," and then he lists including the working of miracles, I would think that that would give us an indication that in that providentially, we don't see that thing at the same level. I'm not saying I've never seen astonishing healings in answer to prayer, I have, but I haven't seen the gift of healing that travels with an individual from place to place to place, I've heard about it. Okay, you know some of these individuals, alright, they make a lot of money doing it, alright. There's something a little bit sketchy about all that, that doesn't seem to be what was going on in the apostolic era. So, I would have to say I'm not a cessationist for exegetical reasons, but in terms of my everyday life experience, I haven't personally experienced any of the sign gifts in a way that my conscience feels clear to say, "Yes, that's definitely what's going on there," but I am respectful of brothers and sisters that think the spirit of tongues and prophecy and all that or the gift of tongues is still going on today, that's the best I can do.
Spiritual Gifts: Particular Grace from Christ
Spiritual Gifts Called “Grace”
Moving on, spiritual gifts are a particular grace from Christ. What do we mean by that? Well, they're called, first, “grace.” Let's understand this word grace, look again at verse 7. Now, verse 7 is a key verse here, "But to each one of us grace has been given, as Christ apportioned it." So spiritual gifts come to us, and it's actually related in the Greek to the idea of a gift given, it's grace from the Lord. So the fact that God would even do this for us is grace, amen. That He would actually even gift us and give us a role to play in the Body of Christ, is lavishly generous. So let's go back to my definition of grace, what is grace? Grace is the settled determination in the heart of God to do us infinite good, we who deserve infinite wrath. That's how I define grace. It's a determination in the heart of God.
Now, from that determination flow big gifts and little gifts. The biggest gift of all, friends, is salvation, amen. There is no bigger gift. "For by grace are you saved through faith." The greatest gift. But there are lesser gifts as well. And the same God that gives us the infinitely great gift of salvation in Christ, gives us now the lesser gifts of spiritual gifts to do in the Body of Christ. He gives us a role to play. It would be lavish grace for God to forgive your sins and say, "Now, stay out of my way, get out of my way, I'm going to do my work and I'm doing it through the angels, not through you." No, but instead He wants us, if we could put it this way, in the game. He wants us in the battle, He wants us on the construction site, He wants us working, and He gives us the equipment to do eternally significant things. How lavish and how generous is that?
So we just need to go back and say, "Okay, my spiritual gifts are amazing grace from God." And those gifts that, amazing grace enables us to do the good works that He has ordained in advance for us to walk in. Remember in Ephesians 2:10 it says, "For we are God's workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God laid out or prepared in advance, that we should walk in them." Now, what I would say is that you Christians, if you're healthy and you're living in a mature New Testament kind of biblical way, the majority of your good works will be done along the lines of your spiritual gift. Not all of them, but most of them. So most of the good works that God has prepared in advance for you to walk in will be in the line of your spiritual gifts.
And so Paul here calls spiritual gift roles grace, and they are grace. Think about how it was in Paul's life, Paul never stopped being astonished at God's grace in his life, and neither should we. It's amazing to Paul that he wasn't struck dead on the road to Damascus; he had violated God's laws, he was a sinner, he was not trusting in the righteousness that was given as a gift through faith in Christ, he was trusting in his own righteousness, and he was destroying the Church. And the Lord confronted him from Heaven with heavenly glory and said, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" And Paul answered, "Who are you, Lord?" And He said, "I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting. Now, get up and go into the city and you'll be told what you must do." Is that amazing? His spiritual gift ministry was intrinsic to his moment of salvation. I have worked for you to do. Now, get up and I'll tell you what to do, and that's awesome, isn't it? And Paul never lost sight of that.
We already saw it. If you look back in Ephesians 3:7-8, he said, "I became a servant of this Gospel by the gift of God's grace given me through the working of His power. Although I am less than the least of all God's people, this grace was given to me to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ." He never lost sight of the grace of God in his ministry. It's amazing that I have anything to do at all that God wants me to do, so it's His grace. And he says the same thing beautifully in 1 Corinthians 15:9-10, there he says, "For I am the least of the apostles, and I don't even deserve to be called an apostle because I persecuted the church of God, but by the grace of God, I am what I am. And His grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them, yet, not I, but the grace of God that was in me."
So we have our spiritual gifts as a gift of grace, and we don't deserve them. So, application, I'm just going to be sprinkling applications through the sermon, I'll just do it right now. What application can we take for this? Well, thank God, if you're a Christian, thank God for the grace of your own spiritual gifts, just thank Him for what He has given you to do. Thank God for your own gifts, and thank God that He saved you and is choosing to use you for eternal purposes. And then go beyond that, thank God for other people's gifts. The same grace that gave you gifts, gave that brother, that sister, their spiritual gifts too. Just thank God for it all. Just application right in the middle. So we have this idea of grace.
Spiritual Gifts Given by Christ’s Sovereign Wisdom
Now secondly, spiritual gifts are given, they're grace given by Christ's sovereign wisdom. By His sovereign wisdom. Look at again at verse 7, "But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it," it says in the NIV, “Or, according to the measure of the gift of Christ,” or “Christ's gift.” I love that word "measure." The Greek word is metron, so you get metronome or metric system. There's a sense of measurement here. And behind that measuring, it's like the Lord has sized you up and thought about you and pondered you and has equipped you specifically, and that's an awesome thought, isn't it? The wisdom of Christ in giving you whatever your specific gift is.
Now, it's interesting that 1 Corinthians ascribes all that to the Holy Spirit, almost exactly the same language. 1 Corinthian 12:11, "All of these gifts are the work of one and the same Spirit, and He gives them to each one just as He determines." Now, we shouldn't imagine some kind of controversy between Christ and the Spirit, where they're jockeying. It's like, "That one's mine. I'm going to gift him." Or, "She is mine, I'm going to gift her." It's not that. It's said that Jesus and the Spirit are actually completely working together in the gifting. And then, 1 Peter 4 ascribes it to God the Father, and also, 1 Corinthians 12:6. 1 Corinthians 12:6, "There are different kinds of working, but the same God works each one of them in each one." So, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit have pondered you, if we could use that human language, they have measured you, they've considered you, and they have gifted you, Father, Son and Spirit.
So, the measure has to do with what gifts you get and in what proportion, in what sense of magnitude that gift is. Not all the gifts are the same. So, many people in the church have the gift of teaching, and many have the gift of preaching, but not all are equally gifted at preaching and teaching. You have that as a gift. Some have incandescent levels of giftedness, so that centuries after they've died, we're still talking about what God did through them. I mean, just stunning levels of giftedness. I think that there is no one living today that had has as much passion or effectiveness in evangelism as George Whitefield did. I don't think there's anybody I've ever heard of in church history, other than the apostle Paul, that had that level of effectiveness in evangelism, and passion, stunningly effective. He would tell you, he will tell you, it was all the grace of God in him. But God gave him an incandescent level, just a magnitude of evangelistic gift that no one else has even touched.
Or think about just the ability to preach that Charles Spurgeon had, just the ability to form language and illustrations, and just his giftedness at preaching. He's probably one of the greatest pulpiteers, or preachers in church. I don't think there's anybody today like him, I don't think there ever will be another like him. Or you think about the doctrinal precision, the mind of a John Calvin, or similar, the mind of a Jonathan Edwards. It's just different levels of giftedness, and just even centuries later, we're benefiting from their writings and their ministry. Or the gift of compassion of Amy Carmichael, or the gift of nurturing care that George Müller showed for 10,000 orphans. You may have gifts in the same category as these men and women, but not to the same measure.
And the same is true horizontally, people alive today, so that you may have a gift of preaching and teaching or administration, whatever, but others have it more, others have it less. And so it's not for us to compare ourselves with one another and be jealous towards some that have greater measures of gifts or be arrogant towards those that have less measure of gifts. This was given according to the wisdom. Also, we need to keep in mind, and this is so powerful, if you think about it, 1 Corinthians 12:26, we're all part of one body, right? If one part is honored, the whole body is honored with it. So I'm honored that my brother George Whitfield was that effective in evangelism. I'm honored by his honor. So there's a sense of unity, and that's marvelous. How amazing is all of this? Do you not see it? How marvelous is this, the wisdom of God, that He has in some sense, pondered you? I get this picture of Jesus taking you shopping for clothes, and He's like bring you to these expensive boutiques in places you can't afford, and He knows exactly what's going to look good on you. And you may disagree, but it doesn't matter, He's going to buy it and you're going to wear it. And He's picking out shirts and pants and shoes and outfits, and He's giving it to you to wear. And that's a delightful image for me to think of Christ at the boutique, buying me clothes, alright. And telling me this is what my gifting is. Thank God for His grace.
Spiritual Gift “Package” Given to All Believers
Now, I think not in terms of a spiritual gift, but I think in terms of a spiritual gift package. More of a kind of a recipe for you. That He has arranged an array of gifting that will enable you to do the ministry He has in mind for you. So I'll take for me, my own ministry as a senior pastor and an elder with regular preaching responsibilities. Alright, in order for me to do that gift, I have to have an array of abilities, not just the ability to preach or teach, but there are other aspects to the job, if we could call it that, that the ministry calls for. If I'm going to flourish in that, I have to be able to do some leadership, some vision, faith, mercy, hospitality, etcetera. Now, on each one of those, there are definitely brothers and sisters that have more of that particular gift than I do, but I need to be able to have that whole package put together. And so I tend to think in terms of a spiritual gift package, in which God is gifting you for the ministry He has in mind for you to do.
Now, it's very vital that you see that there's this spiritual gift package given to every believer. Look again at verse 7, "But to each one of us,” to each one of us, “grace has been given as Christ apportioned it." So, every Christian has a spiritual gift package, every single one of us, there is no one left out, no one is worthless, no one is insignificant, no one does not have a ministry, no one will be able to appear at the judgment seat of Christ empty-handed and say, "You didn't give me anything to do." So you must, dear brother and sister in Christ, listen carefully to the truths in these three sermons. You must very much take them to heart, no matter what you think about me as a preacher. The evidence in the text is overwhelming that you will be called to account for the gifting that God has given you. And you will not be able to say as a Christian, "You gave me no gift, or I didn't know you gave me gifts." All of us have gifts. So you have to look in the mirror, you have to apply yourself and look at this. And if you don't know what your spiritual gift package is, you need to begin pleading with God, "Show it to me." So we all have a spiritual gift package. It's lined up with a spiritual gift ministry, different ministries in the church. It could be a children's ministry, or to run the Caring Center, or plan and prepare for a short-term mission trip, or plan and execute a worship service, there's just different functions that happen, and God gifts for each one.
Spiritual Gifts: A Part of Christ’s Mission from the Father
Now, verses 8-10 say that these spiritual gifts are given as part of Christ's mission from the Father. Look at verse 8-10, "This is why it says when he ascended on high he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men." Verse 9, "What does it mean, or what does 'He ascended' mean, except that he also descended to the lower earthly regions." Verse 10, "He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens in order to fill the whole universe." So let me just explain simply what I'm saying here. Our spiritual gifts were blood-bought by Jesus, He went to war for us, and He won these gifts, and He's now like scattering them to the Body. That's the image we have here. He is a warrior, conqueror king, who now is leading a procession of captives, it says, who He is then, in that moment dispensing the plunder, the booty, the treasure that He's won on the battlefield. So all of our spiritual gifts are blood-bought, they're bought by the blood of Jesus.
But to look a little more carefully at it, Paul is reaching for the descent of Jesus to Earth, and then His ascent from Earth back up to Heaven. Now, what do we mean by His descent? Well, I think this is just His incarnation, that Jesus was sitting on a throne of glory, He took on a human body, descended to the lower region of the Earth, and this we celebrate at Christmas time. In His incarnation, He lived His sinless life, He died His redeeming death on the cross, won that great victory, and is now ascending, or has ascended, back up through the heavenly realms, through the sky, through outer space, through the spiritual realms, plural, however many there may be, and He is far above all of those realms, and is at the right hand of God, and has received from the Father the gifting of the Spirit which He now lavishly bestows on us. That's the image that we have here.
Now, some translations imply that Jesus descended to the lower regions of the earth, implying like He descended to Hades, or descended to Hell even. Some of you know that this is a verse that's used for Christ's descent to Hell in the creed. I think that's very bad exegesis. I don't think Jesus descended to Hell at all. If you're shocked by that, come and talk to me afterwards. I think that He went right from the cross into the Father's hands, with the thief on the cross, into paradise, amen. Like, today you'll be with me in paradise. We can debate that later, but at any rate, even if you do think there's a descent to Hell, this is not a good place to defend it, because it just says He went down to the lower regions of the Earth. Instead, I think we were talking about the incarnation here. “Jesus, being in very nature God, didn't consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, becoming a human, and being found in appearance as a man, humbled Himself lower and lower, that's His descent, and became obedient to death, even death on a cross.” There's the descent.
And then turned around and ascended higher and higher. He rose from the dead. And then as His apostles were watching, He ascended through the skies until the cloud hid Him from their sight. And the book of Hebrews picks up the journey there, He moved through the heavenly realms with His own blood, and then sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. And so, on the day of Pentecost, He poured out all of these lavish spiritual gifts. As Peter explained in Acts 2, God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact, exalted to the right hand of God. He has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit, and has poured out what you now see in here. So, get the picture of Jesus the conquering hero, triumphing on the cross, moving up through the heavenly realms, and just scattering gifts to the poor and needy, that's us. So that's the image we have here.
Now, Jesus received the gifts from the Father and gives them to the people, and then receives the glory and benefits when those gifts are used. Now, I'm not going to spend much time on this, but if you were to go back to Psalm 68:18 and read it, you might be a little troubled if you are meticulous. This is how Psalm 68 sounds, "When you ascended on high, you led captives in your train and you received gifts from men." Okay, so eyebrows should be going up. Okay, wait a minute, Psalm 68 says that, “He received gifts from men,” and then Paul takes it and reverses it 180 degrees. He says He gave gifts to men. So how do you explain that? Well, the way you explain that is like, when you're an ambulance driver, you can run red lights, but we can't. When you're an apostle, you can do this kind of thing. Paul knew very well what Psalms 68 was saying. But I think there's a better explanation than that. Jesus gives gifts so that He may receive back gifts from us. And it ends up, frankly, the same in the end.
For from Him and through Him and back to Him are all gifts. So, everything you have came from Him, and someday you're going to give back to Him all of these good works and your spiritual gift ministry as a gift to Him, that's your active worship. So, that's how I put it together in Psalm 68. But in any case, the point is clear, our spiritual gifts are a vital part of the mission of Christ in the world. They're clearly related to His descending to Earth in the incarnation, His further descent to death on the cross, His ascent from the dead into life, His ascending through the skies, through the heavenly realms, and the sitting at the right hand of God. Spiritual gifts are intrinsic to all of that. That's how our gifts fit in. So look at this assertion in verse 10, "He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens in order to fill the whole universe" This picture of Christ is astonishingly glorious, He's at the right hand of God and He's dispensing gifts and receiving blessings back from His Church.
The Ministry of the Word Primes the Pump (vs. 11-13)
Christ “Gave Some to Be…”
Now, verses 11-13, the ministry of the Word of God primes the pump for everything, it primes the pump for everything. Look at verse 11, "It was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers." So what does this mean? Well, Christ gave gifts to the Church. What does that language mean? Gave some to be apostles. How do we understand that? Well, this is how I understand it: He equipped men to be apostles, He equipped them to be prophets, He equipped people to be evangelists and pastors and teachers, He equipped them. But in equipping them, He then bestows them in their giftedness as gifts to the church. So honestly, every brother and sister, every gifted brother and sister is him or herself a gift from Christ to the Church. And so He gave apostles to the Church, and He gave prophets to the Church, and He gave evangelist to the Church, and He gave pastors to the Church, and teachers to the Church.
What Roles Are Listed Here?
So, what roles are listed here? Well, what are apostles? Apostles, back then, were eyewitnesses of the life of Christ. We could think of it this way: The 12 were apostles, they were chosen to be apostles. The word means "sent out ones". And so there were 12 apostles that were chosen. You could use the word that way. It was on the foundation of their eye witness of Jesus and His life that the New Testament was written. So we could use the word apostles in that language. Or you could talk about Barnabas and some other key individuals, who have an authoritative early role to play, and they're called apostles as well. I do not believe that the role of apostle is for today, as I've already said. There's such an evidence that it was linked to miracles and authority and the writing of Scripture, that I believe the apostolic era is done. I know other brothers and sisters in Christ use the word “apostles” today, I just don't think that's appropriate. But He gave apostles.
Then second, prophets. These are those that speak the Word of God directly. They say, "Thus says the Lord, and it is so. It's the Word of God." And there was a prophetic gift going on back in the apostolic era. Again, very debatable whether it's going on today, but it's the ability that some men and some women had to speak directly saying, "Thus says the Lord, and it is the Word of God." Apostles and prophets. Then you have evangelists. These are individuals that take the Gospel to those who have not yet heard it or have not yet believed it, at least. So an evangelist could just cross the road to a home across the street, or they could be a missionary getting on a plane and going to some unreached people group, but they're taking the Gospel message to some distant place or nearby place, going toward lostness to take the Word of God to those who haven't heard yet or haven't believed yet. That's evangelist. Bunyan, in Pilgrim's Progress, He has Christian's journey begin with a man named Evangelist who comes and shares the Gospel with him.
And then you have pastors. Pastors are shepherds of the soul, as the ESV has, “shepherds.” These are individuals that settled down in a locality, and they carry on a ministry with the people of God, shepherding souls, helping people through the ins and outs of daily life through sanctification and growth, right up until death. So they settle in, and they shepherd, and they minister right through death. And then teachers are those that just are equipped and are able to unfold the Word of God. I think it's good to keep pastors and teachers somewhat separate, so all pastors are teachers, but not all teachers are pastors. So I think we have different roles there, although there's overlap.
Now, I want you to notice the common ingredient in all five, and that is the delivery of the Word of God. All five, apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, deliver the Word of God to the people. They are the delivery system for the Word of God, that's what they have in common. And so, God gives the Word through the apostles and prophets, and it travels and moves to a locality through evangelists, and then pastors and teachers settle down and shepherd by means of that Word. It's a delivery system for the Word of God. But look how it continues, verses 12-13, "To prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, and become mature, attaining to the whole measure, the fullness of Christ."
Now, we're going to unpack that more next week. But the idea here is that the works of service, that the ministry of the Word of God prepares individual Christians to do works of service. Do you see that? As apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers do their work, individual Christians then do works of service. Then the works of service are what God uses to build up the body to full maturity. So that's what I mean by "primes the pump". My job as a pastor this morning, is to prime the pump for each of you to do works of service, works of service. I don't know what they are, God knows what they are. You may not know what they are yet, but God has works of service for you to do. As you do those works of service, all of you, this body, this local church will be built up to maturity in Christ. That's the spiritual gift ministry that God's given us to do.
Repent and Believe
Now, we're going to pick this up next week and talk more in detail about it. Let me just stop and do some application for you, and then we'll finish. The first clearest application I can ever give to anyone, any group of people this size, is to come to faith in Christ. There are no spiritual gifts for people who are “dead in transgressions and sins.” Spiritual gifts are given after we have been justified by faith in Christ. They're given after repentance and faith in Christ. So, if you were to come to me and say, "You know, I'm not a believer. I was interested in your sermon today, what is there for me?" I would say, "The work of God for you is this: Believe in the one that God has sent. Believe in Jesus. Trust in the Lord Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins. Start there." Spiritual gifts are for Christians.
God Gifts Every Christian For Service
But then secondly, keep in mind, spiritual gifts are for every Christian. They are for every Christian. A regular pattern of ministry is for every Christian. Now, let me just ask a hard question, just look at yourself, look in the mirror of the text. Do you have an identifiable regular pattern of ministry that lines up with spiritual gifts? Is that true of you? As you look at your life, are you investing yourself in a regular pattern of ministry in this local church? Just think about that. And if you say, "Well, I don't know," I say, "Well, if someone were to ask you, 'What is it?', you need to be able to say what it is." I mean, you could be involved in the Caring Center, you could be involved in International Student Ministry, you could be involved in Meal Baby, organizing the Meal Baby, you could be involved with the children, with Bible for Life at different levels. You could be involved in prayer ministry, you could have more of an ad hoc ministry among women, some of you older women discipling younger women. But there has to be some answer.
If you look and say, "Honestly, there's nothing. I don't really think I have a regular pattern of ministry." then what you need to do is just begin by repenting and say, "Lord, I think I've wasted some time up to this point. I don't think I've been faithful the way I've needed to be. I want to repent, I want to have a spiritual gift ministry. Please help me." And then the next couple of weeks, we're going to talk about how to discover your spiritual gifts, and how to develop them and how to deploy them. So we're going to do that over the next couple of weeks. But I just want to begin with each person who's hearing me right now, first assess, "Am I a Christian? Have I come to faith in Christ?" And then secondly, "Am I using my spiritual gifts? Do I have a spiritual gift ministry?" My prayer is that God will use these three sermons to help you come into a whole new level of faithfulness in using your gift here at the church.
Please close with me in prayer. Father, we thank you for the things that we're learning in Ephesians. We thank you for the power in the Word of God. We thank you for the truth in the Word, and we ask, O Lord, that you would please strengthen each one of us to know what it is you're calling us to be and to do. And I pray that you would please be moving those that up to this point have not been able to identify what their spiritual gifts are, to identify and delight in their gifts, and then to develop them and use them. And Lord, I pray for those that are already using their gifts fruitfully and powerfully, Lord. Give them sustaining grace, expand their horizons, expand their field of ministry more and more in this church and throughout this community, even to the ends of the earth. And Lord, help all of us to do this in light of eternity, in light of the glory of God, for it is for your glory and for your name, Jesus, that we do these things. It's in your name we pray, amen.