Beginning with Ephesians 4, Paul turns to a new section of the Christian message. In the first three chapters of Ephesians, Paul expounds for us the unconditional good news of salvation. Beginning at chapter 4, he turns to Christian ethics. In our last study, we looked carefully at the first six verses of chapter four in which Paul talks about how the gospel, revealed through the life of the believer, produces a people who are perfectly united in love.
Now, beginning with verses 7 to 16, which we will now study, we will look at the spiritual gifts which are bestowed upon every believer so that we may function as Christians within the body of Christ. When we become Christians, not only are we justified by faith, not only are we baptized into the body of Christ, but we receive special gifts so that each one of us may function in whatever part God has chosen us to be in the framework of the body of Christ.
In order for us to fulfill our part within the whole context of God's mission for the body, the church, God has bestowed upon every believer spiritual gifts. Here Paul is describing these spiritual gifts which are the power and the source of our Christian unity and our Christian living and, of course, our witnessing.
With this in mind we will turn to Ephesians 4:4-16. We will read from the NKJV and then look at this wonderful passage which is dealing with a subject which needs to be understood by every Christian. There are no spectators in the Christian church. The Christian religion is not a football game where there is a handful of men exhausting themselves trying to win a game while there are thousands of people watching them and cheering them. That is not Christianity. Christianity is a religion in which every member has a vital part to play within the framework of the body. Now listen to what Paul is saying in this text: "But to each one of us, grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift." Therefore, he says, when he ascended on high, he led captive captives and gave gifts to men. Now this "he ascended", what does it mean? "But that he also first descended into the lower parts of the earth. He who descended is also the one who ascended. Christ died, was buried and now went up to heaven far above all the heavens that he might fill all things. And he himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry for the edifying of the body of Christ till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God to a perfect man to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine by the trickery of men in the cunning craftiness by which they lie in wait to deceive but speaking the truth in love may grow up in all things unto him who is the head from whom the whole body joined and knitted together by what every joint supplies according to the effective working by which every part does its share causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love."
This is a tremendous passage when it comes to genuine Christian witnessing and it is important to understand what Paul is saying in this passage. First, in verse 7, notice that Paul says: "But to each one of us." No one is excluded. Every believer, every born again Christian is given grace according to the measure of Christ's gift. As we saw in our last study, when we accept Christ the Holy Spirit baptizes us into the body of Christ. That is found in 1 Corinthians 12:13. Now, I may be the toe, you may be the finger, someone else may be the tongue; we are all part and parcel of the body of Christ and in unison, together, we constitute the body of Christ.
Each one of us, according to the grace of our God are given a gift to function as the part to which we belong in the body of Christ. Having said this we need to pause here to define the word "grace." The word "grace" is used in two senses in the New Testament. The primary meaning of grace in the New Testament is God's unconditional love towards fallen mankind in which He gave us His Son through whose life and death we have obtained, through Him, salvation full and complete. Hence, as Paul tells us in chapter 2 of Ephesians, verse 8: "By grace are we saved." That is the primary meaning of grace.
But the word "grace" is also used in the New Testament, and especially by the apostle Paul, to refer to the power of God made available to the born again Christian through the Holy Spirit so that we may fulfill God's purpose in our lives. As Paul tells us in Romans 5:1 and 2 that not only do Christians have peace with God but they are standing in grace or they are standing under the umbrella of grace and because of this they have the hope of arriving at the glory of God.
There are several passages that bring out this word "grace" in the context of God's power or God's strength made available to us so that we may fulfill God's purpose. These texts are referring to Paul's own experience but what is true of Paul is true of every believer. The first text is 1 Corinthians 15:9 where Paul makes a statement that is typical of him, which reflects his humility. Remember, in our last study one of the characteristics of a true Christian is humility. This Paul revealed in his own life. Paul says; "For I am the least of the apostles who am not worthy to be called an apostle because I persecuted the church of God." Paul felt the blessings he received from God, the calling, was more than he deserved. However, there is a "but" in verse 10: "But by the grace of God I am what I am and His grace toward me was not in vain but I labor more abundantly than they all." Paul is saying that by the grace of God he was chosen to be an apostle, a messenger for God, not because he deserved it but by the grace of God. It is this grace which was given to him that he did not squander; he did not let it lie dormant. He allowed it to produce works in him that were greater than all the works of the other apostles. It sounds as though Paul is boasting here but notice the last part of verse 10: "yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me." Here the apostle Paul is using the word "grace" in terms of God's power or strength made available to the believer.
Now we will turn to the next text, 2 Corinthians 12:7: "Lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me lest I be exalted above measure." One of the greatest problems we will face as Christians, especially when God uses us mightily, is the problem of pride. Even though we have surrendered our sinful nature to the cross, it is dead only by faith but in reality it is still there and given the chance it will raise its ugly head up and take all the glory of what God does in us.
So Paul is saying that since God gave him such wonderful revelations knowing that this could go to his head, God allowed Paul to have a thorn in the flesh. Paul does not tell what that thorn in the flesh was. It could be his eyes or his defective speech or something that he felt was a hindrance to his ministry but in verse 9 he tells how he responds to this thorn in the flesh: "Concerning this, I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me." On three occasions, Paul earnestly sought God's deliverance from this thorn in the flesh. God's answer is in verse 9: "And he (God) said to me, My grace is sufficient for you for my strength is made perfect in weakness." Note that the words "my grace" and "my strength" are synonymous. Here, the word "grace" is used in the sense of God's strength. Now listen to Paul's response: "therefore, most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, my weaknesses that the power of Christ may rest upon me." "My grace", "my strength" and the "power of Christ" are all synonymous terms and are referring to the power of God made available to Paul and to every believer who is standing under the umbrella of grace so that they may fulfill God's purpose in their lives.
One more text is found in Ephesians 3:7. This will remind us of what we have already covered. Listen to what Paul is saying here speaking about his calling to be an apostle to the Gentiles: "Of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of his power." Here again the word "grace" is used to refer to the effective working of His power.
In view of this, we need to be reminded that Christian living does not depend on human resources. It is not our natural talents that God is depending on. When God calls you to do a certain thing within the Christian church; when God calls you to be His witness; when God calls you to fulfill a certain work, even though you may not have the natural ability to do that, the grace of God is sufficient. Therefore, no Christian is to excuse himself when God puts His hand on their shoulder and calls you to do something because what God calls you to do He gives you the power to do it. That is what Paul is saying here. To each one of us, with no exception, grace is given according to the measure of Christ's gift according to which part of the body you function under.
In verses 9 and 10, Paul uses an example of a typical situation in his day. He uses a quotation from the Old Testament in verse 8: "When he ascended on high, he led captive captivity and gave gifts to men." In the olden days, in Bible days, when two nations fought and one nation was defeated, two things took place. The conquering nation would take the key persons, the king, the rulers, the officers of the defeated nation and take them back to their country as captives to prove to their people that they were victorious. But they also brought with them, all the treasures of the defeated nation and they shared it with the people as appreciation for their support in the war. Paul is using this and applying it as a metaphor, as symbols, to the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We are all victims to sin and death. Death is the grim reaper. We are incapable of conquering death. No matter how wonderful science is and no matter how wonderful science has made our modern lifestyle, science has not been able to solve the death problem. Now some scientists feel that sometime in the future, they will solve it but they do no t know what the Bible says. Only God has the power over the grave and He revealed this in Jesus Christ. Man is unable to conquer death. Death rules over him as Paul tells us in Romans 5:17: When Adam sinned, death came to us a ruler, as a conqueror. But when Jesus came and redeemed us from sin, He conquered the grave. Remember at the resurrection there was a great earthquake and many graves were opened. Many, who were sleeping in Christ, came back to life and went about the city of Jerusalem. At the ascension, Jesus took these people as evidence of His victory over sin and the grave. I believe that the twenty-four elders mentioned in the book of Revelation are part and parcel of these people who were the first fruits of the victory of Christ over the grave.
Having taken these people with Him to heaven as evidence of His redemptive power, once He ascended He sent gifts to His people on earth. So He who ascended up into heaven, who conquered the grave is what Paul means that He who descended is also the One who ascended. It is our sin that took Him to the grave but our sins could not keep him there. He conquered the grave because He conquered our sin. He paid the price for our sins; He conquered the grave; He ascended into heaven with those He raised from the dead at His resurrection and He sent gifts to His people on earth. The gifts are described in verses 11 and 12. "He gave some to be apostles." Here the word "apostles" means missionaries. Some prophets, some who would proclaim the intricate details of God's truth. Some evangelists, some who would expound the gospel to the non-Christian world, the unchurched. Some pastors and teachers, notice that these two are a unit. God has given some to be missionaries, some to be evangelists and some pastors and teachers because when we first come to Christ we are babes in Christ. It is through the proclamation of the word, through the feeding of the flock, through the teaching of the Word, through the pastoral ministry that the lay members grow up into Christ and become mature Christians. The purpose of these gifts is for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry, equipping the saints with the Word of God. The work of the ministry is to reflect Christ, for edifying of the body of Christ. Verse 13: "Till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ."
The key definition of the church in the New Testament is that it is the body of Christ. He is the Head, we are the body. During His earthly ministry, Jesus revealed, perfectly, the character of His Father. In John 17:3, Jesus, praying to His Father, said, "I have glorified thy name on this earth." In John 14:8, when Philip came to Jesus and said, "Jesus, show us the Father and it will suffice us." Jesus responded, "Philip, have you been so long with Me and you have not seen the Father? He who has seen Me, has seen the Father." Jesus went on to explain how the Father dwells in Him and He in the Father and the works that He did, the miraculous works, were not Him but the Father who dwelt in Him through the Holy Spirit. Now that Christ is in heaven, His body is on earth; it is His desire, it is God's purpose that the body reflects Jesus Christ who in turn reflected God. In order for that to happen, God has equipped every believer with a gift, or more than one gift. Every Christian is equipped, through the power of the Holy Spirit, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, for the ministry of the edifying of the body of Christ. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:7, that all the gifts of the Spirit are given to the church for the edifying of the body.
As we study the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, we will discover that they are divided into two categories. The first category, which is what Paul mentions in Ephesians 4, apostles, prophets, pastors and teachers and evangelists, are primarily for the church, the body of Christ so that we may all grow together, we may all be built up from babes in Christ to mature Christians and that we may come closer together in unity through this power of the Holy Spirit. But the second half of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, not mentioned here but in other passages such as miracles, tongues and so on, is for witnessing. In 1 Corinthians 14 where Paul discusses the contrast between the gift of tongues and the gift of prophecy, he makes a very interesting observation. Verse 22: "Therefore, tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe, but to unbelievers. But prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe." The gift of tongues is evidence to the unbeliever that we are controlled by a supernatural power. The gift of tongues was never given to convince us that we are Christians. We are convinced that we are Christians, we are convinced that we are saved, that we stand justified because, by faith, we accept the perfect righteousness of Christ. The doing and dying of Christ is what convinces us that we stand justified. Yes, it is true the Holy Spirit, Paul says in Romans 8:16, he convinces us that we are the children of God. But, prophesying is for the edifying of the body of Christ.
The ultimate goal of the gifts that Paul mentions in Ephesians 4:11 is expressed in verse 13: "Till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." Here Paul is saying that the Christian church which is the body of Christ which is Christ's representative on earth should reflect the same character, the same behavior patterns as the Head which is Jesus Christ. Through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the church needs to grow up until, as a body in unison, it should reflect the unconditional love of God that was revealed in His Son, Jesus Christ on this earth. Therefore, all who see the church will not see human beings doing their best but they will see God manifested in the flesh. That is the ultimate goal of these gifts. It is also for the work of the ministry, for the witnessing to the world the power of the gospel in our lives.
Also, there is something else in verse 14: "That we should no longer be children tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine." There are so many false teachers today. Some of them are proclaiming what they call the truth but many of these teachings are dividing us. The goal of the spiritual gifts in the church is that we may no longer be tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine by the trickery of man in the cunning craftiness by which they lay in wait to deceive. Behind all this deception is the devil. Jesus Himself warned us that the devil in the last days will come as an angel of light. It is for this reason that it is important that we are rooted and grounded in God's love and in His Word. We must know what the Bible teaches so that we are not swept away by every wind of doctrine.
The positive side is in verse 15: "But speaking the truth in love may grow up in all things unto him who is the head, Christ from whom the whole body joined and knit together by what every joint supplies according to the effective working by which every part does its share causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love."
Paul makes it clear that every believer, every saint, is given a gift of the Holy Spirit, or more than one gift, to fulfill a purpose in the body. Just like the human body which is disconnected to the head when the nerve is severed becomes paralyzed, there are many Christians today who are paralyzed because they are not fulfilling what God has called them to do. There must not only be a living connection with the believer and the Head, Jesus Christ through prayer, Bible study and witnessing but every believer must use the gift that God has bestowed upon Him. No Christian should be a spectator, Paul says. Every believer should do his part, his share. This is how he concludes in verse 16: "By which every part does its share." When one does not do his share, the whole body suffers. But there should be no schism in the church of Christ. We should be one and each member should do his share. By this the whole body grows up, reflecting more and more the righteous character of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the goal of Christian living; this is what God has in mind for the Christian church in these last days. When this happens, when we become one and when the power of the gospel is the source of our Christian living, not dialogue, not human resources, not budgets, but the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives, then and then only this earth will be lightened with His glory as the book of Revelation, chapter 18 says. This is my prayer for the Christian church and for each one of us in Jesus' name. Amen.