June 14, 2020 – Ephesians 4.7 – 11 – Pastor Cliff Bergman
One of the more frustrating experiences is when we are told to do something, but we are not given sufficient information or direction on how to accomplish the goal, or we lack the resources necessary to complete the task. Such a situation is not uncommon when a person begins a new job and they are asked to do something that they don’t really understand, or they have little idea about the steps that will be required, or they may lack the resources to successfully complete the assignment. It can become a source of great frustration and anxiety.
Consider the goal we are given in Scripture for God’s children. That we might be holy and blameless before Him. Or, as is stated in,
Ephesians 4:13 (ESV) until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,
We often refer to the goal as becoming Christ-like. It also becomes apparent that this is not limited to our personal and individual progress, but rather it encompasses the Church. God’s design for our individual progress towards Christ-likeness is integrally entwined with the progress of others who are part of the local Church. Remember the description of the Church,
Ephesians 1:23 (ESV) which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
It is little wonder then that as the weeks of physical isolation from other members of His body pass, that we feel something is missing. Understandably we long to be with God’s people. Over the years as Christians we have so experienced and valued interrelationship with fellow believers that to have it interrupted makes us grieve over something we took for granted. We nevertheless have adapted to the present restrictions and realize this situation is temporary and a departure from God’s design. During these past several months we have also become innovative and resourceful in interacting with our Church family. One of the results of the suspension of Sunday services and other in-person gatherings of the Church will be a greater appreciation of, and commitment to the Church.
Fortunately, God has not set the lofty goal of Christ-likeness for His children and then failed to detail what it looks like, or the means to make steady progress towards it, or the provision of the resources needed to reach it. The Book of Ephesians unfolds the journey from a lost sinner to a victorious saint who is characterized by Christ-likeness and walking in a manner worthy of the calling he/she has been called.
Last week we gave attention to the appeal that we might walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called. Five traits: humility, gentleness, patience, forbearing love, and unity, characterize such a walk. Probably all of us, as we take inventory, realize these traits are illusive at times. Bracketing this appeal are the fundamental resources essential for progress. The appeal is preceded by a description of the supernatural resources Paul prayed his readers and we might be strengthened with supernatural power through the Spirit in the depth of our being, that Christ might dwell in the depth of our hearts through faith, that we might be supernaturally enabled to grasp the unfathomable love of Christ, and that we might be filled with all the fullness of God. Supernatural intervention is available to every follower of Jesus Christ. And after Paul makes his appeal he outlines additional resources that are part of God’s grand design to make His goal for us possible. Indispensable to us becoming Christ-like individually and as a Church are,
I. His Gifts To The Church
Ephesians 4:7 (ESV) But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
God, according to His sovereign choice, has given gifts in accordance with His inexhaustible supply of grace.
The complexity of a building or industrial facility dictates the number and skills of the people involved in constructing it. Someone must first conceive the idea. That idea is then expanded and developed. Once there is greater definition to what is wanted, engineers and architects design it. When that is completed, a contractor determines how to build it and the tradespeople necessary. As time passes, that which began as a just an idea is turned into reality. The efficiency of accomplishing the project is dependent on the skills and attentiveness of the people involved on every facet of the project. The absence or slothfulness of just one trade can disrupt the entire project and turn it from success to disaster.
So it is with our individual and collective development as Christians. In our case, God is the designer and He knows what it necessary for us to become the people He has created us to be. To that end He has a design and provided gifts to the Church; that is the context of the following verses. Unfortunately the translators of the NIV obscure the giving of gifts by translating the Greek word dōrea, as a non-descriptive, it, instead of gift.
It is by God’s grace, something we didn’t deserve, nor merit, that we were saved in the first place. As a result, we are part of an intimate relationship with God. Understanding that relationship stretches our understanding beyond its finite limits. But God’s provision of His grace doesn’t stop with our salvation; He knew we wouldn’t even survive, let alone reach His lofty goal Christ-likeness without more grace. Therefore, because God wants us to become all that He has created us to be, He lavishes more grace upon us from His inexhaustible supply (cf. Eph 1.8). The gifts He gives to the Church collectively and individually are an expression of His grace to us, gifts essential for both our growth and others. There is considerable discussion in some circles about gifts and their relative merit, but note carefully that God gives gifts as He sees fit, i.e. it is Christ’s gift to His follower. Thus every gift is important and every believer will receive the gift, or gifts, that God decides they need in the context of where they live and the needs that exist there. Note also,
Hebrews 2:4 (ESV) while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.
II. The Diversity Of His Gifts To The Church
Jesus Christ knows precisely which gifts are necessary for the effective functioning of His Church. He knows who is a part of His Church and He knows their needs. He knows what lies ahead and how to equip His children for the future – needs that they know nothing of until the future becomes the present. With far greater precision and knowledge than the construction superintendent scheduling appropriately skilled tradesmen to carry out the variety of tasks in a project, Jesus equips and trains His people for the tasks they have, or will have. A major difference is the project Jesus has in mind is the growth and maturation of His followers.
Romans 12 provides further insight into gifts and their use. Having told the Romans they must not conform to the pattern of this world, Paul pointed out what they needed to be attentive to. They needed to be transformed by the renewing of their minds with God’s truth. They needed to replace a worldly perspective on life with a Christian worldview.
Romans 12:2 (ESV) Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
That theme parallels Ephesians. The passage in Romans launches into a discussion of gifts and the interdependence of believers. But before doing so, we are warned in 12.3 not to think more highly than we ought. One of the places where we can think more highly of ourselves than we ought is believing we are self-sufficient and don’t need others. Then, using the familiar analogy of the human body where the members of our body have different purposes and functions, so also are there different purposes and functions among the members of the Church. The claim by some that every believer must have the same gift as everyone else is totally contrary to this truth from the Word of God. God has gifted people uniquely dependent on the needs of the body. While the various gifts Christ gives can be categorized, they are nevertheless unique to each believer and the setting they are in. Hence, the gift of teaching doesn’t necessarily look the same for one person as it does for another who also has the gift of teaching. I think back to a woman in one of the Churches we were in. She was very reticent to say much among adults, certainly no one would have ever thought she had the gift of teaching. One day as the pastor of the Church I was invited to visit a Sunday Class of 3 or 4 year olds. Guess who was teaching the lesson? She did the most amazing job I had ever seen with a group that age. She was enthusiastic, engaging, and effectively communicated God’s truth to that young group of impressionable learners. She had their attention! No one who watched would have doubted for a moment that she had the gift of teaching. God had gifted her uniquely for a specific group of people and she was amazing. On the other hand, despite also having the gift of teaching, I didn’t have a clue about how to teach that group. The gifts Christ gives to His Church address their needs and circumstances.
The gifts themselves are an expression of God’s grace, or His unmerited favor to us, but His grace is also essential for the exercise and effectiveness of them, as we, and those around us, grow and mature. Apart from the undergirding of God’s grace, the use of a gift will have limited effect. Grace is its enabling power!
In Ephesians 4.8 – 10 Paul quotes from Psalm 68.18 to point out Jesus has the right to give gifts. Following Jesus’ death and resurrection He ascended to heaven, which necessitated that He had previously descended from the glories of heaven when He clothed Himself with humanity at Bethlehem. The phrase, He descended to the lower regions of the earth, may also be a reference to Jesus descending to Sheol, the place of the departed in the Old Testament, where Jesus declared His victory to the unrighteous cf. 1 Pet 3.18 – 20.
The parenthesis may also encompass a glimpse into the future, recorded in
Hebrews 2:13 (ESV) And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again, “Behold, I and the children God has given me.”
Hebrews 2:13 looks to the future when Jesus Christ will present His Church (the children God has given to Me), to His Father at the culmination of the Age. It is then when God will receive His inheritance in the saints referred to in Ephesians 1.18.
III. Some Specific Gifts To The Church
Having drawn attention to the legitimacy of Jesus’ giving gifts, our attention returns to the specific gifts given to the Church.
Ephesians 4:11 (ESV) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,
We have already been introduced to the pivotal role of the apostles and prophets in establishing the New Testament Church built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.
Ephesians 2:19–20 (ESV)19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,
In the strictest sense the term, apostles, refers to the 12 plus Paul, who were instrumental in the establishment of the Church. While we have the New Testament for direction, it was not yet written when the Church began following Pentecost. God directed the apostles and they declared His revelation which would become part of God’s written Word, or special revelation to us. Thus it became the foundation upon which the Church was built.
Coupled with the apostles were the prophets who declared God’s Word to people and were also vital in the establishment of the Church as they too are encompassed in the foundation upon which the Church is built.
Since the foundation for the Church was laid in the 1st century and the Church has been established, these offices no longer exist. In the case of an apostle, the qualifications, which were three-fold, preclude apostolic succession. NT Apostles were appointed by Christ Himself, they witnessed the resurrected Christ, and they were authenticated by signs, wonders and miracles. Hence, their role ended with their death. Over the years there have been claims to apostolic succession, some very well-intentioned; unfortunately they are nevertheless erroneous. It should be noted that the term apostle is also used in the NT in a broader sense to encompass more than just the 12 plus Paul.
It is not uncommon to hear present day leaders in the Church call some men, apostles or prophets. Such terminology is not the equivalent of the leaders referred to here in Eph 4. Usually, but not always, when a man is called an apostle today, it refers to someone who had a formative role in establishing Churches. Similarly, the term prophet is often used to refer to some “who spoke prophetically,” usually meaning that the person spoke with unusual unction and anointing by God as he declared the Word of God.
The third role, is that of evangelist. Evangelists predominantly proclaim the Good News of salvation, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That doesn’t mean that individuals who don’t have the gift of evangelism shouldn’t declare the Good News, or if they do, they won’t be effective. All believers should be ready to give a reason for the hope they have (1 Peter 3.15); however, evangelists are particularly gifted. The most notable example of an evangelist in our day is Billy Graham who proclaimed the Gospel of truth to millions and introduced multitudes to Christ.
The gift that we are most familiar with is the one translated as shepherds in the ESV, or pastors in the NIV. The Greek word is, poimḗn, which means shepherd. The connective, kai, links the term, shepherds, to the following term, teachers. Kai is often translated as, and, but can be translated as, also. That has led many to conclude that a single role, or office, of pastor-teacher is envisioned. At the very least, this passage together with other verses, underscores the conclusion that the primary role of pastors, or shepherds, is to teach the Word of God.
It may be helpful to note there are two other terms besides, poimḗn, which are used in the New Testament to encompass those engaged pastoral leadership or oversight of the Church. One is, episkopē, translated as overseer in the NIV and ESV (1 Tim 3.1 – 2). The other is, presbyteros, translated as elder in the NIV and ESV (Titus 1.5). In Titus 1 the two terms, episkopē, and presbyteros, are used interchangeably to refer to the same man. And all three terms are brought together in
1 Peter 5:1–2 (ESV) 5 So I exhort the elders (presbyteros) among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd (poimainō) the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight (episkopeō), not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly;
Here we observe the key roles of the leaders in the Church. They are to shepherd and give oversight to the flock. The pastor, or shepherd, poimḗn, is one of the elders, but with a primary role of teaching God’s Word. Taken together, it is apparent the three terms encompass the overlapping roles of leadership, shepherding, teaching, caring for, nurturing, protecting, praying for, and giving oversight to the flock.
A key point to deduct from this passage is that the apostles and prophets who were instrumental in laying the foundation of the Church, as well as those who have continued throughout the centuries as evangelists and pastor-teachers, are gifts by Jesus Christ to His Church and are crucial to the Church individually and collectively becoming what Jesus has designed His Church to be. That does not suggest for a moment that other gifts to the Church, which are not specifically mentioned here, are not also critical; they are! They too are Christ’s gifts to His Church and their use is essential for the growth of others. The interdependent nature of the Church is increasingly apparent as we progress through Ephesians. Supernatural enablement is extended to all of us so that we might walk in a manner worthy of the calling we have been given. Doing so also necessitates fellow believers using the gifts God has given them. For them to do so, it requires God’s grace, which He supplies from His inexhaustible supply. Thus, as followers of Jesus Christ use the gifts He has given them, fellow believers are built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit (Eph 2.22)
The successful completion of a building or industrial facility requires the integration of a multitude of people with diverse skills; if anyone shirks his or her responsibility, it will affect the overall result. But far more important than that is the goal God has for His Church individually and collectively – the interdependent relationship between God’s people in a given locality, where their personal growth towards Christ-likeness is dependent on the faithful follow-through of each of the saints with the gift(s) God has given them. And underpinning it all is God’s inexhaustible grace. It is no wonder that God is deserving of all the glory as we make progress.
The closing hymn I have chosen is a grand hymn of the Church, May The Mind Of Christ, My Saviour. May God minster to you through its rich words.