Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Spirit’s Gift to the Church

The Spirit's gift to the Church
By Printlux (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Ephesians 4:7-16
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 captivity captive, 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 far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and 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 of 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 of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into 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.

In our first talk, we looked at the unity of the Church. This unity is not external and mechanical, but internal and organic. It is not superimposed but, by virtue of the power of indwelling Christ, proceeds from within the organism of the Church. Those, therefore, who in their ecumenical zeal are anxious to erase all denominational boundaries and to create a mammoth super Church can find no comfort here.

The first six verses can be summarized as follows: "the Church is spiritually one, therefore, let it be spiritually one!" This does not imply any contradiction, the meaning being that believers should make every effort to preserve the unity imparted by the Spirit by means of the bond of peace.

The unity is, however, not such that the individual believer becomes a mere “cog in the wheel”. Personal initiative or individual expression, far from being crushed is encouraged as vv. 7-16 clearly indicate. Also, the oneness is not an end in itself; it is not a superficial desire for togetherness in the spirit of the familiar lines: “For your friends are my friends and my friends are your friends; and the more we get together, the happier we will be”

On the contrary, it is a unity with the purpose of being a blessing to one another, so that the Church can be built up, and can thus be a blessing to the world. There is a work to be done, as v.12 clearly shows. And in order to accomplish the tasks assigned, believers should cooperate, each contributing his share to the inner growth of the Church. This is all the more necessary because the opponents are very clever (v. 14). It is clear that in this section that the idea of growth is just as prominent as is that of unity. If there be any difference in emphasis I would say the former is even more prominent, especially in vv. 12-16. Everything considered, therefore, it would seem that the subtitle Organic Unity, amidst diversity, and growth into Christ supplies the true key to the contents of this section.

The last few verses – (vv. 4-6) have emphasized the unity of the Church and this unity is not uniformity. That is, the Church is not made up of members who are intended to be all the same. It is certainly true that no two people in the world are just the same; and no two members of the Church have exactly the same gifts. The unity of the Church is like that of the body – all the members are different and have different works to do; and if the body is healthy, they will all work together. The different gifts which the Spirit gives to us are what the apostle is speaking about in this section.

We need to know THREE things about these gifts:

(a) There are gifts for each one

The Spirit of God has left none of us without a gift if we belong to God. He has a piece of work that we alone can do and we have His gifts to make it possible for us to do it. We should not ask whose gift is greater and whose is smaller. God in His wisdom and His grace has arranged that each of us, has the gift He intends us to have. In the early Church there were apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. The Bible lists about 18 gifts. 1 Corinthians 12:28 adds other gifts and not only those whom we call the “ministers” of the Church are included. Every member has received at least a gift. (1 Corinthians 12:4-7). What is your gift?

(b) All gifts are of the ascended Lord

When we realize how great the giver is, we should treasure the gifts more, and want to use it rightly. He, our Lord Jesus Christ, came down to this world below. He humbled Himself and became man, so that He might fill this world with the glory of His presence. He came down to save and redeem the world, and to claim it as His own. Then having conquered the powers of evil, He rose triumphant, He ascended far above the heavens. That means He has the place of higher authority. He is Lord of all. He has led His enemies captive. He is able to give His people whatever He wishes. So He gives us His Spirit. (John 7:39, 14:12-14; Acts 2:33) Through us now He wants His presence to be known in all the world and all things to be made “captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

(c) God has a purpose for every gift

There are other ways in which the Apostle speaks of the purpose of these gifts of the Spirit that each one of us has received. Three things are mentioned in v. 12 and perhaps each depends on the one before it.

First, the gifts of the Spirit are given for “the equipment of the saints”. In Hebrews 11:3 the word translated equipment here is used for God’s work in bringing the whole universe into the order that He intended it to have. So it means here that by the gifts of the Spirit, each Christian should be brought to live that good and healthy spiritual life that God intends for us. And that is not the end; we should be brought to the state of Spiritual health for ‘the work of ministry’, that is, so we can each serve our Lord and our fellow men humbly and faithfully in all those good works that He has planned for us (2:10). The purpose of this moreover, is the building up of the Body of Christ. The Church is built up as it increases in number by people being won into it. It is also built up when it becomes strong in love (v. 16) and in truth (v. 15).

Verse 12 has said that the purpose of the gifts of the Spirit is the growth of the Church, the Body of Christ. Each individual Christian must grow from a babe, new born in Christ, up through childhood, to adulthood. The whole Church, itself like a human body with members belonging together, must grow. There are some things that are the marks of childhood, and other things that are the marks of adult life, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:11.

The marks of Childhood


A young child is easily influenced in the right way or in the wrong way. Those who are young in the faith of Christ and not yet strong in Him, are easily led. Where there is false teaching, they may be influenced by it without realizing it. There are those who try to deceive others; and the devil uses them to turn people aside from the ways of Christ. Paul describes in another way also those who are easily turned aside from the faith. They are like a little boat, tossed to and fro by the waves; whereas the Christian should be like a ship at anchor, its anchor holding firm whatever storms of temptation, of difficulty, or of false teaching there may be around it.

The marks of Adulthood

A firm hold of the truth is one of the marks of a person who is an adult in Christ. He is not turned aside from the truth, in what he believes, in what he speaks, or in what he does. The word that Paul uses in v.15 means more than speaking the truth – living the truth is nearer to its meaning! He has also grown in love. Some people hold the truth, but without love in their hearts. The great commandment of Christ is love (John 13:34) We can only grow up in the Christian life as we grow in love.

Growth into Unity

When we grow in love, we grow in unity. A family is united when there is strong love between its different members. The spokes of a wheel are nearest to one another when they are nearest to the centre. If we are really growing into Christ, as Paul says in v.15, we must be growing in love, and we must be growing nearer together in the unity that God intends Christians to have. In all our thoughts about Christian unity, we must keep in mind two things: truth and love. These verses speak of them both. There is unity of the faith, and this grows as we grow in the knowledge of the Son of God, and His ways and His purposes. We cannot neglect truth when we strive for unity. But we must not neglect love either. Jesus Christ is described in John 1:14 as full of grace and truth. As individual Christians and as the Body of Christ, we only grow towards the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ when we grow both in grace and truth.

The Way of Growth

The way of growth

These verses also tell us how growth from a babe in Christ to a man or woman of God is possible, and how the Church itself grows. It is growth “into Christ” v.15 and from Him (v.16). As we come to live more and more in Him, and as we receive from Him, so we grow. He is the Head, and we must be under His direction, obedient to Him. But growth in unity and maturity in the Church, in another way, depends on us. There is that which every part of the body must do (v.16); each must use his or her Spiritual gift (v.7) for the building up of the whole (v.12). Each member of the body must do its part for the body to be healthy and to grow and work as it should; but also each member must work rightly in relation to every other member. The thumb cannot do its work except in connection with the leg, and the arm and the brain that controls it. The Church can only grow as its members work together each realizing the gifts and the works given to others. And the growth of the Church that the Lord of the Church wants is as we have seen growth in love (v.16). When the Church grows in love, for her Lord and love for others, it will surely also grow in numbers. There is no real witness, and very little winning of others, except by love.

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