Devotional # 104. 9/29/14. Ephesians 4:7-16.
Intro. Last week we started the second half of Ephesians with chapter 4. Remember how you have to read chapters 1-3 which teach about what God did for us in order to understand and appreciate chapters 4-6 which teach us as Christians how to walk with the Lord? Last week (Ephesians 4:1-6) we saw the unity of the body of Christ (remember the “one body and one Spirit…one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all…” portion?) and how God has called each of us. He has called each of us to salvation but also to certain ministries. You may have been called to minister to people at your work, or to go to Africa but either way you have been given a responsibility for “walking worthy of the calling” (4:1). This week we’re going to explore a few of the roles that Christians are given by Christ.
v. 7. Notice the difference between the last verse talking about us all being one and this verse that starts with “but”. But what? “But each one of us…” So Paul is moving into talking about us as individuals. Yes, we’re all in unity but that isn’t a boring cult where everyone is the same. It’s made up of individuals. So all of us received salvation “grace” the same way, but each of us received “serving” grace gifts in different measures. What is important to remember as we go into the next sections of roles and gifts is that God has given each person their gifts. You can be jealous of your friend because they have what you think is a cool gift (like “evangelism”) while you’re stuck with “exhortation” or “helps” but it’s God that gave each of you, your gifts. He doesn’t make mistakes and He’s telling you once you accept it and start doing it, you’ll see it will be the most rewarding, least boring life you could dream of!
vv. 8-10. Paul uses a proof text from Psalms 68:18 to prove his point that Jesus has given each believer gift(s) according to His discretion. The context from Psalm 68 “is a call to God to come to the rescue of his people and vindicate them again, as in olden days” (Source 1, p. 156). So here we see that the Father sending His Son is triumphant. Paul uses this Psalm because he sees Jesus being exalted as another fulfillment of the “triumph of God” (Source 1, pp. 156-157). So Jesus took the power of death and destruction from demons (“captivity captive”) and ascended to the right hand of the Father.
There is another interesting comparison here: according to Hebrew tradition, Psalm 68 was used with Pentecost (“the Jewish feast commemorating the giving of the law”). So Paul using it here shows us: “As Moses received the law and gave it to Israel, so Christ received the Spirit and gave him to his people in order to write God’s law in their hearts and through the pastors he appointed (verse 11) to teach them the truth” (Source 1, p. 157). There is some question about contradiction here, if you want to know more see below*
*Possible contradiction. Stott says some commentators point out that “The psalm reads that God ascended the mount, ‘receiving gifts among men’, whereas Paul’s quotation is that Christ ‘gave gifts to men’.” Some scholars say that Paul used this verse in Psalms to force his point. But “words cannot be interpreted by themselves, but only in context. So we need to remember that after every conquest in the ancient world there was invariably both a receiving of tribute and a distributing of [gifts]. What conquerors took from their captives, they gave away to their own people…it seems possible that the Hebrew text itself may imply this, since the verb could be translated ‘brought’ rather then ‘received’, and it is not without significance that the two ancient versions or translations, one Aramaic and the other Syriac, render it ‘gave’. So evidently this was already a traditional interpretation” (p. 157).
vv. 11-12. The descriptions given here are roles that God has given. Some of the 22 spiritual gifts (in three biblical lists: Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, and 1 Corinthians 12:28) fit into these roles. What are the differences?
“apostles” – An “apostle” is someone who has been verbally called by Jesus. So the 11 disciples, and Matthias and Paul are “apostles of Christ.” But there are also others referred to as “apostles of the churches” like Barnabas (Acts 14:4), Silas, Timothy (1 Thessalonians 2:6) and others (Romans 16:7, Philippians 2:25). No apostle who died was replaced (Source 2, p. 1809).
“prophets” – When we think of “prophets” usually its of men in the Old Testament telling the future, which is true but there is a second, broader understanding. It can mean people simply speaking the word of God. Matthew Henry specifically says “prophecy” in Romans is not meant as “the extraordinary gifts of foretelling things” but instead the “ordinary [position ] of preaching the word.” This is interesting because Henry lived in the 17th and early 18th century so this understanding of “prophesy” has been around at least since then (Source 3, NT, p. 584).
“evangelists” – Stott clarifies that since all believers are told by Jesus to share the good news of the gospel when given an opportunity, this must be something different. He says it might be “the gift of evangelistic preaching, or of making the gospel particularly plain and relevant to unbelievers, or of helping timorous people to take the plunge of commitment to Christ, or of effective personal witnessing” (Source 1, p. 163).
“pastors” – The word means “shepherd” and refers to how certain people are called by Jesus to guide the “flock” of Jesus’ “sheep.” Every “pastor” must also be gifted with teaching but not every “teacher” is a “pastor” (see below).
“teachers” – MacArthur says this is having “the ability to interpret, clarify, systematize, and explain God’s truth clearly.” He notes that “pastors must have [this gift] (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:9; cf. 1 Tim. 4:16) but there are “many, mature, qualified laymen” who have the gift of teaching.” What teaching is not: MacArthur notes “teaching” is different “from preaching (prophesy), not in content, but in the unique skill for public proclamation” (Source 2, p. 1717).
So what is the point behind all of these roles? Verse 12 couldn’t be more clear: They are “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” So pastors andprophets and teachers might look like the center of attention, like they are the spokespeople for Christianity, but their job is actually to be training others to go out and share the good news of Jesus with others. In some cases they are treated as celebrities instead of humble people pouring their lives in to other Christians. For application to your lives: if you don’t have a solid Christian mentor then you need to find one. Make sure they are “edifying of the body of Christ” instead of trying to see how many people are watching them. Make sure they have been taught discernment from the Lord instead of false humility. Make sure they teach from the Bible instead of a lot of applicable and humorous stories from their life. Make sure they have been broken by God instead of breaking promises.
vv. 13-14. There are 3 things that Paul tells us the Church needs to grow in: 1. “unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son of God”, 2. “to a perfect man”, 3. “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” It appears that these aren’t things that we will reach in heaven but Jesus’ plan is to have Christians achieve this corporately here on earth. The “unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son of God” is a basic maturing between believers. This doesn’t just mean that one individual has knowledge and faith in Jesus and leads others, instead it means that all believers in a community are building each other to this level (of course with Jesus’ help). The second one – “a perfect man” doesn’t refer to individuals (obviously by the context of unity in the church) but means“the church is represented as a single organism, the body of Christ, and is to grow up into adult stature.” Paul calls it “one new man” (in2:15) (Source 1, p. 170). Lastly “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” is “the fullness which Christ himself possesses and bestows” on Christians. So although the maturity of the Church does in some ways depend on individuals maturing (as we’ll see in verse 14), it should be considered a communal concept.
If we mature then we are doing Jesus’ will but if we don’t do that what will we look like? Like immature children. What is the analogy? That immature children are like little boats being blown where they don’t want to go when the storms of life and spiritual difficulties hit. Stott explains it well: “they never seem to know their own mind or come to settled convictions. Instead, their opinions tend to be those of the last preacher they heard or the last book they read, and they fall and easy prey to each new theological fad” (Source 1, p. 170).
vv. 15-16. So instead of being like little kids without a steady foundation in the Bible what does the mature Christian look like? It starts with “speaking the truth in love.” Many of us have the ability to speak the truth but do we do it “in love”? Usually not. Our church had a men’s retreat this weekend and one of the guys talked about the word “prudence.” It means to have wisdom to discern whether to act or say something when thinking about how it could affect the future. Your wife might have done something wrong and you can correct her truthfully, even with biblical grounds but it might not be the right time. It might not benefit anything. So when we are mature believers we have self-control enough to benefit the whole Church. We will grow into Jesus’ way, since He has joined us and “knit[us]together”. Other believers can annoy us and require a lot of work. Verse 15 starts with “love” and verse 16 ends with “love.” It’s no surprise that in order to have Christian unity it will require us to have self-control in “love.”
Conclusion. Paul has given us encouragement on how to become mature Christians. To have leaders who are humble yet trustworthy is important. To have unity is necessary. To have “love” is foundational.
Source 1: John R.W. Stott, The Message of Ephesians, 1979.
Source 2: John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, 1997.
Source 3: Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, 1960