Two weeks ago, we examined how we are united as a church through Christ. Because of Jesus, the church has been called to follow the same Lord through the same Spirit, and we are called to love each other and act as Christ acts toward us. We are united in core beliefs, values and doctrine, and strive for a common goal: the glory of God by spreading the gospel so others may come to know Him through Christ.
However, the church is not uniform. We do not all look the same. We do not look the same physically, of course, but in this next section of chapter 4, Paul makes it clear we do not all look the same spiritually, in a sense, either.
All believers are forgiven, beloved, children of God. All believers have the Holy Spirit, and all believers are called to obey the Great Commission and edify the church. But we do not all have the same gifts to achieve that goal.
“But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, ‘When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.’ (In saying, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)”–Ephesians 4:7-10
Paul breaks from his talk about being “one” in Christ, to say, “But grace was given…according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” Paul says: While we are one in Christ, we each have been given a gift of grace in different measure from Christ. This cannot be saving grace, because no Christian is more justified before God than any other Christian. However, each Christian has a different “gift” from God. In other biblical passages, these “gifts” are shown to be spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12; Rom. 12:3-8).
Jesus gives His people spiritual gifts to glorify God, share the gospel and edify the church. He has power to do this because He won victory over this world, sin, death and Satan. Paul explains this in verses 8-10. Paul quotes Psalm 68:18, where the king “receives gifts” from the people, even the rebellious, after he wins victory. Paul uses this in reference to Christ, who brings the kingdom of God to Earth and wins victory over the false kingdoms of sin and Satan. Jesus, in His incarnation (“descended into the lower regions, the earth”), in His ministry, in His death, in His resurrection, and in His ascension, won victory over all things.
Because of His victory over sin and death on the cross and in the resurrection, when He ascended into heaven, Christ was able to equip His people with gifts of His kingdom, so they could continue to advance it here. These gifts include evangelism, preaching, teaching, prophecy, etc.
What a statement about spiritual gifts! They are far more than resume builders and things to commit to “when we have time.” They are blood-bought gifts from the King! And He is honored when we treat them as such and use them.
How do we learn to use our gifts and grow in Christlikeness? Paul discusses leaders, given by God, in the next few passage:
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 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..”–4:11-13
Here, Paul zeroes in on leaders in the church. He says these leaders “equip the saints for the work of ministry.” Teachers teach Christians how to share the gospel, as shepherds teach others to use their generosity, or zeal, in evangelism and in caring for the sick and poor. Prophets bring timely words from God, consistent with His Word, that challenge His church to be all she is called to be. Though the office of apostle is no longer active, the idea of a leader, a pastor, still remains. This person is one who serves the church by leading the church on mission, preaches God’s Word, conducts the ministries of the church, etc.
Leaders also play a pivotal role in discipleship: The body of Christ is built up when leaders are leading others to more and more Christlikeness. The measure of how far we’ve come is Jesus. Our goal is to be like Jesus in our ministry and in our personal lives and churches.
Therefore, leaders are servants. They are not about themselves, but about others. This follows the pattern of Jesus, who “came to serve, not be served.” Leaders should exemplify Christlikeness in their holiness and ministry.
“…so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”–4:13-16
Serving God and growing into Christlikeness is serious business. If we do not pursue Jesus, we will slowly but surely walk away from Jesus. Leaders are needed who will devote their lives to helping others grow into mature Christians.
Would you leave an infant on a park bench? Of course not! That infant would die if you didn’t do something. That’s why parents raise their children, because the work isn’t done when a baby is born.
The same principle applies to discipleship: new Christians, immature Christians, will leave Jesus if someone doesn’t invest in their lives and help them grow into Christlikeness. As John Piper has said, sanctification is a community project.
We do this by speaking the truth to each other in love. We speak the truth, but we do so, not from pride or unrighteous anger, but out of genuine love for someone, with a heart motivated by the gospel and concern for both God’s glory and our brothers and sisters in Christ.
When this happens, when the church is serving Christ faithfully and helping others grow in Him, the entire church benefits. The entire church grows in love for God and others.
God has equipped the church. He has equipped leaders with grace to equip saints, who have been equipped by His grace with spiritual gifts, all to advance the gospel, to teach God’s Word, to make disciples, and to build His kingdom here on Earth. The question for us is whether or not we are going to use what He’s given us.
Lord, may we use the grace you give us to serve you. May we never take for granted the gifts you’ve given us, and may we use them to build your kingdom by making disciples and growing in Christlikeness.