The Grace of God Equips the Church: Ephesians 4:7-16

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.

God bless,

Neal E.

Good Gifts from a Good Father: Matt. 7:7-11

Today, we continue the discussion of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5-7.  There’s just a few posts remaining, and I hope and pray this series has been edifying and uplifting to all who have stuck with me through it.

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.  Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

Jesus commands His disciples to pray.  We’ve already discussed the Lord’s Prayer, and if we look at the life of Jesus, we see a man who, though He was God incarnate, found it absolutely necessary to break away from ministry to spend time with the Father in prayer.  So, needless to say, prayer is vital in the Christian life.

But what do we do in prayer?  Going back to the Lord’s Prayer, we can break it down to three main acts: adoration, petition and confession.  We praise God, ask God, and confess our sin to God.  In this passage, Jesus discusses the second of these acts: petition.

I don’t have children, but I have several years of experience working with children.  Among the many things I’ve learned over the years about children is this: they aren’t shy when they’re trying to get something they want.  “Please, Mr. Neal, can we play that game one more time?”  “Please don’t tell my mom I hit that kid.”  “Please, I really want more (insert favorite unhealthy snack here).”

Kids know what they want, and they’re willing to go to great lengths to get it.  I remember, like any other kid, always asking my mom for candy in the checkout line at the grocery store.  I also remember, like any other kid, the painful word, “No.”

Kids are persistent.  While they sometimes lack respect and understanding, they don’t lack for the persistent attitude Jesus describes here and in other passages (Luke 18:1-8).  Do we have this attitude in prayer?  Asking, knocking, going to the door, expecting that God will answer?  To be sure, we cannot separate this text from the rest of Scripture that commands us to pray according to God’s will (Matt. 6:10; 26:39), and this text should not be used to promote some form of the prosperity gospel that allows us to expect that if we “just have enough faith,” God will richly bless us materially.

However, we ought not run to the other extreme and throw away all forms of petition to God.  Jesus has promised that for those who trust in Him as Lord and Savior, they have now been adopted as children of God and have access to the God of the universe in prayer, and we ought to take advantage of that and ask for good gifts from a good Father.

Let’s marvel at the simple fact that we can, through faith in Christ, even talk to God, much less know Him as our Father who gives us good gifts for His glory and our joy.  We were dead, condemned sinners.  And then, 2,000 years ago, God the Father sent His Son to live perfectly in our place, to die our death on the cross, and to rise again from the grave, defeating death for all who trust in Him.  And in His glorious grace, He has given us faith to respond to the gospel, to turn away from our sin and rebellion, and to trust in Christ as Lord and Savior.  He is making us new and helping us to live out the righteousness we’ve been given.  One day, we’ll be just like Jesus, we’ll worship Him forever, and we will love Him more than we can even imagine right now.  This is the greatest gift God has given: Himself, through Jesus Christ.  If you haven’t received that gift, I urge you to consider Christ, consider what He’s done for you, and trust Him.

Jesus tells the people listening to Him that even though they are evil, they know how to give good gifts to their children.  He uses extreme analogies, such as a son asking for a fish and receiving a serpent.  His point is that while we are totally sinful and unable to save ourselves, God, in His grace, has kept us from being as evil as we could be, and one of the ways we see that is in our ability to give great gifts to our children.  Non-Christians know how to give kick-butt presents, too.  This is God’s common grace, allowing us to retain bits and pieces of the image of God we were created to reflect.

How much more then, He argues, can the Father, who is perfect, give good gifts to His children?  How much more can a good God who has redeemed us, give us what we need in order to love and obey Him?  Jesus encourages His followers to pray, not because it’s a good, religious thing to do, but because praying in faith leads to receiving good gifts from a good Father.  Pray because God longs to give you good gifts.

Praying often comes at a price.  We must quiet ourselves, lay aside everything that would keep us from communion with God, confront our sin and humble ourselves at the cross.  We must recognize that God is God, that we are not, and commit ourselves to Him.  But the reward of knowing God and receiving good gifts from Him far outweighs the price of laying aside all other things to pursue Him.

As stated before, the greatest gift we receive from God is God Himself.  But in our walking with Him in this life, God longs to bless us with good gifts.  Because God is holy, it follows that any gifts God gives will be holy.  That is, praying for God to do something or give something He has ruled unholy would be foolish.  But for those who love God and desire to love Him more and obey Him in faith, there is a world of gifts waiting for us in prayer.

Struggling with sin?  Pray to the Father for a gift of grace to kill sin and grow in holiness, becoming the man or woman God has called you to be in Christ.

Feeling like a failure in ministry, or struggling to understand God’s Word?  Your heavenly Father, who has called you to ministry, will no doubt give grace and strength to accomplish what He’s called you to do.  The author of His Word desires that all should know Him, and we can pray for understanding in faith that our Father will help us know His Word for His glory.

God blesses us with faithful friends, jobs, vacations, financial stability, etc.  God, in His common grace, blesses unbelievers with these things as well, but for the child of God, we see them not as something we’ve earned, but as an amazing gift of grace from our great God and Father, and it leads us to worship.

Take time today to reflect on all the gifts God has already given you.  Thank Him for them, and take time to consider what you need, what you most want God to grant you in your walk with Him.  And pray for it, trusting that your good, perfect, heavenly Father “will give good gifts to those who ask.”

Father, may we marvel that we can even talk to you.  May we not forget the blood of your Son that was spilled for us that we may not only be forgiven, but be adopted as your beloved children.  May we not be ashamed to ask you to give us good gifts, knowing that you long to bless us with all we need.  May we trust that you are a lot smarter than we are, much wiser and much more loving than we are, and trust you to give according to your will.  May you be glorified as we receive good gifts from you, our good and perfect Father.

God bless,

Neal E.