A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned a sermon by Thomas Chalmers. I couldn’t remember the name of the sermon, until…the moment I walked off the stage:). This sermon is about how a growing affection for Jesus, will expel sin from our hearts. This is a sermon that’s great for people like us….who’s hearts are “a factory of idols.” Here’s the link that will lead you a PDF of that sermon: https://tinyurl.com/o5uo34b
Now, on to this past Sunday’s sermon on Ephesians 4:7-16. I’ve got to admit that this sermon was more difficult than others due to the fact that I’m very familiar with this text. And it’s a text that I deeply love because it really does define the work that is cut out for leaders of God’s church. But the other reason for the difficulty is because of the breadth and depth of this text. There are so many nuances and applications to this text that it’s just really hard to put it all in one sermon. But, since we’re trying to get through all 4 letters (Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians) in one year, there’s really no time to stop and pause. I’ll try to do some of that in this edition of musings.
Things I had to leave out with further explanation:
- vs. 8-9: When Paul wrote that Jesus ascended, he also wrote about Jesus descending to the lower regions, the earth. There has been much debate through the years about whether or not this text details that Jesus descended into hell. However, I think that the ESV does a good job of helping us see that this “descending” was not to hell but to earth. In other words, there’s no way Jesus could ascend, if he had not first descended. I thought P.T. O’Brien helped on this when he wrote, “Although this reference to Christ’s descent at his incarnation and death has been regarded as something of a digression to the apostle’s main purpose, it appears to have been made in order to show that the passage from the Psalm had to refer to Christ, since an ascent implies a previous ‘descent’, and Christ is the only one who descended (from heaven) before ascending. On balance, then, the incarnation provides the most obvious reference for the descent. But it needs to be borne in mind that, although the descent has attracted much discussion, Paul’s main focus is on Christ’s ascentin the context of his giving gifts.”
- Now, let’s take on the issue the gifts that Jesus gave when He ascended. As I mentioned in the sermon, I don’t think that the point of this list of gifts is to lock us into a word study, as important as that might be. I think the point of this text is to show us that God has a plan to unite all things under the authority of Jesus and one of those plans is to give gifts of leaders to the church. However, let’s not fail to look into these gifts are little more thoroughly.
- Are these gifts still in operation? Specifically, apostles and prophets. I loved what John Stott wrote about this when he wrote: “Once we have insisted, however, that there are today no apostles of Christ with an authority comparable to that of the apostles Paul, Peter and John, it is certainly possible to argue that there are people with apostolic ministries of a different kind, including episcopal jurisdiction, pioneer missionary work, church planting, itinerant leadership, etc. But, as with apostles so with prophets, having first established the uniqueness of the original teachers of the church, we then have to ask if there is a subsidiary gift of some kind.” I agree with this. As one man put years ago, “let’s leave room for Big ‘A’ Apostles and little ‘a’ apostles.” While there are concerns with this, I think we have to leave room for this in the text, because Paul told us how long these gifts would be in operation, which is found in vs. 13, when he wrote, “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…” To rule out any of these gifts, seems to me to miss the point of the timeframe that Paul mentioned. However, we must realize that there is a unique apostolic and prophetic authority that God gave to men like Paul and Isaiah. If anyone claims to have that type of authority…run for your life!
- How do these gifts function today? Let’s just take each one:
- Apostles seem to be those men who are gifted with unique leadership, have faith for church planting, overseeing many different churches, or have been given a unique grace for pioneering new works. I’ve met like this through the years in the States and in other parts of the world. Men of unique faith and unique grace. All of them are men of unique humility and leadership.
- Prophets seem to be those are gifted by God with the ability to speak unplanned or spontaneous things that seem to be from God. A New Testament prophet was Agabus. He rightly prophesied that Paul would got to Jerusalem and be bound in chains.
- Evangelists are people who have been empowered by God to uniquely preach the gospel and train God’s people for sharing their faith. When I think of evangelists, I think of a story about Charles Spurgeon, the great 19th century English preacher. One time Spurgeon went into a large meeting to test the acoustics in the room before he was scheduled to preach. As he shouted, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” the story goes that the window washer climbed down off his ladder and went to the front of the building and asked Spurgeon, “what must I do to be saved?” Unique power, unique spirit. Evangelists may not have Spurgeon’s “anointing”, but they certainly have a unique faith and grace to share their faith and teach others how to do that.
- Shepherds are pastors who are given the responsibility to care for God’s flock. Primarily they’re given a local flock of people that they are to serve. Pastors like Timothy and Titus are New Testament examples. Their job is to care for God’s people by protecting their people from false doctrine, from wolves and sin. They do this by teaching God’s word, confronting false teachers and sin in the lives of those who claim Christ in their church.
- Teachers are gifted by God to teach God’s word with precision and authority. They are given to the church for the purpose of helping people grow in God’s word and in sound doctrine. And it is true, that the gift of pastor and teacher, could go hand-in-hand. The reason for this is that in the Greek, there is no definite article before teacher, which has led some to believe that that gift is combined with pastor. The other reason is that the qualification for being a pastor or an elder is that he must have the ability to teach.
- vs. 12-“to equip the saints for the work of ministry…” This phrase should really give us pause in the American church. I say this for a few reasons:
- This text tells us what leaders in the church are supposed to be doing. They are supposed to be helping people learn how to do works of ministry.
- This text tells us that every saint is to be involved in the work of ministry. The ministry is not for the “spiritually elite”, it is for every saint.
- Every saint needs equipping. None of us have arrived. We are in need of leaders or others to help us grow in the work of ministry.
- If every saint is involved in the work of ministry, just imagine how many “ministries” there are. The work of ministry that Paul mentioned here, is not bottle-necked on Sunday slots like hospitality team or childcare. Those are areas of ministry, but that’s not what Paul is talking about. He’s talking about everyday ministry of loving our neighbors, friends and others, by demonstrating and declaring the gospel of Jesus. This means, there is no limit to the amount of ministries that the saints are to be doing.
- God has gifted and called each of us to ministry in areas that He has given us faith and grace to do. For some, this is administration, leadership, mercy ministries, and hospitality. For others, it’s nursing, accounting, service areas, or mechanics. God has providentially and sovereignly placed each of us, as His saints, with passions and interests, so that we infiltrate all areas of this world, with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
- Now, one thing about this entire text is that it calls us to be builders, not consumers. Notice how this text is all about leaders, equipping and saints doing works of ministry. And both are working together to build. There does not seem to be anyone who’s worried about personal preferences, style of worship, or other extraneous issues. They are focused on one thing…growing into Christ for the purpose of bringing all things under the authority of Christ. These are builders, not consumers.. Consumers spend their time criticizing their church, not helping to improve it; won’t work for reconciliation or peacemaking with others; and normally find fault with other rather than in humility looking to remove the “plank from their own eye first.”
- My joy in reading this text is that I see so much of this at work at CLF. The amount of people in our church who are builders…is amazing. The amount of equipping leaders is growing. The amount of “work of ministry” that’s going on is inspiring. I cannot thank you enough, CLF!!
- But this texts makes me pray for us because unity is such a fragile gift due to our sin nature. Let’s fight to “maintain unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Let’s each work to play our part in the “work of ministry”, until all things are brought under the authority of Christ.
Quotes that I left out:
- “Paul applies this picture to Christ’s ascension, not arbitrarily because he detected a vague analogy between the two, but justifiably because he saw in the exaltation of Jesus a further fulfilment of this description of the triumph of God. Christ ascended as conqueror to the Father’s right hand, his train of captives being the principalities and powers he had defeated, dethroned and disarmed.” Stott, J. R. W.
- “Having achieved dominion over all the powers through his victorious ascent, he sovereignly distributes gifts to the members of his body. The building of the body is inextricably linked with his intention of filling the universe with his rule, since the church is his instrument in carrying out his purposes for the cosmos.” O’Brien, P. T.
- “Because of the mention of evangelists, pastors, and teachers, many modern commentators have concluded that the apostles and prophets had passed from the scene by the time Ephesians was written and had been replaced by a second generation of ministers. But this conclusion is unnecessary. Evangelists, pastors, and teachers exercised their ministry during the apostles’ time and subsequently, and were no doubt the church workers whom most of the readers had encountered.” O’Brien, P. T.
- “This oneness thus partakes of the tension between the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’: it has been proclaimed as a given fact, but is now presented as the goal of Christian endeavour, a goal which can only be reached by all collectively, and will finally occur at Christ’s coming, when he brings his people to complete maturity.” O’Brien, P. T.
- “Christ is not only the goal of the body’s growth (v. 15); as the head who rules over the body he is the ultimate source (from him) of its growth, for he supplies all that is necessary for its well-being, including its unity, nourishment, and progress. Paul’s focus is on the growth of the body as a whole, not on the need for individuals to become mature in Christ, however necessary this may be.” O’Brien, P. T
- “The body metaphor reflects the ‘already—not yet’ tension of the two ages. It is both complete and yet it grows. It is a heavenly entity and yet it is an earthly reality; and it is both present and future, with a consummation occurring at the parousia.” O’Brien, P. T.
- “the apostle sets before us the picture of a deepening fellowship, an eagerness to maintain visible Christian unity and to recover if it is lost, an active every-member ministry and a steady growth into maturity by holding the truth in love. We need to keep this biblical ideal clearly before us. Only then shall we live a life that is worthy of it.” Stott, J. R. W.
- One of the things that the Lord seems to be saying to our church right now is that it’s important we work together for the purpose of bringing all things under the authority of Jesus. All of us have a part to play in this.
- Further, the Lord seems to be challenging us to actively pursue fellowship and equipping for this purpose. That means that it’s critical that we attend church and realize that regular attendance in the fellowship of believers is a means of God’s grace to us for accomplishing the mission of Christ.
There you go…I hope this is a helpful reminder of where we were on Sunday and gives you some food for thought.
To watch or listen to the sermon described in this post, please click here