Growing in our Gifts
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 4:7 (Holman) Now grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of the Messiah’s gift.
Paul’s emphasis now shifted from similarity to diversity. The Church’s seven-fold unity is not uniformity. Christian unity exists in the midst of infinite variety.
Believers are not identical, cookie-cutter, look-alikes. We are united, unique ones. God never quenches individuality, and does not want us to be boring replicas of each other. God loves variety–a fact verified by even a casual glance at His creation.
This and the following verses tell us how the Church, the world’s most important society, is to function. It is an organism, a unity permeated by one life. It must accomplish God-given tasks. To do this efficiently, the organism needs organization based on gifts, special abilities, God has given “to each one of us”.
Every Christian has a threefold duty. First, we are to retain close fellowship with God. To please Him is ever the essence of our existence. Holiness matters most.
Two, we are to witness to the lost. Many err at this point, saying “I do not have the gift of evangelism.” Evangelism is not a gift given to some; it is an assignment given to all believers on behalf of unbelievers.
Three, we are each given a gift to be used to benefit the Church, to help fellow believers. However feeble or unknown, each believer has received a gift to help all other believers. No boasting is allowed. Our abilities are “gifts” from God. We don’t earn them, or beg for them in prayer. We only give what we are given. All is grace.
We need one another. No believer is an island. An important part of body-life is mutual dependence among its members. Infinitely wise, God boosts unity in the church by making each of us not only helpful to, but also dependent on, the others.
He gives all of us not only gifts, but also various needs. God lets no member be self-sufficient, above needing help from others in the body. By giving all of us needs and gifts, God made us all mutually dependent on each other. Each member needs the others, each member can help the others. All depend, all contribute.
“Measure” means Jesus shows true concern for details in dispensing the gifts. He takes time to mete out the gifts, singling out each of us for unique usefulness.
Jesus Himself takes time to examine our situation. No one receives too much to do, or too little power to achieve. We are all precisely enabled for an assigned task.
To be saved is to be gifted. Our only adequate response to this love is to give what we were given. Since Christ took time to give us a gift, we must take time to exercise it. Anything less dishonors Jesus and harms His beloved bride, the Church.
No Christian is to be a spectator. Often, a local church is like football–22 players on the field desperately in need of rest, 2200 fans in the stands desperately in need of exercise. For the sake of the Church, let us find our place of service, our gift.
Eph. 4:8-10 For it says: When He ascended on high, He took prisoners into captivity; He gave gifts to people. But what does “He ascended” mean except that He descended to the lower parts of the earth? The One who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.
Paul, stating what right Jesus has to give gifts to believers, referenced Psalm 68:18, which honors YHWH as the victorious God of battles, who defeats His enemies, and then ascends His throne in a victory procession. Paul believed this verse prefigured Jesus’ Ascension as a triumphal parade for the conquering Christ.
Jesus took captive those things that had held us captive. His Ascension publicly displayed His conquest of death, sin, the world, demons, and Satan.
In olden days, conquerors rode a triumphal chariot into town, sharing spoils of war by casting prizes to the cheering supporters. Jesus, having vanquished His and the Church’s enemies in battle, received spoils of war to distribute among His people.
In His incarnation, Jesus descended to the earth; in His burial, into the earth. He came down to wrestle our captors in their own foul realm. The Ascension was God’s eternal seal stamped on the victory Christ won in His descent.
The Ascension means the Church is Christ-filled, not Christ-deserted. He did not ascend to leave us. He did not lose the battle and quit the field. It is better for us that He ascended. Due to His physical absence, we better sense the Church, in every member, word, and deed, is filled with Christ. He is active everywhere among us.
Eph. 4:11 And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,
Paul had emphasized “all” (4:6) believers, and each “one” of us (4:7), now he highlighted “some” believers, those who hold leadership offices in the church. The Church is first an organism enlivened by God’s Spirit. To do assigned tasks, this organism functions as an organization that for peak efficiency operates under leaders.
“Apostles,” ones sent forth, were Jesus’ original heralds. “Prophets” worked closely with the apostles (2:20; 3:5). Many people came into Christianity from heathenism before the New Testament was written. As problems arose and decisions had to be made, someone had to speak with authority. Apostles and prophets did this.
The offices of apostle and prophet are closed forever. All believers “are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (2:20). As “foundation,” their work by definition is once done and then completed. The New Testament fulfills their role.
“Evangelists” is not the gift of personal evangelism. All Christians are required to evangelize. This word “Evangelists,” meaning “ones who preach good news,” refers to those who have the extraordinary gift of public speaking to the lost.
Evangelists went from city to city, preaching the good news to the lost. Their office, still open today, carries on the vital task of penetrating a lost and dying world. Many missionaries who infiltrate regions dominated by unbelievers fill this office.
The evangelists preach to the world outside, break new soil, have the missionary spirit, bring the good news. When they rise to speak, their hearts are filled with a fervent love for the lost that helps them speak the gospel freshly and with power.
Philip was an evangelist. The 12 dragged their feet in fulfilling Jesus’ world-wide commission, but Philip went to Samaria, and preached Christ to them (AC 8:5).
The most widely used man of our era, as best we can determine, has been Billy Graham, an evangelist. The name is borne with honor by others also. Where would the Church be without men like Whitefield, Moody, Finney, and Sunday?
“Pastors and teachers”, referring to one office, are often hyphenated as pastor-teacher, thereby accenting a pastor’s ministry of teaching. “Pastors” translates the Greek word for “shepherds,” which in itself implies a particular flock to be tended.
As the only non-itinerant officers listed here, pastors have the day-to-day duty of building up a local church. The pastor is to be a leader who cares, who carries God’s people on his heart. “Shepherd” denotes nurturing. It entails resolute strength and protection of a flock. Pastors are not weaklings, but guardians who fight wolves. They must have the heart of a lamb, and the hide of a rhinoceros.
Barclay calls the pastorate the most important task in the whole church. Pope, prelate, cardinal, vicar–none of these find their job mentioned in Holy Writ, but the humblest pastors of the smallest churches find the name of their office in the Bible.
The pastorate is an honor, but our verse highlights the duty assigned to it. The sheep, ever in danger of infection from a heathen world, must be protected via good teaching. Sound doctrine must be maintained. Teaching is the duty of all pastors. In I Timothy 3:1-7 all qualifications of a pastor deal with character, except “apt to teach.”
All four offices mentioned in this verse highlight the importance of teaching. The main ongoing, in-house, work of the Church is teaching. Nothing is more needed to build up believers. Teaching is a vital part of discipling. This is why we include Bible teaching in our one-on-one discipleship method. We will not love God and each other, pray, or evangelize as we ought for very long without proper teaching.
Teaching is so important to the Church that every believer, even if he or she does not have the spiritual gift of teaching, is expected to do it in some way (Heb. 5:12; MT 28:19-20). Nothing we receive is to be horded. We are to pass it to others; this is true even of knowledge. Intellectual selfishness is disallowed. We all learn; thus we must all teach. If uncomfortable teaching adults, focus on youth or children.