Members of my mom's family ran a total of 127 km a week ago Saturday. How do you run 127 km in one day? Well it wasn't one person doing it. In fact, 6 different people were involved. When each person does part of it, then it is possible.
Ephesians 4:1 tells us to lead a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called." God has supplied us with forgiveness, a relationship to Him, the promise of eternal life, the presence of His Spirit and so many blessings. Since that is what we have been received we must live in a way that is worthy of that call. But we all know that it is not that easy to do so. How do we do it? When we think about all that we have received, we must not only live worthy of that call, but we also need to let others know about all that God has done for us. That also is a task that is very large. How can we do it?
The answer to these questions is found in Ephesians 4:7-16. God has provided a way and as we will see, it involves each one of us doing a part of the work
Ephesians 4:7 says that each of us was given "grace according to the measure of Christ's gift." Where did that gift come from? How did it come to us?
In Ephesians 4:8, Paul quoted Psalm 68:18. Psalm 68 is a hymn of praise to God who is a victorious warrior. The language of the hymn comes from the language of victory in battle. The king has gone up and gained a great victory. He has won over all his enemies and has taken captives. The people he has triumphed over give him gifts in tribute because of His victory. In this Psalm God is celebrated as such a victor. He has triumphed on behalf of His people and those he has triumphed over give him gifts to acknowledge His victory.
Paul uses the quote from Psalm 68 to speak about the victory which Christ has won over His enemies. How did Jesus' gain the victory? He descended into this world as a human being. He died on the cross and by dying he "made captivity captive." Jesus won the victory over sin. He has taken that which held us captive – sin and death – and has made it his captive. It no longer has power over us. Having been raised from the dead in victory, Jesus ascended into heaven and is now sitting there as the one who has triumphed over all things. Jesus is the complete victor who "fills all things."
Paul goes on to say that having gained this complete victory, Jesus "gave gifts to his people." This is where the Psalm and Paul's use of it are quite different. The Psalm says he received gifts. Paul seems to have no difficulty changing that to say that he gave gifts because that is what Jesus did.
The meaning of all this is quite plain. Jesus came into this world. As a human being he triumphed over sin and death. Having ascended into heaven and having taken His place as the supreme ruler over all, He has distributed gifts to people in order to help them live in and expand the victory He has gained. Christ has given the church the gifts to do what He wants them to do. Christ has equipped us to accomplish His work…of walking worthily and of proclaiming the gospel. It is out of the victory of the ascended Christ that we do the work God has given us to do and to accomplish the things which God has left us on earth to do. Wood says, "…none other than this exalted Lord is the one who has endowed his church with gifts-by-grace, so that it may indeed be his body in the world…"
So we see that God has provided the means of accomplishing the great goals of walking worthily and of making the gospel known. What are the gifts that God has given and how do they function in the church?
Following verse 7, we would expect that Paul would begin to list some of the gifts which God has given to all the people in the church. This is the kind of list we have in 1 Corinthians 12:7ff, where we read, "To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." That statement is followed by a list of spiritual gifts. We expect the same thing to happen in this passage, but instead Paul gives a list of spiritual leaders. Specifically he names, "apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers." He says, "each of us was given grace" but clearly not each of us is one of the gifts listed here. What he is saying is that leaders are a gift to the church. Each of these spiritual leaders has a unique role to play in the work of the church.
Most commentators agree that there are four gifts listed here. The first gift is that of being an apostle. I do not believe that apostleship is limited to the 12 plus Paul. I believe that the gift of being an apostle is still active today. I believe that the gift of being an apostle is the God given ability to give leadership in directing the work of God. It refers to people like who have vision and the ability to lead the church in its mission. I believe it refers to people like Randy Friesen who directs the work of MB Missions.
Prophets are those who have a particular ability to understand the truth of God and to hear from God. About 3 or 4 years before a time of particularly active growth in Westside Community Church in Morden, a prophet spoke a word to the pastor to indicate that such a time was coming. There are some people whom God gives the ability to hear from Him and to speak into the life of the church with a word from Him.
Evangelists are those who have a God given ability to proclaim the good news. All of us are called to make Jesus known, but some people have ability beyond what is normal to understand the right time and the right way to speak the gospel.
The final gift is communicated as a pair. Most commentators agree that pastors and teachers is one gift. It is probably the gift we are most familiar with referring to those whom God has given ability to shepherd a congregation.
It would probably be easy for us to identify who the pastors/teachers in our congregation are. Perhaps we could even identify some who have the gift of evangelism. But who are the prophets and who are the apostles? I believe that all of these gifts are necessary for the healthy functioning of the church. We need people to give visionary leadership, we need people to speak God's direction, we need people to lead in proclaiming the gospel and we need those who teach and shepherd the people.
These are the gifts God has given to the church, however, we need to take careful note that they are not called to do the work of the church. The text is very clear that the role of these leaders is, as we read in verse 12, "to equip the saints for the work of ministry."
Each of the different leadership gifts is intended to mobilize us and each in a different way. The job of apostles is to mobilize us to have a vision and follow that vision. It is up to each member to affirm that vision and begin to serve in it. It is up to the prophets to indicate to us the direction God is showing us. It is up to us to work in the revealed direction. It is the task of evangelists to teach us how to get into the lives of people who don't know Jesus, to love them and to speak the gospel into their lives. It is up to us to get into the lives of people who don't know Jesus, to love them and to speak the gospel to them. It is up to pastors to teach us the truth of God and how to care for one another, but it is up to each of us to live by the truth and to do the work of caring for one another.
As leaders mobilize the church, this Scripture is clear that each person who is a follower of Jesus must be engaged in some way in the work of ministry.
Ephesians 4:7 tells us that each of us has been given grace, or a grace gift from Christ. We must take the phrase, "each of us" very seriously. I Corinthians 12 says the same thing so we understand that this is the consistent teaching of Scripture. God has supplied each one who is a member of His body with some ability, some gift to do His work. A gift may be a talent, but if it is, it has a unique direction and that is to accomplish God's work. The gift we have each been given enables us to accomplish things for the kingdom of God. If we say that we do not have a gift, we make God a liar because He says that each one has a gift. It is up to us to discover what that gift is and to use it. The best way I know how to discover our gift is to begin to serve God and to listen. If we discover that we are able to have a unique impact in a particular area, then we have probably found our gift. What is the gift God has given you?
We also see that we need to be active in using our gift. The text says, in verse 12, that we must do the "work of ministry." If that is the case, the question becomes, are we doing it? How are we using the gifts God has given? Our first responsibility is that we need to have a servant mentality. As we offer ourselves in service to the Lord, we will soon discover the work that God has for us to do. If we don't offer ourselves as His servants, we demonstrate ingratitude for all that He has done for us.
When each of us does the work God has given us to do, then the church works properly. This is the message of Ephesians 4:16. There we are told that the growth of the body of Christ happens "as each part is working properly." In other words, when we contribute to God's work with the gift He has given us and we are active in the work of ministry, the kingdom of God grows and is built up.
I thought about this on Wednesday when we started the Drive Through Prayer ministry of this church. The only ones who showed up in the morning were Carla and myself. Now if the entire Drive Through Prayer Ministry was just us doing it, there would be something wrong. It is my task to equip you to do the work. I will do everything I know to teach you to pray, I will encourage you to pray, I will even join you in prayer, but I will not sit there alone each week and do the praying. Fortunately that is not how it is. Peggy has taken great leadership in Drive Through Prayer and in the afternoon on Wednesday Carla and I were not there and others were. That is how it should be.
As we reflect on these things, it leaves us with important questions. Do I have a servant attitude? Am I aware of how God wants me to serve Him? Am I engaged in the work of ministry to which God has called me? If we take the words "each one" and "work of ministry" and "each part is working properly" seriously then we have to conclude that if we are not engaged in the service to which God has called us, the body is not functioning as it should. Calvin said, “If we want to be considered members of Christ, let no man be anything for himself, but let us all be whatever we are for the benefit of each other.”
A number of years ago Dave Wiebe who used to be MB Conference Christian Education Director was involved in a project to define the goals of our Christian Education programs in the church. He developed a list of the outcomes we look for in our programs which would indicate that we are effectively training our children and young people. The premise of the program was to ask, "How do we know when we have made a disciple?"
Jesus' final command to his followers in Matthew was that we are to make disciples of all nations. What does it look like when we have made a disciple? What is the goal towards which the use of our gifts is directed? Ephesians 4:13-16 helps us answer those questions. These verses help us understand what the outcomes will be if we are using the gifts God has given.
The first thing is that we will come to "the unity of the faith." Because of the mention of doctrine in the next verse I understand "faith," in this context, to refer to the body of truth that is God's truth. Our understanding of truth grows as teachers teach us and as we speak to one another to learn what God's truth means for our lives and how we are to live by that truth. The Bible warns us and we know from experience that there is a lot of untruth out there. Some of it looks very close to God's truth, but is not, it is deception by the enemy. If we are not careful to learn God's truth together, we will be in danger of being drawn in to every kind of deception that the deceiver can throw at us. Neufeld says, "…notice that vulnerability to deceit and false teaching is something all share—so that we might no longer be infants…There must be "a frank recognition that such vulnerability marks the life of all believers who have not yet arrived fully at Christ."
When the church is functioning as it should, it will develop a solid foundation of faith in the truth of God and a unity about that truth. As we use our gifts that is where we aim. So the question is, "How are you using your gift to help the church come to a unity of the faith?"
Sound doctrine is one mark of maturity. Another mark of maturity is knowledge of Jesus Christ. The text says, "until all of us come to…the knowledge of the Son of God." As we use the gifts God has given us, we will be filled with the knowledge of God's truth and also the knowledge of God's Son.
We will understand what Jesus did. Jesus is identified as our model and the better we understand what Jesus did, the more we will know how to follow Him.
Critical as a foundation for every one of us is the knowledge of what Jesus thinks of us. An immature believer is often unaware that Jesus loves them. Even though we learn to sing, "Jesus loves me" at a young age, the reality of that knowledge often does not penetrate into our heart until later. Knowing that we are loved by God is a sign of maturity and allows us to live in freedom and holiness because we know that we are accepted. If we do not know that we are loved, we will continue to look for love in all the wrong places. So we need to help each other grow in the knowledge that we are loved.
Another aspect of maturity is the understanding that Jesus is continuing to do His work. Luke is the story of what Jesus began to do as it says in Acts 1. The implication of that is that Acts is about what Jesus continued to do and the story of God's work continues today telling what Jesus is doing today. As we mature, we will appreciate and grow in our understanding of what Jesus is still doing.
If knowledge of Jesus is the goal to which we are headed, we need to ask ourselves, "How am I using my gift to help people know more about Jesus?"
Growth progresses from a knowledge of true doctrine to a knowledge of Jesus and it becomes fully mature as we grow into, "the measure of the full stature of Christ."
Ephesians 4:15 presents an interesting perspective. It speaks about growing "up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ." The language of growing up into the head is unusual language. When a child grows, the whole body grows at once. At birth the head of the baby is proportionally larger than the body and the body almost seems to grow from the head. Yet this statement says that the body is to grow up in every way into the head. Although puzzling imagery, the point is very clear. Maturity is measured as complete not only when we know the truth about God, which is important. It is not even complete when we come to know about Jesus and all that He does. Maturity is complete when we become like Him. Neufeld says, "When placed alongside each other, verses 12, 15, and 16 produce an almost absurd but illuminating picture: The body is to arrive at its head. It is to grow into the head to which it is already connected and by which it is defined. And it is to grow into the head from which it receives its growth."
In the context of community, as each member of the community of faith contributes the gifts that God has given them, we all become more and more like Jesus. The key practices which will allow us to grow up in this way are "speaking the truth" and "love." If we only proclaim truth we become legalistic or Pharisaic. If we only have love, we are without a foundation. Jesus is our example of the one who both spoke truth and did so in love. May we use the gifts God has given us, as we speak the truth about Him in love, lead us all to become like Jesus.
How are you using your gifts to help others become more like Jesus?
If you are just warming a pew – what gaps are you creating? If you are serving in an area where you are not gifted, is effective work happening? If you need to be equipped in a particular area, how could the leaders better equip you? If you are letting leaders do the work, what are you missing out on and how much work is left undone because no leader can do everything?
John Maxwell uses football imagery. He reminds us that at a football game coaches coach and players play the position they have been given but most of the people are in the stands watching. He suggests that that is not good imagery for the church. In the church, coaches must coach but everyone plays. There are no spectators. Are you in the game?