We’re continuing this week in Ephesians 4, verses 1-16, now looking at verses 7-16, where Paul discusses the diversity of gifts given by Christ to the church, “so that … we [may] grow up in every way into Him Who is the Head, into Christ” (4.14-15). Verses 7-16 fit together as a unit, but are also an obvious part of the wider passage of verses 1-16, with Paul moving from “the unity of the Spirit” to a diversity of gifts, but that very diversity given as a means to bind the body together in Christ.
There are two primary movements in these verses. To begin, in verses 7-10 Paul refers to Psalm 68, saying,
Therefore it says, “When He ascended on high, He led a host of captives and He gave gifts to men.”
which Paul goes on to explain in verses 9-10. Paul says that Psalm 68, a “Psalm of David” which celebrates God’s “continued care and protection for Israel” [ESV Study Bible, Crossway Bibles, p.1017], points forward to and finds its fuller meaning in Christ Jesus. In Psalm 68, verses 15-18 may refer to God’s appearing to Moses on Mount Sinai, and there giving him the Mosaic Law, and specifically the 10 Commandments. But the “mountain of God” may also refer to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The LORD God led “a host of captives” out of exile in Egypt, “even … the rebellious” and the He “dwells” among His people wherever they are, but has made His presence known particularly at Mount Sinai and on the Temple Mount.
Paul’s explanation in verses 9-10 emphatically links the Psalm to Christ. He is the One who “descended into the lower regions, the earth” and “ascended far above the heavens,” which are the ways in which Paul describes the heavens and the earth throughout Ephesians. The “heavenly places” are not only where our “spiritual blessings” await us, but also the realm in which the “spiritual forces of evil” (6:9), and “the prince of the power of the air” (2:2) are at work. Christ is now “seated … at [God the Father’s] right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion” (1:20-21). Here Paul says that Christ is now “far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things” (v.10).
There is a perplexing change though, from Psalm 68 as written to the verse as quoted by Paul in Ephesians 4. Whereas in the Psalm itself, it says that God “receiv[ed] gifts among men,” Paul writes that Jesus Christ, in His fulfillment of Psalm 68, “gave gifts to men.” The resolution and the connection is found in two concepts. First that the victor, the conquering King, gathers the spoils from the defeated enemy and distributes them to His people. Even in the Exodus from Egypt, God enabled the Children of Israel to “plunder” the Egyptians (Ex 3:22; 12:35; 32:4), which was later used, both to fashion the golden calf in their rebellion, but also to cover the arc and the altar and the various furnishings for the Tabernacle. In the context of the “gifts,” the “grace … give to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift” that Paul is about to describe in verses 11-16, the reference to Psalm 68 recalls the Levites, whom God claimed for Himself. In Numbers 18, verse 6, God says to Aaron:
6 And behold, I have taken your brothers the Levites from among the people of Israel. They are a gift to you, given to the LORD, to do the service of the tent of meeting.
In the same way that God claimed the Levites, that He “received” them as “gifts,” they were given by God to the people “to do the service of the tent of meeting.” This is probably reflected in the King James translation of Psalm 68, verse 18, which says, “thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also” [Peter O’Brien, Ephesians, Pillar New Testament Commentary, pp.
What follows in verses 11-16 is Paul’s discussion of the diversity of gifts, given by Christ to the church, for the building up of the church in unity in Him. The passage is full of the imagery of a body growing, maturing, being “built up” together, of every part being important to the healthy functioning of the whole.
We won’t get much further this week, but will focus our attention on verses 11-13, where Paul says that Christ gave these gifts, “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists [and] the pastor-teachers” to His bride, the church, “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” Paul has mentioned the “apostles and prophets” before, at the end of Chapter 2 and in Chapter 3 where he was encouraging the Gentile believers that they are equal part with Jewish believers in the one body, the church. There he said that the “apostles and prophets” are the “foundation” on which the church is built, with “Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone” (2:20-22). In Paul’s time the Apostles were being taken away through martyrdom, but Christ also gave evangelists, as well as “shepherds and teachers” or “pastors and teachers” or “pastor-teachers” to carry on that work of building and guarding the foundations of the church.
The “work of ministry” however, is not theirs alone. Their responsibility, as Paul describes it here, is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry,” and the goal of all of the “work of ministry” is given in verse 13, that:
“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.”
The end goal is “the unity of the faith,” for the GLORY of God.
Beloved saints at Bethel, are you being “equip[ped] for the work of ministry?” Do you know that the purpose of the ministry of “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers” to you, has been for more than that you may “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (3:19), but also that you may be “equip[ped] for the work of ministry?”
Are you engaged? How’s your “walk?” Are you fulfilling the “calling to which you have been called?” In what ways, in your life individually and as part of Bethel, are you bringing all honour and praise and thanksgiving and GLORY to God?
To more easily download or print these notes, please click the link below for a PDF version.
Pastor’s Notes PDF March 19th, 2017