Ephesians 4:11-13

11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
(Ephesians 4:11-13 NIV)

Yesterday we worked our way through a somewhat hard-to-understand section of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, recognizing Christ as the victorious King, having won the battle over death and sin.  In the same tradition as the kings of old, Jesus brought home captives held against their will (anyone who trusts in Jesus as Lord and Savior, like you and me), and gave gifts at His discretion.

The kings of old gave physical gifts like gold, silver, precious stones, livestock, grain, etc.  Jesus gives spiritual gifts as a result of His victory over sin and death.

There are three main passages in the New Testament that deal with spiritual gifts – Ephesians 4, Romans 12, and 1 Corinthians 12.  All three passages are written by Paul as part of letters to churches, and all three passages stress that these gifts are not for the glorification of the individual, but for the edification and building up of the local church, the body of Christ.

Note that each of the lists are slightly different in content, but have the same goal.  We will address the list given in our text today, and let you follow the hyperlinks above and read the other passages on your own.

So what spiritual gifts does Paul address in his letter to the Ephesians?

  • apostles:
    those individuals who were called by Jesus and knew Him personally (face-to-face).  This would be the original 12 disciples, minus Judas Iscariot, plus his replacement Matthias (Acts chapter 1), plus Paul, whom Jesus met face-to-face on the road to Damascus, and later taught one-on-one in the desert.
  • prophets:
    individuals whom Jesus has given the ability to speak forth Divinely inspired messages from God to mankind.  These messages may be about the past, the present, or the future.
  • evangelists:
    individuals whom Jesus has given a supernatural ability to preach the Good News of the Gospel of Christ to those around them.  Jesus gave all of us the responsibility and authority to share the Gospel (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:8), but He supernaturally empowers some with the ability to do so on a broader scale.
  • pastors and teachers:
    individuals whom Jesus has given the ability and responsibility of care and teaching of others in the church.  While this gift is shown here as two words, it is really one gift.  Think of this gift as a shepherd tending a flock of sheep.

So why does Jesus give these gifts?  Verse 12 tells us – to equip His people (His followers, you and me) for works of service to others.

And what is the goal?  Verse 12 again, so that the body of Christ, the local church, as well as all followers of Christ, the larger “church” made up of all followers of Christ, may be built up, be encouraged, be strengthened.

And what is the end result?  Verse 13,  until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.  In other words, until we reach maturity in Christ, and Christ’s work that He gave each of us to do (Ephesians 2:10) is complete.

And what happens when we reach that point of maturity and finish our work for Christ?  We get our promotion from this life to the next.

So until that happens, that implies that we have work to do, and we still have a higher level of maturity in Christ to grow into.

May we work hard, enjoy the journey despite the hardships of this life, and look forward to reaching the goal Christ has for each of us, and our eventual promotion to everlasting life with Him in heaven.

Blessings,
~kevin

Ephesians 4:7-10

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says:

“When he ascended on high,
    he took many captives
    and gave gifts to his people.”

(What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)
(Ephesians 4:7-10 NIV)

Today’s passage is a lot to understand.  By God’s grace, we will walk through Paul’s meaning and application.

First of all, let’s set the context, the background.  In verses 1 through 6 of chapter 4, Paul focuses on the unity of believers in Christ.  Yesterday we looked at the seven “ones”, how we are complete in Christ, lacking nothing.

Starting in verse 7, Paul expands on the idea of unity, and now speaks about diversity within the body of Christ.  Remember, unity does not demand uniformity, where we all look alike, dress alike, act alike, do the same things, etc.

When Paul speaks of diversity, he is not using our modern-day definition of diversity, which focuses on the individual doing whatever they want, with no restrictions, all for the benefit of that individual.  Instead, Paul talks about diversity in terms of individual contributions to the body of Christ, as part of the unity we have in Christ.  It’s not about us, it’s about Him.  Our differing skills, abilities, giftedness, etc. are to be used not for our glory, but for God’s glory, for the purpose of furthering the Gospel and loving others.

Starting in verse 7, we see Paul addressing diversity through God’s administration of His Grace toward us.  First of all, let’s remember that God loves us and has given every one of us His grace.  No one that claims Jesus as Savior and Lord is left out.   We receive His grace when we come to Christ.

Notice that Paul said (verse 7) that Christ apportioned it.  Don’t worry, there is plenty of grace for everyone.  Does that mean that we all get the same amount of grace?  No.  Is that unfair?  Absolutely.  Just as you would not give a 3 year old the same amount of food as a 300 pound football player, so God gives us exactly the amount of grace we need each day.  Some of us need more than others, and God knows that; it’s actually His design.

In verse 8, Paul quotes Psalm 68.  So why does Paul quote this psalm when talking about unity and diversity?

Psalm 68 talks about a king coming back victorious from war.  The king of Israel would come back a hero, leading his troops in a glorious procession.  They would go up on Mount Zion, the “holy hill”, and give thanks to God for the victory.

As part of the procession, the king would also bring back the spoils of war, and distribute the spoils as gifts as he saw fit to do so.  The king also brought back two groups of people – captives, foreigners who would be made into servants for the Israelites, and Jewish people who had been held captive in the foreign land, and were now free.

The word picture that Paul is painting for us is that Jesus is the King, He has already won the victory over sin and death, and now distributes His grace just as the Old Testament king would distribute the spoils of war.  Grace is one of the many signs of Christ’s victory.

And what about the two groups of people brought back from the war?  How do hey tie in to this story?  Just as the king would bring back Jewish people imprisoned in the foreign land, Jesus brought us back from the prison of sin and separation from God.  We are free to live in Him, forever thankful for what He did for us that we could not do for ourselves.  And the prisoners brought back from the war?  Sin and death (eternal death, separated from God) are now captives of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection.

In verses 9 and 10, Paul jumps on a short parenthetical rabbit trail to tie the Old and New Testaments together, to build a “bridge” in their understanding from before Christ to after Christ.

Before Christ died and rose again, when people died, they did not go directly to heaven.  They went to a place called Sheol, because Messiah (Jesus) had not yet died for their sins.  Sheol is not hell, like some have said; however, Sheol did have two parts.  Followers of God would go to the pleasant or righteous part of Sheol, awaiting the coming of Messiah.  Those who did not follow God would go to the unpleasant part of Sheol, awaiting their fate.  Followers of God were like the Jewish prisoners being held captive in the foreign land, and those who did not follow God were like those who were led back to Israel as captives, to serve the nation of Israel.

Paul’s point is that through Christ’s death and resurrection, He led His followers (from the good part of Sheol) to heaven, and sentenced those in the bad part of Sheol to eternal separation from Himself.  Paul likely threw that in to preclude a bunch of questions about what happened to those in Sheol now that Christ was resurrected. Paul knew that bringing up Psalm 68 would prompt that discussion.

A lot to digest today!  My prayer is that we would seek to live in the unity that God gives us, while using the diversity of grace that God gives to each one of us for His glory, not our own.  We’ll take a look at some specific examples of those gifts of God’s grace tomorrow.

Blessings,
~kevin

Ephesians 4:4-6

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
(Ephesians 4:4-6 NIV)

The Apostle Paul continues on with his theme of unity in Christ, culminating with today’s verses.

One of the local news stations has “weather on the nines”, where they report out the weather on every minute increment that ends in 9 (:09, :19, :29, you get the picture).

Today, as we look at these three verses, we see God doing “life on the ones”.

Paul stresses the importance of unity in Christ:

  • One body
  • One Spirit
  • One hope
  • One Lord
  • One faith
  • One baptism
  • One God and Father of all

Notice that there are seven “ones” listed here.  Why seven?  Paul knew his audience, and knew that they knew that seven was often associated with completeness and perfection in Scriptures (creation in seven days, seven days in a week, etc).  Paul’s point of using seven “ones” is to show that we are complete in Christ.  There is no need to have any divisions among ourselves, as we have unity in Christ.

Paul addresses this same topic with the Corinthian church:

10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
(1 Corinthians 1:10-17 NIV)

The point of sharing all this is not to have a warm and fuzzy feeling, and everyone sit around and hold hands and feel good about God or about ourselves, or for those of us who claim to follow Christ, to “just get along with each other”.

The point of unity is about being on the same team, honoring and serving the Lord together.  Life is not all about us; it’s all about Him.  How quickly we forget that sometimes, and seek to differentiate ourselves from other believers.

So how do we achieve unity?  It starts with us, individually, humbling ourselves before the Lord and before each other.  Humility leads to gentleness, gentleness leads to patience, patience leads to forbearance, and forbearance to love (verse 2)

John Wesley, one of the great preachers of the 1700’s, was concerned about the rise of denominations in the church.  Wesley tells of a dream he had. In the dream, he was ushered to the gates of Hell. There he asked, “Are there any Presbyterians here?” “Yes!”, came the answer. Then he asked, “Are there any Baptists? Any Episcopalians? Any Methodists?” The answer was Yes! each time. Much distressed, Wesley was then ushered to the gates of Heaven. There he asked the same question, and the answer was No! “No?” To this, Wesley asked, “Who then is inside?” The answer came back, “There are only Christians here.”

May we not put anyone or anything ahead of or in a place of higher importance than Christ.  God has created unity through the Holy Spirit; let us strive to keep that unity in Christ, focusing on what we have together in Him.  Unity is one of the distinctions of our faith, and what many who do not follow Christ look for and admire.  If we don’t have unity in Christ, we are no different than any other human institution, and offer no reason for others to seek Him.

Blessings,
~kevin

Ephesians 4:3

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
(Ephesians 4:3 NIV)

The Apostle Paul, starting in chapter 4, has switched gears, going from doctrine and theology in chapters 1 through 3, to now taking about our walk with Christ and each other in chapters 4 through 6.

Here’s what Paul has said so far:

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

In verses 1 and 2, Paul says we have a calling, we have a destiny, and that calling is from Christ, to Christ, and in Christ.

As we discovered yesterday, the important point is to “be” before we “do”.  Character development begins on the inside of us, with our heart, soul, and spirit.  Whatever is on the inside of us, the “be” inside us, then manifests itself outwardly in our “do”.

And what are those “be” qualities?  Paul says to “be humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”

Paul moves on today, to address a key point of our calling in Christ:  unity.

And how do we obtain unity?  Paul just laid out the steps in verse 2: it starts with humility on our part, which leads to gentleness toward others, then patience, then forbearance toward others, all done in unconditional, self-sacrificing love.

So what does Paul mean by “unity”?  This simply means to be of one mind, to be in agreement.  Paul is not saying uniformity, where we all have to look the same, act the same, do the same things, say the same things, like robots following their leader.  Instead, Paul is telling us to have the same purpose, to be in agreement for our purpose and calling, to serve our Lord, Jesus Christ.  In fact, Paul, in his letter to the church in Rome, tells them that diversity is needed in the church to help it function as God intended (Romans chapter 12).  That’s a whole different study.

Let’s get back to the subject at hand – unity.  Notice that Paul says to “keep” the unity of the Spirit.  he did not say to go find it, or to create it, but to keep it.  That implies that we, as followers of Christ, must already have it.  And that is exactly what Paul said:  “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit…”

God, through His Holy Spirit, has given us unity; He has made us one in Christ.  Paul explains it well:

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
(1 Corinthians 12:12-13 NIV, emphasis mine)

So how do we keep this unity the Spirit has established?  Do we form a committee?  Do we buy everyone the same t-shirt to wear?   Do we all join the same denomination, or try to get our denominations to agree and work together?  Do we sit around, hold hands, and sing “kum ba yah”?  No to all these things.  John MacArthur, speaking about this passage and the topic of unity in particular, clearly and succinctly states that unity is “not organizational, and it’s not ecumenical, it is personal and it is spiritual.” (from his Ephesians 4 sermon).

Paul tells us how to keep the unity of the Spirit – it’s through the bond of peace.  The “bond” Paul mentions is like the “belt” – it holds everything together.  It’s not peace by force or might, but peace through humility, gentleness, forbearance, and love.  Easy to say, hard to live, especially when people irritate us and get in our face.

In a similar instruction to the Roman church, Paul tells us how to practically live out this peace as the love of Christ permeates every part of our life, even in the hard stuff of life (Romans 12:9-21).

May each of us practice keeping the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace with other Christ-followers today.  This is the distinctive, the difference that separates Christianity from all other institutions – that we love and serve one another in humility, in the unity of God’s Spirit.  Jesus said it best:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
(John 13:34-35 NIV, emphasis mine)

Blessings,
~kevin

Ephesians 4:2

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
(Ephesians 4:2 NIV)

In the second half of Ephesians, starting in chapter 4, Paul moves his focus from doctrine to duty, from theology to practice.

In verse 1, Paul began with “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”  As we looked back through chapters 1 through 3, we saw the incredible nature of that calling – that God planned it from eternity past, through eternity future, to be one family under God, in Christ, with redemption (salvation) made possible through the blood of Christ shed for us on the cross.

For the next few verses, Paul begins unpacking what it means to live a life worthy of our calling.  Today’s verse delivers a lot of punch with a very few words.  Let’s take a look.

Surprisingly, the first thing Paul tells us is to “be” something.  We would more likely think that he would tell us to “do” something, to take action.  Instead, Paul says that we are to work on our character qualities:

  • Completely humble:
    Being completely humble means to have lowliness of mind toward ourselves, not prideful or arrogant.
    C.S. Lewis said it best:  “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”
    (quote from his book, Mere Christianity)
  • Gentle:
    Being gentle indicates a condition of the mind and heart that is reflected outwardly through our words and actions.  This must not be confused with being weak; actually, it’s quite the opposite – it’s all our power brought under control and used in the loving care of others.
  • Patient:
    The Greek word Paul uses here (mä-kro-thü-mē’-ä) means to be long-suffering.  One scholar (Thayer) best describes this word as “self-restraint which does not hastily retaliate a wrong”.  This is the opposite of wrath or revenge.
  • Bearing with one another:
    Another term that is sometimes used is forbearance, or enduring.  This is a verb, an action, something we do to or for ourselves.  Paul says that we are to endure whatever is going on in our lives, the same as everyone else who is enduring what is going on in their lives.  And we do this enduring, not as isolated individuals, but as a group, to support one another.
  • In love:
    Paul uses the Greek word agape (ä-gä’-pā) here, indicating selfless, unconditional love.  This is the same type of love that Jesus had toward us when He gave up His life for ours on the cross.

The point of today’s thoughts are not to give a grammar or vocabulary lesson, but rather, to see how Paul’s thoughts are knit together into an attitude or heart characteristic for others.  Truly, this must start with our attitudes, with what’s going on inside of us; that is why Paul starts with “Be” instead of “Do”.  Our “why” must be right before we concern ourselves with the “what”, “how”, and “when”.  The “who” is universal when our attitude is right before the Lord.

May we take Paul’s short, but compact thoughts to heart, and focus on the “why” and the “be” part.  When we get those right, the rest falls into place as the Lord opens doors of opportunity for us to minister to one another.

Blessings,
~kevin

Ephesians 4:1

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.
(Ephesians 4:1 NIV)

Today we begin the second half of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.  In the first three chapters, Paul focused on doctrine; in the second half, he focuses on practice.

Paul recognized that to follow Christ is not just to know about Him, but to commit our lives to Him, and to obey His commands.

Let’s use sailing a boat as an example.  We can know every term, identify every piece of gear and what it’s used for, and even lay out a route to take a trip.  But if we never untie the boat from the dock, leave the safety of the harbor, and go out into the open water, we will not have had the experience of sailing, or be able to call ourselves sailors.

And so it is in our walk with Christ.  Paul says that if we want to call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ, then we must live our lives in such a way that reflects the One we follow.

Paul begins by identifying himself as a “prisoner of the Lord”.  Paul refers to his current situation, of being in prison, but not just a detainee, waiting until his trial, but rather, redeeming the time for God’s glory.

Do you feel you are in God’s waiting room?  Do you feel like God has been delayed, or possibly forgotten you, because it is taking so long to hear from Him?

Those are all common feelings that many people have experienced over time.  God is always at work, but He does not always show His hand while he is working behind the scenes.  He is God; He does not have to.

If we trust God, and believe that He loves us, then we are free to redeem our time, even in God’s waiting room, or in God’s desert, alone and by ourselves.  It’s our time to heal, to think, to worship, to study, to discover how great our God is, to converse with Him about whatever is on our hearts.

Paul reminds us that we are called by God to serve Him.  He has a purpose for our lives, and calls us to live into the fullness of who He created us to be.  This greatness, this calling, is not measured as the world measures greatness, but as God measures it.  Greatness, as God measures it, is achieved in relationship to Him, through Jesus Christ.

May we use our time wisely and intentionally, learning to walk with the Lord and enjoy His company and joy through the ups and downs of life, through the glad times and tough times, no matter our circumstances.

His calling is truly a life worth living, the only way which brings hope and meaning for eternity.

Blessings,
~kevin

Ephesians 3:20-21

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
(Ephesians 3:20-21 NIV)

Today, we take a look at the Apostle Paul’s closing thoughts in his prayer for the Ephesians.  This is Paul’s doxology, his wish and blessing for the Ephesian church (and for us).

As we look at Paul’s closing remarks, Paul starts with the word “now”.  So if there is a “now”, there must have been a “then” that the “now” is pointing toward.  So let’s back up and look where Paul is looking.

Here is Paul’s reference:

  • We are one family (v. 15),
  • under Christ (v. 15),
  • strengthened by God’s Holy Spirit (v. 16),
  • held together by God’s love (v. 17),
  • through faith in Christ (v. 17),
  • empowered to serve God (v. 18),
  • fulfilling God’s plan (v. 19).

Paul says, looking back to these points, “Now to Him who is able…”  Paul says that if God can do everything in verses 14 through 19, then what else can God do?  We can stop right there – that is amazing enough.

Now look what Paul says:  “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine…”

Wow.  Paul is telling us that God can far exceed our asks and even our imagination.  Now that’s big.  Remember, God has all the resources of the universe at His disposal !

So what else does Paul say?  “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us…”

So what does that phrase, “according to His power that is at work within us…” mean?  Does that mean that God is stingy, and only gives us enough of His power to survive?  Or does it mean that we must work really, really hard to earn God’s love and confidence so He will reward us?  No.  And no.

Instead, we must approach God in brokenness, humility, and repentance, admitting our inadequacy, allowing Christ to live in and through us.  God then supplies His power to live out the purposes God has for us.

And why is all this happening?  As Paul wraps up in verse 21, he tells us that all of this is for God’s glory.  It’s not about us, it’s all about Him.

Is this a one-time thing, just in Paul’s day?  Paul says it’s for all time, through all generations, stretching into eternity (v. 21).  Now that is some kind of power – a God-sized power that lasts from eternity past to eternity future, and every moment in between.  And that same power and sustainability is available for God to use through us, if we will let Him.  Not for our selfish comfort and convenience, but for His glory.

May we, like Paul,  kneel before the Father in praise and worship, in brokenness, humility, repentance, and love.

Blessings,
~kevin