Saturday, August 13, 2016

To each one of us - Ephesians 4:7-8

"But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore it says, 'When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men" (Ephesians 4:7-8)
Much of modern Christianity has become largely a spectator sport. We have those who perform their religious duties and those who sit idly by watching them and either approving or disproving their performance as it suits their mood. We have pastors who teach for us, worship teams that worship for us, prayer teams that pray for us, and professional ministers who do the work of the ministry that we ought to be doing ourselves. Church life has become largely passive: we come, we sit, we listen, we leave. In all of this we have bought into the lie that there are those who minister and those who are ministered to; there are those who are gifted and those who depend upon the gifted ones for the spiritual well being. How we came to this place is a story of almost two thousand years of history and too long to recite here, but we must acknowledge that we have deviated far from the ideal of everyone being gifted and every one being called to the work of ministry as tough by Paul.

To each one of us, grace (or favor) has been given and, through that grace, we have been given gifts and callings through which we might serve God and enrich His body. This grace is given to us according to the measure of Christ's gift, but what is this gift? Jesus, in talking to the woman at the well, said to her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.'" (John 4:10) This living water is none other than the Holy Spirit whom Jesus was to pour out upon all believers after His resurrection and ascension on high. Furthermore, when Simon offered money to the apostles that he might be able to impart the Holy Spirit as they did, Peter rebuked him saying, "May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!" (Acts 8:20) Here, Peter identifies the "Gift of God" as the Holy Spirit into which we, as believers, are baptized. It is through the gift of God, the Holy Spirit, and the grace of God, the favor of God, that we are empowered to work the works of God and to perform the work of ministry for the common good; not only for the church but for the world at large.

In setting up what Paul will be discussing after a brief digression, Paul quotes an Old Testament psalm. "You have ascended on high, You have led captive Your captives; You have received gifts among men, even among the rebellious also, that the Lord God may dwell there." (Psalms 68:18) However, Paul quotes this psalm as "He gave gifts to men" as opposed to our common translations of the psalm being, "You have received gifts among men." This can be troubling. How can we trust Paul's writings if and when he misquotes the scriptures he claims to be divinely inspired? We could say that Paul was quoting from memory and just got it wrong, but that doesn't help much when we expect the scriptures to be true and accurate. How can we understand this apparent disagreement between the Old Testament scripture and Paul's rendition of it in his letter to the Ephesians? The key is to understand what David meant when he said, "You received gifts among men." Darby translates the psalm as, "thou hast received gifts in Man." (Psalms 68:18 Darby) Here we understand that the gifts Christ received were men. We can think of this as saying that Christ was "paid in men." Men were the prize and gifts he sought to win through His death and resurrection. The Bible in Basic English translates this verse as, "you have taken offerings from men." (Psalms 68:18 BBE) Here indicating that Jesus has taken an offering of men and women and called them for special purpose and function within the Body of Christ.

What we can see is that Paul was not misquoting the scripture, but rather he was interpreting it in light of the Gospel of Christ. A few verses later, Paul will say, "And He gave some as apostles..." (Ephesians 4:11) Christ received an offering of men and gave them back to the church as gifts for their growth, establishment, and equipping. The gifts He gave to the church were not offices, powers, or special abilities, the gift He gave to the church were men, We will have more to say on this later, but the idea Paul is trying to get across is that, when we think about the gifts God has set within the Body, we need to look past the actual ministries, abilities, positions, and powers that are manifested through each of us who have received grace, to the person manifesting these beneficial gifts. For the true gift is not the ability or the ministry, but the person in whom these ministries and abilities dwell. If we begin to look at the gifts in the Body as people, then it will revolutionize how we related to others and to the gifts God has deposited in His church.

David Robison

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